It is a most perfect fall day; blue sky and lovely sun, everything so fresh. My buddy is gone. We said good-bye under the oak tree, while he chewed carrots, the breeze gently lifting his forelock to show the gray beneath. It was as peaceful as such things can be, a thought that can still occur to you even though you are sobbing, gut-wrenching bereft of what you love, sobs. My buddy, Filou, is gone. Gordy is my biggest love, but Filou was there first and there is a certain place of heart for first loves. Jubilee and Filou hold that space for me and now they are both gone.
Filou traveled across the world — from Germany — to Michigan, then some years later, from Michigan to Minnesota to be with me. He was just turning 12. When he was 24, he marched into the van that would take him from Minnesota to California, where we thought we would live out our days. Fates shifted though, and at 28 he climbed into a van once more to make the long journey from California to Florida, all of which is to say that he was a very well-traveled, hardy boy. He accomplished the feat of living 29 and 1/2 years and for a big horse, like Filou, that is a feat worth admiring.
I am curled up with the pups — great therapy — and scrolling through pictures, recapturing moments when Filou was younger and also seeing how he got older. I could tell you stories without stop about what he meant to me, to us, but I am so struck by the story the pictures show me and that is, what Filou meant to others of his own kind, his tribe. So I will tell you those.
His first best friend was Jubilee and they were inseparable. Filou, Jubilee and I went to a horse show together. Unfortunately, my ride on Jubilee went poorly, interrupted as it was by a loose horse running madly around the show grounds. That horse was Filou. He was beside himself at Jube’s absence and a well-intended helper thought he would be soothed if she stood in the stall with him. One open stall door, a slightly trampled young woman and Filou was solving his problem for himself. Jubilee and I excused ourselves from the ring, Filou found us and flung himself neck-to-neck against Jubilee. We rode back to the barn in this way as if it was our habit to do so every day.
This is something I came to understand ran deeply in Filou’s nature — kinship that could not tolerate separation. When we retired Filou from showing and brought him home, we got him a buddy. We knew he would need one and hoped that he would find our choice suitable. That choice was Boo, darling, amazing, little Boo. Filou was not convinced initially that Boo was cut from the same cloth — he snorted and back-peddled in his stall when Boo walked in like we had just invited an extra-terrestrial to lunch. I almost forget that, how Filou had to adjust his calibration of tribe to embrace Boo. But he did and, as it was with Jubilee, we could not take Boo from him for very long or very far. Even pony rides for Reagan — wee, bitty Reagan — up and down the four-stall aisle of the barn were a bit of a stress for him.
I have read how horses in natural herds will share duties for raising babies and otherwise keeping order. I know it is so because we gave Filou a baby to raise; a young colt, nicknamed Opie, who needed space to do a bit of growing up before his real life as a show horse began. Filou was attached to Opie, but something more — he raised him, he taught him manners. If Opie played too aggressively with Boo, Filou corrected him. If Opie was too pushy at the gate, Filou chucked him back. But also, if Opie was afraid, Filou caressed him and protected him. It seemed to mean so much to Filou, to have a job, to be needed. I wish that babies didn’t have to grow up and go away.
This was mighty medicine for Filou, belonging with. He belonged with one other horse in his life and that was Papa. We rescued Papa from slaughter (yes, seriously and horribly, from slaughter) when we lived in California. Papa needed a lot of rehab and he received most of it in the company of Boo. Filou was still with the herd, but not at feeding times. At those times, he need reprieve so he could be an old guy and eat slowly and have special food. That all mattered to him and when Papa got the same treatment next door to him, he — Filou — had a rather large hissy fit about it. Repeatedly. And then one day he didn’t. One day he asked to go into Papa’s pen and he was good and calm about it. So I let him. And they became this.
They were inseparable until the day eleven months later that Papa had a brain aneurysm and died, right there in front of Filou and me. Filou was inconsolable and that day is marked as one of the saddest days of my life. There was such beauty and kinship in that relationship. Two old men caring for and about each other. I have no words, but I can show you this and maybe you will see it.
I said there was but one other belonging and that was true. But, I saved the most precious and tender part of this for last. This is the hardest to speak of because it was bigger than belonging, it was a love affair; it was in the deepest sense of it, love. Filou loved Andante. From the moment he first inhaled her presence to the last breath he took on this earth, Filou loved Andante. Don’t think dismissive thoughts right now. Don’t think — he’s just a horse, what could he know about love. I would say to you, you don’t know shit about love unless you can show it with the utter devotion that Filou did for Andante. Every day. To the end. When Andante was sick — very, very sick — Filou did not leave her side until I forcefully ripped them apart to take her to the hospital to save her life. The entire time she was gone, he stood at attention, looking to the place she had gone, out there in the great beyond. When she returned. he ran to the trailer and buckled to his knees in sheer relief at her physical presence. He loved her.
I have seen Filou deeply asleep exactly twice in my time with him. One was when I pulled him from the training barn where he was not happy and brought him home. The other is when Andante came into his life and I put them together in a pasture, because I could not think of doing otherwise. The intimacy of this moment both cracks me open and makes me feel it was not mine to see. Still, I will share it here, because it lends so much to my belief of their love.
Most often, what I recall are scenes like this, where Andante would rest and Filou would stand guard. He never left her unattended, never unprotected.
As he became more frail, that became harder for him to do and the stress on him for his perceived failing in that regard was difficult to watch. We accommodated him in every way we could. So, a ride on Andante became this.
We have asked a lot of Andante in these last months. She is full of life and eager to be out in the open pasture, bossing around the geldings in the herd, but that would have crushed Filou. So we separated the herd, kept the two of them together, and let the herd run free without them. She had her rewards — extra alfalfa, cool fans in the barn during the heat of the day, but there were no real complaints from her. In the last days that Filou was with us, he was not able to venture beyond his stall. Andante seemed to understand and although we let her loose in the barnyard to stretch her legs, this is where she gravitated, keeping him company.
There is no doubt that the vulnerabilities of old age softened Filou. He was aware of his limitations and also how we could bring ease to him and so it was that the more care he needed, the closer we became. Those are the most exquisite of bonds, if you dare to open yourself to it. He dared. So did we. Which is a huge part of why I am so beside myself right now. A thousand times a day, I think of him, of what he needs, of how to bring ease. I sleep with the window open so I can hear him in the night — just in case. Only now, this is all past tense. He is gone and the need to be there for him is also gone. Seems like I am doubly lost; my role as caretaker is equally hard to let loose of.
I want to shake that off as best I can. Give over to him the picture of who he was before all of this. The Filou that was proud and magnificent and ran free of all encumbrances. This Filou.
I hope he is with Jubilee and Papa and I want him to know that I will take good, good care of Andante who is, as I type this, drifting along in the dark, following the fence line by the barn, calling for him. I’m going to go down there now, so we can share our sorrows at the love lost to us. It will not ever be the same.
Love you, Filou. Be at peace.