I know what is hard about this. I know what is hard about losing an animal. Ask me about Andante. Four months since her death; me, just pecking my way to the surface of life without her and this is what I am stuck on:
Did she feel loved?
Don’t answer me quickly. Don’t say “of course she did”, because you know me and how I am with animals. I have already thought of a thousand ways I could have loved her better, given her more of what she wanted, sooner, with less strife. Andante came into my life when I was still awash in the common mindset of horse as commodity. She had value because of what she could deliver to someone (me) and that was to be my “upper level” ride. Take me to the top. Win me ribbons. Make me a real rider. I loved her and I handed her off to trainers to keep her “in tune”. I loved her and I kept her confined in a stall to protect the asset that was her body. I loved her and watched while increasingly severe training methods were used on her to make her the horse she was and was expected to be.
This is nothing. In the horse world, this is nothing. I mean, you should see some of the real shit that goes on! But for Andante, it was everything. So, how, in all seriousness, could she have felt loved? And if you still say she could because I was there underneath it all, rubbing her ears and giving her treats, well, that excuses me from the accountability of my choices that caused her to suffer and I cannot do that. Not yet, anyway.
Beamer suffered a similar fate under my watch and he was much more outspoken about it. First, he resented, then he resisted. He became an unsafe ride and, after sufficient time to prove he wasn’t going to give up, was kicked out of the training facility for his recalcitrant disruptions. I took Beamer home and shortly after that, Andante joined him. Then, we pursued a sudden opportunity to move to California and landed on sixty acres of rugged rangeland in the foothills of the Sierra-Nevadas.
It was perfect.
I like to believe that this is when my horses began to feel loved. When I took away all of the amenities of the fine horse life — the bedded stalls, the smooth arenas, the “skilled” trainers — and gave them free range and life in a herd. I hung up all of my “tools of communication” — the bits and bridles and whips and spurs; I got off their backs and became their caregiver. I learned to listen and when I did eventually get back up on their backs, I learned to let them lead. I have been on that path ever since, a path marked by two sign posts: Lisa, You Have A Lot to Make Up For and Let Them Lead.
So, tell me now, did I do it? Did I have enough time, did I make up for enough before I was irretrievably forced to walk this Earth without her? Did Andante feel loved, even through the suffering that was the last month of her life? I can promise you this: I never stopped feeling for her. I never stopped reaching out, sending my love, embracing her spirit, holding her to me and, I swear, I swear, I felt her reach back, feel for me. Even in her last breath, Andante was feeling for me and, I want to hope, taking all of my love for her with her.
Twelve horses and donkeys and eight dogs remain in my life, on my watch. Losing Andante knocked me down, but it has also shifted me, compelled me to do better by those tender souls. I am listening more, leaving more space for them to feel for me, to reach out and show me how they wish to be attended to, to be loved. There is so much to make up for.