Many years ago when I moved onto my farm there was a grey horse out in the pasture. She was a beautiful Polish Arabian and while I did my college homework I would stare out the window at the glorious creature. The mare so encapsulated that slightly untameable spirit that horses descending from the Middle East embody. She was always tossing her head, arching her neck, and prancing around like she was dancing a duel with an unseen djinn.
The mare had a bit of a sad story though, she was born in a field on our place to the farm's previous owner and spent the first eight years of her life on the precipice of starvation and under the assault of a mentally ill, abusive man. My soul often contracted as I heard the tales of how the unbalanced creature would sneak into the field, crouch down, and spray the curiously approaching horse in the face with fly spray. Apparently he would do this while holding onto a lead rope that was attached to her halter and let her drag him around the field. I believe this happened, for the first time I walked into the field with a lead rope in my hand, Angel, as the mare was named, started trembling and ran straight through a four foot section of field fence. I remember feeling so bad that I had caused her so much terror, but I had no way of knowing she would react that way, as I had petted the pretty creature hundreds of times over the same fence.
You see, my husband bought that horse for me when she was nine years old by paying our neighbor's cell phone bill. I'd always wanted a horse as most girls do, and spent most of my childhood pretending to be one. You could often find me wandering around in my grandfather's herd of horses as a kid, as I had no fear of the beasts. They seem to know that I love them and am no threat to them.
Angel though, she was a mess. The first thing I did was join up with her. When I was barely an adult I had the privilege to watch Monty Roberts, the horse whisperer, work horses. The way he talked with them through movement and stance appealed to me so much as a kid. I still have his book that my mom got me, it's one of my favorite tales. When I was small most people I was around broke horses into submission, I just wanted to be friends with them. And friends I became with my silvery Polish Arabian. We both spent a fair amount of time in the big railroad tie and recycled board round pen that my husband built me. I made a flag out of a jack pine sapling and a bandanna and I went about desensitizing and partnering with my friend. Soon her terror of ropes had abated and I could wander out, halter her, and lead her around wherever we wished to go.
It was then I discovered that I was pregnant with my daughter. In fact, I spent the next couple years in a stage of pregnancy and couldn't work with Angel-girl. What she did get was a stable home, plenty of food, and lots of peace and tranquility. I'd like to think she enjoyed this time, as she was also a companion to our old gelding, Corizon.
Years went by, and before I knew it Angel was 17 years old. It was then that my dear friend and amazing horseman Mike showed up with his trailer and told me to go grab my horse. That man trained my mare for me. Due to her age and harsh beginnings, Angel had some quirks. She'll probably never excel at turning to the left, and in fact we have some hilarious video of her spinning in circles for fifteen minutes when you went to put your hand on the saddle horn to mount. She was like a trout that swam in circles with a disabled fin, but with time and patience she became a fantastic trail horse.
One of my favorite rides was in the woods behind our farm, a 1200 acre chunk of state and paper land full of logging roads and all manner of things that would freak out any green horse. While I was astride Angel we came upon a bull moose, she just snorted and continued on without a bit of a flinch. She loved to go.
Time has passed, and Angel has aged as we all have. My kids are teenagers, I am nearing my fourth decade of life, and Angel, she's just plain elderly. We think she is somewhere between 26-30, and I noticed a couple months ago something that made me sad. During the winter Angel lives with my daughter's paint mare Gemma. They both always got along so well, but suddenly Gemma started ostracizing Angel, as herd animals often do to the weak and infirm. Then a few weeks ago, easy keeping Angel started looking like she was wasting a bit. I've had senior horses before, I know what it means when they start fading. The night before last she started laying down and getting up a lot. It got really bad yesterday, and through a lot of consultation and care that strong girl of mine is still going. She's just old and her systems are starting to go. There's nothing that can be done, save the one thing that all humans who care for animals get to do. I won't let her suffer, but dang if it isn't hard to face the end of a constant, beautiful presence in all our lives.
I would like to think that I gave her a wonderful existence after her precarious early years, and I had secretly hoped that I would get her well into her thirties, as my sister-in-law's Arabians tended to be long lived. However, who knows the damage eight years of abuse and starvation had on her, and even if I get her to pull through this bit of illness, I know that I can't let her go through another winter. Being an animal caretaker has moments of all out soul-punching agony.
Through all the sadness though, I am so thankful we got to hang out as long as we did.