It’s been quite a week since we got home from some amazing experiences, first on the AT through SNP and then in Charleston. When we got home late Saturday something wasn’t quite right with our dog, which lead us to the emergency vet early Sunday morning which then lead to a week long stay at our regular vet. Final diagnosis is pancreatitis. He’s home now and getting better each day, but still not out of the woods.
We weren’t quite recovered from the roller coaster ride of having to decide each day whether a long time friend should live or die, when we went up to the barn yesterday to find my horse, Levi, dead in his stall. No warning, no sickness and no sign of exactly what happened. Just dead on the stall floor, having kicked out about half of the wall (unclear whether he did that before, during or after experiencing whatever it was that did him in).
I’ve been a bit numb for the last 24 hours. I think that is just a natural defense to so much. But I’ve started to process some of it and this is an attempt to work out for myself, what it all means. We humans after all are nothing more than story telling monkeys, so until I can tell a cohesive story about all of it, it will just be unprocessed mess. What follows is a jumble of ideas, thoughts and emotions I have had over the preceding day. Putting it down here is, as always, my attempt to work it out for myself.
I have such a wide mix of emotions about Levi dying. I’m sad, of course, that he clearly suffered before he died. I’m morning the little bit of my identity that has died with him. I am no longer a cowboy / horseman. Sure I still have horses on property, but none of them are “mine”. I have no doubt that I could borrow any of my family’s horses whenever I wanted, but it’s not the same. I’m not sure that I will ever have another horse that’s “mine” so that part of me may be relegated to the past forever.
I regret not riding him more, taking it for granted that there would always be time “mañana”. There was always some chore to do, some dinner to eat, some movie to watch. My only hope is that Levi was happy without a job. It seems to me Levi had a pretty good life – he had good pasture, was leader of his herd, was put in at night and had vet care when he needed it. I hope that not getting to work didn’t bother him too much.
I am also a bit freaked out. After coming off the trail a few weeks ago, I had started to think seriously about transitioning off the farm and getting into a setup that would allow us to travel more often and more freely. No, I don’t believe in the “The Secret” or anything like that, but it did make me start to think more carefully about the intentions I am putting out there is the world.
But (and this is probably where the story telling starts), I am also grateful. I am grateful that he didn’t die when we were on vacation – that would have been horrible for the person watching the house, dogs and horses. I am grateful that I didn’t have to make a decision. I had reached the point of life/death decision making fatigue earlier in the week with my dog, so that would have been just too much. I get that it’s just pets, but unlike humans, they can’t tell you what they are feeling or what they want. This gratitude makes me feel a bit guilty too…still processing that.
As odd as it may sound, I am grateful for the chance to deal with death so directly. For those of you that have never had to bury a 1+ ton animal, I won’t go into details, but suffice to say that you appreciate the body for what it is and pretty quickly realize that there has got to be more to horses (and by extension people) that the meat suits that we ride around in. In our highly sanitized, medicalized and funeralized society we don’t get to deal with death so directly anymore. It’s not fun, but it is a teacher.
I’m grateful for the kick in the ass this has given me to be more mindful about my choices. When we moved to our farm more than a decade ago it was to be with our horses and by extension use them more. That hasn’t worked out as planned and with some life transitions coming up in the next two to six years, I realize that now is the time to start envisioning and, most importantly, experimenting to figure out what we really like and what we really will do (as opposed to what we think / say we will do). This is hopefully a useful outcome from the regret of not riding more. I can’t change what I haven’t done in the past, but I can make more mindful choices in the future.
Lastly, I am grateful for the too few times we rode together. Levi was a great teacher. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a great horseman. Levi was always patient and helped me get better. It wasn’t nearly often enough, but every time we did get to ride I came away feeling relaxed, accomplished and connected.
Happy trails, Levi, until we meet again.