Monday, June 17, 2013

The Spirit of a Horse

In my beginning, there was always the horse. The horse was my inexplicable passion and curiosity. On the mobile which hung over my crib, I distinctly remember the parade of the fuzzy bellies of animals that circled my head as I lay there. There was a sheep, a duck, a pig, and a horse, all wound up there in a continuous circling motion while soft music played in an attempt to lure me to sleep. My focus always, was on the horse.

My grandfathers both were horsemen, but my mother’s dad still had one when I was old enough to be placed on a horse’s back. His mare, a plain bay walking horse, was named Old Lady. I have no idea how old she was but all through out my childhood and later until college, she was simply there, every summer when we went to visit, a magical creature without  any apparent signs of aging. My grandfather bred her several times and she produced three pretty foals, the second of which was to later become my first horse. I never heard any word of Old Lady’s passing and it is hard for me not to imagine that she is still there on the land that my grandfather once owned and farmed, with her large cracked hooves and long flowing mane waiting for the ears of hard corn that he brought her to eat.

Last week I lost a long time friend, another horse. Limerick, was what I called her, her registered name being some silly garble of stuff that came with her when I bought her as a weanling. Limerick had just passed a major milestone a few weeks back in passing her thirtieth birthday and was in relatively good health and spirit. Sadly an old set of lungs and a dreadfully hot and humid day, combined with the provocation of the hatch of a plague of blood sucking horseflies making her leave the comfort of the shade to avoid their bites, put her in peril. She succumbed to the heat and we found her gasping in heat stress out in her field near her favorite cedar tree, unable to rise. It was the end. We kept her as cool as possible with a steady train of water bearers to pour their buckets over her while we waited in the heat for the vet to arrive to give her the final relief. We shaded her with  umbrellas and I fed her an entire bag of carrots which she enthusiastically chomped down to the last one. Finally it was over, and the kind man who had buried Joline last year, laid yet another great mare to rest.

Thirty years. Most horses don’t make it that long. Most relationships don’t either, but Limerick had been my friend for basically her entire life, and a good bit of mine, this time span of thirty years, three long decades. I had bought her before my youngest daughter was born, broke her, trained her to run and jump and dance with me in the sport they call combined training. Together we campaigned for many years and she won us many championships, with ribbons and trophies that line the walls of my tack room. Together we flew.

It was in this campaigning, this weekend traveling to shows, and more in the daily training to be able to win at them, that our relationship developed. I was ambitious  and she was talented and so we made a tight team. At a moment of memories while waiting on the vet to arrive, I laughed that this mare was once so athletic that she could unhorse me on a whim. One of my coaches once said that to be in the right position going over a fence one should pretend that  if Speilberg could magically make your horse disappear from underneath you that you would land standing on your two feet. Limerick was able to that with me. I could be riding along and the next moment, standing there wondering where my horse went. It was all in good fun to her, and I usually appreciated her sense of humor and timing. She definitely had spirit. Funny that despite all of her winning and practice having ribbons tied to her bridle, she never liked them flickering in her face, and very nearly bucked me off on several of our ceremonial victory laps.  

There was one show that I learned more about her character though, in Nashville. I had taken my oldest daughter to it with me this time and we had arrived on Friday afternoon to a darkening sky and approaching storm. The stabling was under a giant tent and we put Limerick in her stall and I went to unload things from the trailer leaving my daughter in the tent to wander around and see all the horses. Thunder then gave way to lightening bolts and heavy rain. I had taken safe haven in the truck for the moment and I could see that the wind was whipping the tent into a moving, flapping, out of control creature that was looking like it was going to leave. This was not the most settling situations for any horse but especially for a young horse like Limerick was at the time. Concerned for my young daughter, I hurried to get back in the tent when things settled a bit. I found my daughter quietly sitting on a flake of hay in the corner of Limerick’s stall with that mare calmly standing over her, unafraid of the chaos with the tent flapping, thunder and wind, and horses and people hollering and moving about. I was stunned then at her protective instinct, and she showed this type of reading the situation on many occasion to me, and later, to her foals.

After her career in showing, Lim became a brood mare and was an excellent mother to first Kudzu, then Orion, Rubiat, Tango, and finally Vixen. When she was too old to carry her own, she became the baby sitter, the boss mare that would teach manners to the weanlings, and especially to the colts who thought biting and climbing on anything or anybody’s head was fun. She always kicked them high, body blows so as not to hurt those pretty legs. When the last of the weanlings grew up and left, Limerick remained in the pasture at the little barn on the farm, retired and free from obligations until last week’s sad day. 

In Limerick’s passing through this life with me,  as both my vehicle and my friend, she took me places I would never have gone, and afforded me friends both equine and human that I would not have made, many of whom I still have. Through her I have memories of wonderful times that we shared. She listened unconditionally as animals are wont to do, to my struggle with life lessons along the way, gave no verbal advice, but was stoically just there. It helped. Thirty years of experiences, not ownership, is what having a horse for thirty years is about.

They say of all of the animal spirits that the spirit of the horse is the strongest. It is the stuff of legends and myths and for good reason. To gaze into their eyes and read them reading you and assessing your mood, thoughts, and intent and to have them trust you to do your biding is an amazing relationship, one built on things intangible and magical.
Limerick had a very strong spirit and I am lucky indeed to have known it. Like Old Lady at my grandfather’s farm, I think her spirit will always be over there under her cedar tree wrapped in its shade. I can only be thankful for our having joined up so long ago and so say a fond farewell to Limerick. She was, and always will be, a great horse, and my friend.


  1. This is so very beautiful, as was Limerick. I remember her fondly and the week she gave birth Kudzu. You were very lucky to share in each other's company.

  2. thanks so much wayles. glad you remember her and kudzu. long time back now.