I rolled north up the interstate, my mind 500 miles away. Clouds were slowly lowering over the Sandia mountains to my east like a heavy, thick, billowy, blue-gray stage curtain. In my heart I felt like the curtain was slowly lowering and closing on the troubled life of my precious partner and teacher, though I clung to the hope that my phone would ring and my husband’s gentle voice would tell me he’d turned the corner for the better. I pressed on through Albuquerque and across the reservation where I searched the landscape for a glimpse of the band of wild horses that roam there. I began my climb towards Santa Fe when the phone finally rang, “Jess, I don’t think it’s good. What do you want me to do? He’s just not himself.” I listened as the man that I adore described what he was observing in real time.
“Cricket” was one of those horses that just couldn’t catch a break in life. He was orphaned at 2 days old. He was in and out of the vet hospital with various, potentially life threatening injuries, any one of which should have taken his life, for most of his younger years. He flunked out of hunter/jumper school and struggled to find his groove in life. His shitty attitude toward people and life in general was right up my alley when he found me. I like the ones that flip me the bird, pin their ears, set their feet and challenge me. When I agreed to work with him, I can remember quietly whispering into his jack rabbit ears, “I can help you change your mind about people and life.” He doubled down, “Hold my beer!” Lol! Here’s a link to “Cricket’s” story and how we met: https://untetheredheartscom.wordpress.com/2018/11/29/jimineys-cricket/
We always kid ourselves into thinking we’re the ones helping them, slow to recognize that really, we’re helping each other and if we’re real with ourselves, the horses are the ones helping us.
“I’d call Dr. Robinson back out. He sounds like he’s in worse shape. It’s not like him to not be interested in eating, especially after he’s been restricted from hay and pasture for 24 hours now. Kiss him on his head for me please. If it comes down to it, promise me you won’t leave him. Stay with him until he’s taken his last breath and his heart has stopped beating. He doesn’t deserve to die alone with a stranger.”
I turned up my windshield wiper speed, the rain I’d driven into, increasing in intensity. My mind kept drifting and the tears kept welling up in my eyes, further blurring the view in front of me. This wasn’t the way this was supposed to go. He was supposed to die an old, crusty, graying faced guy! He wasn’t supposed to exit this life on the very day he’d entered this world! “17 years young today!” I cried out as I gripped the steering wheel tighter. “Crickey, we still have unfinished adventure and life to live together . . . we’re only just getting started . . . it’s just starting to get good . . . You’re my go-to guy . . .” I could feel my arms wrapped around his big neck, the warmth of his coat on my cheek, his head turning, eyes closed as he melted into our connection. I took a few deep breaths as the clouds began to break up, Las Vegas in my sites. There was still a tiny ember of hope. That part of me that continued to say, “Slow down the grieving sister. He’s not gone yet. These tears could all be for not.”
I checked my mirrors, merging into the hammer lane to make room for potential motorists getting on the interstate. I considered what this trip might look like without my big ol’ moose of a Thoroughbred in his stall over my axles in the trailer behind me. The adventures we’d shared, the miles we’d hauled, the special bond we’d formed over the years. I smiled to myself thinking about the stark contrast of his life before me as a show horse and his life with me as an everything horse living out on the prairie with cattle, antelope and coyotes! He’d taught me about compromise, an unspoken sort of middle ground agreement between the two of us that stated I wouldn’t over face him and he would, at the least, attempt to put a little faith in my guidance. Lol! He’d taught me what it meant to make a request with the intention of truly requesting, not demanding or ordering. He’d taught me what forgiveness with reservation looked like and what it was to try to put traumas of our past behind us. He gave me permission to just be as I held the same space for him to . . . just . . . be. I could feel his big head pressed up against my back, his eyes closed, leg cocked. It was something he did frequently when we stood together whether at a horse show, hunt, camping or out in the pasture.
The phone rang. My heart shot into my throat. “Babe, it’s not good. The intestine that was caught over his kidney on the left side yesterday is back where it’s supposed to be however now there is intestine over the kidney on the right side and we won’t be able to bounce it back into place lunging him like we could with the left side yesterday.” My voice was shaking as I swallowed hard. “Okay.”, I mustered. “And,” he said, “babe, he’s toxic. Surgery is the only option to correct the intestinal issue. His heart rate is more elevated than it was yesterday even with all the thrashing around and lunging.” I worked hard to maintain my composure. Checking my mirrors, I got back over into the hammer lane passing slower, less urgent traffic. The concern that had been raised at 6:30 a.m. the morning before, the concern I’d kept pushing off for over 24 hours now was viable and I knew what I had to do. “Let him go.” I half whispered. “Euthanize him. Let him go. I will not have him in pain any longer. I’m so sorry I’m not there. I’m so sorry you are having to do this . . . it’s my responsibility and I’m not there . . .” My voice broke, no longer able to swallow the emotion. I knew my super hero’s heart was breaking for me as he said, “Okay.”, his own voice cracking.
The quiet, mournful whimpering of a heart cracking in two is part of the human experience. It’s painful and gut wrenching. We know we’ve loved deeply when we grieve deeply. I believe “Cricket” was on loan to me, teaching me things that only He could teach me through “Cricket”. I’m a better horseman and person for my time with him. He’d stepped up to the plate when I needed his help the most and for that I will forever be indebted to him.
Though I knew he’d be gone and buried before I’d be roaring across our county line, I pressed on with the same sense of urgency. I wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear for a while. I thought about the emptiness I knew was waiting for me when I went out to feed that night. His tack hung in the trailer, waiting for the next time we’d work together, swinging and swaying along as I consumed the asphalt ribbon that stretched out in front of me like a ravenous Pac Man, Raton Pass in the distance. His blankets would still be hanging in the loafing shed and his grain bag waiting in the grain bin.
“Cricket”, he was a lot of horse in so many ways. To say he will be missed seems cliche. He will be more than missed. I caught myself listening for his BANG – BANG – BANG on the gate this morning, demanding to be turned out onto the big pasture. As I put fly sheets on the herd I realized I was waiting for him to come around the corner with that walk of his, like a line backer walking onto the field. I stared at his fly sheet hanging in the loafing shed . . . “Damn it Crickey. What am I going to do without you? I think I did right by you. I pray your life was better for partnering with me, I know for sure mine was better for having you in it.”
“You are powerful, beautiful, brilliant & brave” ❤