Years ago when I bought my first horse, Bogie, I asked the instructor at the barn why he was always turned out alone. She told me that he had bonded very strongly to another gelding and had been turned out with him for years. When the other horse died, Bogie refused to accept a substitute. He preferred to be alone.
Freedom, my TB, is definitely grieving the loss of his friend. Since day 1 Freedom always wanted to be near Kroni. They were almost always next to each other in the pasture and they would stand side by side in their stalls.
There were certainly times when Freedom drove Kroni to distraction. Freedom always wanted to play and the two of them put on quite a show: they would rear and paw the air, or play halter tag. Sometimes Freedom would sneak up behind Kroni and grab his blanket or fly sheet with his teeth and pull until Kroni kicked out. Freedom would dance around and then come back and do it over and over again.
When Kroni became sick, Freedom was acutely aware of his discomfort. He spent much of his day standing near his friend, nuzzling him or just keeping him company. Even when Kroni retreated to the comfort of his stall, Freedom came in and stood in the aisle or grazed close to the barn.
When we tried to get Kroni back on his feet Tuesday, when his legs would no longer obey the commands of his brain, we had to sedate Freedom because he became so upset. We needed to sedate him a second time when we loaded Kroni on the trailer, strapped to the glide.
My husband and I checked on Freedom the night that Kroni went to Tufts. When he heard us drive up, he came running through his paddock whinnying and agitated. He was looking for Kroni and not content to see only humans.
Yesterday I couldn’t bear to be at the barn. I checked on him a few times, but didn’t spend much time with him. Freedom is normally an “in your pocket” kind of horse. He loves human attention and will always come in from the field to find out what you are doing. But he didn’t want me to touch him. He was quivering and anxious, pacing back and forth. A friend told me that he spent much of his time looking off down the trails, as if expecting Kroni to come walking home.
Today I felt guilt about leaving Freedom to deal with his grief. Even if I’m sad at least I know what happened to Kroni. Freedom knows only that he’s gone.
Like yesterday, he didn’t really want to be touched. I could catch him but he was fidgity. He refused point blank to walk into the barn.
I saddled him up and took him for a long hack. It was good for both of us to go somewhere and move forward. Certainly he seemed calmer after we returned.
The grieving process is intense. According to the Pet Hotline on the Washington State University Web site, there are three distinct phases.
1. Numbness: (also shock, denial, or a sense of unreality). In this first phase, our minds slowly begin to adjust to the new reality that we have lost a loved one. Because this is such a difficult time, thinking about or experiencing the grief constantly would be too painful. So, we vacillate between knowing and not knowing, or believing and not believing that the loss has happened and is a reality. Give yourself time to come to terms with the loss. It can last from hours to several weeks.
2. Disorganization: This is a time of personal chaos, as we try to adjust to the world without our lost loved-one. During this phase, we are intensely aware of the reality of the loss, but would do almost anything to escape it. Strong emotion and exhaustion permeate this time and grievers find it difficult to participate in many of their normal activities. The experiences of anger, extreme sadness, depression, despair and jealousy of other’s who haven’t experienced such a loss are all a normal part of grieving. It is during this time that a person slowly understands all the implications of the loss, and figures out how to live again. This experience may last from days to a year or more.
3. Reorganization: (also recovery, reconciliation and acceptance). The disorganized, disrupted time a person experiences slowly finds a new balance point. The grief process slowly progresses and the person in mourning becomes aware that the physical signs of grief are fading and that the exhaustion isn’t as profound. Although the pain of the loss remains, the unbearably quality of it begins to lift. Hope returns. Life seems possible again.
I would say that Freedom and I vacillate between phase 1 and phase 2. All we can do is keep moving forward.
Note: my husband found a short article that was published in the New York Times back in