There’s no “right” way to grieve the loss of your horse. For me, the grief has come in waves so strong that they still take my breath away and bring tears to my eyes. I haven’t been blogging much since Zelda died. It’s been too raw, too fresh to think too much about her or writing about horses. I’ve started this post about a hundred times and never gotten further than the first few sentences. The last night, when she was in so much pain, still makes my chest hurt. Processing the grief has been complicated and not easily put away. At first, I wondered how I could have prevented what happened, how if I’d made different choices, she would not have died. I’m still not sure why after a decade of living out on grass, this year she had laminitis. What I do know is that she got the best care possible once we realized what had happened.
For the first weeks after she died, I would talk about her with Curly, who also missed her friend. Even though we brought Curly into the field with Zelda when we put her down (she stood, untethered, next to her body for a long time, never moving off to eat), I know that she shared the emptiness of my grief and the incomprehensible knowledge that she was not coming back. The first time she was turned out in the field where Z was buried, she was inconsolable — calling for her and cantering around the field like she could find her if only she looked in the right place. I knew exactly how she felt.
At some point in time, I will write about the lessons I learned about laminitis, which were many. Perhaps they will help someone else have a better outcome. But it’s too soon for me to go into that much detail. The team of people who helped me get through the last few weeks of her life were generous with their time, knowledge and sympathy. My friends and family were likewise very supportive, even though I think that unless you are a horse owner, it’s hard to comprehend the type of bond that we have with our horses. Zelda came to me 10 years ago and it wasn’t nearly enough time. We had developed a strong, trusting relationship. We worked well as a team and she always made me smile. She was smart, sassy and curious. Right up until the end, she had a bigger-than-life personality. Her Instagram channel was called Zelda the Magnificent, and she certainly lived up to that handle.
One of the gifts that I received was the book Strands of Hope, written by my fellow blogger, Susan Friedland and sent to me by a mutual friend (Thank you C.V.!). It took me several weeks before I could read it, but one afternoon I sat by the pond and read it cover to cover, wiping away the tears as I went through it. One of the most important aspects of the book — for me — was that it helped me put my own grief into perspective. Just knowing that you’re not alone is a great comfort, especially when fighting the feeling that you should just get on with your life, that it’s “only” a horse. The book has great advice as well as interviews with people who’ve gone through their own losses.
Another resource that has helped me is a Facebook group called Coping with the Loss of a Horse. This is a community that understands how much our horses mean to us and how devastating it is to let one go. And it’s always too soon. You always hope you will have more time with them. Reading about other peoples’ losses has helped me understand how lucky I’ve been to have my heart horses in my life for so many years.
I’ve had two horses leave me suddenly. Kronefurst, my Trakehener gelding, died from a clot in his brain. It was sudden and unexpected. He was only 19 and I thought he would be with me for a long time, but I’d owned him since he was six. Zelda was 20 and I’d owned her for 10 years. Freedom, I got when he was six and I’m thrilled that he’s still doing well at 25. I hope he has many more good years.
One thing I’ve learned from talking to people recovering from losing their equine friends is that there is no “right” way to mourn the loss of your horse. For some people, the grieving process makes them feel like they never want to own another horse. Some walk away from the sport. Some wait years before they dip a toe back into horse ownership. Other people need to fill the hole in their hearts with another horse. I’m one of those people. Certainly, when Kroni died, Freedom helped me through the grief because he needed me. I had already adopted Freedom at that time, which was a blessing, as it’s extremely difficult to go out and buy another horse with such a fresh loss. When I retired Freedom, I was secure in the knowledge that Zelda and were a team, and while I missed him, I had more time for her.
I have found another horse and will introduce him in my next post. He was a horse that needed me as much as I needed him. Although I’ve only had him for a few weeks, I’m confident that as we get to know each other better, we will have many great adventures and that Zelda will look down at us, along with Kroni, and whinny their approval.