It's never easy to say goodbye to a beloved family pet when that animal no longer can live in dignity and comfort. Over the years, I've had the honor of helping several friends when it was time to make that heart-wrenching but ultimately responsible decision to ask the vet to end the life and suffering of a special horse or pony. I've also found that taking special photos of a horse and its family, and sometimes writing a story about the characters, help ease the passage.
Here's a story I wrote for a co-worker and dear friend when her buckskin pony finally was just too worn out to continue after 32 years as the pet and teacher of various families. His heart, vision and will to live were all failing as Keri spent that last morning with her pony and two-year old son bathing, grooming, weeping and even laughing a little bit. I watched the last goodbye from a respectful distance then took Bucky to the vet clinic, saw him safely bedded in a stall filled to his little black pasterns with shavings and with a manger full of sweet alfalfa. On the drive home, I thought about what Bucky might have said.
May 21, 1998
To My Family,
Today I left your life. My poor old body was worn out and shaky, my legs trembled and my head nodded, but my heart and mind live on with yours. We laughed and cried today and looked back on our rich life together--and what a wonderful life I have had with you, my best family.
I remember when I first saw you at the yard sale where I stood with the "For Sale" sign around my neck, Mom so excited but trying not to show it and the kids begging to ride. I was a little embarrassed to be showcased on the lawn like a threadbare sofa, but I puffed up a bit as you all approached because I liked the looks of your herd. And then there was Keri, with her little nose and freckles--she stole my horse-size heart. I decided then and there you'd be a good project.
So I made you buy me, and we went Home. Oh, what fun those early days were, training each of you. You tried so hard to do right, and the missed meals, grooming brushes cracked against my kneecaps, bits stuck up my nose, and some of the early failed attempts at horsekeeping are forgiven by me now. You were all so sincere, so concerned for my welfare--I couldn't stay annoyed for long when you messed up.
I took training you seriously. Every night for all those years I'd stay awake thinking of new ways to ease you into learning about ponies. I'd scare you, ignore you, rub on you and look at you with my big, honey eyes, run away then act friendly, blow my nose on you, roll after every bath and generally enjoy myself and entertain my friends. And that pony cart--oh boy, we had some wild times, didn't we? Good thing Mom couldn't always see where we went and what we did, eh?
When you all started to get a little trained, the shows were fun too. I still chuckle when I think of you bragging that you trained me. It was hard to be patient as you learned not to fall off when I conducted a little spook test, or when you'd expect me to act as dumb as a horse. The trail rides were great too--we did so much exploring together. I have to confess, I was a little relieved when that Paint horse came along, though, because Keri was just getting too ambitious for me. I used to laugh at him for all the work she talked him into, but I was proud, too--I taught her how to make him do all that foolish horse stuff.
You were all so sweet today, so concerned--I wish you could know how eager I've been to leave that tired buckskin carton that held me together for so many years. You'll remember me in a thousand small ways, and I'll remember you when I see my new handsome self reflected in the eager eyes of my next family. You'll always be special for your care and love--I'm proud of the way you turned out. Thank you for sharing your wonder years with me.
Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including a Paint, a Quarter horse, and an antique Arabian. Comments? Email them to email@example.com.