I haven’t forgotten about my promised “fall favorites for equestrians” post (coming up this weekend!), but I wanted to write about something a little different today.
Just as a quick warning, if you don’t want to read about anything “feelsy” or even slightly emotional, this may not be the post for you. Because I will most likely get all kinds of “feels” here in a minute. It is most definitely related to MY experience as a college equestrian however, so I do hope you stick with me to the end.
I write this on October 5th, 2015. Later at night than I wanted to be compiling this, but things hardly ever go perfectly as planned. Two years ago on this day, in the fall of my freshman year, I lost my horse Calais.
My freshman year of college was the most difficult for me for this very reason. It is not easy to talk about, but anyone who owns or has owned horses at one point or another can relate. It is never “just a horse”, and it is ok to be deeply affected by the loss of one. Loss and death shape us and our views of the world, but they don’t have to cause our lives or aspects of our lives to come to a grinding halt. Although I recognize that losing a horse is not quite on the same level as losing a human being, it is still significant and a topic worthy of talking about.
I thought of Calais as my “equine soulmate” (here come the feels). We had a very close bond, and she was a constant source of joy and love for almost ten years. We attended several local schooling shows in dressage during my middle school years, which she LOVED going to. She knew when she was in the spotlight, and had a personality and temperament that made you love her immediately. She happily went to school once as my sister’s “show and tell” in elementary school, was ridden by my mother, sister, and myself, and gave numerous friends memorable pony rides.
We spent an incredible amount of time together, and when I say “spent time” I don’t mean an hour every week or few days for a riding lesson. I mean hours after school and on weekends just BEING. Sitting out in the pasture watching her graze, meandering around the barnyard together, taking my time in grooming after she walked up and stood in the wash stall quietly all by herself. Playing with that droopy lower lip she would get as she fell asleep standing next to me. And I will never forget how she used to follow my family and I to the gate at the farm and watch attentively as we left.
Calais was a well-loved, happy horse if ever there was one. I couldn’t have had a better first horse experience, and I am beyond grateful for the time I had with her. As I spoke about in my last blog, it was difficult to leave all of that when I moved to college, as I was so used to seeing her every day. I tried to keep my mind off it that first month of school, but my short visits home, although scarce, made me miss her even more. Early in October 2013, the day of a cross-country meet that my mom had come to watch me run in, I traveled home to see Calais after news that she hadn’t been doing well. I will save us all the intricate details, but Calais passed away in my arms that day after living a full life of twenty-three years.
I had never felt a loss so deeply in my life to that point. After burying her that weekend, I had to go back to school for classes the next Monday. I kept it together the next few months that followed, but went through stages of grief that anyone else might after losing a loved one. I spent more time alone the rest of that semester than I probably should have, despite the fact I had a roommate and made great friends.
The best thing I did that year was continue to ride in lessons and on the dressage team. When I had days that all I could think about was Calais, I could go to the barn and get some “horse therapy”. Because I was fortunate enough to continue to do this away from home, I was able to start to think of Calais with happiness again, not pain. I didn’t lose interest in horses after my own had died, as I had seen happen to friends before. I attribute this largely to the fact that I had the opportunity to constantly experience what horses offer us while being a part of this great equine studies and equestrian program. I had new rides and exciting events to look forward to, along with a community of other horse people and animal lovers who “got it”.
Even though my school is very small, the dorms are old and look unwelcoming at times, and there isn’t much to do in the area, I am beyond glad that I ended up at this school. The relationships I have built, this environment, and the knowledge I’ve gained have assured me of my passion for equestrianism. When Calais died, spending time riding and in the barn here helped me keep perspective.
If was painful to deal with of course, but I had great support and have since developed a stronger mentality. It’s normal and acceptable to grieve any worthy loss for a time, but don’t unpack and stay in that state. Look back at old memories fondly for a while, then look forward to the new. I appreciate the years with Calais that helped make me who I am, but I’ve learned to continue moving and dwell less on her absence. Being a college equestrian athlete has been key to keeping that momentum for me.
For those of you who have lost horses, particularly one of those "special" ones, be thankful you had them. If you have still have your equine partner with you today, treasure them, because there are few things more rewarding than that bond when you are involved with horses.
EquiSearch is "for people who love horses", and I know there are plenty of you. I want to hear about those special, once in a lifetime kind of horses that any of you have had in the past or have still, and how they have impacted your lives.
Thank you to everyone who stuck with me through this post, I hope it has been helpful or given you a renewed sense of love for the horses that brought us here.
Check back this weekend for a more light-hearted conversation and my "fall favorites for equestrians" (particularly the college student on a budget).
Have a great day!