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Horse Facts and Tips
First Posted: Sept 3, 2010
Apr 23, 2011

Grieving/Death of Your Horse

by Debora Johnson

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
--Anatole France

A loss which is multi-faceted would be one way to describe grief. Grief manifests itself in many ways: emotionally, physically, cognitively, behaviorally, socially and philosophically. "Bereavement often refers to the state of loss, and grief to the reaction to loss." Each individual deals with grief in his/her own way. The way an individual reacts to the loss and how one grieves and copes with that loss, is influenced by personality, family, culture, spiritual and religious beliefs, and the special relationship and bond that existed--in this case, between the individual and his/her horse.

There are many ways to deal with grief. Some people like to try to keep it to themselves and work through their grief independently. Others seek additional support from family, friends, psychologists, psychiatrists, clergy, through groups who have dealt with the same sort of loss, and through some other outlet such as writing, drawing, painting, music, or personal, individual expressions, etc. It is so very important to not deny your feelings. Prevailing wisdom is to work it through as painful as it may be. Stay away from those individuals who are not capable of understanding, do not want to be bothered or are overly judgmental. Try to surround yourself with positive vibes!

Stages of Grief

Grief weaves its way through a somewhat predictable path. It has been referred to as a "grief cycle." The length of time and severity of that grief is not predictable. People often start in a state of denial, then feel guilt, anger, depression, make psychological bargains with themselves, and then eventually come to acceptance and resolution. Hopefully, the celebration of that special bond and those special memories will replace most of the negative feelings. As one goes through this cycle one may experience nightmares, appetite problems, dryness of mouth, shortness of breath, sleep disorders, stomach pain, headaches, repetitive motions to avoid pain, etc. Some people may retreat while others may seek out companionship.

Positive Expressions

While going through this grieving process or when we have gone through this grieving process it may be comforting to make picture galleries of fond memories. Gambler's Luck was buried where he died and a grave marker honors his memory. Memorializing your horse can be helpful. Have a portrait made, keep a snippet of your horse's mane, retire the bridle or bit and hang it somewhere that is near and dear to you. Write a story, song or poem. I have made a charm bracelet with many horse charms on it. I also have a silver locket with a snippet of hair and a tiny picture inside. It hangs from a silver chain. If you have a blog, web site, face book, etc., use that tool to express what you feel. Know that sharing your thoughts may help someone else as well as you.

About my horse, A Patchy Star

My horse, A Patchy Star, is a companion and kindred spirit. He does not judge me. He responds to kindness and gives his all. He is all heart! I trust him with my life and well-being every time I spend time with him whether grooming, training, "fiddling and fooling," or riding. He weighs more than 1,000 pounds and could put my lights out in one instant. A Patchy is accepting and takes care of me when we are out riding together. He is solid; however, he is a horse with ingrained survival responses--fight and flight. This I intellectually understand, and never forget. He is an unique treasure. Our relationship is symbionic. He has a special nicker for me every time he sees me. No one else gets that nicker. He is so trusting. A Patchy is the most interactive horse that I have ever had and we have owned 14 horses over the year--plus leases.

Coping with Sad Moments

My husband and I have had to put down 3 horses. One was our thoroughbred, Little Bee, a very special mare. She was 26 years old and her pain could no longer be managed. The second was my husband's horse, a three year old. This is a sad story that I am legally unable to share. The third was my husband's horse, Tucker. Tucker was only 12, but had seizures that made him dangerous to be around and dangerous to himself. He would hit the ground and have uncontrollable fits. Tucker was much like what you see in "mad cow disease"--uncontrollable thrashing. Riding, of course, was out of the question. We considered having him be a companion horse but came to the conclusion that the safety of others would be compromised. His situation was not treatable and was progressive. Even though, intellectually, we knew that this had to be done--it did not make it any easier. Our entire family, my husband, our daughter, and I grieved for each one of these horses. My Gambler died in his 30's--a natural death--while he was in retirement in Kentucky at a friend's farm. He, too, was a long time companion who looked after me and took care of me for many years in the saddle and on the ground. I do not think that is possible to get completely over these wonderfully pure relationships. However, we try to reflect on the wonderful memories and moments that we spent together and move on.

For those individuals who have never experienced this special bond with an animal, they may not be able to understand. It is something that cannot really be explained, only felt--deeply.

"You can't see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears."
--C.S. Lewis


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