Horse Care: Grieving the Loss of an Equine Friend
I recently lost my “heart horse” at age 27 after two decades with him by my side. I was devastated – Wiley was my friend and companion throughout my most formative years, and the inspiration behind Stable Select itself. Through grieving his loss, I have found that certain techniques have helped me through a process which unfortunately befalls all horse owners at some point in their lives. In an effort to share what worked for me, I have compiled the following tips to cope with the bereavement of a beloved equine:
1. Channel your energy into tasks that involve celebrating or memorializing your horse. Shortly after Wiley’s death, I immersed myself in the process of designing and commissioning his memorial plaque and searching for the perfect urn to contain his ashes. This created a task-oriented goal that provided me with the opportunity to recall fond memories from which to draw for inspiration.
2. Reminisce with friends or family members about happy times spent with your horse. Shortly after Wiley’s loss, my father and I took a walk at a nature preserve where I used to hack him growing up. While we followed the winding paths, I recounted stories of riding Wiley in these fields, my heart warming at the recollection of his evolving from skittish and temperamental to quiet and steadfast.
3. Try journaling to disclose your innermost thoughts about your grief, or perhaps consider an alternative angle of writing a letter to your horse expressing your feelings. One of the challenges I faced in sharing my feelings with other people was my tendency to want to discount my own pain in the face of the tremendous suffering befallen to so many in the world at the moment. In a private journal, there is no judgment and you are free to express your most sincere thoughts and feelings. If you’re a tech-friendly person, check out some of these Journaling apps.
4. Consider meditation: I found that guided meditation focused on positive energy or on addressing grief was helpful, but even a few minutes of focused breath can be helpful. There are many great apps for mindfulness, such as Headspace or Calm. Moreover, during meditation or in everyday life, if an unpleasant memory of your horse's health problems or final days or moments surfaces, try refocusing your thoughts on a positive memory when your horse was vibrant and healthy.
5. Once you’re ready, consider volunteering with a horse rescue, therapeutic riding program, or even offering to groom or ride a friend’s horse. PATH International has a directory of participating therapeutic horsemanship centers. While this might initially feel painful as nothing can replace your lost love, some equine quality time will inevitably bring joy to all horse lovers at heart.
6. Give yourself permission to feel sad, but aim to take ownership of the feeling by limiting the timeframe you allow yourself to fixate on sad thoughts so that your mind is not allowed to spiral or fester.
7. Check out some books that address grief, particularly over a loved one or pet. Friend and author Bonnie Kreitler wrote this comforting read entitled “I Heard Your Dog Died: Imaginings for Those Who Have Lost a Pet” available here.
Hopefully, you will find some of these strategies as beneficial as I have in mourning the loss of your beloved pet and partner. I wanted to leave you a with a stirring quote I came across while seeking inspiration for Wiley’s memorial; these words epitomize the essence of why these creatures so profoundly capture our souls:
“Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride, friendship without envy or beauty without vanity? Here, where grace is laced with muscle, and strength by gentleness confined. He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity. There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent, there is nothing so quick, nothing more patient. England’s past has been borne on his back. All our history is his industry; we are his heirs; he our inheritance.” - Ronald Duncan in Ode to the Horse.