Say­ing Good­bye

There’s a cer­tain kind of heartache only an­other horse lover can un­der­stand.

Horse & Rider - - Table Of Contents - Have a poignant, hu­mor­ous, or ed­u­ca­tional story to share? E- mail jfmeyer@ aim­me­; 675-word max­i­mum. By Tina Joyce

There comes a time when you have to let it all out. Pour your heart out on pa­per, not be­cause anyone will ever read it, but be­cause it’s the only way your heart can mend. Mend, to re­pair some­thing that is bro­ken or dam­aged. We must re­mem­ber, though, some things can never be re­paired to their orig­i­nal con­di­tion.

As I write, my heart aches. I tell my­self no one else can un­der­stand, can re­ally get it. But deep within my soul, I know some­one un­der­stands. Some­one has felt this way. Cer­tainly I’m not the first, nor will I be the last.

There’s a heartache that’s not like oth­ers. I’m not com­par­ing my im­mi­nent loss to that of los­ing a child or a close fam­ily mem­ber. This loss is dif­fer­ent, but also exquisitely painful. We tell our­selves—just as oth­ers who don’t get it try to re­as­sure us—that at least it’s just a horse. Oh, but trust me: He has never been just a horse. He’s a part of my heart, my very soul that God de­vel­oped into the be­ing I am to­day.

Speed, Fi­nesse, Stamina

My Johnny worked his way into my life when I was just 13 years old. He was one of a few horses I used to care for when their owner was away on the show cir­cuit. A se­ries of cir­cum­stances led to our pur­chas­ing the young Paint geld­ing, reg­is­tered name Heere’s Johnny, the fol­low­ing year. And how to de­scribe him? He had speed. He had tal­ent. He had fi­nesse. English, West­ern, trail, speed events—he could do them all. He was my ul­ti­mate all­round fella. Yet, he also had spunk and stamina, which meant plenty of work for me.

As a re­sult of Johnny, some­thing spe­cial hap­pened in my teenage years. While other girls were wor­ried about their over­hand serve or their dream guy, I had a unique con­fi­dant with whom to share the tri­als of ado­les­cence and the ex­cite­ment of com­pe­ti­tion.

I never logged my hours, and of course he didn’t come with an odome­ter, but the en­ergy and love I poured into him dur­ing a piv­otal time in life kept me in bal­ance most of the time. Through ju­nior high, high school, col­lege, boyfriends, mar­riage, jobs, and now chil­dren, he’s al­ways been there. He wit­nessed a lot—and heard it all, from me.

How Do We Say Good­bye?

It’s not the arena time I’ll miss. It isn’t even the shows, the awards, or the ac­co­lades in my youth that’ll leave a va­cant place in my heart. What I’ll miss most are the in­tan­gi­bles only an­other horse lover can ap­pre­ci­ate.

The smell of his muz­zle when his face meets mine. The warmth of his breath on win­ter morn­ings. The feel of his coat in early fall. The rhyth­mic mo­tion of his gait as we ride along with the sum­mer sun on my face.

The un­wa­ver­ing trust we share…right up to the end.

That last bit hurts to my core. He trusts me so much! Through fright­en­ing or un­cer­tain mo­ments of colic, en­tan­gle­ment, and long trailer hauls, he trusted me. I could coax him through al­most any chal­lenge, us­ing just my voice and my touch.

That’s what hap­pens when you spend 30-plus years in­vest­ing, lov­ing, and car­ing for a crea­ture who al­ways lis­tens and never be­trays. We have a friend­ship I cher­ish, but which causes an al­most un­bear­able ache in­side me. At times, it keeps me from sleep­ing.

Be­cause I know I have to say good- bye. The time is near when I’ll see him strug­gle to get up or feel the ribs I could never imag­ine notic­ing be­fore. His spirit is still the same and so is the look deep in his eyes when I say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” His body, though, af­ter nearly 40 years, is sim­ply giv­ing out.

So how do we say good­bye? Me, I sim­ply let the tears flow down my cheeks while ev­ery­one else is sleep­ing. I peer out the win­dow for an­other mid­night glimpse of his beauty and know one morn­ing soon there will be one less bucket to fill. And when that hap­pens, there’ll be a void where he once stood, both in the pas­ture and in my heart.

Tina Joyce lives in For­est, Vir­ginia, with her hus­band and two teenaged chil­dren. A Colorado na­tive, she grew up com­pet­ing in West­ern, English, and speed events. Johnny, now 37, has re­mained in tow through ev­ery move and life tran­si­tion. Joyce is a free­lance mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant/writer who teaches health and tech­nol­ogy at a lo­cal Chris­tian school.

The au­thor’s Paint geld­ing Johnny, at 36.

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