My horse and I have cov­ered many miles to­gether. But the last leg of our trav­els will be the hard­est.

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The next jour­ney: My horse and I have cov­ered many miles to­gether. But the last leg of our trav­els will be the hard­est.

I swept out the trailer, filled the hay net and in­spected the emer­gency kit. Tire pres­sure was good. The truck’s gas tank was full. Paus­ing for a drink of wa­ter, I re­flected on the up­com­ing trip with my geld­ing, Bear.

Trav­el­ing with horses in tow was al­ways ex­cit­ing. I loved head­ing down the open road early in the morn­ing know­ing that I had a full day of horse ad­ven­tures ahead. Sure, it was nerve-rack­ing at first; it took me a while to find my “tow­ing mojo.” Still, the an­tic­i­pa­tion of the ad­ven­tures that awaited at each des­ti­na­tion were enough to mo­ti­vate me to keep prac­tic­ing.

I found spe­cial sat­is­fac­tion in trav­el­ing with Bear. We first brought him home in a three-horse slant load, but I never felt truly safe haul­ing a trailer that big. So we pur­chased a two-horse straight load that was less in­tim­i­dat­ing for me to drive.

Bear, how­ever, let us know that he dis­ap­proved of our new ac­qui­si­tion by re­fus­ing to walk into it. So we em­barked on a lengthy train­ing process to­gether---to give him the con­fi­dence to load, and me the con­fi­dence to drive. Our suc­cess in over­com­ing trai­ler­ing insecuriti­es en­abled us to par­tic­i­pate in many fun ad­ven­tures to­gether as the years passed. We at­tended lessons, clin­ics, trail rides and horse shows. We went swim­ming to­gether, worked cows, played horse soc­cer.

But Bear is now in his 20s, and as I made my fi­nal prepa­ra­tions, I re­al­ized it had been awhile since I had trail­ered him off of the prop­erty. I hooked up the rig eas­ily, and he qui­etly loaded right up. The weather was good, and I smiled to my­self as I felt the fa­mil­iar weight of the trailer be­hind me.

My trailer has a front win­dow that al­lows me to peer in through my truck’s rearview mir­ror as I’m driv­ing. I chuck­led as I caught oc­ca­sional glimpses of Bear’s ears and fore­lock.

Our des­ti­na­tion to­day, how­ever, was dif­fer­ent than any of our pre­vi­ous ad­ven­tures. After a life­time of ex­cel­lent health, Bear has de­vel­oped phys­i­cal prob­lems, and re­cently I’d had to re­tire him from rid­ing. To­day he was sched­uled to have a re­moval and biopsy of a skin le­sion that was sus­pected to be ma­lig­nant.

Bear un­loaded eas­ily at the

vet­eri­nar­ian’s of­fice. I felt a mo­ment of pride watch­ing him demon­strate how com­fort­able he had be­come back­ing off of the trailer. After a brief wait, Bear was brought out for the pro­ce­dure and led into a set of stocks in the exam room. After 12 years to­gether, this was the first time I had ever seen Bear in stocks, and I asked for per­mis­sion to take some pho­tos.

Then the thought struck me: In­stead of at our new­est show­ground or trail­rid­ing venue, I was tak­ing pho­tos of my horse in a vet­eri­nary clinic. A lump formed in my throat and my eyes be­came misty. It was a harsh re­minder that there would be no more trail rides, clin­ics or shows in our fu­ture. All of those years that we had worked to­gether to in­crease our skills and im­prove our re­la­tion­ship were be­hind us. From now on, the most ex­cit­ing thing we would ex­pe­ri­ence to­gether would be new vet­eri­nary pro­ce­dures to com­bat Bear’s ever-mount­ing health prob­lems.

Bear is not the first horse that I have re­tired, but he is the first horse that I have re­tired dur­ing a time in my life when I did not have an­other horse in re­serve. I once kept three to four horses on my prop­erty so that when one re­tired, I would still have at least one other to ride.

Over the years, all the oth­ers died, and Bear is now my only horse. I feel for­tu­nate that I have been able to keep horses in my back­yard for 15 years now. It’s been a child­hood dream turned to re­al­ity, and I have had a pretty good run. But I have to ad­mit that I am not ready for it to end just yet. I worry that, as I watch my horse age and his health de­cline, I am also watch­ing the slow death of the equine-cen­tric life­style that has be­come so in­te­gral to my sense of self.

After an area of skin was re­moved and stitches put in, Bear was backed out of the stocks and moved to a stall to re­cover from the seda­tive. When the time came to leave, he loaded quickly and smoothly, prompt­ing an

ap­prov­ing nod from the vet­eri­nar­ian.

Head­ing home, I thought about how, in years past, I would of­ten drive back from an event re­play­ing the day in my mind. Bear was al­ways a shy and cau­tious horse. Each new place and ac­tiv­ity in­evitably brought chal­lenges, and we worked to over­come his fears and hes­i­ta­tions. Each time, I rev­eled in our vic­to­ries and made new plans for train­ing to make up for our short­com­ings.

I must say I was proud of how Bear han­dled this vet­eri­nary visit. The feel­ing was not so dif­fer­ent from how I of­ten felt driv­ing home after a par­tic­u­larly good day at a trail ride or clinic. I re­flected on how much I val­ued the re­la­tion­ship that I had built with him over the years and how I wanted to pro­vide as com­fort­able a re­tire­ment for him as I could.

Time has passed and cir­cum­stances have changed, but for a while longer I still have a horse I cher­ish. Life looks dif­fer­ent for both of us than it once did ---and it is a strug­gle to come to terms with that. I mourn the loss of be­ing able to ride him, and I dread the thought of his death.

With no more rid­ing des­ti­na­tions in our fu­ture, we are em­bark­ing on a dif­fer­ent kind of jour­ney to­gether now. Watch­ing my dreams ebb with my horse’s health has taken no less for­ti­tude than help­ing him load into my trailer and driv­ing off down the road to face a new rid­ing chal­lenge. Of all the places my horse and I have gone to­gether, this re­tire­ment jour­ney might be the one for which I need the most courage.

GOOD TIMES: On one of their many ad­ven­tures to­gether, Mary Lynne Car­pen­ter rides Bear on a trail in Colorado years ago.

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