Wednesday, April 6, 2011

One Final Ride

I've been thinking about my horse a lot lately. I never had time to properly grieve her passing, because the timing of her death coincided with the beginning of my Lyme disease treatment. There is something incredibly magic about the bond between a girl and her first horse.

Shiloh was 20 years old when I got her, although the dentist upgraded her to 25 when he took a peek at her teeth. This meant we were the same age! I wanted a kind and gentle older horse to show me the ropes and Shiloh fit the bill. It quickly became apparent to me that she was extremely aloof, which I came to learn is common in older horses, as they've "been there, done that."

Having been begging for a horse since I could talk, I wanted a horse who was as happy to see me as I was to see her. Shiloh, however, was like a stone wall. I know she understood how much I loved her, but she was not one to become excited about anything, especially a human who came to remove her from her food and make her do actual work.

Nevertheless, I had my pony and I was a happy girl. I loved her with every ounce of love I had in my heart, and I know she loved me, too, even though she wasn't one to show it. A handful of  times, she accidentally let a few nickers slip out to let me know that she was at least occasionally happy to see me.

Over the years, there was something that I always wanted to do: climb up on her back and simply lie there while she grazed in her field. I tried several times, but without a mounting block, I was never able to succeed in climbing up. She would patiently stand there while I jumped over and over until I eventually gave up. Occasionally, she would look back at me to let me know that she thought I was crazy.

Around the time when I first started getting sick with early symptoms of Lyme disease, Shiloh started having problems, too. Just like me, my "easy keeper" suddenly had trouble keeping on weight. Her hair started falling out in clumps; mine, too. I developed visual problems; she developed moon blindness, which caused her to lose sight in one eye almost overnight. My anxiety started getting bad; she started getting very jumpy and anxious, too. We kept a close watch on her, making sure she was safe in her pasture and not being picked on.

I will always wonder if Shiloh also contracted Lyme disease. Our symptoms mirrored each other so much that it's definitely possible. Over the years, I pulled two embedded ticks off of her, and I imagine many other ticks finished a full meal and dropped off, unnoticed. All of her symptoms could have been explained away simply as old age, although it seems strange how quickly they overtook her, since she'd always been amazingly healthy and plump for her age.
On the day when I found out that my Lyme test came back positive, I felt so many emotions: fear, relief, uncertainty, etc. So I did what I had done for the past 5 years--I took myself to the barn to find peace. Shiloh was way down the hill when I got there, and I struggled to drag my achy body down the hill so I could sit in the grass near my beloved pony and give my racing mind a rest.

Suddenly, I knew what I had to do! I threw off my boots and my socks and set my camera down in a safe place away from curious noses and hooves. And after 5 years of trying--on a day when I was in so much pain and with tears streaming down my face-- it took me only two tries: my body, as if lifted up by angels, now rested on the back of my aging pony. I don't know how long I laid there on her back embracing my beloved pony in a mammoth hug. It had been my dream for so long!

I gently grabbed a handful of her mane and gave her a tiny squeeze with my calves. I wasn't sure if she would understand what I was asking, but she did. She walked on! We rode through her pasture like that: barefoot, bareback, and bridleless. I've never in my life experienced the joy and peace of that moment. She took me back up the hill to her gate and I was able to steer her to the water trough so I could carefully climb off.

That was to be our last ride together: a few days later she lost the sight in her other eye, and her health rapidly declined. My pony-my wonderful, beautiful, aloof pony--took me on the most incredible, amazing last ride together. There was no doubt in my mind how much she loved me.

Though we didn't have much time together after our final ride, her aloof spell was broken--she whinnied for me when I came to see her (not nickered, mind you!), she wrapped her neck around me in true horsey-hug style, and in the span of a few short weeks, she gave back to me the five years worth of affection I had showered her with over our years together.

When it was time to let her go, I brought her her favorite thing in the whole wide world: Cheese Nips. She greedily gulped down the entire box, and then it was time to say goodbye. I held my pony and covered her with a million tears as she--the greatest pony who ever lived--galloped off with my heart to the great pasture in the sky.


  1. Even your cold-hearted husband teared up at this one.

  2. Tears and sniffles...and sniffles from tears. It's easy to forget or dismiss that animals get Lyme too. They are especially susceptible since they live outside + run and play in the woods + have hair-covered bodies + can't check themselves.

  3. Oh Alyson...what a wonderful and touching story...tears here too. Our animals are such precious gifts for us. Thank you for sharing this today...

  4. Tears! Even from an allergy sufferer

  5. Thank you for sharing, what a great story! Made me tear up. Animals are amazing!

  6. That was so beautiful! I am so happy you got to experience that time and love! Jaime

  7. You know, I had a horse that also seemed to mirror my own dicline in health after Lyme. While the Vet didn't know what to do for him, I found a Myo Facial release therapist who liked to expand his human practice to include horses. This therapist pointed out that my horse was having my issues; trouble swollowing, problems with both (front) feet, etc.

    I do believe that our pets, especially horses (and dogs) are an extension of ourselves. I think they 'feel us' more deeply that we will ever fully understand. I'm sorry for your loss of a great friend...I have a great friend who is 32 this year, and although her knee aches and she doesn't see so well anymore, I will miss her longer than the 18 years I have had her <3