How To Say Goodbye To a Unicorn

Every horse must cross the rainbow bridge eventually, but the end always seems to come too soon. This is the story of a sendoff that was nothing short of magical, from the blog of photographer Andrea Blair.

Photographer Andrea Blair has been capturing images of senior horses and the people who love them for over four years. Her first book for The Senior Horse Project launches December 1st. Check out this heartwarming story, republished with permission from Andrea’s blog, for a sneak peak! To see more amazing photographs by Andrea please visit Paper Horse Photography.

An introduction from Andrea:

Over the past four years I have photographed senior horses and done my best at getting their story out and photographing them with the people that love them. When Michelle emailed me at the beginning of the year about including Prince in The Senior Horse Project I did not hesitate. So fast forward to August and our scheduled session day. It was stormy, rainy and was certain that we would have to reschedule for another day. I get a quick reply saying he was ‘leaving the next day.’ So a lump in my throat began to form and my gut feeling told me that I needed to get out there,  storm or not and photograph this horse with his little girl. Sometimes when you wish hard enough the best happens and with that the storm passed.

This was one of the most magical soul wrenching sessions I have ever done. I hope you enjoy (in Michelle’s words) the story of how Prince came into their life.

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From Michelle:

Our story with Prince is a short one. But nonetheless a sweet little love story about a little girl and her Unicorn.

It all started one night at the local Kamloops Stock Yards for their fall sale. I don’t know why I even go to these things. I never buy, not even a halter. But here I was with my 3-year-old daughter. We wandered, we looked, we watched and we visited with the horses that would let us. Morgan (a.k.a. Moki) immediately spotted a beautiful little palomino mare. She was young, started, well-bred and every little girl’s dream horse! I smiled as I knew she would get a home.

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Then we walked past a pen that held two horses: one worried chestnut and a tired little black pony. I read the tag that was hand written on their pen, “Blackie, Standardbred, 20+ yrs old.” Hmm, smallest little Standardbred I’ve ever seen. We wandered a bit more, but I kept coming back to this poor little black horse. He truly reminded me of “Black Beauty” when he was old, broken and at the sale. Black, white star, one white back foot and so very skinny and so exhausted he was actually leaning his head on the panel fence. No, we don’t need another horse. No, we especially do not need a horse that is this broken. Vet bills, feed bills, winter blankets and so many extra hours of care and worry. No. No. No! Hubby would be so proud of me!

The sale was about to start and so Moki and I took our seats. So many horses went through, hours went by and still no little black horse. I just wanted to make sure he was okay. I was sure some nice family would pick him up. In came his chestnut pen mate. Lame as lame could be, poor fella. But he was bought by a family! And in came Blackie. Ridden by a little girl, this is a good sign! Someone will snatch him up for their child! $200. $150. $100. $50. $20? $5? Not even the meat buyer was going to risk buying this old skinny horse. So out he went without a single bid.

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As soon as he left the auction ring, I was out of my seat and off with Moki in tow. I went straight to Blackie’s pen and asked about him. The owner then told me, “I don’t want to take him home, you can have him if you want him, just let me clear it with the house.”

Well, that was that. Blackie was now coming home with us. What had I done! Morgan was NOT impressed. I handed her the lead rope of this old, skinny, sad and UGLY little black nag. She wanted the Barbie horse! BUT, had done exactly what my husband had told me, I hadn’t spent a penny.

But he quickly grew on her, and after a few moments she was petting him, talking to him and leading him. He stopped at every morsel of hay he saw. Before long I witnessed him spit out a wad of food. Bad teeth. Maybe no teeth. Well, there is vet bill #1. So we went outside to wait for our ride. He was able to eat grass, and he didn’t pick up his head from the lawn until the trailer arrived. He hopped right in, with an Alpaca I might add!

The process of waiting for our ride home gave Morgan and I time to chat about a new name for her new pony. A new name and a new life! Well, any Unicorn worth its salt has a regal name. Prince it is! Oh, did I mention that from their conversations that Moki found out that Prince was a Unicorn? Who would have believed that this little thrown away old horse was a Unicorn!

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What we found out about Prince right away was he had no time left for people. He would simply walk away. And don’t even bother trying to cuddle him or touch his face. He had given up on being partners with humans a long time ago and wasn’t about to trust these new humans. I can only imagine how many hands he had passed through in his lifetime. We went over him from to bottom and discovered that he had once been a race horse. A pacer. He was a long-ago race horse as he had a lip tattoo but no freeze brand. And his lip tattoo was very faded, but my best guess is he is a horse named Anchor D One. The middle is a mystery, but we promised him that our farm would be his very last stop and he would never have to worry about anything ever again.

I immediately put a blanket on Prince. For warmth, and also to hide his condition from the world. He could eat short soft grass, and since it was the end of September, the grass now was his best friend. Too short for him to gorge, but short enough that he could eat it. And we started to add more food. Before long he was at three meals per day, all soaked, warm and messy! Good thing he is small, because his feed bill sure wasn’t!

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Moki was desperate to ride her new Unicorn! But the best I could allow her was small rides, and with his winter blanket on to cushion her little bum from his bones. He was a very compliant boy to this, but still not trusting or caring. But we soon started to win his heart over when we offered him a sweet treat every time we came out for a visit. Sometime it was a visit with the halter, sometimes it was just a treat, a pat and we would leave him alone. But he soon started to look forward to our visits. No expectations, something this old soul wasn’t used to.

Next step was getting the vet out. I didn’t want to wait too long but wanted to give him a bit of time to gain some strength for the sedation. Dr. Jennifer came out and just shook her head. She felt the same as we did. Who would let a horse get this bad? Why? And then send him to auction? Just heartless. Prince got his teeth floated, best Dr. Jennifer could do. He had most of his teeth, but his mouth was in such bad shape that she could only help him so much. But all the painfully sharp edges were now gone and he was going to be so much more comfortable very soon. Oh, and how about his sheath? His sheath had been so neglected that he has a bean the size of a Brazil nut. Have you seen a Brazil nut in the shell!?! Yeah, even under sedation he wasn’t very happy about that procedure.

Prince was now well on his way to a much better life! And his only job from now until forever was to learn to love his little girl. Oh, and eat sugar cubes. Lots of sugar cubes!

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That October Moki and Prince attended their first horse show, but because Prince wasn’t yet ready to carry tack, Moki led him. Being it was a Halloween show that was just right! Moki was Little Red Riding Hood and Prince was The Big Bad Wolf in Granny’s nighty!

As time went on, Prince filled out, and Moki was eventually allowed to tack him up and go for a real ride! Wow, new issue was found. Prince was not happy with tack. As soon as I brought out the tiny saddle his ears went back and he actually bit it. Hmm, how to get through this one with everyone happy. Moki had waited so long for a ride, but I didn’t want to lose the trust we had built with him. So I took my time and used a good friend’s suggestion and had Morgan feed him cookies while I tacked him up. And I never did his saddle up overly tight. Well, that made him very happy and before long his ears were up and he was eager to be tacked up! But there was always a cookie!

Moki and Prince were soon developing quite the partnership. He would follow her around and she figured out that she could lead him by holding onto his blanket. That was all she could reach! When he got tired of her affections, he would just wander off and have a nap in the sun. Or go off and graze. Food was never far from his mind! But he would do things for that little girl that were so sweet. For example, she would lead him up to the feeder, get him just so and hop onto his back! First time I saw that it just about gave me a heart attack, but then she reminded me, of me! We quickly decided that although this was fun, she needed her helmet on AND to let Mommy know her plans!

One of our favorite Prince stories was the one of his Christmas with us. My whole family was over for the holidays and my brother (a fellow horse enthusiast) had decided that his niece was going to be surprised by a very special gift from her Unicorn. His magical horn!! Christmas Eve finally arrives, the kids are all asleep and my brother pulls out the magical horn he himself has crafted out of a piece of wood. It was shiny and silver, and looked just the part! It was perfect! But he was not happy with just having it wrapped and under the tree. He wanted the magic of it being ON the Unicorn and then under the tree the next morning, to be the true magic. Okay, I’m in. But how do we attach this wooden horn to the horse?

He says he has it ALL figured out so out to the barn we go. Keep in mind it is now after 10 p.m., cold outside and dark. I go and catch Prince, bring him up to the barn and he waits patiently while we fumble about with this horn. Turns out the horn is too heavy, and with every bob of his head it sways and eventually breaks off its base (which my brother made out of cardboard, I told him it wouldn’t work…!) An hour passes and my Dad now shows up at the barn, worried that we’ve either frozen to death or been run over by Santa’s sleigh. Still, Prince is standing quietly through all our arguing, fumbling, laughing and attempts to anchor this silver horn to his head!

Finally, midnight rolls around and we start leading Prince through the deep snow to the front lawn so we can surprise Morgan with her Unicorn! So Dad and Uncle Dave run back to the house, grab a sleeping 4-year-old out of her warm bed and take her out on the deck to look down into the yard to see this majestic surprise. But it’s pitch black out. And Prince is black. So we turn on all the lights we can. Look Morgan! Look who is here to surprise you! Morgan? Morgan wake up. Morgan is out cold and nothing is waking this kid up. Good thing too I guess, because on the trip down to the house Prince’s horn fell off AGAIN. Cold and tired, I just stuck it under the poll of his halter. Huh, not bad. Now why didn’t we just do that two hours ago!? Better yet…why didn’t we just wrap it and put it under the tree? Oh, what we do to make our kid’s lives a little more magical!

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Moki and Prince had a fabulous summer, went into a few local horse shows and gymkhanas. He taught her to have patience, kindness and love. They never went fast, and when the pain meds started to not work anymore, we stopped asking much of our Old Unicorn. As summer progressed, we could see how his old body was failing him. I was becoming increasingly more afraid that he would go down with his small charge on his back. His hips were just not what they used to be. He could still run after the mares in the pasture, but it was visible that his body was declining rapidly. Another cold winter in the slippery snow just wasn’t an option. Not after we promised his life would never again be hard or painful.

One warm August afternoon came a knock at the door. Morgan’s older brother answered the door and called for his sister. At the door was a beautiful tree in a pot, with a big pink bow. Beside it was a shiny silver bag with “Prince” written across it in bejewelled letters. Morgan stared at the tree and the bag and asked what it said. It’s for Prince, we said. She was so excited! Before even looking into the bag, she knew what this was! She quickly opened the bag and inside was a letter;

Dear Moonlight Prince,

Princess Eclipsia has requested your return to Midnight Castle right away.

You have learned so much while living with Morgan and the other humans, that the fillies and colts of The Secret Forest need your wisdom. You are being called home now to share everything you have learned with the foals so they may grow up to be kind, wise and gentle friends to children of their own.

Please have Morgan plant this tree in your favorite place; this will help you get home. As the tree grows, you will also grow your amazing new Pegasus wings. The secret is in the blossom colour, this will reveal the colour of your new wings. We are trusting Morgan to take care of your tree, we have been watching her and we know how much she loves you and we have been waiting for someone like her to take on this very important responsibility for you.

Please have Morgan’s Mom and Dad take you to the base of a high mountain and release you into the forest. Make sure that no one sees where you go; our home has always been a secret as you know.

We look forward to seeing you soon, please tell Morgan not to be sad. The tree will also remind her of you and your special times together!

Starshine Clementine

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I finish reading the letter out loud (choking back tears) and tentatively look into the face of my little girl to await her reaction. Her face lights up and she reaches up for Prince’s letter. She runs outside with the magical letter and as we quickly follow her to see where she was going, we see her run into the pasture to her old Unicorn and hold that special letter right into his face! Prince of course gives it a sniff and a nuzzle… if his little girl brought it to him it could very well be a delicious treat! She stood there with him explaining the whole letter, the process and of course his very important duties to come!

We had to immediately find the perfect spot for Prince’s beautiful tree and plant it right away! Morgan was taking her responsibility very seriously, helped her Dad dig the hole and would you believe it, in amongst the roots of this special tree was a great big PINK rock. This tree was even more special than we had imagined! That pink rock still sits in her room. That evening we had our very special photo session with Andrea. Moki and Prince looked amazing and Moki was so excited to show off her Unicorn!

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We said goodbye to our Unicorn friend the next day, off to the land of his ancestors in The Secret Forest. Fly free and let your wings grow Moonlight Prince!

Go Riding.

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