Goodbye, My Partner: Losing Your Schooling Horse

“Loving is a risk. Losing is a kaleidoscope of pain.”

Goodbye, my partner . . . and thank you.

My husband and I “lost” our beloved dog-family member, Lucy, and his schooling horse, Tucker – within two weeks. We chose to make Lucy and Tucker integral to the warp and woof of our lives. Our stomachs hurt. Our hearts ache. What did I learn from grief over the loss of these two companion animals?

I wrote how Lucy helped teach me to ride. She taught me to be patient – to laugh – to not expect perfection – to prioritize – to take time to be. She was a force in our every day. Her impatient woof told us now! was walk-time, dinner-time, snack-time and “run to the post office and Starbucks-time” as if she came equipped with a Piaget. We have been jerked out of the comfort of our joyous routine. My loss taught me that grief is the loss of a happy dedication to the routine she required. I lost part of my identity. I’m not Lucy’s caretaker — her mom — anymore. I still walk, but have lost the energy and joy behind the walks. Lucy was my vehicle to serenity.

Candace with Lucy, her riding instructor. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

Tucker taught that the relationship doesn’t have to be perfect to be love. Tucker was a big, cranky old boy — a seen-it-all schooling horse. Bill had a love/dislike relationship with him. Tucker often tried to bite Bill. He tried to bite everyone. He would concrete his feet on the trail then sigh and stroll forward. Tucker frustrated Bill. Bill probably frustrated Tucker. Both were a bit crabby on the ground, but pretty under (and on) the saddle. Tucker was teaching Bill to have confidence – to relax – to be balanced – to be a partner. “We were just making a breakthrough,” Bill whispered when I reported that Tucker was gone. “I’ve lost my training partner.” Bill was the last to ride Tucker. It was their best ride.

Tucker and Bill taking it easy. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

Bill and I grieve over our mixed losses. Grief is love with nowhere to go. I’m not ready for a new dog and Bill had to try a new horse this week. His lesson was littered with adjustments to Melinko’s gaits, quirks and sensitivities. I kept hearing, “Tucker could do this” and “Tucker knew that.” I smiled because three weeks before I heard, “The S.O.B. tried to bite me again” and “Tucker hates me” and “Tucker, I’m trying to be nice to you, you (fill in the blank).”

Tucker and Bill. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

Bill will adjust to his new ride. They will learn from and about each other. But, Tucker’s empty stall – his bridle hanging unused — carves a big hole in Bill’s riding life. No, we didn’t provide Tucker’s daily care. We didn’t muck or feed. But, Tuck was integral to our riding team. He was the energy in Bill’s riding life. He was the vehicle to pleasure and learning and success. With time and patience the next horse will bring his energy to Bill as Tucker had.

A lone bridle. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

Loving is a risk. Losing is a kaleidoscope of pain. The riches provided by the love is worth the pain. Please share the love and loss you were brave enough to dive into so we can love and lose together.