Last night, Tantius Farm hosted a war horse bonfire of epic proportions. Flames reached for the star speckled skies as friends, some equine enthusiasts, some not, gathered to chatter away about everything they could think of. Everything except the reason we were sitting around a fire.
Within the darkened barn, my teenage niece Lou slumped against the stall door at the end of the aisle, her sobs echoing into the empty stall.
Several towns away, my nephew Jack was telling his father all about the horse that he rode at my farm. This horse was gentle and kind - the finest knight's horse in all the land - and oh, how he loved little kids! Jack told his father how much he missed this horse. That someday he might not be sad anymore. Someday, I would help him love a new horse.
Two weeks ago, I buried Galahad. My finest knight's horse. My liver chestnut island of sanity. My example that magic does exist in this world. My leap of faith and blind intuition.
I had gone on vacation, something that I rarely do, and if my friends do convince me to leave the farm, it's never for very long. I miss my routine, the happy, insistent nickers every morning at feeding time, my Morgan mare Tia alternating between pinning her ears and perking them before I take her outside. My old man, TC, swaggering out of his run-in stall to meet me for grain, early morning sun glistening across his chestnut coat. Galahad poking his tiny nose between the bars on his stall door, patiently waiting for his fly mask and halter so his day can begin. The idea of "vacation" from that is wasted on me. But I tried. Monday afternoon, I had arrived at my destination, ready to have no responsibilities for 3 days. I texted my mother to let her know that I had arrived. She called me immediately.
|Our last ride, taken the day before.|
Galahad had been repeatedly rolling in the pasture. When she brought him in, he'd continued to try and lay down. She suspected gas colic, as he'd been through this before whenever a severe front came through. The day before had been close to 90, and the weatherman was predicting a drop in temperature between 10-20 degrees. She'd walked him the best she could and called the vet.
Within the hour, the vet called me to report that Galahad's cecum was twisted. She'd administered muscle relaxers and pain killers. Short of shipping him to the University of Cornell and pumping him full of fluids, possibly progressing to surgery, all we could do was wait.
At 9:30 pm, my cousin Sandy called with the news that his condition had taken a turn for the worse and they were now preparing to put him to sleep.
I’m not an overly emotional person. I try not to cry in front of other people if I can help it. Instead, I bottle all of my emotions and wait until I’m in a safe place to release my tears. My truck is usually my favorite safe place. But this was overwhelming. I sunk to the lawn in a tight ball and sobbed.
My valiant gelding was going to cross the rainbow bridge and I wasn’t there to stroke his neck and talk him over it. I instructed Sandy to kiss the spot just above his eyes like I always did and to tell him that I loved him.
|Lou & Galahad (photo credit to Jon Jenkins)|
I have always told my niece that if something happened to Galahad, I would make sure she was at the farm with him to say goodbye. She was away at summer camp for the first time, unreachable.
My nephew was just starting to fall in love with horses, more specifically Galahad. I was going to have to explain what had happened, and know that I was responsible for his tears because I had brought Galahad into his life.
I hung up with my cousin and continued to cry for hours.
The next morning, as the sun hit my swollen face and bloodshot eyes, I drove home to bury my amazing gelding, tears fracturing the light all the way back to the farm.
My flip flops slapped the dew laden grass as I ran to the tarp covered figure in my front pasture. Removed from the reality of it all the night before, just words through a phone line, I was shocked into the here and now as I lifted the tarp and stroked his ice cold nose. I would never again know the friendly, sweet smell of his muzzle as he nuzzled my cheek, leaving dirty smears. I would never hear him huff and snort as I led him to his pasture every morning. I would never watch the retired Amish cart horse canter so lightly across the pasture when I called for him. The sobs ripped up through my guts, through my soul, heavily seasoned with regret. My mother knelt down beside me, tears running down her face as she held me. “I’m sorry babe. I’m so sorry,” she repeated.
In the two weeks that have passed, I’ve cleaned out his stall, dumped his water bucket, and scrubbed his feeder. I can’t seem to pack his bridles away, although I have moved his name plate to the wall where we hang all the nameplates of the horses that have gone before him. I stand at his grave and can see how he’s positioned, facing the barn like he would have wanted. And yet somehow, every morning and every night, I still pause in my routine of mixing grain for the next feeding, haunted by that nagging sensation that I’m forgetting something. I still have to remind myself to move on to the next horse stall when I should be opening his door to feed him.
My nephew Jack was crushed. He cried and explained it this way: “It’s like all of my classmates got 100 candy bars and I only got one.” He’s seven. He asked where Galahad’s body was, because he knows that his “angel part” has gone to Heaven. He seems content to know that the finest knight’s horse in the barn is still on the property. He’s writing Galahad a letter with pictures to tell him how he misses him. He insists that we dig a little hole on top of the grave and bury his letter. He says that although he loved Galahad, he knows that I will find him another horse that he can learn to love.
|Jack & Galahad|
My niece Lou has recently returned from camp and has had only 2 days to process everything before the war horse bonfire. She’s a very intelligent girl, a highly rational girl. When she first arrived for the bonfire, I found her crying in the barn near his stall. It was not a time for talking. Later in the evening, she crept away, into the barn to mourn him alone. I gave her some time before following. Hugging her shoulders as she sobbed, I said, “I’m sorry, sweetheart, I’m so sorry.” As she cried she said, “It hurts! This just hurts!”
I wish I could tell her that it gets easier, but I can’t. My eyes are clearer for the most part, but I know that the tears are just waiting for the right combination of a song, a memory and a drive in the truck before they spill over my cheeks again.
|The beginning of our journey - the day I brought him home!|
God speed, Galahad!