From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

Wind Spirit

Courage and resolution are the spirit and soul of virtue.

Thomas Fuller

Many years ago, our friendly vet put us together with an aging couple who raised Shetland ponies. The old couple had raised a stallion fromthe age of three, after finding himtied to a telephone pole in a thin and ravaged condition. They brought him to their little farm, nursed him back to health and gave him a loving home for many years.

The ponywas transferred tomy ownershipwhen the aged, unwell couple needed to find good homes for their small, remaining herd. Many of my friends chuckled at my decision to give the pony stallion a job on our breeding farm. Fromthe first, Spirit earned his name. Whether Morgan or Thoroughbred mare, he rapidly became everyone’s favorite. He never walked by a mare without a greeting, receiving an enthusiastic reply. Never did he exhibit a moment of disrespect to his human handlers or caretakers. Equally, he courted and mesmerized the broodmares with his throaty songs and amazing antics.

Spirit often looked much like a circus pony. He would prance with the cadence and brilliance of a Park horse—neck erect, head and tail held high. He would leap through the air like a Lipizzaner stallion; rear on his hind legs and paw the air like the black stallion of Disney stories; or race around the paddocks to impress the brood mares like Secretariat, the famous Thoroughbred. He determined that all the mares were his mares. He of course had his favorites and would insist on being allowed to snuffle them and chat on his way out to the paddock. All the mares adored him, rushing to their stall grates with wide eyes, flared nostrils and soft, throaty nickers as he passed. Spirit was truly the King of the Barn.

He never acknowledged that his stature was not full size. His thick, long mane and tail and proud demeanor caused larger males to give way as he passed. My husband and I would joke that his glances at the other males carried a sense of aristocratic pride—almost as if he were nodding to his subjects when walking by. His harem gave him purpose. He took that responsibility seriously to heart, even to the last day.

Although aged forty-nine in October of 2004, Spirit called to his mares as he walked to the large arena. Over the last several years, he had triumphed over bouts of illness commonplace to aging horses. The stress imposed by each successive winter brought the fear that we would lose our beloved little stallion. October’s cold autumn days heralded an oncoming winter of deep temperatures. Spirit tried to partner our extended care for him by rallying, but his tired body was unable to muster sufficient strength. His heart rate became dangerously high, his legs swelled with fluids, his feet became so sore as to cause him to alternately lift them while standing. He spent much time lying in his deeply bedded stall, rising to eat the small, special dietary preparations we brought several times a day. Even if lying down, he would raise his head and open his mouth to accept his medications. He tried so hard to honor our efforts to help him.

This dignified pony deserved release from the oppressive, painful conditions he bore daily. Nothing was able to help him: not veterinary or farriermethods, not any therapy, technique, foodstuff, medication or treatment. Two nights before his last morning, I told him it was all right, time for him to leave, okay to go, and he did so with my great love and thanks. I gave him some pain relief to get him through the night. Just as I finished, he groaned and spoke to me in almost an inaudible nicker, resting his head against me, nuzzling my hand. It was as if he were saying, “I know and I love you, too.”

The written word attempts to convey thought and emotion; it usually fails. How can we translate the depth of the feelings we experience, particularly with one of God’s creation that does not speak the language we use to communicate with one another? When speaking with horses, I do not use English words. The horses understand me and I understand their responses, whether complaints, questions, pleasant exchanges, or loving expressions.When talking to horses, I often use English words. They have come to understand what the sounds I make mean, in terms of the actions I intend my words to effect. In turn, I understand their body language and signals, the differing tones of their vocalizing, the interpretation of their glances. The two types of communication are very different. The first, speaking with horses, is a matter of spiritual connection with another created entity. The second, talking to horses, is a matter of physical plane interaction with another species. Spirit was comfortable with and adept at communicating either way.

Standing in the arena, he gingerly lifted each of his feet, turning his head to each of us as we said our loving goodbyes. Our sensitive vet injected the relieving fluid and he dropped to his rest. Because he was so small as compared to a full-sized horse, the dose administered was half the usual amount. Spirit—true to his spirited life—required the amount prescribed for a large horse before leaving his beloved,windswept farm. The inclusion of this fact is notmorbid; instead, it is an indication of the strength of his character and a celebration of the greatness of his spirit. Free frompain, having said his good-byes to his herd and his humans, Wind Spirit lay at rest as beautiful in death as he was in life.

Spirit had called a bittersweet good-bye to his mares. He nobly stood, despite the pain, for his last moments with his humans. He knew he was leaving, but he intended to leave with dignity. His great strength and spirit did not fail him, even at the end. As we carried him to his final resting place on top of The Hill, the wind blew strongly, its song whispering true through the spruce trees, creating a carousel of bowing branches. I braided flowers in his glorious mane, wove buds in his forelock and tearfully kissed himone last time. All livingmatter eventually returns to earth’s bosomin welcome continuance of life. The things of the spirit fly free with abandon to play in the wind. Wind Spirit . . . may you dance with the wind; may your majestic call find loving response from our other friends resting on The Hill. I shall think of your loud whinny, shining black body and deep, loving eyes as you rear and paw at the sky of infinity. Adieu for now . . .

Katrina L. Wood

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