Tonight, April 3th, marks two years since my sweet horse Sun-Sun went down for the last time at age 37. An Appaloosa gelding, he was a hardy, solid guy who had lived a long and rich life teaching many people how to care for horses and how to ride. Now, his legacy lives on as he continues to teach people about the incredible spirit of horses, the depth of instinct to live, and how he died with grace.
I was planning to write more about his care during his last 2 years, what it is like to care for an elder horse holistically, and all the things that helped him along his way. But tonight, in tribute, I want to post part of the letter I wrote to him after his death. It is two years and my heart hurts tonight. I just miss his solid like an Oak tree and sweet, cute self. For me writing is like a soothing balm as well as a way to honor Sunny.
The night he died, it was cold and raining. Tonight, the weather is warm and the sky is clear. The contrast is stunningly dramatic. Although myself and the rest of my animals are aging, all are well and life is calm now.
A few weeks after Sunny died, I woke one morning and just started writing. It spilled out page after page. Here is my letter to Sunny.
My dear Sun Sun,
It is a Friday morning, early, 15 days exactly since you died. It seems like forever. It
seems like yesterday. I miss you. I am relieved. I am relieved you are resting now. I am relieved your bones and body are no longer tied to your spirit. Or is it that your spirit is no longer tied and attached to your tired old bones and body? I do miss you my sweet, sweet friend. I know you are here with me, with all of us, Your quiet ways are felt. But I do miss your sweet self in your sweet body with your soft coat. Your fuzzy white self with your fuzzy tuft of forelock.
Your sweet soft ways around the barn, I really miss that Sun. I miss your big voice in the morning wanting to eat your breakfast, your calling for dinner with your high pitched whinny and our little walk from the paddock to the shed for your meals. It was so sweet and tender those moments. Our little calling game was so precious Sun-Sun. Me announcing to you that it was time to eat I often wake you from some deep snooze in the wee hours of the morning. Once you woke, you called to me while you waited for me to ‘pick you up’ so to speak, so you knew which direction to walk off in so we could go get your food.
Once I was near your side, how you would march off, stepping with more confidence while I was by your side. But sometimes, on a not so very good day, you took your time shuffling your feet and feeling your way slowly. I know that you could not always feel your body so well, that you could not always feel where your legs or feet where and that it was hard for you to tell where the ground was and what the footing was like and where exactly you were.
When I began to tell you things like, ”Good steps Sun. Pick up your feet here. Go up into the shed.” Or, “Come over towards my voice,” so you didn’t bump into Zoey, you always listened to what I said, and seemed to gain confidence as I spoke to you. This trust in me when walking off was always the most moving thing to me. The way you simply entrusted yourself to me once you could no longer see your own way. Trusting me to be your eyes and lead you safely. The way you would shuffle on your own and then MARCH OUT with such gusto as soon as I was by your side always got me right in my heart. To trust so fully, to trust so deeply, to entrust yourself to me in this manner, well, this was just such an extraordinary act of courage on a daily basis. And you would do so with such enthusiasm as if you had missed moving out with such a clear and strong stride. You seemed so happy to just go forward with less concern for where you were going, if even for a short time.
I will miss our walks Sun Sun. Once you adjusted to not having sight, once you were stronger again, and once I was feeling braver and stronger to take the adventure of walking through the pasture with the three of you horses loose together, I loved going for walks with you. I was stunned and amazed that you were willing to go up the hill over the uneven footing under the pine trees that was so far away from your safe zone near the shed. You became so willing and eager to go out for a walk again despite the other two hooligans thundering by you. Your eyes would get so big Sun Sun, with the whites blaring, your head so high, your breathing so quick, and you skittering about until they passed. But you always listened to my voice, and always trusted what I said and were eased by my letting you know where they were and what was going on. They so liked to show off with you, and to try to get you to join them!
I will always remember the week after Zoey arrived in October 2006. You had been
so weak for weeks after your bout of colic, after not eating much those two different episodes of not eating, and lingering for the first time on the brink of life and death. And then Zoey arrived, her youthful, spunky, princess self. I recall you were quite smitten with her right away. And I had been afraid you would feel misplaced or put out! What did I know? Instead, you were so engaged by her, so influenced by her youthful antics. That was in the months just before you lost all of your sight.
I remember one crisp, clear fall day you and I were walking up the path to the back of the pasture when Ibis and Zoey flew by racing to get to the back of the field. Ibis, sleek and streamlined in his thoroughbred body built to race like the wind, and Zoey, her short little legs with her black and white painted body pumping away like 4 pogo sticks to keep up with the fast floating strides of Ibis. As they approached, you moved right past me picking up a lively trot and then slipped into a little lope. My jaw dropped.
It had been at least a year since I had seen you canter Sun Sun, and just the week before I thought you were a gonner you were so weak. And here you were, zesty, lively, so perked up and enthusiastic that you were in your own race, slow as it was in your old body, it was a race by your standards! Up the hill you went, taking off into the wind at your own pace. I was stunned, laughed and cried all at once at your display of strength, instincts and raw desire unleashed. This was only one of many times I would be stunned by the direction towards life that you would choose after seeming to be on your way out, after visiting the threshold between living and dying.
I will continue to learn from this Sunny, my friend. And I will continue to share this learning with people. I know that this is part of the deal between us. You do something unexpected, I learn and then you move on.
I guess that we must have come to some kind of special point on that Friday, April
3rd, that you were finally able to leave your body, for real, to leave all the way, for your spirit to completely leave in the way where your breath and heart stop, for you take those final breaths from this body of yours, after 37 years of living in it. 37 years. I still marvel at your capacity for life my Sun-Sun. I had not known a horse to live so long. Well, not until I met Grammy that is. Meeting her last fall, and seeing her so strong in her 48 year old body was quite the amazing and awe inspiring event. I will always remember when I came home from that meeting, and told you that I had just met a little Anglo-Arab mare that was 48 years old. You swung your head around to look at me in disbelief. I thought I heard you mutter something about, ‘how did she do THAT? Followed by, “That won’t be me,” and followed with your utter surprise at this astonishing act of living. It certainly gave us both some perspective on your own age didn’t it? 36 was not sounding quite so ancient. She had 11 years on you didn’t she? It was a good perspective and quite hard to imagine that you might have 11 MORE years! Given the drama and events of the previous year, I thought it would be quite the feat if you made it safely through the upcoming winter and then reached your 37th birthday in the spring. Indeed, I thought that this would be the most amazing thing if you made it through the winter. Little did I know!
When you were shining so bright and strong that I speculated on just how many more years you might actually have in you as you were doing so brilliantly at the time. Something inside me however said that you did not have as many years as Grammy in your body.
I will continue to post the rest of my letter to Sunny in the upcoming week.