We were in the midst of the pandemic. My plans for travel had all been canceled, and with sheltering in place, I had to do something.
I had ridden horses most of my life, and had done the show circuit and even qualified with conformation hunter at Madison Square Garden, in the heart of the Big Apple. My true joy, however, had been fox hunting throughout southeastern Pennsylvania. I had earned my colors in the Huntington Valley Hunt, and wonderful memories flooded through my head.
Along with quarantine came the desire to get outside. I’d not had a horse since moving to Aroostook County over a decade prior, as I’d thought the winters too harsh for equine sport. How wrong I was. But I decided to find my last horse. I say last as I am a senior citizen. We are supposed to do more carefully thought-out and gentler things with our time and old bones.
Along with a retiree friend who also owned a horse, I went to Calais to check out a gelding. The moment I saw his face, I knew he was for me. He was quirky, filled with life and an oversized personality. I felt I still needed something with spirit, and here was my guy. I rode him. He was horrible – threw his head nearly to the ground and almost bucked. I realized he was trying to understand what I was asking him to do.
I bought him on the spot. I settled on the name “Finally Home,” as at my age I felt he would likely be my last horse, and together we were both finally home. His barn name was Finn. I promised him I would keep him until either one of us died.
I had had 17 horses and sold them all. When I came to Aroostook County, I was struck by the amount of people who kept their horses all their lives. I’d never done that and really hadn’t known anyone who did that.
Finn and I had good years together. Then he began going “off,” meaning unsound or lame. The vet was called and X-rays were taken. Finn had a disease in his front hooves called navicular. Years ago, this would have been a death sentence. These days, with advanced medications and supplements, horses can live a relatively pain-free life for a while. But after two and a half years, the condition worsened a lot. I had a difficult decision to make and I vacillated over it for months.
I finally decided to have him put down. The date was set for mid-September. I chickened out. But I also could not put him through a long, harsh winter. The date was reset for Oct. 10. As the time neared, I became, understandably, upset. The farm where he was living during the summer in Fort Fairfield was not available for his burial. A kind and thoughtful friend offered a peaceful resting place at her farm in Easton.
It’s important to understand that having a horse put down isn’t like a dog or cat. With such a large animal, a hole must be dug and a tractor is needed to fill it in. All these arrangements must be made prior to the actual day, which creates more stress and worry. Many friends quietly came forward and did the necessary arrangements.
My pastor asked if I’d like him to be there. I declined, saying I just wanted it to be a quiet time. He sent me a copy of the service. I read it and instantly changed my mind and told him yes.
The dreaded date arrived and I was a wreck. I went to the barn to groom Finn, and just hugged him. I told him I loved him, thanked him and told him how sorry I was. So many wonderful angels, posing as friends, spread their wings around me and made this happen. They groomed and transported him to Easton, where we were met by the farm owner and her neighbor, who had dug the hole and was going to cover it over.
They were all there for us: the vet, the pastor, the landowner, the farmer, friends with flowers. We all bowed our heads, Finn included. Religious or not, every person spoke out the responses and prayed. Standing up there on a hill touched by the sun and a light breeze, I was at once calmed and stilled by the words of comfort.
I know how hard it is to hold your horse’s head as he dies. It is not easy, but the words of comfort transcend time. He crossed over gently and lovingly, surround by those who care. I know I will see Finn when I cross over and I cannot ever forget the kindness that surrounded me that day on a hill of beauty, filled with love.
Guest writer Mary Warren resides in Fort Fairfield.