A Soul full of Broken Glass

 photo IMG_7840.jpg This is a very hard post to write.

I am out of practice firstly, I haven’t written in a while. I couldn’t write, even though I sat in front of my computer often, staring at the screen and trying to dig inside myself to cement some words to paper. I failed, constantly.

Because I have a soul full of broken glass and it hurts.

The explanation for this is simple. My horse died. It wasn’t expected, it wasn’t calmly and it certainly wasn’t pretty. My life was torn apart in a matter of forty eight hours by a situation that was unavoidable. Death was a mercy certainly, a sentence pronounced by myself.

But it wasn’t what I had wanted for him and it certainly wasn’t what I could deal with right now.

But, that is the nature of life. Of trials and challenges. We are never prepared for anything. We think we are, but we’re not. The morning I went to say good bye to him, my riding companions had joined me. It was early, before work and we had stood there in a group around him. The others had been crying, but tried to comfort me. I hadn’t cried, simply stood there and held them.

“It’s okay,” I had told my friend as we hugged. “It’s okay.” Behind us, my horse had stood twitching, his muscles convulsing at the point of seizure. He was affected by a virus that caused West Nile Disease. And, it’s really not very common in South Africa. A vaccine had only come available a year or two ago and we had not thought that the disease was in our area. Yet, we were wrong. And, it was a costly  mistake.

The disease is a disaster, affecting the horse’s nervous system, destroying it – leading to seizures, disorientation and convulsions. It came upon us suddenly. I was called the Monday evening but a slightly hysterical and freaked out stable yard manager.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she told me as she described how my horse had broken out of his stable, out of the camp in front of it and ended up in her back garden. “I tried to hold him but I couldn’t. He wouldn’t calm down, couldn’t stand still. I tried to hold him but I couldn’t.”

Which was understandable, he weighs 400kgs, nearly half a ton. One can hardly keep control of a 80kg man having a seizure, keeping control of a horse that is constantly falling around, thrashing and throwing himself at walls, is impossible. I went there, looked at him. Called the vet. But I knew that it was a problem.

He settled for most of the day, giving us a sense of false hope. Maybe it had been a fit, maybe it had been a one occurrence. Maybe I wouldn’t have to kill him before he either killed himself or someone else.

It wasn’t to be of course, it wouldn’t be because that is not how these things worked. He had another episode that evening and for all their attempts to keep him safe, he ended up in an area of the yard were they kept scrap metal. He broke into that area, fell down there, and tore himself to shreds. I rushed over when they called me again but even as I was driving I told the owner of the yard to call the vet.

It was over, I knew it was.

Death was a mercy and the last act of love that I could give to him.

And, as I told my friends, it was okay. I could accept it. I could accept that there was no other option. But it doesn’t take the hurt away, it doesn’t take the sense away that I will never be complete again.

You see, I know that it’s just an animal. But Sebastian had been special, from the beginning, he had been mine. I am a very strong T on the Meyers and Briggs scale and live a full INTJ life. But, in my horses, in this horse, my Feeling side had resided. My emotions and my security. Horses had always given me something that humans somehow never could. It’s not something that can be put to words. It’s just something that has always been. Even my partner had remarked a couple of times that I would never be made to choose between my horses and my relationship because it was a battle that no person could win. Does it make me defective? Probably, but I am in a fortunate position to have an Other Half that doesn’t care about it and loves me anyway.

I know there will be other horses. I still have one, a young gelding I put under the saddle myself that I had thought I was raising for a friend of mine. I had never thought that he would be a replacement. And he can’t be. No other horse will be. My friend who lost her golden stallion a couple of years ago sat with me over the weekend and said quietly that it never stops. The hurt and the longing to have that one last ride on that special horse. That one that took one’s soul and broke it upon death. You just learn to make the pain a part of yourself, a part of the pleasure of riding. She’s had had almost four horses since Rico’s death and none of them had matched his place in her heart.

It is a bitter pill to swallow and so ironic that I had waited a whole year for him to recover from his injured leg only to have him ripped away from me in such a manner.

So, I have a soul full of broken glass. I have a soul that is constantly cutting me, a well of emotions that slices through me every time I try to feel anything. I am mourning, I know that. And, I will give myself time to do so. The only good thing about the pain is that it means that Basjan really meant something.

That he was important in a reality I’m constantly trying to escape through gaming and writing.

That he was real.

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Experience – Gratitude

 photo Basjan01.jpg For those of you who’ve been here a while, you’ll remember that I’m quite into horses and purchased a gelding a few years ago named Basjan (short for Sebastian). Originally the idea had been to purchase a horse that I could utilise for endurance and competitions but meeting Basjan changed that. He wasn’t young, he wasn’t necessarily in peak condition at the time of purchase and he was too small for me. He wasn’t even really a horse, falling just short of the 15hh cut off line.

But, from the first day I saw him I knew that he was mine. Circumstances had brought us together and throughout the past few years, he’s been an anchor in my life. I’m not terribly good with people, though I’ve become very good at pretending to be. Horses have always been my kind of folk, the kind I understand and actually want to be around. Being with them is freeing and Basjan especially has proven to be an exceptional companion simply because he is mine. We understand a universal truth about each other and that is that almost everybody else in the world is simply background noise. Basjan fears that noise, shying from anybody but myself when they interact with him. I understand that fear because it used to be mine. I’ve never pressured him to be more than he is. A mount, a ride. A pleasure pony and happy hack. I don’t expect him to compete and I certainly don’t expect of him to change.

He’s is simply mine.

Yet, that nearly changed this year. One day in February I noticed that my horse was somewhat lame when arriving on the farm. He walked with the others, but it was certainly not easy. By the end of that afternoon he could hardly move. The farm workers told me that he had slipped and fell in some mud, but he had gotten up quite quickly and sped off regardless. I had figured that he was simply stiffening up from the ordeal and didn’t really think about it again, deciding to give him rest for another week before riding him again. The next day however, he couldn’t stand. That Sunday proved to be a very long day in my life. We gone to the farm and watched as he painfully tried to make his way around. Every attempt to get up was clearly excruciatingly painful and when he did manage to rise, he tried not to put any weight on two of his legs, particularly his front right. I watched him most of the day and knew that something was very wrong. I tried to contact the local vet but to this day he has not yet returned that call. The other vet in the area killed one of our horses a few years back in a gross misjudgement of treatment so HE was out and the other most reliable vet was in the Kruger National park castrating elephants. This combination of circumstances and perhaps my own mounting sense of dread, forced me to wait a day or two.

The world moved to darkness in those few days. The horse did not get any better but all attempts to keep him quiet were met with the full force of his human fear. Struggling with my own work at that time, I couldn’t stay at the farm to make sure that he was quiet so we let him struggle along with the others while I waited for the vet. It was painful to watch because he spend most of the day lying in the grass or struggling to get up or run on three legs, his front always raised off of the ground. The professional one ended up coming one afternoon, bleary eyed and travel weary from his trip back from the Kruger Park from which he had just returned.

His prognosis wasn’t good though not confirmed by an x-ray. Basjan had a possible broken leg. He had most certainly torn one of his muscles and ligaments because most of his leg was swollen at that time. He told me that I had very few options. We could arrange for him to be x-rayed and have the diagnosis confirmed (and then make a call as to whether or not to put him down) or we could try and medicate him with some pain medication and anti-inflammatories and see how he responds. It was going to take time, the vet said. A lot of time, money and patience.

I didn’t have a lot of money at that time but when it came to Basjan, I’ve always had a lot of patience.

And, I had time.

I could give Basjan time to heal.

I didn’t even bother going for the x-ray because my decision would’ve been the same. I wouldn’t be able to put him down unless I’ve exhausted all options. I didn’t care whether it took weeks, months or even years. I’d have waited. And I did, though it was hard in the beginning. Because of his inactivity, Basjan lost a lot of condition. Despite his original owner selling him to me as a 10 year old, he had been closer to 18. I had known that I was being lied to when buying him but I hadn’t cared. I had always known that this was the animal that I had to take responsibility for.  And that responsibility is something I take very seriously.

My problem with people and their pets sometimes is that they don’t take having an animal seriously. Whether this is a dog, a cat, a fish or a horse, people tend to dismiss how much responsibility it is. Buying a dog, gives you an animal that can live for 13 years. Buying a cat, one that can live for 16 and a horse one that can live up to 36 to 40 years if you take good care of them. It’s a long time commitment through thick and thin. I’ll elaborate a little more on this in later posts but the message is essentially – if you own it, you’re responsible for it. Animal cannot take care of themselves, so it is your responsibility to meet all their needs above your own because you can fend for yourself. They can’t and shouldn’t have to.  photo 9d728029-af86-441a-94f1-234c547ff5c5.jpg

My patience paid off in the end. Nearly nine months after his accident, Basjan was completely healed again. I didn’t ride him for most of the year. Although he became soundish after about two months of rest, he was still very lame and I didn’t want to push him. Because I had given him time and didn’t want to mess it up. And, I had my own problems to deal with, so I figured that we both needed  a bit of a break. I’ve also since moved him to a stable yard where he can be better taken care of. On the farm he was hardly handled by the hands, only fed once a day. Now he’s at a place where someone can give him joint supplements on a daily basis and I know he’s being given three meals a day. He’s not a young horse anymore, but he’s good and, with luck, he’ll be good for a few years more.

This experience, however traumatic for me at the time, taught me to be grateful and it was one of many lessons on this topic I was to learn in the next year. Basjan’s miraculous recovery and the hope that it gave me proved to be the first in a series of events that would sometimes knock me to my knees but which always gave me a moment to bow my head, fold my hands and simply be grateful because inevitably, everything worked out.

The Price of Love

There is a price to horseback riding. More than the price of their stabling, more than the price of their feed, their maintenance and their upkeep. More than all the gold in the world.

It’s a small price at first. A wish here, a dream there. The need to touch a horse. Then, without warning, like an aggressive, malignant cancer it spreads and consumes you. Your soul, your being, your life suddenly belongs to them. To their rhythm, to their touch and their strange, quiet love which they give you in return for your heart.

I saw a piece of my friend die today. Her stallion, the golden stallion, died from a terrible disease called African Horse Sickness. It is a virus that kills horses here in Africa. You can vaccinate and pray but, inevitably, it will strike and you will be left to the mercy of fate. Your horse will die or your horse will live.

If he lives, you know you’re safe for another year but if he dies, you die and the world ends. For second, for a minute and in a sense for the lifetime that you were with him.

I lost my first horse years ago, and carry that sorrow with me to this day, like parcel of pain, wrapped up to try and conceal the impact of it. I was aware of it tonight, as I listened to my friend sob in a way nobody else could understand. It’s what it sounds like when someone has lost a part of themselves which they will never get back. A heart beat, a spark of love, a piece of soul – forever gone.

I can bounce on hardened tar…

I seem to remember bouncing as a child, falling down and just getting back up again. I’d fall off of a horse, dust myself off and get back on again, storming ahead with more vigour than I did before.

Now… Not so much.

Gravity and a horse decided to conspire against me yesterday when I was pulled mercilessly from the beast’s back and deposited right in the middle of a busy tar road. I fell so hard that I felt my hip bounce off of the tar and strike it again. Unlike in my pre-adult youth, I didn’t just get back up again. No, I was still dragged around as the horse struggled to get away as well (with me clinging to the reins like an idiot…). I should add at this point that I didn’t fall from my own steed. He has more manners than the gelding I rode on Tuesday. I ride this horse as a favour for a friend. He’s… considerably wilder than Basjan. More full of boisterous youth and certainly youthful manners (read none).

And he’s bigger.

And he bucks.

I should’ve known that it was going to happen at some point or another. Let me rephrase, I knew that it was going to happen at some point or another. It was inevitable. I haven’t fallen from a horse in more than 18 months. I have a pretty firm seat in general and it takes quite a lot to get me unseated.

Of course, yesterday it only took a couple of seconds of dropping my guard.

The accident happened like this. We were trying to get over a busy road (my friend on her stallion and I on this gelding). I should’ve gone in front, but the gelding was fussing so I made a small circle. Meanwhile a gap in traffic opened up and my friend decided to push her horse over the road. He didn’t like it and stopped dead. Seeing a potential problem, I pushed my own horse forward, kicked him perhaps a bit too hard and was rewarded by a wonderfully high rodeo like buck. I sat the first one (sort of) but then there was the second. The horse jumped into the air again and spun around in a tight circle. I lost my balance, fell over his shoulder, got my foot caught in the stirrup so that I was wrenched around in the air so that I fell on my right side even though I was tipped off on the left. Sometimes I don’t remember falling, but this time hitting the tar road was unforgettable. My hip exploded in pain and my arm was almost wrenched out of my shoulder socket as the horse tried to run home. The only good this did was drag me out of the tar road. I got up as quickly as I could, my ego bruised and mentally tallying all the witnesses and my friend dutifully grabbed my horse as I took stock of my limbs. I could tell immediately that my ankle was going to be a problem. Although I doubt I broke it or tore the ligaments, it’s most definitively sprained. It’s swollen enough to be. And, although it’s not very blue – my hip (the initial contact point) certainly makes up for it in colour.

I got back on again, and we completed a 5 mile ride, but towards the end of it, I told my friend that we had to slow down. I was in agony. Years ago, I’d have stepped away from this fall without a scratch. Now, I could hardly move, let alone drive back home when we finally reached the stables.

They say that gravity is a constant, that it affects all of us in roughly the same way, but I would like to disagree with that. The moment your DNA’s telomeres start shortening past the prime mark, you’re done for. Your body composition alters and… Where you are left at the mercy of the force that Newton discovered at the hand of an apple.

 

I might bounce on tar, but light be, I don’t do it gracefully.