My husband has been urging me since my mom died to please put together all the information that he will need to know what to do when we reach the point where Silk is ready to leave this earth. She is going to be 27 years old, and horses usually don’t live to be more than thirty. He also believes that I will be a wreck when it happens, so he wants to be prepared to handle things in a way that I won’t later regret. I know he’s right, but I’ve really been avoiding taking the steps I need to be able to figure out what the plan will be. I can’t help it, I just wish my four-legged soul sister would live forever.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been sadly watching a number of my friends lose their family members and beloved animals. It’s weighed heavy on my heart, and I know that I owe it to Silk to get better prepared. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, being the wise elder that I love, talks about the time during which we find ourselves “rowing one’s loved ones out…to the place where they go ahead, while we stay behind.” I’ve been in that boat often enough, with my parents, my dear friends and my faithful four-legged companions. Each situation is an entirely unique crossing, and brings with it such meaningful lessons about when to let nature take its course and when to grab the reins and take charge.
About ten years ago, when we first moved here, I almost lost Silk. She stopped eating, and our vet was out of town, so one of her partners came to the barn. He thought that Silk was about to colic, so for two days, we treated her for that. She wasn’t improving much, and while I was reluctant to leave her, I had an important meeting that I needed to go to on the third morning. Almost as soon as I got there, my husband called me and told me to come right home because Silk was lying down. On the way, I contacted the receptionist at the vet to see if someone could come immediately. Fortunately, our regular vet was back but she was out on a call about 25 miles away. I was in pure panic. When I ran frantically into Silk’s stall, she looked into my eyes and I could sense that she was drifting away. I begged her not to leave me, to get up and walk with me. It took every ounce of will and strength, but I saw her make the decision to find the will to live, and she stood up. And we walked and walked for twenty minutes until the vet came flying in.
She took one look at my horse and said, “Silk’s been bitten by an Ehrlichia tick. She’s not colicking”. She ran to the truck and came back to give her a massive dose of tetracycline. Within a few minutes, it was clear that Silk was feeling better. It was really a miracle that she knew what was wrong and what to do. I had never heard of an Ehrlichia tick, which is an evil cousin to the dreaded Lyme tick. I hugged Silk, I hugged the vet, I hugged Siete, I hugged my husband, and I cried because I saw in that look my horse had given me that she loved me as much as I loved her.
So, last Thursday night, I got up my nerve and I called the only people who do horse cremation in this state. We have two horses buried here already on our property, and I don’t think that this is going to be our forever home. Wherever I go, I want to take Silk’s ashes with me, crazy as that may sound. I spoke to a very kind man who told me that they are a family who began doing this after his dad’s beloved draft horse died. He explained to me in detail what would happen and how much it would cost. He told me that they go out of their way to show respect, treating each horse as if it were their own. He said that while it might seem weird, what he has learned over the years is that there are a lot of really good people who take care and love their horses, and his family is proud to be able to help them. It didn’t seem weird to me. It seemed compassionate. When we ended the call, we both agreed that we hoped I wouldn’t be calling him back for a long time.
As I wrote out instructions for exactly what my husband would need to do, I was flooded by a warm sensation of relief. Now, I will be able to focus entirely on Silk and be with her to row her over when the time comes. I am so grateful that this family is devoted to helping horses and owners and give them the dignity and respect that they deserve. It can’t be an easy job, but they are deeply committed to it. And I have peace of mind now, not dread or anxiety when I think about it.
Silk was trotting around happily in the snow today, spending many hours with her daughter, Siete, enjoying a very fine bale of hay laced with clover and alfalfa. She’s a happy horse, with all of the past mistreatment she endured before I met her replaced by a trust and affection for people that I am so proud to have fostered. When I got her, a wise horsewoman told me, “You know, no matter what they did, no one could ever break this horse’s spirit”. That’s how I knew I had met my soul sister and we’ve been celebrating that strong spirit together ever since.