Column: Devoted horses defy those who 'neigh'-say true love
A colleague of mine just came back from a trip to Italy with a new lady friend. I boldly asked him if he fell in love while in all of those romantic places. He asked me, "What is love?" Then he went on to dare me to write about it my column. Since this is the "month of love" and Valentine's Day is approaching, I will give the "love topic" a whirl.
My husband Doug and I live Skull Valley and have four horses. We have an old horse named Angel who at age 30 can still run like a filly (although sort of stiff in the joints), and she looks simply beautiful. Every time my vet comes out to the ranch, he says, "Angel is the youngest-looking 30 I've ever seen." Her skin is smooth and sleek and her black mane is long and thick (with quite a few gray hairs in it). And her disposition is sweet and kind.
Lately, Angel hasn't been doing so well. She got an eye infection that would not heal, so she had to have her right eye removed last summer. She has a cataract on her left eye, so this was not a good situation. I was worried sick about how she would manage and how this could possibly work out. The day my husband brought her back from the Prescott Animal Hospital, her stall-mate, a large, white Arabian named Pegasus, was waiting for her. Once the horse trailer was parked and we got Angel out, both she and Pegasus started neighing and snorting.
Pegasus ran up to Angel and carefully pressed his nose against her face, while they stood together a long time. Then, he went to her left side and she followed him back into her stall. That entire day, I watched while Pegasus walked a few paces in front of Angel, always on her left side, as they strolled around the arena, out to the pasture, along the fence lines, back to the turnouts. Any fears I had about a blind horse stumbling around vanished when Pegasus just took charge, rarely leaving her side.
Eventually, Angel was able to walk around the property by herself. She managed to find her stall, walk out to the pasture to graze and enjoy the shade of her favorite trees. She could even take off running, usually following Pegasus, with mane flying, hoofs pounding and looking like a very young horse.
Angel has the personality of Dennis the Menace and the patience of Mother Theresa. She loves to open gates and the latches on stall doors (she has the skills of Houdini) and taught me to get chains and locks. She likes to teach the younger geldings a few things about manners, like who should eat first (her) and most (her), and she showed infinite patience with my grandson when he rides her, pulls her mane, holds her and loves her (annoying her). She was the "easy ride" for family and friends who didn't ride much. She would stand quietly while the neighbor girls put ribbons in her tail and braided her mane. She taught my young mare how to be a good, well-behaved horse.
Angel's lifelong companion was a white Arabian named Tardy. He died suddenly of colic four years ago. She grieved by walking the 300 feet of fence-line back and forth continuously until all the grass was worn away. She ate little, slept rarely and walked the fence like a horse gone mad.
We got Pegasus from a shelter. He had been neglected and was shy. After one day of hesitation, Angel and Pegasus became inseparable. I think it was love.
A few months ago, on a perfectly beautiful Saturday, Angel kept lying down. She had been doing that lately, but the problem was she was getting weak and couldn't get up without help. That Saturday, three cowboys came to help her up once. The next time she laid down, our neighbors helped. But the fifth time she laid down was on a soft, grassy knoll on the pasture. Pegasus went over to her, trying to nudge her up. But this time was different. No more strength, no more ways to get her to stand, she lay there, left eye looking up at us with a peaceful look of acceptance.
That night, as Angel lay down for the last time, our dogs curled up on each side of her, we sat on the ground stroking her mane, our neighbors walked over to pay their respects, our Vet came by to help and Pegasus stood quietly next to her. Just before she passed on, he walked to her front, leaned down and for at least three minutes he and Angel kissed lips and rubbed noses. They both neighed and snorted.
Our neighbor helped us bury her that night, by tractor headlights and lanterns. Tears flowed and my other horses whined all night. By ten o'clock, Angel was laid to rest under a favorite tree in the pasture. That night, I looked out my window at three in the morning and saw one, big, majestic white horse standing vigil at her grave.
That is love! It is like a bright light that warms your soul. It is the heart-pounding, lump in the throat, the I-can't-live-without-you feeling, emotional intoxication, the heart breaking and a miracle happening - all at the same time. It changes you forever!
So, to my colleague, I can say that maybe love happens in a gondola in Venice or a candlelit dinner in Rome. But, Dear Readers, I am absolutely certain that it happened on my pasture in Skull Valley.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local real estate agent who lives in Skull Valley. Have a story? Contact Judy at firstname.lastname@example.org.