Originally Published: February 14, 2016 6:40 p.m.
How was your Valentine's Day? Yes, the Day of Love just passed, where we Americans spent about a billion bucks on flowers, candy and candlelit dinners. Children gave little cards to their friends, people wore red and there were more than a few couples cuddling, kissing and dancing. So I dedicate this column to matters of the heart, by sharing one of my "barn love" stories.
A colleague of mine had just come 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 challenged me to define, explain and describe love, because he couldn't be sure if he would "know it when it happened."
I am no expert on love. But my husband, Doug and I have been happily married for 35 years, and we are in love. (Hmm ... perhaps I am qualified to write about this topic). We have a small place in the country 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 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 spring. 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 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 loved to open gates and the latches on stall doors (she has the skills of Houdini) and taught me to get chains and locks. She liked to teach the younger geldings a few things about manners, like who should eat first (her) and most (her) and she shows infinite patience with my autistic 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 neighbors 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 gives you the courage to lead your partner through darkness and the strength to stand vigil through a long night. It changes you forever! And when you feel it, you will know it.
So, to my colleague, I can say that maybe love happens in a gondola in Venice or a candlelit dinner in Rome. But, I am absolutely certain that it happened on a pasture in my backyard.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local Realtor. Have a story or a comment? Email Judy at firstname.lastname@example.org.