Belle died sometime last Monday night. She was 20 or 21 and a good girl. She put up with parades, costumes, bunches of children on her back, pasture mates with brains the size of walnuts, a rider the size of a polar bear (that would have been me until this summer). She lived with us for just two months shy of seven years, and I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to looking outside and missing her snow-white self.
Every lover, every child, every animal is indeed a hostage to fortune and, as far as fortunes went, hers improved dramatically here. A previous idiot custodian had used a wire coat hangar on her for a bit. I spent two years and finally got her to live with a very gentle snaffle that actually fit her huge mouth (she was a Percheron-Paint cross with a head that weighed more than any of my five grandchildren).
We went trail riding, mostly walk-trot and nothing Alpine. She got plenty of peppermints, carrots and apples and always had her bellybutton scratched as part of a grooming. I certainly wasn’t the best owner-rider in the world; nor was I the worst.
She, in turn, was a good sport about things like wearing pink fairy wings or like being carried off to pony club camp one June where she was stabled in a 12-foot stall which would have been fine IF she’d ever been in a stall before. We decided she hadn’t because every time our daughter went to fetch her that week, she was in EXACTLY the same frozen position looking like a very big and anxious white rabbit.
When my mother died I kept thinking for years that she had just stepped away from the phone whenever I wanted to tell her something. Now I find myself looking at paddock boots on sale or notices of timed trail rides and then thinking, “I don’t need them right now.” “I can’t do that.”
I have to be grateful that she went fairly quickly for a colicking horse and without too much pain. I’ve heard stories of horses’ deaths that would make you faint. But, darn, I miss her. When a bit more time has passed, I’m going to walk out to the hilltop where Billy buried her, alongside Hannah’s first horse, Gem Terra, the super Arab.
When it was time for Gem, who was 26, to go before he had to endure another miserable North Carolina summer, Hannah and her best friend Sarah stayed home from school and hand-grazed him, groomed him and enjoyed the sunny spring morning with him. Hannah stayed while the vet put him down and walked away before the back-hoe and the front-end loader arrived.
I wish Belle hadn’t died without me, but she died in the middle of the night. My being there would have been more for me than for her. Billy cut a long piece of her tail so I can have a bracelet made. I keep thinking there must be seas of grass in heaven, and that, should I go, I’ll see her with her head buried in the tenderest shoots. She’ll pick up that head and look at me with those huge dark eyes. Every horse owner has this thought. And we know that if our horses aren’t there, we don’t want to go either.
The purple asters begin their extravagant fall bloom. The zinnias put on one last show before frost. A listless cricket cheeps from the wisteria. Hooves thunder as those walnut-brained geldings gallop up from their back pasture. As the world turns…..