Farewell to a Friend

Pink Think: “If you want a stable friendship, get a horse.”

Wixie in her younger days, with Sabrina

In a few weeks, my family and I will be moving to a new home on six acres of horse property, ready to live our cowboy dream. It’s been a long process in the making. About seven years, since my oldest daughter was nine and first got bitten by the horse bug.

That was the beginning for us of horse ownership, with a truculent and spirited, but inherently sweet, gray flea-bitten mare named Wixie.

But this progress is bittersweet. Because our dearest Wixie passed away last Friday.

When my daughter turned eight and horse-crazy (thanks to the movie Spirit), she asked to have a horseback-riding party, which led to her borrowing a horse for 4-H from the horse owner. But we soon discovered that borrowing a horse had its challenges, especially when it’s shared by two kids competing in different events.

Still, it was great to learn about horse ownership and making sure our daughter was going to stick to this new hobby before getting a horse for our own. A year later, we decided we were ready to make the leap.

My husband was out of town when we looked at Wixie for the first time. It was the middle of the day and her seller was in her jammies, apologizing that she wasn’t feeling good. So she sent us to the pen outside to look at the gray mare she’d advertised.

I didn’t know what I was looking for, exactly. But I liked what the seller told me: Wixie was 19 and green-broke, had been in horse shows and parades. Bomb-proof, a perfect beginner’s horse. She was a pretty dapple gray and seemed alert and healthy.

The next time I visited with my daughter, the husband was home. He put Wixie through a few maneuvers, convincing us that she would be a great horse. I put the girls on her back. She walked sedately like she was supposed to.

And then we took her home.

Oh, sure, she was a great horse. When she didn’t buck, prance nervously, dance around while being tacked up, and generally act up like most mares (we belatedly learned) acted. One day, it got so bad I groused to my husband, “I sure hope Sierra doesn’t get that free horse!” (Sierra had applied to “win” a free horse donated to the local 4-H Club.) “Guess what?” my husband said, smiling. (She did.)

But as we got to know more about being horsepeople, Wixie relaxed, too. It helped that our oldest daughter was a good fit for Wixie’s fiery personality. When Wixie acted up, Sierra stayed calm. And sometimes Wixie shone like the mature horse she was. Wixie wasn’t the best at halter or speed, but they managed to win a few ribbons.

Then our youngest inherited Wixie. By then, we had three horses, one for each kid.

They were not a good match. Sabrina did her best, and Wixie sometimes minded. But when the horse was bad, she was very bad. We got her another horse, which became her brother’s so she could have his calmer horse. Along the way, we acquired another horse, too hot for Sabrina, so she ended up being my husband’s.

By default, Wixie became my horse.

She began losing weight a couple of months ago. She usually did every winter, but this time she looked really bad. The vet said she might have cancer, and that we should prepare to say goodbye to her soon.

I hadn’t ridden her in a while this winter – I’m a fair weather rider – and by the time she got really sick, I for sure couldn’t then. All I could do was to feed her grain and keep her comfortable until the inevitable goodbye. Sometimes, I would lean in and inhale her scent, feeling her warmth against my cheek, and gaze into her soft brown eyes.

The afternoon my veterinarian husband was going to euthanize her, she lay down in the pen and never got up.  Some friends of ours kindly helped take her to our new place to bury her towards the back of our lot.

As we stood there waiting for a few more scoops of dirt taken out of her grave, I looked around at the unobstructed view of mountains, the back of our new house, the acres and acres of land that would be home for us soon.

Sadness washed over me. I wished Wixie could have come with us, moved with us. Instead, here she was getting buried in the ground. And yet…

I couldn’t help but be glad that we had those good years with her. That she schooled us when we needed a horse to teach us, during her best moments. And even during the bad.

I remembered the times she carried me on her back during trail rides. How she snuffled happily with her head down low. How I learned to gallop on her. How she liked taking treats from my hand and whinnied at my approach.

And now she was part of our new land, our new home. It couldn’t have been a more fitting end, a better tribute, to a wonderful friend.