BY LAUREN MAULDIN
My friends know that I’ve suffered a lot of loss in the past five years. As soon as I feel somewhat grounded after one death, another tragedy takes someone I love. Life is amazing, but it can be cruel. I blinked and saw that the family I had made with my husband, our dogs and my beloved horse, were all gone. Living 2,000 miles away from my parents and extended family, the core unit I had loved for the majority of my adult life had all passed. I’m the only one left—sort of.
I guess the benefit of being hammered by so many deaths is going through the acute pain, recovery, and lingering forms of grief over and over again. That sadness carries lessons. When I eventually started dating after my husband died, I didn’t get on the apps to find a Tim Mauldin replacement. The very idea was laughable. How could there be another him? Instead, I looked for a different, but hopefully equally as special, person I might eventually love.
Much more recently, I lost my heart dog, Pascale. The cancer that took her far too soon came with advanced warning, and I decided to adopt a puppy to help ease the transition. After so much grief and depression in my past, I knew I couldn’t face coming home to an empty house. Although I didn’t purposely go to the shelter in search of another “Texas Black Dog,” of course it was a litter of three little black puppies that pulled at my heart strings.
A few months later when I had to say goodbye to my beloved girl, I had to be careful with how I treated the puppy, Lucie, at first. She started sleeping in the bed with me at night like Pascale had for years, but I felt some disappointment in the morning when Lucie didn’t wiggle up to the pillow to wake me up for a belly scratch like her sister used to do. Lucie barked at strangers like Pascale, but she didn’t chase the squirrels out of the yard. She was a black dog in the space that used to hold a black dog, but she wasn’t the same black dog.
It took a few days for me to snap out of the foggy space of grief and realize what I was doing. I miss Pascale with all my heart, of course I do, but expecting this new family member to take the place of the old didn’t allow Lucie to develop into the dog she needs to be. When I get sad and miss my best girl, I lean down to Lucie and let her lick my face with her insanely long, floppy tongue. After all, Pascale never gave kisses. There is beauty in new friendship.
But our relationships with horses aren’t like the ones with spouses or dogs. It’s a unique blend of partnership, sport and trust. Losing a horse is an entirely different feeling, and not an easy loss to endure.
Unlike dogs, horses have a component that’s a little bit like ordering a new car from the dealership after your old one stopped running. You do the research, decide which types fit your lifestyle best, and build a “must have” and “nice to have” list when shopping for a replacement. It doesn’t mean we don’t love our horses—far from it. We love them so much, that this practical component to horse shopping can make us want to replace them as closely as possible.
Take a gray warmblood 3′ hunter, and replace it with another gray 3′ warmblood hunter. Maybe if we can get as close as possible to the horse we lost, our heart won’t hurt as much?
When my heart horse, Simon, died of colic, I went through the stages of equestrian grief that many horse owners seem to do. I’ll never ride again. I’ll never own another horse. I need another horse in my life—soon.
And yes, I shopped practically. And yes, I decided that I wanted another OTTB because that’s what Simon was, and I wanted another to hopefully be as special to me as he was. But that’s where the similarity ends.
The horse I ended up with, Poet, is as polar opposite to Simon as a horse could be. There are times I get upset with him for not matching the-brother-he-never-met’s behavior. Simon wouldn’t have spooked at that barrel, I’ve thought more than once. But opening my heart to Poet has taught me, even through my sadness which lingers every day, that we don’t have to have a copy of a loved one to feel affection again.
Horses, dogs, even people—they don’t know the depths of grief you’re feeling. They can’t share your sadness. But they want to share their experience of this life with you. It’s probably going to be completely different than the last time you walked a dog or took your heart horse to a show. Some will be better, some will be worse. It’ll all create good stories. It’ll all heal those holes in your heart.
Poet may never be the horse for me that Simon was, and I hope that Lucie the puppy doesn’t have to walk me through the worst moments of my life like Pascale did. Simon and Pascale held my hand through loss that I wasn’t sure that I could endure. There aren’t enough words to thank them for that friendship, but the closest I can come is to open my heart fully and completely to Poet and Lucie.
They aren’t replacements, only additions. There is no cap to the love we have to give if we are brave enough to try.
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.
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