This week, I lost a dear friend. Kinsale Star. An Irish Thoroughbred, she came to this country on an airplane when she was only one year old. I met her years later, when she was 10 and I had the pleasure of caring for her and the rest of her herd: her daughter, Tara; Willie and her son, Fuersti; the stallion, Arby. I had moved to the country from Chicago because I could no longer contain my love for horses. The drive to and from the city to visit my beloved horse, Nikos, took an insane amount of time, and on the two days a week I wasn’t with him, my heart felt oddly empty. And so I moved to Woodstock, IL, to care for Kinsale and the others for a year while the two humans who completed this family were out of the country. Nikos was nearby. The year stretched into two, then three; Arby went back to his original person, and my Nikos joined the herd. But long before that time, I had formed a special bond with the beautiful Kinsale.
The horses lived naturally, outside, with access to the barn. They rarely chose to come in, preferring the open air, except in intense heat or icy rain. One morning, after a particularly heavy overnight snowstorm, I found the horses standing in the sun. I invited them to come into the barn for breakfast, and as I headed in, I heard a clink, clink, clink behind me. I turned to see what the noise was. Kinsale had six-inch icicles hanging off her thick winter coat, sternum to belly. Clink, clink, clink.
One November, it rained for days. Cold, driving rain. I went out to the barn in the early evening to check on them and found Fuersti and Tara in stalls, Willie standing just inside the barn door, and poor Kinsale standing in the rain, unable to come in. My sweet Kinsale. I gave Willie a piece of my mind, moved her away, and led Kinsale inside. She sighed with gratitude and began munching hay.
When I returned later that night to spread their late-night hay, I saw two heads poking out of stalls: Fuersti and Tara. I saw Willie standing just inside the barn door. No Kinsale. It was still pouring, and biting cold. Bundling up, I prepared to head out into the downpour to find Kinsale, all the while yelling at poor Willie that she was a mean old mare, that she was breaking my heart, that she simply had to treat Kinsale with more kindness. I was beside myself, imagining that sweet girl shivering in the rain. Willie just stared at me as though I had lost my mind. “Really,” I hollered. “I’m serious. This is ridiculous, Willie.”
At the height of my tantrum, Kinsale slowly poked her sleepy head out of a stall, as if to say, “Is there a problem here?” I laughed, apologized to Willie, wondering if Kinsale hadn’t enjoyed my fierce display of loyalty.
Because Fuersti liked to sample everyone else’s food, I fed the horses in closed stalls. When everyone was finished eating, I would open the doors, and they would go back outside. Kinsale, though, would linger. She liked a bit of quiet time. Most mornings, I would join her in her stall. I would breathe into her nose, and she would breathe into mine. We stood there in this silent communion for minutes, until I turned away. I think she would have stood there forever with me. Her sweet breath.
Sometimes late at night, before Nikos joined the herd, after I had spread their hay in the paddock, Kinsale would follow me back into the barn. She would come in quietly. I knew she wanted a treat, an apple wafer, and so I grabbed a few and fed them to her over the gate that separated the horse’s section of the barn from the rest of the barn. She would munch contentedly. She would talk to me. I would tell her to be very quiet so that the others wouldn’t hear. Sometimes her daughter, Tara, would wander in, also quietly, also wanting a treat. Then I would go to the other side of the gate, stroke and scratch Kinsale. She would groom Tara, who would in turn gently groom me. We three mares, standing in a quiet barn, our sacred circle.
Then Fuersti, who was only three and quite the clown, would come charging in. “What are we doing?” He would frantically ask. “Grooming???” And he’d try to stand in our circle, but would bite instead of nuzzle and would demand a treat, and laughing, I would tell the girls our quiet time was over.
Change is the nature of life. The couple who owned the property decided to divorce. I was asked to place the horses. I had already purchased Fuersti, to be a companion to my Nikos when we moved on. But then my beloved Nikos died. The herd kept me from dying, too. Kinsale’s sweet breath. I adopted Tara because I was afraid an injury to her back would make her unadoptable. I wanted to keep them all, but could not. A friend in Washington agreed to take Kinsale. I knew she would give my Kinsale the best of care. While I cried for weeks after I put her on the trailer, I nursed the silent hope that, one day, I would be able to bring my sweet Kinsale back home.
But Kinsale got sick. And over the course of several years, she rallied and failed and rallied and failed, and finally on Monday November 3, my dear, sweet friend Kinsale was put to rest.
I know that she will be with me always. She has told me so. She has told me she will assist me with my healing work, as Nikos does. This brings me a certain peace. But the pain is fresh.
Still, while the loss feels dark, when the wound makes me achy and restless, I know—in this season of celebration, where the days once again become longer, where we celebrate with smiles and the light of thousands of open hearts—that all is well.
Until next month . . .
*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in December 2008.
© 2008 by Pamela Sourelis