Our bay gelding, “Buddy,” is coming to the end of his natural life.
Statistics drive home the fact that for every year we have him, three of
his own have passed. Orphaned at an early age, he knows no non-
human concept of love. His life is almost over and I realize that. He
has grown from a baby who used to keep pace with my children to a
stately old companion. Daily, from his side of the fence, he used to
walk next to tricycles, big-wheels, and a parade of dressed-up, bitter,
disapproving cats held captive in old strollers or the ubiquitous wagon.
It was not a place for the faint-hearted but nothing the children did
ever seemed to really surprise him. Now, though, he walks only when
necessary, conserving his energy.
There is a path leading from our house to the pasture; this path is over
twenty-five years old. Pregnant, I had traversed this path; later, I
hand-carried my babies and then led them as toddlers down this same
path. As they grew older, they followed me, then eventually ran on
their own. They ended up having their own horses and ponies but
due to the fact that Buddy is a Thoroughbred and somewhat high-
tempered, he was always my horse. I was present when he came into
the world and I will be there when he leaves it. I pray that an angel will
be as excited to see him as I was.
Because we have had him for so long, he is a living timeline for our
family. For example, there is a scar on his left front leg from a deep
gash that he gave himself on the very day that I discovered our young
daughter, Chelsea, had a hernia. I connect these two events because
when we were at the hospital, our sainted vet and his loyal assistant
had a lively time cornering Buddy in the pasture and holding him so
they could stitch up his leg.
He has nicely-shaped ears but when Nicole, our oldest daughter,
turned four, she thought it was amusing to make them lay back “like
merry-go-round horses’ ears.” You could always tell that he didn’t
particularly like this but he never really objected, just like he didn’t
seem offended when I pointed out his mismatched socks. Well, they
aren’t really mismatched, but when you are trying to teach your
children to get dressed, matching socks are usually part and parcel of
Buddy’s white socks are all different: On his hind legs, the socks are
high up on the inside of his legs and almost nonexistent on the
outside. On his front legs, one sock goes up almost to his knee and
the fourth, well, there is really no excuse for the fourth because it
doesn’t exist, except as a large spot on his stomach where I presume
the leg had rested before he had been born.
Finally, the day came when our son, Steven, had to enter
Kindergarten. That just happened to be the same day that I rode
Buddy for the first time. It was like riding helicopter blades. In spite of
all my preparations for the event, Buddy somehow had never
connected the introduction of the bridle, saddle, driving reins, etc., as
leading up to some sort of main event. In his sheltered life, he had
never seen another horse carry a rider. It was a most traumatic insult
to his personality, especially when he realized that I was going to be
the one to decide in which direction we should proceed, and at what
pace. Evidently, our son had the same idea about Kindergarten.
I can’t say for sure if anyone triumphed that day. I think it was an
even draw, certainly no sort of truce. When I waited in the line of cars
at the school, I was covered in dust,perspiration, and a mixture of rage
and disgust. I had been forced to bow in awe of a personality that was
equal to mine in terms of a strong will. When I saw our son stomping
down the steps of the school, out to our car, I saw myself (and Buddy)
mirrored in his attitude, posture, and appearance.
When Buddy was younger, all I had to do was pull into the driveway,
tap the horn, and he would come running, whinnying with
happiness. Now he still greets me, but at a sedate walk. I remember
that he used to wait for the school bus to bring the children home.
After they graduated, he still waited. You could tell that he was
frustrated, that it somehow upset his internal clock. When they
approach him now to pet him, he still puts his head down to make it
easier for them. He doesn’t need to do that anymore; even Chelsea is
old enough/tall enough to reach his head without help.
His eyes are full of years now. He seems peaceful but I am not used to
him being so quiet. He has outlived the other animals. He has new
companions but they have no history for him and so he ignores them.
He never realized his ambition of jumping the pasture fence, or of
raiding the feed room. Factoring in his sum of years, he has, finally,
become an average of himself. Still, every lift of his head conveys a
meaning. I can tell when he is interested, bored, aggravated but sadly,
I see his life speeding by while mine appears to stand still. The
children have all gone off to college. They return sporadically but
Buddy and I are trapped in a time loop, it seems.
As I decorate the house and pasture fences for the holidays, he follows
along with me, supervising. He observes the seasons and the
celebrations passing. In turn, I observe how his mahogany coat
deepens in color and texture, day by day, preparing for the cold
weather, and then see it fade to an almost sand color, bleached out by
the Texas summer. We both wait for the children to come home.
As I look out the window now, I see him at the gate. He still stands
and keeps watch for me, socks askew, and I’m certain he always will,
in this world and the next. He sees me now and his eyes brighten; he
whinnies in greeting. I go to meet him.