Thank you to Topline Photos/Kim Suddaby for the photo.

When a horse person loses a horse, those uninitiated into the club will tend to compare it to “losing your dog.”  That isn’t even close to the reality for your horsey friend…

I heard this more than once in the last week and to be honest, it upset me even more than I already was (which is amazing it was even possible).  I felt offended on behalf of Spice and everyone that loved him that his loss was compared to that of a pet dog.  My reaction made me step back and question why that comparison was so offensive to me.  I mean…I love dogs.  I was devastated when each of my childhood pups passed.  When I lost Titan, the pain was worse.  And Spice…oh Spice…

What makes losing a horse more loaded than losing other pets?  I think probably because horses aren’t really pets for most people.  I think the analogies below can help explain to non-horsey folks exactly what the loss might mean.  Each horse lost is going to be a little different, depending on their age, jobs, training efforts, living situations, etc.  Some might be very similar to losing a dog and others not even close.  Some horses are pets.  Some have jobs.  Some are for sport.  Others are used for leisure/hobbies.  Some are old and some are babies.  Some die suddenly and others are planned or expected.  I’ve seen lots of friends lose lots of horses over the years…and I’ve seen all these situations below play out…and many were a mixture of multiple situations.

– Sometimes losing your horse is like losing your dog…like non-horsey people think.  Especially if your horse lived at home and was primarily with you for companionship.  This is not most situations.

– For some, losing a horse is like having your beloved grandparent or teacher pass (depending on the personality of said horse and your age). This horse/pony helped raise you from childhood (or taught you everything you know).  They taught you many lessons, gave you some discipline and a WHOLE WHOLE lot of fun.

–  Sometimes it is like losing an admired coworker.  We spend more time with our coworkers than our families most of the time and there are always ones we can trust and rely on to get the job done.  These are the lesson horses, the mounted police horses, park service horses, carriage horse and farm horses.  The pain may or may not be as acute, but it’s still there and you’ve lost someone you rely on.

– Sometimes it might be like getting a phone call that your promising and talented student/friend has had a car accident and died young.  I have been on the human side of this one (devastating) and see friends on the horse side of this one…Promise, dreams and future gone in a flash.  All the energy and mentor-ship you have given them is gone to the wind.

– For others, losing a horse is like buying a home that needs some work but has a ton of character.  You fall in love right away, but know it will be years before it’s quite right.  After those years, hard work and buckets of money you put into fixing it up and making it perfect for you, it burns to the ground (or in the case of a horse…dies).  Sure…it can be replaced…but you are never getting that time/effort/care/money back.  And the replacement won’t be the same (if you have insurance) and will most definitely lack that same “character” you so prized.

– Sometimes it is like buying a brand new Porche (or McLaren…or Lamborghini) and totaling it before you have a chance go more than take a few rides.  I know people that have invested big bugs on a sport horse only to have them die…or be injured so significantly that they may have well died (and unlike that car, sometimes these horses don’t have insurance).  Racing owners get to feel this more than most.

– Sometimes it is like losing your best friend in the world.  Yes…for some horse people, our horses are our best friends.  We trust them with our lives, our emotions, and all our secrets.  We go on great adventures with them and meet and overcome all challenges.  All they give back is love, understanding and being in the moment.  Horses don’t judge (and that makes them better friends than many people).  Sometimes we’ve been friends with them for decades, which makes the loss even more painful.

– Sometimes it is like when an athlete at the top of their game has a horrible accident that not only ends their competition year, it may end their career.  For example, 4 time Tour de France winning rider Chris Froome crashed in a training ride in June this year weeks before the Tour de France.  He broke basically half of his body (and looks to have come close to dying), lost all shot of making it to the race this year and there is a chance he may never get there again.  Taken from the top of the game in an instant with limited years left at his age.  For me, I’m feeling this one with Spice (as well as the best friend one…and teacher one).  We were at the top of our game (all of our very best rides came in the last couple of weeks).  We were ready to go out and finish my big goal with him in a matter of weeks.  In a terrible hour, our three years of hard work and partnership ended.  I will never finish my goals I had with him, and that hurts.  Sure I will reach those heights again with another horse, but it will not be the same.  He took me from Training level to PSG in 3 years…and I earned every step of the way since he was no easy horse.  There will most certainly be a delay for me to get back to where I was with him with another horse…or my goals may now change entirely.  We shall see.

There are so many other things to compare a loss to that can convey our feelings, though so many will discount your loss as simply losing a pet.  Know that I don’t discount it…and neither do most other horse people.  I feel your loss with you.  We feel your loss with you and it drags up memories of losses for ourselves.

Sure…you lost a pet.  But you lost a whole lot more than that.  You lost time, effort, money, friendship, a partnership, dreams and hopes, goals, a coworker, a teacher, a student and so so much more.