Of Horses and Fears
Hugo was my first “serious” horse. He was an eventer that was competing at the 1m level in Manila. He was this beautiful, bay warmblood, with a slim stripe down his face, and he scared me.
I purchased Hugo when I was still a novice rider. I had just given birth to my daughter, and immediately after that, I grew afraid of everything. It was over a year since I had cantered. Being pregnant, giving birth, recovering, then developing countless fears. I simply trotted around safely. Hugo was my first canter since the fear started eating away at me.
For two years I had Hugo in a stable in Manila. We struggled. We struggled because I was afraid. I would spend two weeks home, two weeks away, just to be with Hugo. When the riding school closed, and Hugo moved to Bacolod, no one was happier than my husband. My horse no longer separated me from my human family, and I could finally combine both. But, I was still scared.
Hugo would have minor bouts of colic in Manila, he would recover quickly. And since I never had experience with colic, I never thought anything of it. A year into Hugo being in Bacolod, he showed signs of colic at 4PM. Being out here we don’t have equine vets. We did what we could, and I thought he was fine, I went home. This was at 8PM. By 3AM, I received a call from my groom, Hugo had passed.
I was distraught. I didn’t think I would lose a horse to colic. I couldn’t look at him, lying lifelessly in his stall. I went to Morado, my beautiful grey thoroughbred mare, who was stabled beside him, and I hugged her. And I didn’t let go for what felt like hours. I cried for days.
I regretted my time with Hugo, not because it was brief, but because I was afraid. To this day I regret it. There was nothing wrong with Hugo. He was this perfect horse that did perfect transitions, never shied away from a jump, got perfect strides each time, came into the bit when other people would ride him, and was nothing but patient with me. And all I did was canter him around aimlessly and fear the worst.
Not Just Horses
I’ve lost pets before. One story I remember was when I lost my Golden Retriever, Baker. He was my dog when I was still living with my parents. When we moved to Negros Island, my mom asked for him to stay, and he did. I was in Bacolod when he passed away. I remember it so well. I was working in the office when my mom called. It was before lunch. I wailed like a Banshee. My husband thought my brother had died. Baker was a huge part of my family, my confidant.
Jabba was my husband’s wedding gift to me. He was this adorable Bull Mastiff that enjoyed beer, chased goats, cuddled with children, and he was also extremely sickly. Once a year Jabba would fly to Manila to see the vet. He had reactive lymphadenitis, which the vets in Bacolod could not treat. He passed away a few months shy of his sixth birthday. He was so young. I cried endlessly. He passed away at the clinic, when I knew deep down he should have come home with me, and he should have crossed the rainbow bridge beside me.
Losing A Partner
Losing a dog is painful. They’re family. Each dog is special, unique, has their own quirks, and understands you individually. But, losing a horse. When you mount a horse you put your faith in him. You have to completely trust that horse to carry you on his back, to trust him as you ask him to do things for you. He is a partner. A partner that can read the slightest body movement, the slightest shift in your seat. A partner that knows your very emotion just by standing beside you.
Losing Hugo taught me so many things. To this day I visit his grave and I tell him stories. I tell him about the bravery I learned, about this new accomplishment I’ve had with a different horse. I tell him how I miss him, and how grateful I am for teaching me great lessons, even in death. His death made me brave.
To this day I tell him how sad I am that I never did what he loved. I never even cantered a pole with him. To this day I tell him how I wish I had just trusted him completely. I was the one who broke his trust!
A year later I bought Bundy. I told Hugo that I did, and I promised him I will not break another horse’s trust. And I rode Bundy bravely. From never jumping a cross rail, to jumping him on the second day. Yes, Bundy and I have had our trials, we still do, but I push on. I would cry in my lessons with Bundy, but I pushed on.
Because of Hugo, I never left a sick animal’s side until they’re in the clear. When Bundy had colic one afternoon, I slept in his stall for three nights straight, waking at every swish of his tail, every pace of the stall. I massaged his tummy until I knew he was completely recovered. I never left his side.
Because of Jabba I never left a dog in the clinic if I knew he’s close to the end. They need their humans. They need their partners, they need their friends.
These animals aren’t just, well, animals. They are companions with feelings, emotions, personalities. They want to feel trust, love, empathy, happiness. And in their life, as with their death, they teach us countless lessons. Lessons you will never learn looking at a screen, or playing a video game. They will teach you lessons of love, life, and loss.