OUR FINAL CHAPTER
Years pass by. I ruin much of our carriage driving life by moving to a different area, mostly for the upside of being able to afford to buy land to keep the horses at home. The beauty and indescribable joy of seeing them outside your window, any time day or night. To go and just “be” with them. To check they are well and not struggling. To say a sweet goodnight under the stars. To doze with them in the hot sun, sit under the shade of the willow tree. My little herd was led by Apollo my retired palomino, The Bandit and his mum little Alberta, and his aunt by default, Pippa. By some strange and mostly unintentional coincidence, we had moved close to a western riding centre,(pretty rare occurrence in the UK at that time.)
Unsurprisingly, in time we had a small succession of quarter horses join us. Scarlett, Posie and later Blaze. The Bandit became particular friends with Scarlett who was around the same size as him when she first came; he scared the daylights out of Posie, and was a respectful friend to Blaze, once boundaries had been established.
The downside of all this joy was I had left my carriage driving pals behind. No groom to come drive with me. I joined the local carriage driving group and soon discovered that they did not approach things in quite the same way as we did in my previous location. The casual approach to safety was a bit scary and they even wrote about their accidents in the newsletter as if they were something to be commended. I think Gung Ho is the correct terminology. Having seen some pretty dreadful driving accidents in my time, and having to clear up after a few of them, I was not impressed. I tried a handful of young people, just couldn’t find a fit, so mostly I drove alone. The Bandit continued to say YES. Our lives changed, as they usually do.
In order to pay for the new house, and all these beautiful horses out in the pasture I now had to up my work game. A world of opportunities spread before me and I started travelling the country, facilitating workshops, leaving all I loved behind for days at a time. It was lucrative and exciting, and paid me enough to really enjoy the horses when I returned home. Working hard and playing hard seemed to be working well! Sometimes friends came with their driving horses, or we met up in forests, driving centres. We still got out and had fun.
Life around me changed as well. When friends came out to drive their horse one day and had a nasty accident I started to rethink driving alone. Developers built more and more houses around us and the local roads got horrendously busy. The lovely long straight farm tracks after months of monsoon downpours became full of deep tractor ruts and permanently undriveable for the majority of the seasons. Both The Bandit and I got older.
Somewhere along that line I lost my desire to road drive alone. Riding became an easier thing to do solo, not needing any support from anyone else to get out in the countryside.
The Bandit settled into an uneasy retirement, occasionally joining in with my liberty sessions. When he was 30 his mum died. He had been diagnosed with cushings way back. He became a watery pooh pony every winter, although summers were fine. He was already struggling to keep weight on in winter and was a little slow but still able to argue over hay piles, and bully what girls were left. We began the old pony routine. Achingly familiar by now. I had been here so many times already, with Alby, Pippa and Apollo. Trying different feeds, rugs to keep warm, supplements, vets visits, tests. Constantly reviewing his quality of life, levels of pain and discomfort, what he still enjoys. Questions turning in a circle of mixed emotions. Don’t leave “it” too late. How to do “it” when all is well. Balancing, questioning. Constantly facing the the issue. Assessing, analysing. Grasping at straws. Familiar territory for most horse owners,but isolatingly unique each and every time.
The dreaded colic started to rear its head. The bandit started to say “nah no thanks “ to food.
It was autumn, he had not begun loosing weight yet. At the same time my mum was dying horrendously in a psychotic storm of anger and fear. I spun around trying to do my best in this maelstrom of impending loss.
Over a 24 hour period he had an impacted colic not a usual incident for The Bandit. When the vet was there he was a bit pushy as if to say I’m fine I’m fine, fine please go away. When we were alone he would curl his head and neck around my body, so very tired. After several visits and no improvement we had the discussions and almost unbearable debate around- more treatment at home vs a pretty high chance of a rupture in the night. I was pretty convinced he wouldn’t make it through winter anyhow. (oh how glibly I had said that I would not let him go through another winter but that I’d choose a gorgeous autumn day and let him go.)
So here we were on a gorgeous September day, and I really didnt have so much of a choice to make. The last baby swallows of the year took that day to fledge and they fluttered around us, resting on stable doors and fencing as The Bandit took his final leave, surrounded by the others. The buzzards circled overhead, as they always seem to do at such times, calling and swooping.
Foreheads touching I said my thanks and good byes.
I cried, the vet cried. The rest of the herd looked on, interested but all knowing.
The surprise pony from a fifty quid shetland who had brightened my life and possibly bought out the best in me, was gone. 34 years a part of my daily life. A source of inspiration and lets face it, sometimes irritation.
I am so grateful that he came, that he stayed and that he said YES.