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When I met Owen's Pride, an extraordinary former racehorse, he had 3 feet in his grave and the 4th on a banana peel. It was 1998, and my life would never be the same again. I should have known what was to come when a rainbow formed above us as he was coming towards me.
Over the years we developed constant mind-to-mind contact, and our relationship was to become such that people say they have never seen anything like it. If, at the time, I had understood his true spiritual standing and the plans he had for us I might have chickened out, so it was far better for me to look upon him as "just" a horse whom I had "rescued" from euthanasia.
HEAVEN FOR HORSES: Copyright by Stephanie Fry
Beyond Partnership to Partnership Beyond
By Stephanie Fry
First, I found myself persuading my husband to let me put all we had on the line and acquire a particular 30-acre smallholding so we could offer a home and a life worth living to horses with mental, emotional and physical problems. This soon turned into a last-resort rehabilitation facility. Then it became clear that the "rehabilitated" equine, when placed back into the same circumstances, was likely to revert, so we launched our Heaven for Horses project which focuses on offering people the experience of being with their horses in a completely different and mutually more rewarding way. Meanwhile, Owen had also tasked me with lecturing on The Spiritual Life of Animals as well as with writing a book chronicling our journey together.
The Horse-Specific Animal Communication Workshop we ran in August 2012 was fully booked and hugely successful with many tears, much love and, for some of us, unwelcome news. Owen, aged 30, his eyesight gone along with most of his teeth, wasted no time confirming what I already suspected: "Please, not another winter." And: "October", he said. He also asked for a bullet. This or death in battle is all he had ever known in his many incarnations.
So here I was in the knowledge that all I had left with my partner were barely 2 months, and counting down. I had been hoping to just find him in the field one day, or to see him gently slip away as a result of an injection. But no; he had to take the growth and never-ending self-improvement which he had come into my life to teach me to the absolute limit.
I started making preparations so I would get it right for this outstanding, unspeakably special horse. I knew which tree he wanted to lie next to and that he wished me to plant forget-me-nots. I contacted that special person to deliver his bullet, a no-nonsense man whom he knew, trusted and respected, forewarned the farmer needed to dig his grave and the farrier to remove his shoes for me to keep. I wanted be make sure that, on the day, I would be able to make the calls without any fuss or explanation. There was absolutely no question that I would be there, holding the end of his 12' line, and that my voice telling him I loved him would be the very last thing he would hear before the shot.
It was hard. Very hard. The tears just kept on coming. I could hear him in my mind, asking: "Why are you crying? I am still here. It's only August!" And how right he was. There was his breakfast to soak for the morning, the bucket sitting on the floor right next to me. And then his lunch, his tea, his supper... And one less to go each day.
Only a week later, he unexpectedly went lame. I knew it was time. The pain was too much and an improvement highly unlikely with old tendon injuries in both forelegs for which he had been pinfired in his racing days. The suspensary ligament in his "good" leg looked about to pop from the extra strain. His fetlock almost dragged on the ground at times. He spent as much time as he could lying down but barely managed to struggle back to his feet.
As I sat with Owen and asked him what to do next he gently caressed my face with his muzzle for a long time. "It doesn't matter about my body," he said. I am afraid that was where I dug my heels in, because it mattered GREATLY to me. This valley is where he belongs. I know he saw this stance as "typically, feebly human" but that's what I am. Human. And having a say in what happened with his remains was of immense comfort to me in a time of huge stress and grief.
Finally I found someone. I waited with Owen in the round pen, greedily drinking in the sight and smell of him, the way the breeze gently wrapped his soft tail hair around his hocks. At one point I began to wonder. He was looking shiny, filled out and up to weight, and if it hadn't been for his trembling, bandaged legs... "What if it is only a matter of a few poultices?" I suddenly thought. He admonished me sharply. "Do NOT start going silly on me now!"
I knew the time was near when he lifted his head and strongly focused his ears and sightless eyes on the track in anticipation.
Soon an old Land Rover dieseled round the corner. You know how some people "get" horses and others don't. I could tell by the knackerman's reaction when I asked his name and introduced him to Owen that this was a person of the latter category. That was fine with me; because anyone who truly "got" my horse might have had problems pulling the trigger.
"Is he an old favourite then?" He asked. "You have no idea...!" I replied tearfully, thinking: "No! He is my brother, my partner, the equine Love of my Life; my North, my South, my East and West; my working week, my Sunday rest, my noon, my midnight, my talk, my song. I thought he would go on forever. I was wrong." (W.H. Auden)
"Oh well," he said, "I know you sort of get attached to them." And then: "We usually place a bag on their heads."
"Because of the blood. Do you want us to put a bag on his head?"
"No, thanks. We don't need a bag." Owen, in fact, found this slightly amusing even in the circumstances. "Does he mean to say he thinks I'm ugly?" He also seemed bemused by the bucket of chaff the man's assistant was waving at him. But I'm being unkind now. They did a clean, professional, efficient job.
I spent the entire day begging for someone to come and shoot my horse. This was never meant to happen. The Freedom Bullet man he had asked for was willing but caught short of the time required to secure an adequate weapon. After all, we thought we still had a few weeks to go. A captive bolt was out of the question. And the hunt insisted on removing the body.
I haltered Owen and loosely held his rope, made sure that he was ready and told him that I loved him more than life. His herd stood to attention, with his buddies William and Bertie just outside the pen. He was calm and quiet until the men grasped his halter tightly and parted his forelock. But before I could ask them to give him some slack it was all over. The whole valley seemed to flinch when the single shot rang out.
The knackerman reassured me that any "twitching" was purely an unconscious, neurological reaction. But I knew Owen was galloping. "Run, my darling, run!" I said. Tears and snot were mingling with his blood (maybe it was me who needed a bag on my head). You see, there is a herd of Celtic Spirit Horses roaming the valley floor. This is why we are where we are. We sometimes hear the thunder of their hooves. It was they that he was running to.
It was done. With dignity. I stayed with my horse until his heart stopped beating. Then I opened the gate into the round pen and left William and Bertie to find their own closure. They spent the remainder of the day and the following night in there with his body, grazing near him or grooming each other. William kept calling and checking Owen's remains
How bland the kitchen smelled the following morning without the grass pellets and alfalfa nuts on the soak. I needn't have got up so early as there weren't endless kettles to boil. I thought he might have come through at night but the air waves remained silent. I knew he had a lot of adjusting to do on the Other Side. And I was fine. Teary at times, but relieved. I didn't feel bereft. A little lost maybe, yet full of my Owen.
Earlier this year I had begun to take more photographs and shoot video footage with the aim of eventually creating a compilation of images to remember him by. One scenario repeats itself over and over. I now have countless shots of him coming to me at a trot or a canter when called, even from the far end of a huge field. So one night, as we were talking when I had left my body behind in sleep-state, I found myself asking him: "Why is it that you honour me so?"
This is what he replied:
I run to you because your heart is open.
I run to you because your mind is true.
I run to you because I hear your calling
And because my heart wants me to be with you.
I run to you because the days are fleeing,
And when I am with you then time is still.
I run to you because it's where the love is,
And, together, it is all that we can feel.
My hour of rest draws near. I know you will be weeping.
My empty shell will seem to say my running's done.
But I will wait for you, and when I sense your spirit
I'll run to you, and we shall cross as One.
In Loving Memory of Owen's Pride (26.04.1982-30.08.2012)
"Waiting for the Man."