This was intended to be a short intro’ to the next blog but, as has happened before, it kind-of galloped away with me so I gave it its head to see where it went. I’m pleased enough with the destination even more so the ride to get there. Somehow I just needed to write this down, hope you don’t mind reading it.
While I was out driving recently I came by a field of horses. The weather was warm bordering hot, even so some had rugs on whilst others didn’t.
I slowed down and remembered.
White fencing tape, oh so familiar to me, was dividing the space into individual quarters and dancing erratically in a compassionate breeze between its supporting poles.
Most of the animals were mooching about heads down scouring the parched earth in the forlorn hope of finding something green hidden in a sea of brown and beige; two were grooming one another on either side of the flapping tape.
A sea of memories washed over and through me but I had to drive on; later at home those memories returned.
I began thinking back to the various stables I’d known with Elaine. There were several different ‘yards’ during our years together but only really the two horses, Teddy and then Bruce.
She loved them both but Bruce had the edge; Elaine needed him in a different way to any other. Despite the known and unknown problems he came with his presence in her life was a light in the darkness that edged around the last eleven years or so that she lived.
When Elaine and I got together full time I soon came to realise that when you have a horse you are signed-up for life, either it’s or yours depending on fate. It’s pointless owning one if you are afraid of hard work or don’t have access to a bucket of money, (possibly both!).
The bills are relentless:- stabling, bedding, feed, farrier and of course- the vet.
“Got a horse? Let’s face it – it’s gonna go lame”; regularly, from what I remember.
Elaine always worked hard to be able to keep this all going and there is no doubt that she, and then we, went without things that we could have easily afforded had she not kept a horse.
Did I ever resent this? Emphatically – NO!
When you love someone so very much you just want them to be happy. The pleasure she gained from her horses by far outweighed the expense involved or the time taken up. Indeed time was a commodity that Elaine did not squander easily; she knew it was not an infinite luxury and spending it with her horse was almost (I hope!) her favourite pastime.
It was inevitable that I would become ‘roped in’ (pun intended) to this horsey world because there were certain things that Elaine could not easily manage alone, due mostly to treatments she had had or was having.
Stuff such as stable repairs or painting, maybe fences too, also hay and feed to haul and stack, poo picking in the fields, you get the picture.
Even so my wife was a little reluctant to get me too heavily involved at first. She knew I didn’t have any great love for horses, they more than often make me sneeze and itch as do most animals, and I have never in my life even sat on a horse and I can honestly say to do so is not on my bucket list.
(Elaine did once suggest that I have a sit on Bruce whilst she led him, but with no steering wheel or effective brakes- no thanks darling!).
But she was happy when I genuinely came to enjoy our visits to the yard, something we did do occasionally together, though not always. Sometimes I would go alone to carry out repairs or deliver hay etc’ and if Bruce was in the vicinity he would usually come over to lend a hoof or mug me for treats or have his ears scratched; much hand washing followed.
Even I must admit there was a certain presence, a certain something about that horse that made him stand out from the herd as it were. He was intelligent with charisma and personality in spades, people just wanted to approach him and be his friend; he soon became the star wherever he was stabled, something his owner was secretly quite proud of.
When well enough and often when not, Elaine would do all the mucking-out and stable care herself and she really liked to be alone to do it. I came to recognise that many owners treat it as a sort of social thing, meeting others over coffee or tea and having a chat etc but that really wasn’t Elaine’s style, certainly not in the latter times anyway.
In her last few years she worked her visits so as to be alone at the yard if possible; she enjoyed the solitude and the opportunity it gave her to think. Nobody’s fool when it came to the cancer situation she understood that the fuse was getting shorter and was unlikely to be drawn-out far beyond its time.
How exactly her thoughts ran though I can only guess; the big smile was nearly always back in place when she returned home.
I didn’t understand this solitude thing until a few years back when Elaine was on more chemo’ and too unwell to tend to the stable. Help was to hand with fetching Bruce in and out but not for everything else, so I volunteered my services for stable duties.
Elaine was wary, not that she didn’t trust me, but I think she feared it was an imposition and that somehow sorting horse things was her duty alone. Anyway, she showed me what and how, and while she recovered I became stable orderly for a time.
I too chose to go when no one else was likely to be there, mainly to avoid any criticism of my efforts, and then a strange thing- I began to enjoy it, not so much the work itself but just being alone.
Alone yet with the world all around me, there was a unique satisfaction to it. Sun, wind even rain all brought something special to the table as did the open space and immediate silence. It seemed to free-up my mind and gift me the capacity to think clearly if only for an hour or two.
I remember too the smells of nature caught on the frequent breeze and hanging as unspoken thoughts in my mind. This horsey world, now forfeit to me, is something I would love to re-visit again one day but not yet.
It ended completely when Elaine died but it started closing for us both when Bruce died barely four months before her.
Ever since she had him he had suffered with painful bouts of colic (twisting of and blockages in the gut). He was always a right greedy bastard when it came to food, and in the field he would just eat and eat; often he looked as though he’d been inflated via an airline.
Elaine restricted him where possible, which never enhanced his mood, but especially when the grass was wet as he would get problems often resulting in him collapsing to the ground amid lingering groans, eyes distended pleading for help. Mind you, at many of these moments he seemed to make certain that an audience was on hand to bear witness and dispense due sympathy.
My wife had her emergency kit close at all times and often successfully treated him herself though the vet would be summoned on occasions to administer injections and advice. Once he had recovered sufficiently Bruce would be ready for his evening meal and did not much appreciate it being replaced with a bland bran mash for his own good, (he still ate it!).
Elaine always returned to the stables at night if Bruce had one of these turns to check all was okay. I would often go too if it was dark and nobody else was going to be around; a stable yard at night is so different to one in daylight.
The yard described as Old Roman Farm in Elaine’s book was quite a remote and eerie place with several ancient tomb mounds near at hand; it was the first ‘home’ for Bruce with Elaine. The daytime skies were vast and brooding whatever the weather, and the atmosphere particularly at dusk, brought with it an edginess and a slight contempt for all around and beneath it.
I never did like her returning there alone after dark, and although not an easily frightened person, I know she was always grateful when I volunteered to go with her.
Bruce’s final home was about two and a half miles from ours and a busier place with quite a few people living on site. I rarely had a night visit there but for Elaine they started to become more and more frequent.
The end of Bruce’s life came unexpectedly just over 2 years ago on September 10th 2020.
Two years, it seems longer to me but then time is a bit of a jumble in my world at present, but I can recall that morning only too well.
He’d gone down with colic the previous afternoon. Elaine said she’d sat outside of his stable and was watching him in his field when in her mind she knew something was wrong, he was moving erratically and fidgeting and eventually she fetched him in.
It soon became obvious colic was again the problem, but Elaine wasn’t sure why as the grass was not wet which nearly always acted as the kick-off point.
She treated him and the symptoms eased but not fully and after dinner that night she returned alone to the stables for several hours. When she came back I just knew this time was different, she was quiet and obviously still concerned.
Elaine knew this horse better than anyone else alive and although she didn’t voice her fears directly to me I felt them none the less and knew also that she felt uneasy leaving him that night.
Next day she left early for the yard.
I was at home that morning but couldn’t settle to anything. Instinct told me my fears were not unfounded and I decided to call Elaine by 9 o’clock; the phone rang at five minutes to.
“Please come over now.”
“Just come now Mark please.”
Never before had I heard my darling’s voice so small, so lost.
I grabbed boots coat and keys all in one movement and was in the truck before I barely had time to think. Elaine had taken the car as the truck had a broken spring but that was of no matter to me right now.
Two and a half grinding bouncy miles later I arrive, just too late.
Bruce is down in his stable, obviously dead.
I shall never be able to shake the image of my wife kneeling beside him her head and face buried in his neck. She is sobbing fit to burst, the emotion wracking her body like a storm playing with a feather.
The vet, whom Elaine had called very early that morning was left with no choice but to euthanize this magnificent force of nature; it appeared that a section of his gut had effectively died leaving him in great pain and beyond all hope of saving, though they had tried.
It had been Elaine’s unenviable call at the end but she said “Just do it” to save him any more torment. Apparently he went down so fast he almost took the vet with him when she administered the drugs.
I helped my love to her feet and we hugged instinctively; she was desperately trying to stop crying but had just as well tried to stop breathing. I held her close as composure eventually returned; words were superfluous.
After a few minutes she went outside and phone in hand started the process of getting the body removed- ever the practical.
I’m grateful that any others at the yard that morning had the grace and good sense to keep away.
Alone in the stable I said my own goodbyes to the horse who had been such a major part of my life too for the past eleven years. I rubbed his ears as he had always loved and his soft pink nose, still warm. I can feel that even now.
It was as I went to leave that I saw the green wristband that Anna in the U.S had sent to Elaine with two others and she had attached to Bruce’s headcollar; lying in the bedding it was broken through and I dropped it in my pocket unbeknown to my wife.
I knew then clearly in my mind what I had to do with it, the clarity of it unnerved me at that moment.
I was to make it whole again and when the time came it would accompany Elaine on her final journey. I remember the fear rising like cold bile as understanding briefly flashed in my mind that I would not be waiting long for that time.
I know now without doubt that I sensed only too well the sands were running low for Elaine and I. Too many things were happening at once with regard to her illness and treatment; I can see it now but know that I desperately didn’t want to see it then.
I know also that Elaine, always previously so pro-active with regard to the cancer, took her eye off the ball in her grief for Bruce.
She thought she’d let him down, that she should have seen what was coming and somehow prevented it. But how?
When logic eventually pushed grief out of the picture cancer had sized its chance and become unstoppable. It would have done so anyway but we might have had a bit more time, the enormity of which will be lost on you who luckily have never stood where we were.
Without words we both knew the situation and naturally and unconsciously started planning.
I’m grateful at the close it was so quick and she looked herself to the end.
And Bruce? Well I miss the old villain still, and I must confess I miss the smells of the hay and the feed and the tack (even sometimes the dung heap!), it all mixed in to make up a complete world now closed to me.
The only thing I don’t miss at present is the solitude; it’s there in spades if I want it but it’s a dead end and like it or not I’m still alive and somehow intend to stay so.
6 thoughts on “HOOFPRINTS.”
I would often walk past Bruce in his stable and give him a “ orange thing”
Carrots . His stable was opposite my storage and he would see me go in and know what was kept inside 🥕🥕x
He never did miss very much where food was concerned!!
I get this solitude and immersion; such a sensory immersion in the world of animal care. Of course not the same as grief solitude. Lovely memories of your missus and her steed and her devoted care. X
I am so pleased to have the pleasure of another essay from you. This one has made me cry, twice. You are a powerful writer, Mark.
Beautifully written Mark! Thank you.
Another article that is so beautifully written that it has me in tears. I never met Elaine, but Julie is a good friend of mine, so I have heard lots about her, Bruce, and you! I love reading your blogs, you have such a way with words, Mark. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, it’s good to read some “real stuff” in these sad times where things feel out of our control. Hazel