1977 - 5 October, 2011
30 years old
Passed April 30, 2012
I met Annie when I was twelve years old. I wish I could say that we had one of those instant connections; that we saw each other and it just clicked. But it wasn't like that for Annie and I. I'd been riding at the same barn since I was four years old, mostly riding the same pony. But as all pre-teen girls do, I was rapidly outgrowing him. He'd taught me all he could, and I needed more of a challenge, according to my instructor. And a challenge she gave me. I can safely say that Annie was not even in the same ballpark as a "pleasant" horse to ride. She was stubborn and bossy, and had no interest in doing any of the things I was politely asking her to do. Her selective understanding of my commands turned my quiet invitation to canter, into the starting bell of the Kentucky Derby. Although she was older, already about 20 years old at that time, you'd never know it. She'd jerk my hands around in the reins, balk at small simple jumps, and run away with me so regularly, that I considered installing a handlebar onto my saddle.
Having spent the last 8 years riding a somewhat more cooperative pony, this was not my cup of tea. But my instructor was insistent that this was crucial to my riding career, so I stuck it out. People say that riding, and developing a relationship with horses, instills a toughness and self confidence in people, especially in young children, and they aren't lying. Weighing about 17 pounds at the time, I was determined to put that loaded gun of a horse, in her place.
As Annie and I spent more time together, we began to mesh more and more. Her temperament made it considerably easier. She was always the kindest, gentlest creature I'd ever known. The whole "uncontrollable mess on four legs" persona she wore sometimes, began to become just an endearing quality in her. She was feisty, no doubt about it; but there was so much more to her. Once she and I saw eye to eye, I was hooked. Every week, we improved more, and every week I loved her more.
Throughout my teen years, Annie was a permanent fixture in my life. She saw me through my first date, my first boyfriend, my first breakup, friends coming and going, prom, graduation, the works. While other kids in my class were off partying, getting drunk, doing drugs, and whatever else it is that normal high school kids do, I would have always preferred to just be with Annie. I never did have that wild streak throughout my entire high school career (or college for that matter), and truth be told, I always credited that to her. She made me want to be a better person. And I was grateful for that.
I'd wanted a horse since I was old enough to sit in an upright position, but owning my own had never really been a possibility. Coming from a horse family, my sister, my cousin and I would always concoct ridiculous schemes and ideas on how to own horses of our own, and they'd always be answered with the same response. The ever popular, "It isn't buying them that's the problem, it's taking care of them.". I knew how badly my parents wanted to get horses for my sister and I, but obviously it was a huge financial burden, and what with us having nowhere to keep them, it was just never a possibility. Much to our delight, in 2006, we made a deal with friends of ours who owned a large lot of land, a stable, and four horses of their own, that we could keep horses on their property if we were willing to care for theirs as well, and keep things running around the barn. Obviously that was a no-brainer.
My little sister, Emily, branched out of our stable, and found a big gawky 16 hand thoroughbred sitting in the middle of a children's petting zoo, without a clue as to what to do with himself. His owner didn't have the time for him that he needed, and was desperate to get him to a good home. Naturally we obliged. But I wanted nothing to do with any other horse but Annie. I firmly told my father that if I couldn't have her, I didn't want a horse. Strange as it is, I meant it. The idea of sharing my life with any other horse in the world was just unimaginable, and I wanted no part of it.
Eight months went by after my sister bought her horse, Story, and I was still convincing my father about the perks of Annie becoming a part of our family; well, so I thought. May 6, 2007, I left my last class of my freshman year of college, and headed to the barn after receiving a faux colic scare phone call from my sister. I walked into the barn, and who did I see standing in the stall next to Story's, but my best friend in the world, with a big red bow on her halter. I was in euphoria. Utter bliss. The single happiest moment of my life without any doubt. Every horse-crazy little girl dreams of that moment, and at 19 years old, I'd finally gotten mine.
The next few years were the best of my life. There has never been a bond, ever in the world, like Annie's and I. We were always inseparable. Every time I'd go out to the field, when the other horses would run away for fear of having a saddle strapped to them, Annie always came over to me. Every time I looked at her, she was so cute, I could barely stand it.
About a year before I bought her, she'd developed Cushing's Disease, and although it was under control with medication, it was a pain in the butt. Because of the disease, she'd never shed her winter coat, so come spring, summer and fall, I had to clip her. She never failed to be a giant pain, stamping her feet impatiently, moving around constantly, and repeatedly turning to give me exasperated looks, as if I was greatly inconveniencing her. She'd lose her fly masks in the field regularly, knock over shovels in the hallway and nearly give herself heart attacks, and put her nose against me and push me against the wall, and I still couldn't help but love her. In her late 20's and she still had a spark in her that most horses lose in old age. Every morning I'd go to the barn, whatever problems I had in my life would melt away every time she'd jerk her head up, prick her ears, and make her little hungry noises, as she impatiently waited for me to give her breakfast.
All these years we'd been together, our riding had always improved, but there was nothing in the world like the bond that we had developed. Everyone wants to believe that animals truly love, and although I'd always known it, one look from Annie cemented it. We connected like I never had with anyone, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt, that she loved me as much as I loved her. She was special, and I knew it. No matter what happened, she was always there, and that never failed to make me happy. Knowing that she was happy and healthy was the greatest feeling in the world.
One day, in the spring of the fifth year I'd had her for my own, Annie started laying down a lot, which was unusual for her. I kept an eye on her for a few days, and when it didn't stop, we called the vet to come out. It was laminitis, she told us. I'd seen laminitis in horses before, and it had happened to her once, a few years before I owned her, but I'd never dealt with it myself before. We were told to keep her on stall rest and ice her feet continually, while keeping to a few different medications. Naturally, Annie wanted no part of any of that. She whinnied all day in the barn, kicked over the buckets of ice water when we tried to ice her feet, and spit out her medication. That's Annie for you. During the first few days, I had a hectic work schedule, and so my sister and a friend who owned the barn were trying to ice her feet, with no success. When I got to the barn that night, I filled the bucket and put her foot in, expecting her to immediately kick it, but she stood silently, and looked at me with those eyes that just melted my heart, like she was saying, "I don't like this, but fine, I'll do it for you." Upon entering the barn during this, the friend of ours who had unsuccessfully tried to help ice her feet earlier, said to me, "Well, no wonder she wouldn't do this for Emily and I. She just wanted her Mommy to do it.". A trivial comment, but it made me love Annie all the more, knowing that she had that trust in me.
My sister and I, and the family who now owned the barn, all kept a close watch on her, and tended to her night and day. A few days after the laminitis had made it's way in, Annie developed an impaction in her stomach and began to colic. There was no worse feeling in the entire world, than watching my baby in pain and knowing there was nothing further I could do to make it go away. I wished every day and every night that I could soak it up from her like a sponge. We did everything we could. Changed her diet, gave her supplements and fibers, pain medications and buckets of ice water for her feet. I took to bringing my computer to the barn during the daytime, and watching Disney movies in her stall with her. Wishful thinking, but sometimes I'd look back and I actually thought she was watching them with me.
Two weeks went by, and it was the biggest roller coaster of emotions I've ever had. One days she'd walk a little more willingly, and the next she wouldn't even want to get up. I looked at her, this beautiful girl of mine, in so much pain and it broke my heart. She'd stare outside at the other horses and I could feel how much she wanted to be with them. We brought her out on good days and let her be outside with them like she was used to, and they would come up to the barn and eat hay with her by the barn door. Those people who say animals don't love couldn't be more wrong. No only did I see more love between all of the horses than I ever had before, especially Story, who adored Annie, and she him, but I saw more love between Annie and I than ever, which I never would have thought possible. Although I was naive enough to believe that I could get Annie though this, I think she knew that the end was near. That my best friend and I would ever have to say goodbye, I was not ready to think about.
But it happened, on a cloudy Monday night. I was at work when I got a text from my sister, who was at the barn on a scheduled visit with the vet for Annie. The text read, "I think you need to leave work and come here.". It was the equivalent of the unsuspecting parent who gets the bone-jarring phone call in the middle of the night telling them their child's been in an accident.
I did, and what I came to the barn to find was the worst thing I'd ever seen in my entire life. Annie was in so much pain, she couldn't even stand up. The vet told us that her feet had begun to "sink", and that there was nothing further anyone could do. She told me it was my decision, but that she would continue to be in phenomenal pain. Annie was the soul I had always loved most in the world, and yet looking at her laying there, I knew there was no way I could turn this down. I'd done everything in my power for her since the day we'd met, and this was the one last thing she'd need from me. She'd done more for me in our time together than she will ever know, and I couldn't deny her a release from this pain.
So, while it rained outside, on that Monday around 6:30, I laid there with my face against the face of the best friend I'd ever known, with her head in my lap, as she went to sleep for the last time.
It's been a week and a half, and as I write this, it still hasn't hit me that she's gone. I've tended to her grave, sat in her empty stall, and made scrapbooks and videos of all our pictures together, and I still don't believe it. I don't understand how we spent 12 whole years together, half of my life, and she was sick for two weeks, and now she's gone. Knowing that I have to live out the rest of my life without her by my side is heartbreaking, but I know that she's in heaven, happy and healthy again, waiting for me.
I engraved her memorial stone with something that I know she said to me in our last moments together:
And when the time is right for you to cross the brief divide,
I'll gallop across to greet you and we'll stand there side by side.
I'll have so many things to show you, there's so much for you to see.
Be patient, live your journey out, then come home to be with me.