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When the Good Ones Go

Updated: May 18, 2020

Some of us horse lovers are fortunate enough that, perhaps once in our lifetime, a horse comes to us that manages to find their way into our hearts in a deeper way than all the others. This ‘heart horse’ for me is Maddy, my home-grown, little brown Quarterhorse. And today I said goodbye to this great little horse.

I watched Maddy being born 18 years ago and she has been my constant companion since. I sent her out for professional training for 30 days as a three year old and then again at the beginning of her four year old year. All the rest of what she has learned has been from me – both the good and the bad. I will admit that I thought I knew how to ride and could train a horse when I started her, but that was about the same time as I started learning dressage, riding Maddy’s mother. I quickly learned how much I didn’t know about riding!

When I progressed from Maddy’s mom to Odin, a ‘real’ dressage horse, and started boarding him at my coach’s stable, I also hauled Maddy over and had lessons on her too. There was no way she was built to be a dressage horse, but she tried to do everything I asked of her in lessons. She was a welcome reprieve from Odin’s craziness (for lack of a better word). He went first in lessons and got me all revved up, and she went second and calmed me down. I was scared stiff of him, but she gave me courage to try again, lesson after lesson. She and I eventually did a couple of dressage tests at little local shows. Of course, she never got high scores, but at her last show, she was the only horse to successfully go through the water puddle in the corner.

Our best times were spent down by the creek, not far from home. It is still a wild place, and we explored every inch of it that we could access. From the time she was four years old, she bravely carried me forth, learning to cross the creek, climb the hills, duck under tree branches, and stand stock still to watch the deer. We never had an older horse along to show her the ropes, but she would gamely try whatever I asked of her. A simple squeeze with my legs and she would tentatively put a foot in the water. Maybe back and forth a few times, but there was never a rodeo with Maddy. Over the years, the trust built and we went many places that I could never imagine my horsey friends going with their horses. One of my favorite memories was a ride on a really windy day, when we found a new path to explore. The trail ran beside the creek and, on both sides, there were sheer cliff walls with towering spruce above. The spruce trees swayed back in forth in the wind and the force of Mother Nature was on full display. But Maddy and I were protected down in the valley, a calm in the middle of the storm. I felt so fully alive that day as there was just the two of us in this sacred, wild place. It seemed like we had the whole world to ourselves that day. And brave Maddy was totally unconcerned with the wind. She trusted that I would not ask anything of her that was not safe.

However, it was last summer that Maddy’s true gift became apparent, when I started offering Equine Facilitated Learning sessions. She was already suffering from full blown Cushing’s disease and I wasn’t sure she would be suitable for the work, but she showed me that this was work she wanted to do. She seemed to know which clients needed her, and would come to the fence to offer herself in place of the steady gelding who was the usual choice. I soon learned that the gelding would take you as you are, but Maddy would take you where you needed to go. She showed people what boundaries are, how to ask for permission to enter a space, how to connect both at a distance and up close and personal.

What made her so good at this work? I believe it was her heart, that heart that trusted me to take care of her, the heart that gave her courage to go places that other horses would balk at, the heart that kept her going through insulin resistance and Cushing’s disease, the heart that made her what my vet called ‘one tough horse.’

We know that the horse’s heart has an electromagnetic field that is nine times the size of a human’s, and that, in the communication between heart and brain, 80% is from heart to brain, and only 20% from brain to heart. The heart generates 60 times more energy than the brain and the amplitude of its waves is 5,000 times bigger. We have, in fact, a heart-brain as well as a head-brain.

I like to think that Maddy was very in sync with her heart-brain. She seemed to sense what a client needed, but wouldn’t necessarily give them what they wanted. When one client gave up trying to get Maddy to come to her, and finally just stood still, Maddy marched right up to her. At the same time, I heard the inner voice say to me “It’s about being, not doing.”

And maybe that was the best lesson Maddy ever taught me. Towards the end, Maddy would pin her ears at me and try to bite me every day, but only when I was intent on doing some task and was not paying sufficient attention to being fully present to her. I learned to slow down and make time to just ‘be’ with her. I learned patience, and that the work would still get done even if I spent a little extra time talking to my horse. The Cushing’s was ravishing her body, but her heart was still seeking out that connection to others. I gave this horse my heart in a way I have never done with another horse or human, but it was because she gave me her heart first.

And today, that massive heart went still. But not easily. My vet, who has known Maddy her whole life, said that even in death she was one tough horse. Her heart continued to beat long after she was deeply unconscious. I like to think she was sending me as much heart energy as she could as she transitioned to the Horse Ancestors.

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