11/21/16 Written by Kelsey Mammen
On saying goodbye to a friend:
I want to share about a friend I lost today. Many people had the pleasure of knowing him. I write this for them. And I write it for those who didn’t know him, because he was someone worth knowing.
I met Baxter four years ago, when I started riding and exercising him as a volunteer for NEAT. I noticed what everyone first noticed about Baxter, that he was a big, handsome horse. He was big in many ways, and size was just the first. During the next three years, I worked alongside him and watched him do some incredible work as a therapy horse. I saw girls and young women choose him as theirs, drawn to his presence of power. The tiniest children flocked to him, mesmerized by his eyes. He would put his head down to their level and they would choose him, because they wanted to ride the biggest horse. He made them feel big, when nothing else in life did. Baxter was a horse of integrity and had no problem challenging people to step up and be a leader.
I witnessed him teach troubled teens about their capacity to lead others. I watched him lift women out of deep depression and show them the path to happiness and strength. I stood back and let him teach an anxious child how to communicate.
He was a favorite during group herd observation activities. When turned loose with his herd he demonstrated what it meant to be a fair and firm leader, moving the other horses gently but confidently around an arena, and then having some fun while he was at it. Observers would then describe him as proud, fearless, bossy, larger than life, and a leader.
He loved to run. He loved his clients. He loved his people.
Since I’ve known Baxter his old racing injuries have come back to haunt him. I know he loved racing. I know it because I could feel it every time I cantered him. How much his heart loved to go fast. But in his older years, he was often lame. For long periods of time he couldn’t be ridden and during those times he fell into depression. He didn’t come up to the fence to greet newcomers, his eyes spoke of pain. We recovered him from several of these instances, got him nerved and hoped it would keep his pain at bay. It did, for a while. During that little while he saw his clients. He took up dressage again, and got to spend some quality time with his favorite person, Bambi, while he showed her the ropes of lower level dressage.
But during the last few months the pain came back, a tendon tore. Then it ruptured. He was on stall rest; he was in pain. He couldn’t work and this made him unhappy. He again retreated to the corner of his stall, grateful for the short time he spent each day with our staff and friends when they put his medicine on and took him for short walks. Today we drove him to the vet to have our suspicions confirmed that he was not going to come back from this one.
And then it was time to own up to one of the hardest responsibilities of having a horse. Making the decision to let them go. He was still Baxter today. He ate his breakfast, he loaded in the trailer and paraded around proudly at the vet as best he could with his lame leg. And yet we had to say that it was time. That he wouldn’t be happy with the pain and confinement, and he lived too great, too full of a life to condemn him to that.
I am sad to lose this friend today. He had a way of showing people and horses around him how to be proud of yourself and work hard. To kick up your heels every so often and play. That it’s okay to stop at the arena mirror and admire yourself, and that anyone can feel big if they open their heart and fill it up.
As we drove away from the vet he stood watching the trailer go, with one of the vets petting him and keeping him calm. I watched him in the rearview. To Baxter I say, “You looked handsome, friend.”