I stood there at the side of the grave, then knelt there and heard hoof falls behind me. Zuzka, my dear black mare and lifelong companion of our departed Khami, came up behind me. She left a respectful distance and looked at me as though to say, if you want some time alone that’s okay. I said and motioned to her, let’s be here together.
We stood at the grave and and breathed together for awhile. Her breathing mirrors my own breath and thoughts so clearly. I can’t imagine how she can know what I’m thinking but we are one in standing there together, thinking thoughts of him. Then she left me to munch on nearby grass.
She has been spending quite a bit of time at the grave, just munching quietly, being near Khami who is not confined to that space obviously, he is all around. Still, to her, and to me sometimes, it feels comforting to be right near the space where we buried his body.
Zuzka and Khami have been inseparable since the day they met. They have had one of those uncanny bonds of a lifetime.
Tuesday marked the one month anniversary of his passing; but I still feel his presence so deeply and so broadly, as though in death he has become larger than he was in his late life. As a young horse he was able to do anything in his body – a horse borne on the wind (hence his real name, Khamsean, which in Arabic means “big windstorm.”) Aging came on gracefully but still his body began to hold him back from his dreams and he couldn’t run for as long as he did when young, of course. The aging process that grows wisdom yet diminishes physical strength is a two-sided coin, for all of us, but it is interesting to watch the way horses accept what people often rail against. When our younger mare Jazzmine joined the herd, she exhibited not only her great leadership but her quickness. He liked to see that, and he also became fascinated with young horses and foals, as though their sheer youth filled him with new life.
How horses deal with grief, of the passing of one or the other, so differs, as it does with us. A friend recently said, our response to each death is different. Some are harder to cope with than others.
I am not a professional animal communicator, but I have had horses “speak” to me in ways. This has occurred more frequently over the years we’ve been together, as trust develops as a web and language that can be navigated between us, not necessarily in words but in images, senses. It was this way with Khami. As one friend put it, while we were in our “doing” years, the conversation was the forward movement. As we slowed down, and also got into more of a “listening” mode, we were able to be more conversational.
For a lot of the time over the past year, Khami had wanted to be near me but not do much. I rode him once in the spring. He was less steady than I’d remembered, although perfectly sound. I just enjoyed getting on him, and all the miles we’d shared flooded back in bright bites of memory.
The way he died, right in mid-stride, galloping, was so fitting for him. He just galloped into death, and I was left in shock because my horse had gone so suddenly. Zuzka called to him for a day but she and the others knew that he had gone. They had seen him as he fell or just after, and paid their respects, standing over his lifeless body, sniffing but knowing at once. Patches put his hoof on the body, perhaps to try to get him up. It was probably for them much as it was for me. We were grappling with accepting the reality that he was no longer with us on earth.
After his death I felt him around me and the herd all the time. While we went through our days with ragged hearts, I got from him that he was trying to get back to us, like he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t get back to us. A message came into my head for him, from Zuzka, very clearly, you will always be with us.
My herd and I drew closer together. We did nothing, as herds do, just passed the days, reorganizing our order without him.
I’m learning about how horses grieve, because this one involves a herd, and a “lifetime” to them, like for us losing a parent, spouse or child. The two mares go over to the grave often and graze around it.
Khami’s presence was something very palpable around the barn, then it began to be less as the days wore on. There was still this sense of him running somewhere. Friends who had known him reported they “felt him” around their barns, particularly those places where he had lived or spent a lot of time.
I felt that he was visiting all those whom he had loved and had loved him, for he was a very social horse. He never thought anyone disliked him, he was so well adjusted and self confident that would never have entered his mind. When people wrote to me after his death, I realized just how many lives he had touched in so many ways. I’d forgotten; we’d transitioned into retirement without thinking of that. We had just gone together with the other horses and he enjoyed everywhere he had been although he was slower and less willing travel as time went on.
We do our human thing and lay down a stone with his name on it. The horses have already rearranged all the other rocks on the grave to their liking. I’m am touched by my mare Zuzka standing on the grave, just being. Since I put the grave stone there, she or someone now rolls and digs, poops or pees, perhaps to show pleasure that we have acknowledged Khami in our way, who knows. I suspect it’s her, because she spends more time there, and her bond with Khami was probably the deepest. I feel from her that she must keep returning there or staying near, because there is a part of her that is lost without him, trying to rebalance, be in the world with his spirit close by.
Joanna DeRungs of Natural Whisperings said of her horses and their sacred ground: “Sacred ground in the center of our farm. My horses acted like this when I finally scattered the ashes of one of our foals (many years after he passed). The mother in fact rolled in the sand and lay there and sighed. Makes me wonder what horses experience as the spirit world.” NaturalWhisperings.com/HorseBlog
Another reader wrote that her horses all go to the grave of one of them and lay there, on a regular basis.
So while we humans make our talismans and hang our prayer flags, and do whatever brings us comfort, the horses know the importance of the place where their loved ones’ bodies lie. This surprised me in a way because horses know the body is lifeless and the horse they loved has taken another form. But the importance of the burial place, or sacred ground, is truly there, as evidenced by Joanna’s experience with her herd. They know it deeply, it appears, many years later even, and respond as though the knowing comes out of the center of the earth, with a sense of timelessness and of things unseen but experienced wholly on a spirit level.
Copyright (c) Susan Smith
Article in Horse Around New Mexico about Horse + Rider work (also another one in the September/October issue – not yet posted):
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Let me know if you want to do a clinic in your area. Prices will vary according to location & travel costs.
Last day to sign up! A space has become available. Saturday, September 19 – The Equine Body Balance Workshops presents “Tenets of Equine Healing” one-day workshop at Arrowhead Ranch, Santa Fe. For the owner, horse professional or person interested in learning who would like to be able to do some bodywork on their own horse or others.
This approach to equine healing provides a framework for the student to use simple techniques to aid the healing of the horse. These techniques follow the horse’s natural tendencies, resulting in specific, sustainable results.
Cost: $150. $15 trailer in fee if you wish to bring a horse. We will work with ranch horses.
To enroll, contact Susan on Facebook, email firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-501-2478. Payment can be made by check, PayPal/credit card or cash.
September 25 – The Equine Body Balance Workshops presents “Tenets of Equine Healing” one-day workshop in Jones, Oklahoma. Instructor, Susan Smith Cost: $175. Clinic is filling quickly so be sure to enroll! email@example.com
September 26-27 – Fall Liberty Weekend in Oklahoma — Susan Smith and Ruella Yates, co-instructors. Contact either of us: firstname.lastname@example.org or ruella@libertyfoundations for further details. Cost: $325. Clinic is filling quickly, be sure to enroll!
Saturday, October 10 – “Hang with the Herd” – Third in a series of Liberty Workshops. Join me and my herd under a canopy of the trees for some real quality time together –Experience herd, honesty, healing. A new Liberty Foundations 1-day workshop for those who want an introduction to the work or to reinvigorate their liberty process. PayPal and credit card payment available. Whether you have studied Liberty Foundations with me before or not, you will benefit from this workshop.
We will interact with the herd in the morning, and work with horses in the arena in the afternoon. We may possibly go to lunch at a nearby restaurant or bring a lunch. Excellent herd to liberty experience! Space will be limited, be sure to enroll soon to ensure your spot. Location: Mac’s Overnight Stables, Canoncito (near El Dorado), Santa Fe, NM. Time: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. $150 Early Bird before Oct. 1, $160 after Oct 1. Contact email@example.com or 505-501-2478 for information.
November Equine Body Balance Study Group 2-3 hours. Time and Location to be announced!
February 6-7, 2016 — Weekend Liberty Foundations Clinic in DeLand, Florida at Curly Dee Ranch.
Susan is a member of the Independent Liberty Trainers Network. libertytrainersnetwork.com/
Associate Instructor, Advanced Practitioner – Ortho-Bionomy & Equine Ortho-Bionomy
Practitioner, Equine Positional Release