Thursday, May 22, 2008

A First Love

My daughter is in the midst of her first love. She’s six and the love of her life is a Quarter Horse gelding named Pete. Pete’s a much older guy. He’s in his late twenties and has cribbed so long he doesn’t have any teeth left! Still, he and my daughter adored each other from first sight. She’s been riding him since she was four—mostly just walking around with someone hanging on to her, but they progressed together to a bit of trotting. She even learned her half seat already and he dutifully trotted through ground poles while she poised in her jumping position with the world’s biggest smile on her face.

We leased Pete for her during the summer, and when it was too hot to ride, Pete was bathed, hosed off with a cool mist, and lovingly fed treats by my little girl. I’m sure Pete was thinking ‘Not a bad way to spend the day, really.’ Since he didn’t have any teeth, my job was to endlessly grate carrots for his enjoyment. Watching my daughter and Pete enjoying each other brought such warmth to my heart I (mostly) didn’t mind making sure freshly grated carrot was always available. I did draw the line at making homemade applesauce, but Pete seemed to appreciate the store bought variety just fine.

Recently, Pete’s arthritis has been worsening and several weeks ago he fell with a rider on him. No one was hurt, thankfully, but it was wisely decided that it was time for Pete to retire. He’s living happily on a farm within a day’s drive of the barn we ride at, and there’s a new horse at the facility that would be perfect for my daughter. She took the news bravely when we told her about Pete having to move away, but the tears were swimming in her eyes. We tried introducing her to the new horse and she dutifully gave him a pat while he nosed through the bars and tried to make friends, but her heart is still with Pete.

She’s had a picture of herself riding Pete in a place of honor on her nightstand for two years now and this morning I found it on a high shelf in her room. Maybe this is her way of starting to let go, or maybe she’s just too sad to look at it. I wish I could fix this for her and I’m not sure what to do. I know in time she’ll ride other horses she’ll love very much, but the first horse my parents leased for me will have a place in my heart all his own for the rest of my life, just as Pete will for her.

For all the joy they give us, there’s sometimes sadness in loving horses, just as there is in the rest of life. If anyone has any pearls of wisdom I can share to ease this transition for her, please send them my way. Growing up sure can be tough sometimes!




Laura Crum said...

My son's pony died last fall and I replaced Toby almost immediately with Henry, the horse my child is now riding. This transition went pretty smoothly--I made a lot of space for grieving about and talking about Toby and his passing (we still do) and we say that Toby taught my son to ride and passed on his love to Henry. If I were you, I'd make the journey to go visit Pete (if this is possible) once or twice or whatever it takes for your daughter to reaffirm her connection and get some closure. To have the horse just vanish would be the hardest thing at that age, I would think. Good wishes to you and your daughter. I know how painful it is for a child to lose a loved horse.

Grey Horse Matters said...

As I read the story of Pete and your daughter I had the same thoughts as Laura Crum did. Take her to see Pete and feed him some carrots and applesauce and even though she won't be able to ride him, she can eventually say her goodbyes to him and make peace with his aging and retiring. In the meantime she may get close to the other horse at the barn, as long as she knows she can still see Pete once in a while. Just a thought.

Mrs. Mom said...

Gotta agree with Laura and GHM- take her to see the old fellow, and let her know Pete still loves her. It will make things easier on her, and she can realize its OK to love another horse, too. Maybe all she needs to do is talk to Pete about it, and get his blessing in a way?

Good luck with this transition... I hope that your daughter is OK with everything!

Mary Paine said...

Thank you all for your good advice. I'm going to ask about a visit to Pete. Armed with lots of applesauce, grated carrots, we'll take a camera to get loads of pictures of him, and maybe she can make a collage of pictures of Pete plus the new horse for her room.

There'll be tears, but they'll help. You're all absolutely right. She needs to see him again to know he's okay and still loves her.


Jami Davenport said...

That first horse is always going to have a special place in her heart. I think everyone here has some great ideas for you.

She might feel better if she sees where he lives now.

A.K. Alexander said...

I'm with everyone here. Great suggestion Laura! Make a day out of it. It's never easy to let go but if she can see him again and tell him she loves him, it may help. Also since you write, can you help her write a story about him? I did this with my daughter about one of our dogs. It was a funny story. She was just learning to write so I would ask her what she wnated to say and then write it down for her and let her do the illustrations. This way when she is older and Pete is truly gone she can look at what she wrote about him and remember those special feelings (which she always will anyway) for him. You might suggest that he is such a special horse he deserves to have a book written about him and she is the perfect author to write it. If she enjoys the process, later on as she gets a bit more used to the new horse suggest she write a story about him and the two of them together.

Most of all, as you know--lots of hugs.

And remember to hug yourself too. It's hard on Mom to see our kids hurt. Sometimes I think it's actually harder on Mom.