Before You Left Today

To Onyx, who left this Earth at 27 years old, after a life well-lived.

Before you left today, you picked your head up, one last time. 

You put your ears forward, and you looked around and saw the world you helped me build. I’d like to think you saw the barn we’d always dreamed of, the stacks of hay, the pastures that stretched to the Rockies in the distance, and me, the woman—two decades aged from the kid you first knew—with the life I first wished for as a teenager sitting in a field 1,500 miles from this place, weaving wildflowers through your mane. 

Before you left today, you carried my daughter, who will always know about the black horse who shaped her mommy’s world. The horse who moved so carefully with her, even when your bones creaked and muscles ached. The horse who taught her bravery as she balanced on your back in the belly-high rye-grass. 

Onyx, Elise and Editor Chelsea Shaffer in Fall 2019. Danja Barber Photography

Before you left today, I told you that your work was done. I brushed the sand from your muzzle—the muzzle that you were never very fond of me touching much. I sponged you with cold water, and reminded you of all the things you’d taught me, the places we’d been, the love I had for you. I searched the corners of my memory for an “Our Father”, and I asked God to look out for you on the other side, and I made sure to tell him how much you like treats. I called my mom and dad, who’d selflessly pumped their paychecks into your legs and your feed bill over the years—never questioning or regretting a dime spent on the horse they called “Gorgeous” or “The Queen”. 

Before you left today, you closed your eyes, softened your breath, and, in your last act of love for me, told me it was time—releasing me from the pain of an impossible choice. You made your choice, and for that parting grace, I’ll always be thankful. 

And after you left today, I sat down and tried to write. I write for a living. I write about horses for a living. But the loss of the last scrap of my childhood—the ending of our era—will never be written in a few hundred words. I’m not sure what would do you justice, my old friend, but I’ll spend a career trying to master enough prose to someday write something that describes what you’ve meant to me. But for now—thank you, and rest easy. H&R

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