How saying goodbye to your best horse, even on your own terms, can break your heart.

Working in the horse industry for a living isn't for the faint of heart, and on days like today, when I watched the best horse I've ever owned head down my driveway in somebody else's trailer for the last time, that's never been more clear. 

Yesterday morning, Lola met me at the gate to her 100-acre, rye-grass pasture. She was there with my younger mares, just like she always was, up for water by 6 a.m. She spent her day roaming the pasture that's always been hers, bossing around the colts, not knowing anything was going to change. 

Last night, I pulled her in for the shoer to tidy up her feet for her new owners—after all, with work and a husband and a small child and a small business, I haven't been able to keep up with everything she needs as much as the 25-year-old me who bought her six years ago did. 

When the Colorado sun cooled to a still-steamy 90 just before sunset, I threw her old saddle on her back, pulled her cinch for the last time, and slipped her beaded headstall over her ears. We swung open the gate to that old pasture, with the dried rye up to my swells, and we set off West toward the setting sun. I took some pictures to remember the view from between her ears, and I told her—in no uncertain terms, how much our life together has meant to me. 

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I told her about the day I picked her up, when I drove all night with my new boyfriend (who is now my husband) in his '99 Dodge flat-bed, manual-transmission pickup and two-horse stock trailer to Santa Fe. How she bucked that first heeling run he made on her later that night. How I couldn't believe the announcer the first time we left the arena leading the barrel race. How she changed me from some kid from Pennsylvania to someone who belonged wherever she went—ProRodeos, big jackpots, big pastures, it didn't matter. She was cowboy cool, and she made me feel like I could try to be, too. 

Looking out at the sun slipping behind the mountains, I thanked her for those two colts she gave me, when life got too busy or I was too pregnant to compete on her. I thanked her for teaching me "the feel" of a slide and a spin and rollback to die for, even for a barrel horse. What's more, she gave me the trust to send one into the hole, drop my hand, and let her work. That's something I'll never replace and hopefully never lose the knack for. 

As we turned our backs to head home one last time, I couldn't quite take it anymore. I dropped to her side, held her neck in my arms, and sobbed into her mane. She relit a passion inside me for all the younger horses that are now outrunning her. Standing there weaving my fingers through her shoulder-length, salt-and-pepper mane, I told her of the young girl, coming into her own, somewhere far across the country, who deserves to feel the same empowerment I did when I first swung a leg over her back. Who will love her, maybe even more than I did, if that's possible. I told her of the coastal home, with perfect weather and impeccable care, that she'll soon find. I promised her if she ever needed me, I'd be there, and she could come back on the first ride to Colorado. 

And with that, I put my foot in her stirrup and slipped back into her saddle for the last time. I closed my eyes as we rode the last fence line, trying to believe this was it. I don't even remember walking out of that gate, up the driveway, and into the barn. I know when I stepped off that last time, I took a deep breath through my tears, absorbing the enormity of the moment. 

I tucked her into her pen, so she'd be ready to leave in the morning, told her I loved her, and tried to go to bed. About midnight, I walked outside, grabbed a hand full of treats, and stroked her foretop again. I said goodnight one last time, and I went to bed. 

Before she left the next morning, I strapped on a new pair of Soft Ride Boots for her trailer ride. She needed them more than me, anyhow, and it was one last parting gift for the best horse I've ever owned. Plus, she's going somewhere that I know they'll put them to good use for her. 

There's nothing easy about catching her for the last time, throwing that rope over her neck, and watching her hop into a trailer I don't know. This day—the cries, the relief of knowing she's going to be so, so loved, and memories on the wall and in my heart—will always be with me. There will be nothing easy for a while—at least until I see that first picture of that kid smiling on that great horse I'll always love. Until we meet again, my friend. H&R

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