The Shape and Size of Loss
November 15th, 2010

Loss comes in all shapes and sizes.  It is most poignant and painful when it is shaped like a person – a parent, or spouse, or, God forbid, a child.  Sometimes it is shaped like a burning house, as happened recently to a friend of mine.  Sometimes it is shaped like an unemployment line, as has happened to thousands upon thousands of people in this country over the past few years.  And sometimes, as happened to me on Friday, it is shaped like a beautiful and spirited Palomino mare named Sundae Reason. 

The list of things you don’t know about me is long.  Today it gets just a bit shorter. 

Based on the pictures I’ve seen, I think I was about three years old the first time I sat on a horse.  It was five years later that I started taking lessons.  My mother used masking tape to tighten my jeans at the ankle so that they would slide down into my tall riding boots.  I used a borrowed helmet and rode for hours on my instructor’s horse.  At the beginning I rode in circles attached to a longe line with my arms free.  I learned to evenly distribute my weight between my seat and my heels, keeping my arms distracted with circular motions overhead.  Eventually I was given the reins and learned the importance of soft hands, the difference between direct reining and neck reining, and how to use hand and leg cues in concert.

I started showing at 12 and rode two lovely geldings for a year or so.  Then, when it became evident that my abilities warranted more rigorous training my parents supported my transition to a new trainer located closer to our house so that I could ride daily, rather than weekly.  That transition included the sale of one of the geldings, and the purchase of a mare, boarded by my new trainer, whom I’d been riding on a trial basis for several weeks. 

Sundae Reason was pale golden in color with a white star that narrowed into a very slim blaze.  She was athletic and temperamental, much like I was.  And she didn’t take easily to new riders, making the relationship that we would build together critical to our success in the ring.  Every day after school my mother drove me to the barn and dropped me off.  And every evening after work my dad would pick me up.  In the three hours that passed in between, I rode.  Sundae and I did rail work, pattern work, ground work, and jumped.  We worked to ease her naturally quick-paced gaits.  We worked to figure each other out and learn each other’s cues.

In that time a number of things happened.  I became a much more talented rider and a fiercer competitor, but I also learned how to be alone.  Many days I had lessons with my trainer, but many days Sundae and I were the only ones in the arena.  I was intensely focused on my riding, but also aware of my solitude.  In a strange and almost completely silent way, we kept each other company.

When I was 15 or 16 I made the decision (which, even today, I’m not sure was the right one) to stop riding.  I wanted a “normal” high school experience with “normal” high school memories.  I wanted to go to football games on Friday nights, dance in the chorus line in high school musicals, go on Spring Break trips with friends, and attend Prom and Homecoming dances.  We sold Sundae Reason back to her previous owner and I cried and cried as I handed over her lead rope.

That might have been the end of the story, but nearly 10 years later, when I was 24, I had a dream about Sundae.  It came out of nowhere and I woke up worried about her.  I called my dad and asked him to get in touch with the woman we’d sold her to in order to find out if she still owned Sundae, and if so how she was.  She did.  And Sundae was fine, but was being boarded and was not being ridden.  After tiptoeing through a couple of phone calls with her owner my dad discovered that there was an opportunity to buy Sundae back.  My parents have a country home about an hour outside of town, where Sundae would be given more attention, exercise, and care.  And so we jumped on it. 

For the past nine years my old show horse has lived out her retirement years on my parents’ farm.  I rode her every time I went home.  She didn’t have quite the same fire she had in her younger years, but she was still my girl.  We each fell back into our old rhythms easily, as old friends do.  It makes me sad to think about it, but I don’t remember the last time I rode her.  It was before I got pregnant with IEP, and by the time he was born she was just too old.  But I still called her in from the pasture for a hug and a brushing every time I was there.  

A week or so ago she had a close call with colic.  And on Friday a man who works at the farm found her lying down in a shelter.  He covered her with a blanket and called the vet, who determined that there was nothing to do.  I was hoping she’d make it to Thanksgiving, but it would have been unfair to ask her to go on any longer.  She is buried on a hill, under a tree on the South side of the sheep meadow.  And when I go home in ten days I will say my last goodbye.           

Loss is a strange thing.  It comes in all shapes and sizes.  This time it was shaped like my beautiful girl.

IEP meeting Sundae Reason, October 2009

11 Responses to “The Shape and Size of Loss”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    You certainly said it. Loss comes in so many forms.

    I’m glad you had the opportunity to buy your beauty back, and to be with her as an adult when you would return home. I am happy for you – for the wonderful times shared and all you learned together, for her good long life, and truly sorry for your loss.

  2. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Oh, I’m so sorry, Gale. I was a “horse girl” too and spent many weekends on the back of a horse named Big Red. I’m sure Sundae knew how much she meant to you.

  3. e Says:

    That relationship helped make you the you that we all love – gentle, caring, responsible, and so full of love. God bless Sundae and her very special friend.

  4. Eva @ EvaEvolving Says:

    Gale, I’m so sorry about Sundae. Reading this beautiful story makes me think of my childhood dog, Snoopy, and the great void when he died. It’s amazing how pets work their way into our hearts (although Sundae was more than a pet in many ways). Especially as adolescents, we spend so much time during those formative years with our pets. To say goodbye is like letting go of that stage of your life.

    What a precious photo – I love that your horse and your son got to meet!

  5. ayala Says:

    Gale, I am so sorry for your loss. Sundae will always be in your heart!

  6. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. I can tell from your words here just how much you cared about Sundae. It does sound like, thanks to you and your family, she had a wonderful life. I love learning new tidbits about you and what a great picture, too.

  7. Says:

    Oh, I can so remember all the time you spent with Sundae…selfishly, I remember because I was often dragged along. I remember wishing I had that level of dedication to something like you did. She was a beautiful horse, and you were always beautiful riding her. The farm won’t be the same.

  8. Cathy Says:

    Gale, I’m sorry to hear about Sundae and your loss. There is something about folks and their horses. I know many and the way you said it, “We each fell back into our old rhythms easily, as old friends do” really sums up how I see each of their relationships with their fellow horses.

  9. Jan Says:

    Gale, one thing your readers and friends should know…is just how beautiful you looked when you rode Sundae. She was a very talented horse, and you brought it out when you were on her back. Your father or I would try to ride her, on occasion, and she always reacted as though she were saying, “You people don’t know what you’re doing, do you?” You and Sundae knew what you were doing, and it looked wonderful. — Mom

  10. Ten Dollar Thoughts » Blog Archive » Time for a Change? Says:

    [...] we get started, I want to thank all of you for your kind words and condolences in response to Monday’s post.  The loss of a horse isn’t exactly the most relatable experience in the world, and it means [...]

  11. michelle Says:

    this is beautiful.
    and i know exactly what this kind of loss feels like.
    mine is the perfect shape of a violin case.