In my work, I frequently come in contact with people who are suffering from the loss of a beloved equine companion. Looking through the comments on my facebook page, I see expressions of love, grief, kindness, and appreciation when these people write about the loss of their horse.
The morning I lost Skip On A Star, my wife Jan asked, "Are you OK?" I'm usually ready for a wide variety of questions, but I had to think for a moment about that one.
The morning I lost Skip On A Star, my wife Jan asked, "Are you OK?" I'm usually ready for a wide variety of questions, but I had to think for a moment about that one. I replied, "I'm fine," and continued to deal with the practical necessities. Looking back, I realize I wasn't "fine." I was in shock and unsure about how I would experience grief, a process described by Doris Worcester, MSW, LICSW in Beyond the Rainbow Bridge by Kimberly Gatto.
Worchester offers a number of things you can do to help you with your loss. She says, "You might write a letter to your horse acknowledging your love and thanking the horse for his or her friendship." While some people are unsure about the grieving process, others may be concerned that a few insensitive individuals will say, "it was just a horse." But the truth of the matter is we form a very special bond with our horses. It's not just that horses make our world picturesque, it's that their lives are woven into our very being and we suffer when they're gone. Those who think it's just a horse have never really formed that special bond. This brings to mind a quote by Anatole France,
"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened."
Many of us confide in our horses (if my new horse Summer could talk, I'd be in big trouble). And as the relationship grows, and our horse trusts us more and more, we're able to work together and do things we couldn't accomplish separately. This goes to show, as a team, we're better than the sum of our respective parts. But when the team is separated by the death of our horse, we experience that framework of emotions best described as grief.
It is totally okay to grieve, and it's also necessary. If you enjoyed that special bond with your horse, you may find that writing about your feelings helps enormously. Writing about the loss of Skip On A Star certainly improved my mental health. Two years after her untimely death, I composed a heartfelt essay about the dynamics of our relationship and my personal experience with the five stages of grief. With this in mind, I created the Thanicare Horse Loss Community where you can write about the loss of your horse and share your experience with compassionate friends who have something in common with you.
Are there physical health benefits that come from writing about the loss of your horse? Research shows that short, intense bursts of writing about a recent loss can increase your immune system function. In my experience, brief writing sessions work for past losses as well. We all experience grief differently, and at different times. It doesn't matter if our loss is recent or not—writing can help us cope during a difficult time.
While research has shown that writing about loss can help reduce grief and emotional distress, many people feel they can't write. You may feel that writing is something for authors and it's not something horsemen do. However, the writing process may very well be one of the best tools we have for examining our feelings. By opening myself up and expressing my pain and grief, I released emotions that were depressing me. Venting my anger and articulating my pain through writing actually set me free. Here are five tips I've found helpful in my own process of writing about a loss:
Memories will come to you in flashes, at odd times, and in odd places. When they do, capture the moments using your smart phone, tablet, or desktop computer. By posting on social networking sites like facebook and Twitter, you can share your thoughts with friends in short concise sentences.
This form of journaling can help with personal growth and development. By recording a stream of conciousness on a notepad or tablet, you'll gain insight into your behavior and feelings. Notepad journaling can be used for stress reduction and it’s been proven to improve mental and physical health.
Write An Article
Use your notes to write an article about your experience with loss. With the passing of time, you'll see things in new light and may want to express it. Writing an article helped me to organize my thoughts and say the things I needed to say.
Start a WordPress blog or create a website where you can share photos, store your journal notes, post articles, and chronicle your personal journey through the stages of grief.
Write A Book
An extraordinary bond exists between horses and their human caregivers. It's a relationship of tensions, tenderness, friendship and frustration, incredible highs and gut-wrenching lows. Your book could emerge as a profoundly moving collection of anecdotes that will touch horse owners everywhere. And who knows, you may have a best seller on your hands.
It's generally accepted that grief is a response to loss. And the five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance teach us to live with that loss. But for me, they're weren't like check points on a poker ride, fences on a cross country course, or goals in a polo tournament. I didn't enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. I experienced one, then another and then back again to the first one.
My hope is that writing about your experience and what it meant to you will help with the grieving process. Although we never get over the loss of a beloved equine companion, the tears will eventually subside and you'll be left with fond memories. But more importantly, by writing and sharing about the loss of a horse, you'll be able to enjoy those memories forever.
Considering euthanasia for your horse? Face your equine friend's end-of-life experience with help from Thanicare, offering natural burial, and equine cremation services.