This is the story of Thunder, a little POA pony with a golden heart who was convinced he was 17.2 hands tall. When people would come to the barn and exclaim, “Look at that cute pony!” We’d hush them and reply, “Shhhh. He doesn’t know he’s a pony.”
He was a been-there-done-that pony who had ushered small children into the world of horses. He had ridden in shows, taught many lessons, did a stint as a therapeutic riding horse, and was an excellent babysitter. You could put a child in a stall with him and he was gentle and kind while they brushed and talked to him, but the moment you put him back out into the pasture, he ruled over the big horses like a Mafia Don.
On cold winter days, we would let him wander through the barn as we cleaned. He would wander from stall to stall to make sure everyone had finished their grain, then stand in the middle of the aisle eating his small pile of hay with contentment as we cleaned. When he was ready to go back out, he would walk to the door and knock on it with his foot.
We didn’t know his exact age. We knew he was over thirty but he kept going like the Energizer Bunny. Knowing this we didn’t use him much for lessons anymore. After all, we wanted him to stay with us as long as possible. If he wanted to work, he let us know. He would stand at the gate and stare at me with those intense wise eyes until I would tell one of the girls to go saddle him up. If a horse could smile, he would when I said those words.
Then he started slowing down. It was sad to see, but we just keep loving him, lavishing attention on him every day when he came in for his grain. He relinquished his top position to another horse and spent his days hanging out with his big bay best buddy. While our heads knew his age was catching up to him, our hearts were in denial. But he was still happy and still wholeheartedly loved the children that came to see him. This was now his purpose in life. Just to love and be loved.
It was a quiet day at the barn. There was just a co-worker and I. The farrier came to trim Thunder’s feet and I went out to get him. He was standing alone in the back of the pasture and as we walked to the front, it was clear he wasn’t feeling well. I walked him around until the farrier and I agreed to hold off the trim. I walked him some more, talking to him and watching him steadily get worse. When I put him in a stall I felt a rock in my gut. I called his owner, Staci, filling her in on what was going on. The vet was called and suddenly I felt a sense of urgency. I called Staci back.
“You need to get here. Right now.”
She was there in minutes. When she pulled in, he went down. We stood helplessly while he struggled. Staci said softly, “You can go now, Thunder.”
“We love you,” I whispered.
And he was gone.
We were stunned and heartbroken. This was not the outcome we were expecting. Thunder was supposed to be with us forever! When the shock wore off, we sat and talked about the whole experience. The conclusions we came to show us how wise these old friends are and how they know more than we can ever envision. He picked his day. He knew the farrier was coming and I would have to go get him. He knew the barn was quiet and the people there were solid, grounded people. Thunder wanted to leave surrounded by people he loved with no drama and no hysteria. And most of all he wanted it to be his decision, not someone else’s.
Thunder picked his time, but as horse owners, we are their advocates. Some horses will hang on in silent suffering for the sake of their owner. It’s a hard choice knowing when it’s time. We have to be ready to let them go. They have given us everything. And at the end, we need to let them cross over, to run through fields of gold, carrying a piece of us with them.