( letting go and holding on )

There is one friend in the life of each of us,
who seems not a separate being,
however dear and beloved,
but an expansion, an interpretation of one’s self-
the very meaning of one’s soul.

Every time I walk into the pasture at Kaila’s place, I’m immediately surrounded by horses. Happy, fun, life-loving horses who just want to assimilate you into their herd. They want to show you things. They want to do things for you. They sniff you and crowd around you, taking their turn to introduce themselves politely and see if there’s anything they can impress or amuse you with. I always feel safe and welcome. I’m always a little bit in awe. Every time.

I joke that Blue is like a big lap dog. He’s more labrador retriever than he is horse. Kaila smiles at him as he turns himself inside out doing his whole lineup of tricks, just on the off chance that she *might* have a cookie in her pocket for him. She tells me that Blue is like her first love. As she rubs him under his forelock, his eyes close, his feet stop moving, and he sighs. He is happy. His girl is here and she is with him. And that is all he wants. Every time.

I ask Kaila what she means about Blue being her first love. “He’ll always have a special place in my heart. He was my first everything. My first horse. My first mistakes. My first accomplishments. He taught me everything I know. He’s the reason I’m here. He’s the reason that they’re all here,” she tells me as she looks out across her field at all of the happy horses. I’ve teased her for ages, telling her that as soon as she’s done with him, I’d take him off her hands. She giggles at me, pretending to be offended that I’d ever think she’d part with her first love.

I make a point of photographing the Meadow Brook horses at least a few times a year. It is not work. It’s a reminder why I started this job in the first place. My visits there humble me.  They inspire me. They challenge me. My most recent shoot was on a perfect winter day. It was cold and fresh and big fluffy snowflakes fell from the just right cloud cover above. The wind picked up just enough to blow forelocks around. I got there late (surprise) and walked into the arena to introduce myself to the new girls. I asked Kaila who was getting pictures with which horses and she listed off all of the new pairings. She ended with, “…and me and Tru.” For the first time she didn’t add “…and maybe just a few pictures of me and Bluey…” like she’d requested every other time I’d been there. I’ve known for awhile that her first horsey love was slowly being replaced by her true horsey love. Literally. Her coming two year old filly, Tru, was her world now and even non-horse people could see the intense bond she shared with her. Still, I was left feeling a little nostalgic for the old times- Blue licking her face, snuggling in her hands, acting just as I knew he would, looking my way but not moving an inch when I whistled. I’d all but perfected photographing Kaila and Blue and it was a little sad knowing that I wasn’t going to be taking their picture that day.

A soft giggle came from the right side of the arena-  I looked and there was Blue, moving his feet, licking a blue jacket, nuzzling in under the pink and brown tendrils of hair that hung over big brown eyes. Leigh made quick eye contact with me and shyly smiled, softly pushing Blue away. I walked over and introduced myself, all of the pieces coming together. “So YOU must be the girl that Kaila’s told me all about. You’re Blue’s new favorite person, she says.” Even more shyly than before, Leigh smiled at me. “Yah, I guess,”she said, turning her attention back to the grey horse, not for one second wanting all of the attention to be on her. My eyes got big as I turned around and smiled at Kaila, finally getting what she’d been telling me for the last few months. “He just LOVES her, Danique,” she’d tell me, “he does anything she asks. He’s so happy to be loved and played with again.” I got to see it myself when I took their pictures a few minutes later. This was why Kaila wasn’t worried about him. This was why she’d been able let him go.

Leigh is 13 going on 25. She is quiet and deliberate in everything she does and doesn’t say a lot. A quick smile and a polite answer to a question is about all she’ll give you if she doesn’t know you. Sometimes she hides her big brown eyes behind her fancy coloured hair, mostly because they’d give her away if she didn’t.

Yesterday morning I was able to do one of the most wonderful things. I was there when a little girl’s dream came true. I watched it happen. “Leigh,” Kaila said, her voice wavering just a little bit, “how would you like Blue to be your horse?” Leigh looked at us, a bit confused. She said, “Ok.” Kaila explained it to her again. She did not jump around, or scream, or yell, or say one word. She barely moved. She was speechless. As it sunk in, she turned around and looked at Blue and looked at us again and then hugged him. She hung onto his neck for a long time. She gave that grey horse a long, hard hug like she was never going to let him go. Because now, she didn’t have to.

Show Hide 17 comments

Kaila - March 3, 2011 - 9:33 pm

Danique, I just have to thank-you for being such an amazing photographer, writer and most importantly friend. Thank-you so very much for coming out and being a part of this very special moment. You’ve always been there from the start with Blue and I, and you’ve captured many special and silly moments with me and my boy. And I am very happy that you were able to capture the first moments with Leigh and Blue who is now her boy. These pictures are amazing and a wonderful reminder for Leigh and myself.

Nikki Woolaver - March 3, 2011 - 9:51 pm

Damn, you made me cry again! How do you do it? <3

Kirsten Hanley - March 3, 2011 - 9:54 pm

How is it, that every time I read one of your posts, I’m blubbering and reaching for a kleenex before I finish the first paragraph. Danique, you are a wonder, and touch so many people’s lives, creating amazing memories. You rock!

Vicki Delaney - March 3, 2011 - 10:11 pm

Kaila, You are one truly awesome human being! Just look at what you have done for Leigh and Blue. And Danique, you are a truly great friend, for having captured these heartwarming moments for us all to enjoy, and for writing the best story I have read for quite some time. The love shines out from these photos and makes me remember my first love too.

“A horse and his girl” <3<3<3 "as it should be" <3

Leslie - March 3, 2011 - 10:44 pm

I’m in tears reading this!! So beautiful! and Danique captured the moment so perfectly! I feel as though I was there watching it happen :)
I love to see how happy Leigh is with her boy.. And how happy he is with her :)

Kaila, there are no words for your generosity, or your love for your horses/animals! It is easy to love, but that love is what makes it easy to do what you have done for Leigh and Blue :)

Ok, i’m a stop now so I can quit blubbering :P

Ann Northrup - March 3, 2011 - 10:47 pm

Wow – Danique you are so well written.

These moments you have captured are amazing. I almost feel like a peeping Tom looking at something that is only for the two of them, but not able to look away. What an amazing team these two will be.

Fabulous pictures, and a fantastic story.

Mike Isenor - March 3, 2011 - 11:04 pm

Ohhh. Danique and Kaila … I am typing this through watery eyes. (must be my allergies) You are such amazing Women. I’ve seen the two of you working together … most people would envy such comfort between friends … I am simply overjoyed. Kaila, the gift of love that you have given Leigh, chronicled by Daniques amazing hand … these are moments to last forever. Moments to make a Dad proud.
Blue and Leigh are both lucky … to have 2 such amazing Women touch their lives.
*sniff* Now where is my allergy medication?

Daniel Fisher - March 4, 2011 - 12:41 am

Simply amazing, Danique.

sue - March 4, 2011 - 8:35 am

you never stop amazing me girl…..

wendy glenham-mckean - March 4, 2011 - 8:38 am

First I glanced at the pictures, then realised there was a story line, so back I went to read the acompaning chronicle. I could not stop reading, it was as if I was there experiencing the whole beautiful moment unfold. Danique you had me at the first paragragh. Brillant writing and brillant pictures.You have so much talent..I’m in awe.

Jacquelynn - March 4, 2011 - 11:04 am

So beautiful and touching Danique. Your pictures are worth a thousand words and your words invoke a thousand images. Pure perfection in so many ways… xo

Derek - March 4, 2011 - 2:54 pm

Beautiful story, beautiful shots. Well done .

Tachy - March 4, 2011 - 7:24 pm

Danique, you are amazing! why dont you share some of your amazingness with me? simply amazing

Mary - March 5, 2011 - 2:03 pm

When Danique told me, the morning of, about this shoot. It was a flashback for me. Six years ago I was gifted my mare – Something that is a bit unheard of. Kaila, what you have given this little girl is something that I can relate to, something that when Danique mentioned it, the emotions came back, the feeling of shock, puzzlement, yet the confidence it gave me. “Was someone really giving me their horse, a horse they put time into, raised from day one” It’s a feeling that attracts so many emotions. Leigh reacted the same way i did. quiet, a shy smile, and didn’t really budge. For it is people like you two ladies, that in my mind, keep the horse world real. personal. and true to the love of the animal.

Kudos to you both.

Hardy - March 6, 2011 - 2:20 pm

Danique, That is a very amazing story. It reminds me of three other little girls when they got their first horse. You do amazing work and we are very proud of you and always will be. Keep doing what you love. Take care.

Fi - March 7, 2011 - 9:12 am

I like this – “He’ll always have a special place in my heart. He was my first everything. My first horse. My first mistakes. My first accomplishments. He taught me everything I know. He’s the reason I’m here. He’s the reason that they’re all here”

Can be applied to so many ‘firsts’ – I’ve written it down.


Tara Risser - August 1, 2011 - 8:34 pm

Beautiful and touching! Both the story, and the pictures that so perfectly capture the connection between Leigh and Blue. Awesome!! :)

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