Hannah and I have been friends for a long, long time. She was one of my very first clients- one of the first people who really believed in what I did and fell in love with what I saw. Willy was old even then, even a long time ago- taking smaller steps, acting a little stiff. So now, well, now we don’t really talk about how old he is. He just is. And he’s here. And we all love him. And he only loves Hannah.
Something wasn’t quite right, and while she wanted to call the vet to get it fixed right away, she knew this time was different. I waited and didn’t want to ask what the vet had said. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t a surprise. Willy was old. And someone else had said it. And that made it real. Willy wasn’t allowed to do anything strenuous anymore- no more trailer rides, no horse shows, no lessons, no riding. From that day on, he was retired. The finality of it didn’t sit well with me.
Hannah couldn’t even talk about it, but I knew she’d ride him one more time- with me there. We didn’t talk in detail about it, we just set a date- talked about it more like it was going to be a visit, and that was that. When I showed up, her eyes were already puffy and Willy already knew something was up. He wasn’t outside, and everyone else was. He was annoyed and certainly wasn’t acting old or retired. As she gently lowered the saddle onto his back, I watched her face through my lens- her smile of gratitude for being able to do this one last time wavered as she realized just that- that it was the last time.
When she walked out of the barn, Willy eagerly following behind, I watched as the back of her hand swept away the tears that she wasn’t letting me see. I drew in a sharp breath and fiddled with some settings on my camera- if we both started, there’d be no stopping the flow of tears and we’d miss the good light. Right then- on with it. Can’t waste good light. And all three of us made our way to the ring with less than perfect vision.
Willy didn’t know that this was the last time Hannah would swing up into the saddle, or slide off his round, brown and white flecked back. He didn’t know that when she threw her arms around his neck as a thank you for his perfect pleasure-horse lope, that the tears soaking into his mane were full of memories and happiness and thanks for all he’d done for her, and all he’d been through with her. And while Hannah was thinking about this last ride with her first horse- about all of the memories, and patterns, and ribbons, and lessons, and show prep, and trail rides, and smiles and love that he’s brought into her life, Willy just sighed and stood there, thankful and happy for another minute with his first, and best- and only girl.