I reckoned something was wrong when she didn’t turn around in her stable to come say hello. Delilah stood facing the back wall, and when she slowly swung her head around to look at me, she looked like there was a world of hurt in her eye. She picked up a hoof and put it back down, and swung her head away again.
‘Is she okay?’ I asked, and was told she had laminitis in both her fore feet. Little relief to be had, then. The next week, she was nearer the door, and got treated to a few polo mints which she took with her usual delicacy.
Last Saturday, she was back facing the wall. I didn’t go in and part of me regrets it now, because she was euthanised early this week. The laminitis was a symptom of her heart giving out, and the yard made the best, most humane choice for her, relieving her pain and stress – but my heart gives out a little, too.
Delilah was no spring chicken, but even though she showed some signs of age, she showed almost none of slowing down. I can’t recall a time, ever, when she was off unwell, so if ever there was a horse who was going to work until the end, it was she, and so it proved. She was ‘my’ second horse, a true mare who elevated the grumpiness of her kind to an art form and she taught me how to be light and yet assertive, a lesson that I call upon every time I ride.
She is such a big part of of my horse story. From my first go on her, through the very first time I went showjumping to my very first rosette… to the time when I thought she was gone but she was actually off filming (and then when she came back she was ragin’ for like two weeks, having to be back in the school and not having her hooves painted every day, and being given who knows what sort of fancy feed), to the time when she deigned to give me a good grooming — Delilah figured largely on this blog and does so in the pages of my as-yet unpublished horse book.
This is the only picture I have of her. As part of my course work for my Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning diploma, we recently had an essay question about how to break the news of the loss of a horse to a client. One of the things I noted would be useful to do, in the run of the work, was to make sure that people had pictures of themselves with their favourite mounts. If you have a horse of pony you love, go and take some pictures now.
Oh, shoot, just came across this:
There is absolutely nothing like this in the whole wide world. I really feel like I’m riding, in total concert with the horse, heading in a smooth, flowing run, in command, sharing the control, telling the horse what to do, where to go, and she listens! And we do it! And I don’t think of anything but the course and the horse, there is nothing else but the next fence and Delilah, no self-consciousness, no thought but the one thought, nothing but the pattern and the sheer un-fucking-believable joy of up-and-over.
Finally: I thought I had written about the latter part of this anecdote but the first time I had Delilah (the full story is via the first link, above, but anyway), I tried to get her to warm up to me by singing that Tom Jones song to her. Oh, did she give me a dirty look! And I wasn’t imagining it: once, I needed some help in mounting, and the livery lady helping me said to her, ‘Oh, why, why, why —’ so I cut her off, saying, ‘She hates that song!’ and the lady said, ‘I know!’ and we both laughed and Delilah gave us both a dirty look and pinned her ears back, and I never so much as thought that tune around her ever again.
Will miss you, lady.