Over the years I have had many different animals, horses, dogs, cats, chickens, geese. I have loved them all in different ways and for different reasons. I have had horses that I have loved because they were beautifully well schooled and a delight to train. I have had horses that I adored because they were cute and they let me sit down beside them in their fields. I have had horses that were rescued from mud drenched Welsh hillsides and ones bought from manicured yards in green belt land.
I have had dogs which I have loved for their crazy exuberance, and others for their cuddles. Big dogs and small dogs, dogs that were well-trained and others that were less so. Some from puppies and some as rescue. All the animals that I have had, all with their different quirks and foibles.
One thing that has always struck me is this. That while I have loved them all, and in different ways, it is how we fall in love with them that is curious. Many we fall in love with gradually, as we get to know them, as we start to appreciate their characters, whereas other simply fall like a jigsaw place into a part of our heart that we didn’t know was missing.
These loves are not better or worse, after all they are all simply love. And our love for our animals fills our days with joy. So if you are worrying about whether you will love your new horse or dog the same as your current, you probably won’t love them in the same way, nor will you fall in love in the same time span, but rest assured you will love them and each animal will give you something that you didn’t know you were missing…
We love our animals, they are always so pleased to see us. Our dogs bark manically spinning in excitement and rejoicing in pleasure at seeing us again. Our horses wicker, snuffling against our cheeks, their whiskers tickling us. Some say; animals only love us because we feed them. I don’t agree. They love us in a much more straight-forward way. Our bonds with our animals is so much less complex than our bonds with people.
Relationships with people are more layered, more convoluted. Often we are related to them, some we chose for love, but our lives are clouded over by the stress of work, money, illness, so the love is pushed down, hidden over. But with our animals it doesn’t matter. Stressed? Hug a pony. Bad day at work? Hug a dog. Boss shouted at you? Stroke your cat. Works every time.
Animals are also the best outlet at Christmas. I love Christmas, I love seeing my family, but it can get a bit overwhelming, you can need a break. Popping out to walk the dog even for half an hour can give you a vital break from the festive fun. Christmas day hacks are delightful, especially in the morning when the roads can be wonderfully quiet.
Exercise is also the perfect counterpart to the endless eating and drinking that goes on over Christmas and can leave us feeling grumpy and lethargic. Even in dismal weather, wrap up warm, and get outside, you will feel better. And the best thing about animals is you have no excuses they have to be exercised, cared for, hugged, chatted to. So when the world is getting a bit much, when you long for peace and quiet and the wind in your face, rain on your back, get outside, take your dog for a walk, your horse for a hack and then when you come home again you will relish the warmth, the company and the cheer.
Life is comprised of an endless circle. We are born, we live and then we die. In families there is a constant movement, as children are born and the elderly die. With our horses and dogs the same is also true though the cycles are generally much quicker. The problem is always that the young are cuter.
For anyone who is dealing with an elderly relative slowly deteriorating towards death I can highly recommend Marika Cobbold’s wonderful novel Guppies for Tea . Animals are different to humans in that you can choose when is the right time to call it the end. It is so hard watching our animals suffer, that we can decide when enough is enough.
It is all too easy to keep our animals going for too long, because of our own emotions around the topic. As we slip out of the summer, this is often the time of year that we realise quite how old our animals are, as there joints feel the first nip of winter in the air.
It is so hard, and it never gets easier, no matter how many horses or dogs you have during your life, each and everyone of them leaves a gap. Remember all the good times, remember all the amazing rides, or walks, or priceless small moments that make up our lives.
And remember in the end that grief is the price we pay for love. And think how very cold and lonely the world would be if we never loved, people, dogs, horses, endless other pets. I once had a goose that I adored and was heartbroken when it died. And I know that despite all my tears my life has been better and richer for all the things I have loved, and I wouldn’t change any of it.