Love Her is What I Still Do

Publishing a memoir has paradoxically pushed my personal life more inward as if somehow I can counteract the effect of my innermost thoughts being so public by making my current motivations hidden. It is challenging to meet people for the first time and know they’ve had access to some of the most raw moments of my life. I hold my realtime vulnerabilities closer. They are more precious to me now. On the other hand, I know it is my candor, my willingness to show my imperfection, that helps people connect to their own stories and their own guidance.

So, here I am, ready to share more. Today, in the simplest of ways, my heart broke open. I was in yoga at work in a room with co-workers. Our instructor Margaret invites us to have an intention for what we’d like out of the time there. Sometimes I adopt a focus. Other times I rebel and enjoy the opportunity to let go of the drive of the workday. Today I wasn’t passionate either way, so I haphazardly chose open-heartedness. Then as I laid in shavasana the grief came. I had a simple thought that unraveled me.

I should probably write down everything I enjoyed about my time playing with Cherokee before I forget.

For those of you that don’t know me too well or that have been successfully shielded from my private life, my current animal muse is an 1100 pound bay mustang mare named Cherokee. She’s been in my life for over seven years now. She started out like the harrier hawk Thalia I tell the story of in my book Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. When I met her Cherokee was just like Thalia, deathly afraid of humans and ill equipped to manage the perils of captivity. I spent a year gentling, hand walking, and befriending her before I saw her eye soften for just a moment in my presence. I remember the day I looked over into Cherokee’s face and exclaimed to my friend Sue, “There’s the horse! That’s the horse that’s been there all along and just now I finally get to see her!” Little did I know that it would be another three years before that softness would settle in for good.

But my mission here is not to tell the tall tale that is the history of our relationship. That would encompass another volume I may write someday. For now, I’m here to capture this one moment in time, this instance in which my grief has resurfaced. Cherokee is well. She may have many more years of life ahead of her. I keep reminding myself to be grateful that she is still in my life. I continue to push back on that gratitude.

Earlier this year the vet discovered significant arthritis in Cherokee’s front feet. As we began to diagnose the severity of the problem I started to see what had likely been creeping up on us for months, if not years. I am no longer free to ask my playmate to run with me and jump even the smallest of obstacles for me. I can’t even ask her to trot. Walking down a hill or taking a sharp turn exacerbates the problem. Nothing  alleviates her condition, not pain medication, not acupuncture, not herbs, not specialized farrier work and not chiropractic. Prayer is a way to honor her sweet soul, but so far has not had an effect on the physical. Cherokee is not excessively old by horse standards, she’s 18, but the neglect she’s experienced in her life before I met her may have contributed to her body aging sooner than I’d like. It could have just been in the cards for her. I’ll never know why her athleticism has been taken from her what seems like too soon.

She lights up still when I even hint at play. Her neck arches, she sets her head perfectly, and her ears lean expectantly forward. She lifts into this incredibly light-footed trot. It pains me that I have to retreat and pull away from the magnetism that is this incredible horse. I so want to jig and egg her into a canter, ask her to go one way so she’ll dart another. She is a riveting playmate with a fantastic sense of humor.

When we used to play she would be contrarian and sassy at the start, living out loud how big and strong she was by kicking out at me and tearing off at a gallop. She never left me mentally however. She always had an eye or ear on me waiting to see if I was being drawn in. She’d find higher ground, turn to me with her head held high, and snort a big “huff” my direction pushing at me with her nose. My favorite thing was to beat her to the punch and “huff” at her first with a bob of my head. She’d then stand there indignantly as if to say, “well, I’m still bigger and faster than you.” I’d smile and she’d smile back with her whole body. After some time tearing about and countering every request I made, she would come to me and link up, no ropes attached. Then whatever I asked she would offer. If she didn’t get it right she would try again. That horse has a lot of try in her that few have given her credit for. The trainers saw attitude and/or fear. I’ve had the benefit of her full engagement and confidence. There is nothing better than that gift.

If I went out to the pasture right now, I could have all of this again. She would forget the pain and hand herself over for the joy of the play. I’ve given in to temptation and opened the door only to have to close it abruptly. I have the unfortunate talent of foresight. I know how much she will hurt tomorrow from a luxury taken today. She has a memory like an elephant, but, alas, foresight is not a capacity she possesses.

So, I mourn the loss of the freedom of indulgence in the play we shared together. I have friends optimistically tell me she’ll get better, but they haven’t been through countless vet visits, mounting vet bills, and numerous dead ends. Aging happens. It is an unfortunate circumstance that comes with the opportunity at life. It is so odd to mourn the loss of what we had together and still see her every day. I feel like I am dishonoring her by grieving. She is more calm, sweet, and affectionate that I’ve ever known her. Those who knew her years ago would have never described her as affectionate or, even, friendly. All is more than well.

If I had the gift of laying my hands on her and bringing a miracle about with her arthritis, God knows I would have done it, but my gift is not in that kind of healing. I work with the spirits to mend broken hearts and souls. Cherokee and I already worked our miracle, the miracle of turning fear around into fun, and we’ve tasted the sweetness of success. What a heart wrenching experience to come into wholeness and experience true happiness so that this cloud can come and cover my heart. It seems an unfair agony to find such play that brings unfurled bliss and then to have to deny it. I am not sure why the universe works the way it does, and this is not from lack of trying. I too have a lot of try in me. Every day finds me trying, trying to continue to engage even though it hurts, trying to trust in the process even though I despise it, and trying to be grateful even though I am sad. It might be easier to close the book on it all and turn my back on my best friend, but I vowed to love her and love her is what I still do. There’s no trying needed there.

If you’d like to read other stories about Cherokee and I, here are links to other posts about lessons from my big girl:

Hopefulness in the Face of Hardship

On Immediate Results and Real Consequences

On Leadership

Photo credit: Petra Christensen, Red Horse Coaching

Stacey Couch

About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch is a Spiritual Advisor who supports creative seekers learning as they go on the spiritual path. She serves beginner and life-long students of the soul. Her compassionate and collaborative approach honors the humanity and value of each person. Wisdom found in story, mysticism, and nature provide guidance and healing in her work. Through meeting with Stacey, lost souls find refuge. Connection to the Divine is realized. Belonging comes. She is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. Learn More about working with Stacey
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