Every year during the lull that comes between Christmas and new year I am full of anticipation and excitement for what the coming year will bring. I love the feeling of a fresh start, putting any negatives of the past year behind me and making positive plans for the future, “Off with the old, on with the new!” And every year I hear myself say, “This is going to be my year” and every year, guess what…I’m wrong!
Now don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean that my life is full of bad luck and unhappiness year on year, quite the opposite. I am happy to say that I have enjoyed a rich and fulfilling life with nothing more than the usual ups and downs that life can unexpectedly throw at us once in a while but I have yet to have that feeling of accomplishment, success, to feel fulfilled through my own personal achievements.
Horses have played a big part in my life and in more recent years I began breeding competition horses. This is a long-term plan and it can take several years before you see any results from your hard work and financial investment. Everything was bumbling along quite nicely until my plans were seriously hindered when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This resulted in my having to undergo months of treatment and three sets of debilitating surgery. Even when I was fit I had found it a struggle to get through the work that is involved in taking care of six young horses so I found it nigh on impossible while I was ill. My husband took on most of the responsibility, getting up at 4.30 am to do the backbone of the hard work and proved to be a really difficult time for both of us. Any sane person would have had all the horses on a wagon and off to the sales, ridding themselves of the stress and financial burden. It should be noted here that the words ‘Sane’ and ‘Horses’ are rarely, if ever, used in the same sentence. This is because a certain amount of insanity is required when dealing with over half a tonne of muscle and flesh that can inflict serious damage on you, in a variety of ways and none of them pleasant. Then there is the insanity of the financial outlay. There’s a well-known saying, “The way to make a small fortune from horses is to start with a large one.” and in the majority of cases, this is absolutely true. But finances and physical hard work aside, I couldn’t send them to the sales or sell them to the first person that made me an offer, these were my babies, I could never risk them falling into the wrong hands. Finding the right home for each and every one of them was of paramount importance to me.
Over the ensuing three years I slowly but surely found nice new homes for them, allowing me to sleep well at night knowing that I had done my very best for them. Eventually, I was left with just one horse, Banjo, he was the last of my babies and out of all of them, he was my favourite.
I was mid chemo when he was born, being weak and permanently tired made it easy for the horses to jump about, spooking at butterflies and frequently knocking me to the floor but Banjo was different, from the day he was born he was always very quiet around me and he was very easy to deal with. I am convinced that he knew that I was ill and that he understood that he needed to be gentle around me. Banjo’s attitude towards my husband however, was another matter! He saw John as his play- mate, nipping him, pulling his hat off or ripping the pockets from his coat. Banjo endeavoured to find new and different ways to annoy John, all of which were hilarious to watch and made all the funnier by the sound of John’s cursing echoing across the field. He insisted that Banjo was deliberately standing on his toes to which I pointed out that it was more likely to be his own ridiculously large clown feet that were getting in Banjo’s way. Though truth be told, I think Banjo knew exactly what he was doing and both he and I got a good deal of enjoyment from it!.
By the time he was three years old Banjo had grown into a beautiful, 17 hand black stunner. As a young thoroughbred colt, you would expect him to be a handful but he remained my gentle giant. Throughout the latter end of 2013 I began to do the preliminary work required for his introduction to being broken for riding. Taking to this with his usual laid back manner he remained kind and tolerant towards me, I could not have wished for a kinder more patient horse.
Banjo enjoyed my company and he was soon ready to progress with his training. I was really looking forward to devoting myself to one special horse, rather than the usual mad rush of spreading myself between six or more horses. I enjoyed teaching him new things and it was clear that he was enjoying the attention, our bond grew stronger every day. As I busied myself around, washing his mane and tail, singing along to the radio, he would stand quietly munching on his hay and occasionally looking round at me as though he were the kindly grown-up, patiently letting his little owner play with him. Snuggling up to his soft, gleaming coat that shone a beautiful mahogany black I would gently rub his forehead making him drop off to sleep, the full weight of his head resting in my arms. Holding my cheek to his velvety muzzle, he would blow his warm breath into my hair, he made me feel that he loved me and I certainly loved him.
It had taken me a long time to get over the chemo, surgery and the mental games that breast cancer plagues you with, but now I had begun to feel like my old self. I was stronger, fitter and best of all, I could get through a whole day without feeling the need to take a two-hour nap in the middle of the afternoon! So this year, when Christmas had passed and I was looking forward to the new year and what 2014 was going to bring, all my thoughts were on Banjo and his future. 2014 was going to mean ‘Out with my poor health and in with renewed energy and producing a beautiful dressage horse, 2014 was going to be our year!
Usually it takes me until about October before I concede that the year isn’t going to be all that I had hoped for but this year I wasn’t allowed that indulgence. 2014 wasn’t going to let me have any hope for the year and on Sunday January 12th my dreams were shattered and my heart-broken.
It was the usual Sunday routine for me, up at 7am and straight down to the stables to give Banjo his breakfast. I was surprised not to see his big black head and dark chocolate eyes looking for me from over his stable door. Rushing over I found him lying down with a sad and pained expression on his face, I knew instinctively that this was not a simple case of feeling ‘a bit off it’ or a common colic, it was something far more serious.
The 40 minutes that it took for the vet to get to my house felt like forty torturous hours and with every minute that passed, Banjo was deteriorating before my eyes. I rubbed his forehead the way he liked, trying to sooth and reassure him but all the while, he looked at me with those beautiful eyes, imploring me to make the pain stop.
At 8am my hopes and dreams for 2014 were wiped out. There was nothing we could do to save him and the only kind thing I could do for him was put an end to his horrendous pain. My beautiful, kind, generous, Banjo went to sleep forever while I rubbed his forehead and told him how sorry I was and how much I loved him. I said goodbye to Banjo and goodbye to my life with horses, it was the end of a great friendship and the end of an era.