I sold my daughter’s horse today. On Thursday I broke the news. I let her know to say her goodbyes because Sunday the trailer would arrive to take her mare to her new home.
I knew this was coming. The sale was handled in a standard manner. As a professional horse trainer I’m used to the process. There were lot’s of questions and phone calls back and forth followed by some negotiations on price and lastly a pre-purchase exam. For a couple of weeks I said nothing. I know horse sales are fragile, so I felt no need to upset my daughter if the sale didn’t pan out. Thursday I got the call, the pre-purchase exam didn’t turn up any unexpected issues and the check was in the mail. My daughter’s horse would leave on the weekend.
As I broke the news I felt my own heart break. I saw the tears well up in my daughter’s eyes as she choked out the words, “I don’t want her to leave.” I told her I understood and that I didn’t want her to leave either. I explained how I had nurtured and trained the horse for just as long as my daughter was alive. I told her how I was the first to sit on her back and that she meant a lot to me too. I tried to console her by telling her that training, producing and selling productive show horses is how her mommy makes a living. I told her that is the only way mommy can keep her involved in show horses. I promised her she would have another horse and I would find it soon. I could see my words weren’t enough and that my 7 year old daughter was about to learn what heartache was. My words bounced off of her like a rubber ball off of a concrete wall. What I had been working on for a few weeks now, all seemed so abrupt to her.
The mare was 7, same age as my daughter. A 7 year old and a 7 year old isn’t how most trainers would pair a horse and rider. This was different though. When my daughter was a toddler and first learning to ride, she learned on my trusty old lesson mare, Buttons. Buttons cared for her, tolerated her, and babysat her. Besides just being a teacher, Buttons also had a couple of foals. We appreciated her demeanor so much we wanted to reproduce it. When Buttons passed away of colic we dreamed of pairing up her daughter with mine. It was a stretch. My daughter wasn’t quite big, strong and confident enough to match the exuberance of Buttons young daughter. The sentiment of it meant a lot to all of us, so we kept trying. Slowly things became fluid and the dream seemed attainable. Then one day after a couple years of advertising her for sale I got a call from an interested party. And now, here we are.
My daughter sat on the tail boards in her horse’s stall for the past few days.* She sat in there, she cried, laughed, pet, groomed, and fed peppermints. Her mare poured attention over her and would only break her attentiveness for an occasional mouthful of hay. Every day since Thursday my daughter woke up asking what day it was. She has been watching her time that she has left with her mare tick away.
*For those of you unfamiliar with saddle horse barns, tail boards are a single length of boards that run horizontally along the stall walls at about the horse’s rump height. We need long flowing tails for the show ring. The tail boards prevent the horses from being able to push their rump up against the wall to rub their tails, as horses often do, in turn rubbing all their tail hair out.
My daughter is a farm kid and she has lost horses to illness and death before. Somehow this seemed harder. When horses had passed away it was out of my control and in the hands of the great creator. I merely had to do what I’ve always been trained to do by keeping a horse’s best interests in mind. I have only ever had to decide when their quality of life and level of suffering justifies in assisting them humanely over the rainbow bridge. This situation though, this was in my hands. This was my call through and through, it made everything seem harder.
I delivered a foal last night. It was the first time that my oldest daughter has been able to be involved in the whole foaling process. She was excited and stayed up late watching the foaling cameras with me waiting for late stage labor and time for delivery. It took her mind off of things for a moment. After the foal was born I sent her into the house to bed. I was up all night making sure momma horse and baby were healthy and hitting all the developmental landmarks that they are supposed to hit. I woke up early after just an hour or two in bed. I had a sinking feeling. Today was the day I would break my daughter’s heart.
I sold my daughter’s horse today. I went in the barn and did all the things you do when you sell a horse. It seemed almost ceremonious as I gave her one last haircut to be sure she would leave the farm looking in top order. I took off her sheet that was embroidered with her name and adorned in our stable colors. I put a miscellaneous sheet on her to send her off with. This was certainly not the first time I sold a special horse but I had never felt so peculiar about removing my stable colors from a horses back.
The trailer arrived and we made our pleasantries with the future trainer of my daughter’s mare. I was, and still am, truly happy for this sale and for the new owner. I sincerely congratulated them and wished them luck. I returned to the stall to retrieve the mare and load her on the trailer, only to find my daughter sobbing at the door. “I wish this never happened,” she said. I acknowledged and said, “I know, but you know that’s what we do here. We sell horses.” She recoiled and said, “Yeah, but if Coronavirus never happened they wouldn’t have closed down all the businesses and you could still make money teaching riding lessons and then maybe you could afford to keep my horse!” It seemed so terribly heavy. It was such a difficult and complicated topic to be coming from the mouth of a 7 year old. I reassured her again and explained that I wasn’t selling her horse because of the Coronavirus, that her horse had always had the chance of being sold. I told her that she was correct in that there are many uncertainties surrounding the current state of affairs and we need to take that into consideration. We need to make smart decisions when we have the opportunity of selling horses into good homes and to good trainers. I felt my words bounce off of her again.
At this point the new trainers were aware of her young heartache and consoled her with promises of visits and pictures. We appreciated their kindness and thanked them again for understanding her sorrow. We said our final well wishes and the doors of the trailer were closed. We watched it slowly rumble down the gravel driveway away from the barn. The horses in the barn whinnied back and forth to their friend for one more solemn goodbye. The dry, gravel dust swirled up into the sunshine as the trailer drove out of sight.
I hugged my child one more time and retreated into the cool darkness of the barn. She went to her bedroom to cry. I erased the mare’s name from the daily work chart in the barn aisle and took it off of her feed card on her empty stall. There seemed to be such a finality of it. I spent a little time processing this goodbye for myself while listening to the quiet sounds of munching hay and watching a wobbly foal nursing from it’s momma.
I stepped back into the sunshine out of my tack room door to our front yard. My two children were back to playing as if nothing had transpired. My daughter suddenly seemed older and more mature. It seemed that she went from childhood innocence to an adolescent transition over the course of an hour. The things she grasped and understood from this one transaction made my sweet seven year old suddenly seem so very grown up. I offered her one more hug and my last set of condolences. She told me she understood and asked if she could be the first one to ride our new foal, if she was a good enough rider by then. I laughed and agreed to her demand and knew she was alright.
I sold my daughter’s horse today and I would do it again. I was able to teach her about heartache and goodbyes before some teenage boy does a few years down the road. I was able to teach her about the ebb and flow of life today. As we brought one new life into the world and had one more mouth to feed we had to say goodbye to one old friend. We had to send her on for someone else to enjoy and care for. She learned more life lessons in the spring countryside today than some people learn in a year. She learned that sometimes the right decision isn’t the easy one. She learned to carry on and welcome the next adventures and opportunities. Most importantly she learned to move on. Through many tears and emotions I know my daughter is a better person now than she was yesterday. I know the lessons she learned today will serve her for the rest of her life. These lessons she learned because I sold my daughter’s horse today.