I had to say goodbye on Sunday to my beloved mare, Belle. She had been retired for two years with a degenerative neurological condition that was making her legs grow progressively weaker. Until recently she still enjoyed galloping in the pasture with my other horse, Cassino, but over the past few weeks her hind legs got seriously weak, and Sunday was the day my vet had warned me would come, when she was down and couldn’t get up.
Lolo called me from the barn at 6 am. “The sheep are fine,” he said, knowing I would be expecting a lambing emergency. “It’s Belle. She can’t get up.” I rushed to the barn, cradled Belle’s head in my arms and talked to her while we waited for the vet to come. Belle was distressed and ready to go to sleep one last time, but I sure wasn’t ready to see her go.
I fell in love with Belle the first time I met her, on Memorial Day weekend in 2007. She was just 6 years old. I didn’t want a horse that young, and I didn’t want a mare, and I knew nothing about gaited horses, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that beautiful black Missouri Foxtrotter, and so I bought her. She was among the first animals to come to the ranch that September, along with my first sheep and dogs, just as soon as our barns were built.
Belle was the sweetest horse I have ever known. She had literally no vices; I never knew her to nip, or kick, or bolt or shy. She was a willing and eager companion on our trail rides, and some of my happiest times on horseback were long solo rides in the Point Reyes National Seashore, just Belle and me. With her wonderful running walk and her enthusiastic canter, we made good time on our rides and one time a couple of endurance riders even asked what race I was training for. But Belle and I just rode for the joy of it.
She was a good-will ambassador with ranch guests, charming them with her goofy habit of flapping her lips when she was happy, which was most of the time. She was an absurdly affectionate horse, the only horse I have known who could actually give a horse equivalent of a hug, putting her head down and pressing her entire neck against my leg. She could sit still for minutes if you wanted to cradle her head in your arms, and she also was very generous with her horse-equivalent of kisses, licking and licking anyone who gave her the chance. I had to tell visitors that she was very “licky,” but not to worry because she absolutely would not bite.
Belle loved to gallop with her pasture-mate of many years, Pepper, and more recently with my new horse Cassino. And nothing compared to the joy of walking out to the pasture and calling, and having her gallop to greet me.
We had a good run, Belle, and I feel lucky to have known you. I will miss you.