Derby, 1993—2011

I’d say rest in peace, old friend, except I do not think that’s right for you. Wherever you are, if you are anywhere, may you buck, and leap, and play to your heart’s content. May you never feel stiff and old and in pain. I picture you galloping, and rearing, and flying in a way that your body had stopped allowing you to do on this earth, and the thing that makes me saddest is that I cannot be with you.

For more than seven years we shared everything we could and you never let me fall. On that final leap you made, that leap that crippled you, you made sure I was there with you. We landed together, but the leap was too much for your body to take.

It was the weekend of the supermoon and the start of spring. It was as if the seasons were taunting you and I. Sun on green grass and verdant new growth. All this new life, all this joy and you wanted to leap to the moon. But you landed lame and so on our last ride I had to lead you back. I will always know that last walk home, cheek by jowl, foot by hoof, the way we had been for so long together.

Did we both know, then, that that was our last walk? Or did we both hope for something more? I know I hoped for years more, where I belonged, on your back. That is my place, that is where the world was right. And you were always so beautiful.

The moon had not been so close to the earth since the year of your birth. Was it calling you back? Did its nearness tempt you? Can you touch it now, wherever you are? You were moulting still, caught between your winter coat and your summer finery. Will you always remain so, staged between the two? Wherever you are, may it always be spring for you. I see daffodils now and I think of you. I see their gold on green and I think of your glorious chestnut coat.

I first met you in the long, hot summer of 2003. You were thin, and poor. Your coat was dull and staring. You looked at me but almost did not look. You had hidden yourself, too afraid of what might happen. But in there somewhere, I saw you. I know what they did to you, and yet do not know. I know you could not speak of it.

I found you, and you found me. I found out that you were completely, gloriously and utterly batty. Loony. Loopy. Once I fed you, and loved you, and you became you, you became my world. And you were amazing. You would never give in. I would ask you to do something, and you would say ‘why?’ I would tell you, and you would say ‘No’. I would find myself thinking ‘that car driver isn’t very nice’ and you would threaten to kick their car.

And you would leap around so that I kept thinking I would fall off and kept thinking you wanted me to fall off. It was years before I finally realised that if you hadn’t wanted me on your back, I would not have been there. Years before I realised that as soon as you felt me wobble, you would wait, wait patiently until I regained my balance. And then throw yourself around again. But you were only playing and you knew far better than I did what a good rider I was, what a good rider you had made me.

Not long after I bought you, we moved to Devon. Everything changed for you there. We had new places to explore. One day when we were out, we encountered men with pots of boiling tar, filling in holes in the road. You did not want to pass them and so the rider we were with said her mare would go past first, to help you. Except her mare stopped near a pot of tar and refused to move. She would not go forward. Would not go back. Would not go left or right. So I told you we were going past, between the mare and the hot tar, and past you went, even though it meant getting so close to the black, boiling, lethal liquid. That day you taught me something about you, and something about life. You taught me that you would do whatever I wanted, so long as I believed that you would do it. You gave me a confidence no-one had given me before, for you believed in me.

We came to know the Devon lanes. On their single tracks, you learned that it was easier to pass traffic in passing places. I remember that first time you pulled over and stopped without my asking you to. I could see and hear no traffic and so I told you off, made you walk on, only to realise that there was a car but I had not heard it and had not listened to you. Your better ears heard cars before mine did and so I learned to listen to what you heard. You would tell me when traffic was coming and now when I ride other horses, they cannot tell me. I feel as if I have lost my ears. Those big, ginger, happy ears that were my radar into another world.

And I have lost your eyes too. Their liquid depths contained the wisdom of ages. I would look into them and sense the equine lore they held. I would begin to see the knowledge that you tried to impart to me.

And when my depression hit, you were there for me. I used to wear a long-sleeved jumper that smelled slightly of you. And if I was nervous or upset, wherever I was, I would smell the sleeves, catch at your scent. You would be there with me then,  and I would feel right. But now when I wash my clothes, your scent diminishes. The mundane things in life take me away from you.

The last thing I gave you was the last thing I wanted to give you—a good death. It was my decision. My decision, but not my choice. I think of the bullet that went through your brain and pierced my heart, and I anaesthetise myself with red wine.

You were my best friend. You were my every thing. And I must face this summer without you. And I must face every summer without you.

I see daffodils and I will think of you. For I put you in the daffodils.

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7 thoughts on “Derby, 1993—2011

  1. What a beautiful tribute to a dear friend. Helen, I never realised what a beautiful way with words you have. I am sorry to read of the passing of Derby. At least you know now that he is no longer in pain. You must have some wonderful memories which, in time, I hope will bring you comfort.

    Love,

    Leigh

  2. Your words to your beautiful horse touched my heart and made me cry. Derby may no longer be with you, but those memories will endure forever.

  3. A very moving tribute to someone you wrote about so often on GU. I loved your stories about him – a real character.

    May he run and leap with Epona in the grren fields and meadows of the Summer Lands forever.

  4. Thanks for the lovely comments, everyone. I will get to the stage where I can celebrate the time I had with him. At the moment I just miss him – but I like the idea that he’s with Epona!

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