I am more concerned with the herd here at Infinity Farm. We used to positively percolate with vitality and there was a dancing joie de vivre here on the windy, treeless prairie. Everyone bounded everywhere.
But now the herd has aged like Baby Boomers, and most of us count our years in double digits. We still have some insolent youth around, but the old horses lean against barns meditating on sunny afternoons. There are llamas with long teeth and crooked toes; their fleeces are coarse as steel wool now. The surviving goats are officially old goats. That’s different.
The dogs slowly wake up to visitors that are already in the house. And Hank, feline mass murderer of bunnies and rodents, is nearly toothless. Sometimes I wander through the herd, idly predicting which of my hips will get replaced first. It’s my personal reminder of the wondrous years we shared. And we are far from done.
Do you ever do the math? When I am 70, my young mare will be 16. But who else will still be here? The herd will dwindle by attrition; we aren’t the sort to send off the elders who can no longer work. The passing of time will do that quickly enough. And so our family gets a little smaller each year.
I’ve lost animals suddenly, unexpectedly before their time. It’s a wasabi sort of pain, undeniable. Hot and crisp in its bite, a slam of reality. In some ways, it’s easier than the pain of gradual erosion.
The slow motion ache of watching a beloved’s life grow dimmer, just a day at a time, is more subtle, but deeper and heavier. I want to enjoy this precious time, but the future is as inevitable as gravity. I must get better at this, I always outlive them.
“Old age is no place for sissies.” Bette Davis.
Boy howdy, that’s for sure. I have done some brave and crazy things on horseback, but nothing will ever take more courage than watching my horses get old.
For all my whining about it, and I am whining, the animals don’t seem so very concerned. After all, it’s the natural progression of things. No one wants plastic surgery or dental restoration. They accept reality and then enjoy lunch. I think horses are Buddhist (and better for it.) We humans get so possessive. We think way too much.
So how do we survive their old age? Well, keep breathing obviously. When it gets hard, go back to the first commandment of the Church of Dressage: Relaxed and Forward. In the saddle or on the ground, it makes most things easier.
And then, if all else fails, maybe a puppy.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.