The winter took its toll on Nello - I saw him age in front of my disbelieving eyes. Like an older person, Nello's arthritis flared up terribly, and the vet had to rush to the barn twice when he couldn't get to his feet after laying down to rest. Both times, I prepared myself to say goodbye. Both times, when he saw me he somehow staggered to his feet, and we avoided the end I so fear.
Nello looks older, now. Still beautiful, his face has hollows under his eyes, and his cheekbones are more pronounced. His hocks (back knee joints) are bulbous, as are his front knee joints. This is what will get him, in the end - these terrible knees, the result of a harsh working life as a carriage horse. Nello was originally brought over from Argentina years ago as a harness racing prospect, but had a terrible accident at some point due to a careless, impatient owner, and was subsequently used - overused - as a carriage horse. When I met him, over four years ago, he was just a lawn ornament, and ridden gently for lessons. I took the plunge, bought him for a few hundred dollars, and trailered him from upper New Hampshire to the Boston area. And the rest has been marvelous, unforgettable history.
Despite those knees, Nello has never allowed me to fall off his back. We have had more adventures on trail rides in our years together, but have had even more special times just being together quietly. I fuss over him, making sure his water is clean, his pain pills loaded into his homemade cookies, and his teeth, hooves and general health are well cared for. I have switched him to a senior feed to lesson the sugar in his system that his old feed produced, and I brush him and walk him by hand almost every day.
But you can't overcome time. Our new vet at our new barn (I moved him closer to me so that I can see him every day) told me that Nello is not 24 or 25, as I had thought, but at least 30. (Maybe even 32.) If only I had met him when he was younger. If only his previous owners hadn't abused his fine legs, turning his knees to stone. If only there was a remedy for age.
All we can do for those we love is to be there. That's it. I will be there now, and when Nello draws his last breath, too, if God allows. I will be there when it's cold, and when it's hot, and when he's lame, and on the days when he's feeling fine, and we can enjoy a ride slowly, walking around a large sand ring.
I have come to understand that Nello was a gift to me in middle age. He fulfilled a childhood dream, and he helped to create new ones. He has made me more patient, more adventurous, more open to what life can bring, and in what forms. Now, one of my life's most fervent wishes is that Nello go out with dignity, and without pain. I will do everything I can to allow this to happen, and he can count on me the way I, on some many rides, have counted on him.
Is it wrong to pray for an old horse, with so many other troubles in the world? I don't think so.
Not this horse, anyway.
I put Nello out in a field alone yesterday, and I took this picture. Right after I did, he raised his head and the breeze lifted his thick black mane, ruffling it beautifully. He looked at me then, so calmly, so at peace that tears filled my eyes, and I knew that my prayers are being answered. Answered by a Creator that cares as much for the lion and the lamb as he does for all the rest of his creations.
And I am filled with thanks, for this horse I love so much.