Patrick Murphy (1999-2021)
I’ve wanted to but have not been able to write this post for more than three months now. I think it is because of several things. It is sad, to be sure, dredging up memories and trotting them out to stir emotions I’d rather keep in check. More than that, however, I think my perfectionism is standing in the way. Because I want so badly to honor his life, I am stopped in my tracks because I don’t think anything I write will do him justice. So I just don’t. And that’s wrong.
Patrick Murphy was not a person. He was a horse–a Clydesdale/Thoroughbred. But no matter. This trepidation over summing up a life and grappling with grief affects the loss of human family, pets, even people we don’t even know personally sometimes, but feel the loss nonetheless. In July, I decided it was time to say good-bye. I could recount for you all the wonderful, generous things he did for me and my family. How he safely carried my young daughter to a pony club dressage victory when her pony went lame at the last minute…how he generously jumped all the XC fences (when he hadn’t jumped in years) because she decided she wanted to try eventing…how he carried me through a crazy fox hunting experience without killing both of us…and many more. Paddy came home to live with me when he was just a raw-boned, gangly four-year-old newly imported from Ontario. He didn’t know much, but he had a kind eye and an “I’ll try anything” attitude. I could tell you all about how he was so good at whatever we asked him to do. But would that sum up his value?
Paddy, the Phoenix, Rises Again and Again: Overcoming Health Crises
The first scare was Potomac Fever which struck on Thanksgiving. Over the next few years several serious maladies stalked my poor guy and sidelined his showing career. The worst was Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM)–a debilitating horrible disease that causes ataxia, muscle loss, paralysis, and other frightening symptoms usually resulting in euthanasia. We caught it early, treated it aggressively, and after more than a year of medication and supporting treatments, pulled him though to the point that he was rideable again. His also endured orthoscopic surgery for a bone chip removal and in his late teens developed airway obstruction problems and a slight insulin resistance/metabolic issue that caused a severe laminitis episode. Somehow, we came through it. He rose again and again like a phoenix out of the ashes of often life-ending illnesses. And I was by his side, ready to do my duty as an owner if need be but praying I would not have to. Does his will to live and overcoming incredible odds sum up his life?
The End of an Era: His Life Entwined With Mine
Throughout this past summer the heat and humidity soared so that the fields and barn felt like the devil’s anvil, and also triggered Paddy’s breathing issues. The realization whispered to me on a gut level that it was time to cut him loose and set him free. He and his life-long companion, Buddy the Pony, were constants in my life. I couldn’t remember a time not looking out the kitchen window and seeing them grazing together. Horses come and go for some people, but for me these two “personified” my life as a horsewoman. Buddy was already gone. When Paddy went, I sent my mare off to the trainer’s and shut the barn down. It was the end of an era of horse care, farm life, and raising a daughter with horses. Does the fact that he helped define my life and identity sum up his life?
No, his life and his value was his own, apart from me, apart from what he could do for any rider. His value was his very being, as a horse, as a magnificent creature. I am heartbroken when I walk through the empty barn. I feel sad for the loss of his life, but also a loss in my life because he is no longer in it.
After Tragedy, Leaving the Stall Door and Your Heart Open
Over these past eighteen months or so I have said a final goodbye to family members and pets (dog, cat, three horses). It has been a time of loss. It has been a time of reflection and change. After the loss of my beloved mare, Dressed for Tea, I wrote a post about keeping your heart open for new opportunities to love. It resonated with thousands of people and even complete strangers who shared their similar experiences. We want to hang on to those who have gone with mementos and pictures and keeping something of them close. I prepared a memento box covered in show ribbons for Paddy’s ashes, a piece of forelock, and some reminders of him. I plan to plant a new tree in the yard and mix the ashes of my three horses at its roots. We do what we can to eulogize, to remember, to hold on…but in the end we have to open our grasping fingers as well as our hearts and let it go. Leave it open, so that the next animal can find us and take root there.
I think that’s Paddy’s eulogy–the summation of his value in my life–that he could inspire love so fully and deeply and unconditionally. Oh, that we all could both inspire and experience that kind of love. So, Paddy, was this eulogy okay?