the perfect gift

Leah Hinnefeld jumping Polo

Monday, April 26, 2010. This was the day I said farewell to POLO. I certainly don’t need to write these thoughts to remind myself what Polo meant to me. All of these memories are tucked deeply and sweetly in my heart and won’t fade with time. Fifteen years of good simply can’t fade with time.

Polo was my friend and my teacher. Polo was brought into my life to embrace these two roles and his performance was flawless.

In his final moment he taught me what it truly means to be a steward of God’s animals. He taught me to be selfless. He taught me compassion. He taught me when to be patient and when the time had come to make a difficult decision.

In that final moment, when the last of the pink liquid made its way into his veins, I learned about the power of life. I stayed with him when his eyes closed. When his strength escaped his still powerful body. Even at 25yo, his aging and inwardly declining body still presented a power that is awesome in my eyes.

I sat with him while he took his last breath, when his heart pumped its last beat and when the warmth of his body slowly faded as the light fades each sunset.

I poured my shaking body over his and embraced a grief I have never known in 45 years.

I felt regret, remorse, relief, joy and sadness. Weakness and strength. Blessings and loss.

POLO was my friend and my teacher.

Polo was a teacher and leader to each and every horse that spent days or years at Belhaven. His life here, I now realize, was a model of what it means to be an excellent leader. He was firm, not cruel. He was consistent. He set very clear parameters. His communication was always clear. He was brave, not foolish or arrogant. He was emotionally stable. Fair not weak.

Reliable, steady, calm.

No wonder his fifteen years in my care reflected fifteen years of amazing leadership. The herd respected him and never feared him.

Polo is a model of the perfect leader.

On the day before his final morning, the 3 boys licked and groomed his entire slowly failing body. I have asked myself why. Every day I think of this ritual. I wish I could understand the meaning behind it.
Even more so, I want to understand HOW each horse knew Polo’s time had come.

Polo knew. He never let the boys groom him. Only Milo. And only on Polo’s terms.

Yet, Polo allowed the boys this gesture of what? Love? Respect? Closure?

I made no changes to the routine during his last week. I fed at the same time and continued to provide him daily medication. I bathed and clipped him three days before. Clipping him was a normal occurrence each spring and summer since the tumor on his pituitary gland had caused his body to suffer from Cushing’s disease.

I never changed the turnout schedule or routine. In my mind I did not ‘do’ anything to let Polo know my decision.

Somehow the knowledge of my heart reached his and the hearts and instincts of the three boys.

On his final walk, he remained true to me. He never balked or spooked or worried. He remained reliable. Steady. Calm.

I felt tremendous guilt taking him to his final resting place. Polo sleeps under a magnificent tree in Hawkins’ field. My family has only owned this field for a little over a year. Polo never saw this field prior to his final day.

Yet, he walked with me. With ease. With trust. With confidence. I felt I was betraying his trust. Leading him to his end.

Today, 7 days later I realize nothing could be further from the truth.

Polo knew where we were going. No, not ‘know’ in his head like I knew. But he knew just like the boys knew it was time to offer Polo a final tender ritual of respect.

Polo made this walk with me because he was simply being Polo. He was teaching me a valuable lesson. He was reliable. He was steady. He was consistent and calm.

On Polo’s final day he offered me the most precious gift he had ever given me:

He showed me without question that our intentions and thoughts are truly felt and acknowledged by the animals that touch each of our lives.

We don’t need to muscle and punish horses. We don’t need to make our time with them so complicated. We simply need to notice. And feel. I never believed in whips and violence, but I don’t think I ever fully understood how powerful our thoughts and intentions can be with animals. I have read about it, heard about it, dreamed of it. But now I have seen it. What a breathtaking sight.

What an inspiring gift. What a powerful gift. It is now up to me to take this gift, hold this gift and embrace it in my heart and mind from this day forward.

Polo gave me a glimpse of the power of our intentions when we interact with the animals we love and cherish.

So, no, Polo was not foolishly trusting me only to learn he had been betrayed. Polo was simply being Polo. My friend. My teacher. He was also giving me strength that I would not have had were it not for his.

The last seven days have been full of emotion, at the same time full of fascination.

The yearlings never spent time with Polo. Naturally I would expect them to be the least effected by the loss of Polo. They run and play, fight and make up, eat well and sleep peacefully.

The 3 boys were so lost the first 48 hours after Polo left us. They did not want to come in for breakfast. They did not run up for afternoon hay. They grazed in uncommon places, often apart from each other.

Milo is the most openly impacted by the absence of Polo. He called for Polo during our final walk. His call was more chilling to my heart than the actual event that was about to take place. Milo’s emotions have always been so transparent.

He waited and watched. Just yesterday, six days after, he finally joined the other boys to graze.

His expression is seeking. He is waiting for direction. He is quietly sensitive and unsure.

I think Milo’s new role will not be leader but that of my new primary teacher. I say primary because I know each one will be a teacher-but Milo’s emotions are so transparent and easy to see.

It makes sense that Polo chose Milo as my primary teacher. Even Polo knew his job was far from finished and I may need some easy lessons in the days to come. Milo is obvious. Transparent. His heart has always been right there on his sleeve waiting for me to notice.

I have not yet figured out the new role for Julian, Hugo and the donkeys.

Julian and I have had a more difficult journey together. Julian has had to endure my fumblings as I learn to develop young horses.I have made mistakes. I shudder at the memories of some of my blatant and uncaring errors. Even so, Julian forgives. And if he still remembers, he doesn’t show it to me. To have such a quality.

Julian appears at first glance to be a candidate for the new herd leader. On some days at least. Others I still wonder. He is less predictable, beyond firm at times. I often wonder how much of these responses are who he really is and how much is simply a reflection of how he has adapted to my novice attempts to communicate with him over our years of riding together.

Julian is also the most physically fragile of the boys. His kissing spine and progressive arthritis must impact his confidence. Maybe that is why he is less predictable, beyond firm. I will be fascinated to see if physical challenges make a difference in leadership potential in a herd.

Hugo is brave, athletic, independent and consistent. In my mind he is the obvious and logical choice to ease into a leadership position. He is, however, the youngest of the three. So far I see no attempt on his part to claim the role of leader. Maybe that means he is already heading in that direction. Not claiming but earning.

I have so much to learn. So much to enjoy. The gift Polo gave me will go on for all the days I have at Belhaven. What a thoughtful gift.

Polo was my friend and my teacher.

Polo sleeps but he has not left us.

He is here every day in every moment I have with each blessing that grazes in my field.

Even in our worst times, God finds a way to leave us showered in blessings. All we have to do is be open to receive them.

What a gift.

The Perfect Gift.

Polo's Last Day

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