Filling the memory basket

Her stall may be empty but my heart is full.  When someone loses a beloved horse it is common to take a lock of mane or tail as a keepsake and I was no different. But I wanted something more than an envelope in a drawer that a relative would  toss away after I myself was gone.  I met a wonderful artist on etsy ( where I sell my pen and ink artwork who makes beautiful things, large and small, from a horse’s tail hair.  I commissioned her to make something for me using Lady’s tail hair and the result is this exquisite basket.  I must admit my heart skipped a beat when I first saw it.

Lady's memory basket

Since Lady’s passing, I have tried to jot down a few memories I hold dear to myself and will recall whenever I look at this in its prominent place of honor in my home.

She loved her fresh carrots and treats from the co-0p, but surprisingly she despised sugar cubes.  The only person she ever deigned to take sugar from was my friend Lynne, and I think she ate them only out of politeness because she loved her.  Even with me, Lady would spit them out, sending them rolling away down the aisle with a look of disgust as if to tell me I should know better.  She always took her treats with the greatest of care, lipping them gently from my hand, like royalty accepting her due so there was no need for haste.  She was sorely disappointed if I ever failed to bring something but then graciously forgot about it as we went to work.

I like to think I gave the freedom to have opinions back to her.  When I first got her, she willingly did all that was asked.  She was a hard worker but with a certain reserve that few besides myself were aware of.  What was visible was an ordinary, steady, chestnut quarter horse mare, doing the best she could at whatever might be asked for.  The first hint that there could be more behind it all came with the whip.  A dressage whip is properly used only as a gentle aid, never as punishment.  When I would tap, tap, tap on her side to help in a movement, I could tell she was insulted.  She knew she had done nothing wrong and so she let me know – very politely of course – that the whip was uncalled for.  It took a while, but gradually she grew to understand that between us the whip would be an aid and nothing more; that it was alright for her to question me about what we were doing and have a few ideas for herself about how things could go.  After a brief period of opinions in spades we settled down to enjoying the path of dressage, quarter horse style, and it added immeasurably to the pleasure we found in each other.  When she got the space to be herself, she proved to be a generous, funny companion who liked to make me laugh.

She was a giving, intelligent partner in any task at hand.  I could tell she loved movements that played to her quarter horse heritage, especially haunches in, renvers, and sudden changes in direction; anything that might swing her haunches and mimic working the cattle.  The short legs and long back of the show type quarter horse limited us somewhat but she was always game to try anything and as she aged I had to be the one to stay sensible.  Along the way we learned to do flying changes, extended trots, pirouettes, and some piaffe and passage together, all in the spirit of pleasure and accomplishment.  Our inadvertant airs above the ground came about when, released from the collected effort of a piaffe, we launched skyward in a surprising version of the capriole.  She was usually unflappable, but never dull – a great quality in a first horse for anyone. Her inner delicacy, hidden in a chunky quarter horse body, taught me true lightness.

We sometimes saw deer on our outside jaunts but she never spooked at them, just stared intently to let me know they were there.  A few times a rabbit ran between her legs and all she did was hop about 1″ straight up in the air before watching it scurry on its way.  I always startled way more than she did.  If she ever started to have a case of the heebie-jeebies I knew it was temporary and most likely due to a desire to get her blood going, like a child who enjoys the sudden scare but is not really worried overall.

Before I would start grooming and massaging her, especially in her later years, she would quiver just a little in anticipation at the pleasures to come.  She loved belly scratches in the summer when the small flies would cause intense itching around her naval.  At times I was afraid she would fall over from the sheer ecstasy of it all.  I learned to give her massages in her old age and how to tell what muscles were giving her particular trouble.  I could help loosen those areas not used much anymore and ones stressed by her three bad legs.  Who knew that gentle pulling of her tail to each side would end up being one of her favorite things.  I had to be careful not to let go too quickly because sometimes she was stretching so hard against me that she could fall over unless I let her rebalance herself first.

Thinking back over it all, I believe we took each other to places we never would have gone separately in a special partnership that is often only dreamed about.  I am quite sure that although there may be others, there will never be one quite like Lady for me.  That’s okay because no one should live in the shadow of some other’s past.  The day before she died, Lady passaged lightly on the lead rope as we walked from the pasture to the barn – as she hadn’t done in years, reminding me of past glories that I didn’t know were ending soon.  It was a little gift of laughter passed between the two of us which I appreciated at the time, if not its finality.  A last gesture of generosity from a gentle soul that goes into the memory basket.

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. High River Arts
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 10:11:11

    What a lovely post. The basket is a wonderful idea to hold all your memories of her.


    • ruthsartwork
      Feb 12, 2012 @ 10:21:07

      Thanks you High River Arts. She had the most glorious tail and as I said, I wanted something more than to leave a lock of it in an envelope, hidden away in a drawer.
      It is really beautiful to see.


  2. Cindy D.
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 10:14:59

    What a beautiful and touching memorial for your old friend. I’ve never had a horse but I have always loved them (most girls do, it seems!) It sounds like she had the very best life a horse could have. That bowl is really cool and a neat way to remember her.


  3. ruthsartwork
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 10:16:32

    Thanks Cindy. I have put it in a glassed corner cabinet in my home where it will be safe and I can see it every day.


  4. jaci
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 13:27:51

    What a lovely and moving tribute to a wonderful friend. And I love Lady’s basket that will always remind you of her. It sounds like she was very aptly named 🙂


    • ruthsartwork
      Feb 12, 2012 @ 15:06:57

      I started writing some of this shortly after Lady died. I got up one time in the middle of the night because I had these things running through my mind and needed to get them down. I am so glad that I did.


  5. Sonya Johnson
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 14:32:18

    What a unique and special tribute to Lady. I enjoyed reading more of the relationship you had with her; it sounds like she was truly a special equine spirit who found her human soulmate in you. You both were clearly blessed to be in each other’s lives.


    • ruthsartwork
      Feb 12, 2012 @ 15:03:43

      My friend Lynne found her for me those 17 years ago and she says it was one of the better matches she’s ever done. It is hard to express fully my thanks to her over the years.


  6. lynn
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 15:09:57

    Your words are such a beautiful celebration of her life and your relationship with each other. I’m glad you have many years of wonderful memories and a beautiful memory basket that will last forever.


  7. ruthsartwork
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 15:25:08

    Pamela did a wonderful job and I am so grateful to have the basket.


  8. Pamela Zimmerman
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 16:54:49

    Oh Ruth, your memories of Lady and your cherished relationship has brought me to tears! What a love story. I felt privileged before that you asked me to make the basket for you, but after reading the story, i am absolutely honored to have had the task. Thank you so much for letting me be a part of her memorial.


  9. ruthsartwork
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 18:05:51

    Pamela, I feel so fortunate that you are on an etsy team with me so I could find your work. I am not sure I would ever have thought to have this done without seeing your shop. It was an easy decision after that because all of your work is so lovely.


  10. Linda Halcomb
    Feb 15, 2012 @ 17:13:31

    The basket is exquisitely beautiful. You were blessed with a great friendship and I appreciate your generosity. It is not easy to open up but your memories are a gift to all who read them. Thank you my friend!


  11. ruthsartwork
    Feb 15, 2012 @ 18:45:36

    Thanks Linda. She was with me for over 17 years. My loss can’t compare with yours but I am glad if it helps a little.


  12. home, garden, life
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 11:29:39

    Touching memorial. Writing and sharing loss heals our mortal soul. Lady will always live in your heart and will always be near. The life you both shared goes well beyond intimacy.


  13. ruthsartwork
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 15:44:08

    Thanks you HGL. You are right, she will always be in my heart. The basket is just a tangible memory for me.


  14. Trackback: More pet portraits | Ruth's Artwork

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: