A day does not go by when I do not think about and miss Cheyenne. But when one barn door closes, another often opens. I believe that Letty was looking for her forever person at the same time I was looking for my next heart-horse.
One lovely day in early June, Sarah and I went horseback riding in the Wissahickon. Her horse Klu is a fiery little Arabian and sure-footed as a mountain goat. I was riding Cheyenne, my beautiful and equally nimble quarter-horse paint. Sarah and I followed one of our usual trails, at our normal pace of walking, trotting and cantering.
But we both noticed that Chey was “off.” She did not run up hills with her normal gusto and seemed reluctant to move very quickly. This was not typical of Cheyenne. I rode to the creek to let her wade. But Cheyenne backed away from the water and clearly just wanted to go home.
Later that week, the barn staff noticed that Cheyenne was moving slowly and losing weight. Dr. Julia, our vet, examined Cheyenne. She took blood samples to check for Lyme disease, which is common and treatable among horses. Julia sent off the blood samples and we waited for the results.
In the meantime, Cheyenne became thinner and more listless. I was terribly anxious. Cheyenne was my “heart-horse” -- the horse that had stolen my heart. Cheyenne was strong, brave and truly the perfect horse for me. And although I have been horseback riding for more than 50 years, Cheyenne is only the second horse I’ve ever owned. She and I were looking forward to many more years together.
The Lyme results were delayed, so Dr. Julia returned for a follow-up exam. While probing Cheyenne’s insides, she found a large softball-sized lump in Cheyenne’s bladder. Julia suggested that I take her to an equine hospital immediately. So the next morning my friend John, my husband and I met at the barn and loaded Cheyenne into John’s horse trailer. We drove to the Mid-Atlantic Equine Medical Center and waited while Cheyenne had a series of ultrasounds and internal exams.
The results were not good. Cheyenne had a rare form of equine cancer that had spread to her bladder, stomach and stomach lining. There was no treatment and (with great empathy) the vet predicted that Cheyenne would have between two weeks and two months to live. We drove home in relative silence. I was heartbroken.
My barn friends were amazing. Over the next few weeks, I asked them for three things: 1) to graze Chey when I was not around; 2) to let me ride their horses (for my physical and emotional wellbeing); and 3) to help me find my next horse. Looking for a new horse had nothing to do with my love for Cheyenne. But I knew I needed a horse in my life.
We kept Cheyenne comfortable and encouraged her to do her favorite things: graze with her friends, go for gentle rides, and stand to be groomed and caressed. Then one morning “it was time.” Cheyenne was done. I contacted Dr. Julia, who agreed to come to the barn later that day.
The next several hours were sad and beautiful. It was the Independence Day holiday, and many people were at the barn. My friends were tearful and walked into Cheyenne’s stall to say goodbye. Even Violet, Cheyenne’s best horse buddy, came inside to be with Chey. Then we had a goodbye party for Cheyenne! People brought their horses out to graze with her and we talked, laughed, cried and loved on our horses.
When Julia arrived, we walked Cheyenne out to the open field. I hugged her and said goodbye one more time. Then Julia and her assistant gave Cheyenne a series of shots, and Cheyenne was gone.
Several people brought their horses out to sniff Cheyenne, for closure. Some snuffled Chey all over, some gave her a quick sniff, and one refused to go near her. I arranged for someone to take away Cheyenne’s body and went home soon after that. But before I left, my friend Lorraine hugged me and whispered, “Cheyenne will send you another horse to love.”
When I arrived home that day, I had a text message from my friend Jocelyn. It was simple: “My friend Aareal is selling her beautiful paint, Letty. Letty is sweet and sound and cute as a button.”
My friends Sarah and Andrea accompanied me to meet Letty. And indeed, she was adorable. Letty was half paint and half draft horse. Her neck was huge, her body was round, and her feathered feet were the size of dinner plates. We fell in love with Letty immediately
Two weeks later we arranged Letty’s “vet check.” Dr. Julia met me, Sarah and Lorraine at Aareal’s barn, and she examined every part of Letty’s outsides and accessible insides. Finally, Dr. J. turned to me and said, “I can’t find anything wrong with her.” So I bought Letty from Aareal.
Aareal delivered Letty to Monastery Stables a week later. The staff put Letty in a paddock with Cheynne’s old friend Violet. Violet is a dominant mare and charged at Letty – not to hurt her, but just to express her authority. Letty had little experience with mares and ran around and around the turnout. We took her out and eventually put Letty in with Johnny, Andrea’s 29-year-old quarter horse. And it was love at first sight. No matter what time of day or evening, Letty and Johnny can be found eating, drinking or nuzzling together.
Letty is similar to Cheyenne in many ways. For instance, Cheyenne was and Letty is a beautiful black, brown and white paint, and roughly the same height. However, Cheyenne was built like a fairy princess while Letty resembles a tank. Cheyenne was and Letty is steady, level-headed, and indifferent to bicycles, dogs and caution tape. But Cheyenne had excellent maneuverability while Letty still sometimes walks me into trees, walls and fence posts. Finally, Cheyenne was extremely self-confident and needed few friends. Letty is more insecure, which also makes her more affectionate.
The most important thing is that Cheyenne was Cheyenne and Letty is Letty. A day does not go by when I do not think about and miss Cheyenne. But when one barn door closes, another often opens. I believe that Letty was looking for her forever person at the same time I was looking for my next heart-horse. And I am so glad we found each other.
Nancy Peter is a Mt. Airy resident and the author of “Twenty Horses” (available on Amazon.) Half of the profits go to the Monastery Stables.