You’d think that the first snow/death-to-flies celebration would cheer me up. But no, days are shorter now and I’m haunted by summers end. Come to think of it, there isn’t much autumn left either. It’s the fall-back time change next week, that will mean night riding in the afternoon. The water tanks have dead leaves floating in them like Doritos, and a thin shell of morning ice. Girthed up, the horses all look like teddy bears wearing corsets. I can’t bring myself to put the tank heaters in yet. That will come back to haunt me, too.
I like a good costume any day, but I don’t get Halloween. I need no stalkers in hockey masks or chainsaw-brandishing deviants to frighten me. I leave horror movies to others; real life is scary enough.
Spanish-speaking nations have a different tradition; Halloween is known as El Dia de los Muertos- The Day of the Dead. It’s a holiday- a time to remember those who have gone ahead. The day is symbolized by Catrinas, those skeleton dolls dressed up like hookers or brides. Strangely appealing, aren’t they?
But the Day of the Dead isn’t filled with fresh loss, like a funeral day. Instead it’s more like a day to picnic in the cemetery with deceased loved ones, with sugar skulls, and favorite foods, and maybe some tequila. It’s a celebration of lives shared, once the initial pain of loss has softened. Great idea, right?
Maybe at this age, I have more to remember, but I like tying the past to the present moment, and letting it nudge me forward. My equine ancestors have always been my best teachers.
When we lose a beloved animal, some of us sob and gnash our teeth and talk about the rainbow bridge. Maybe we say we just cannot do it again, losing them is too hard. No more animals. Then there are others of us, whose hearts are just as broken, whose pain is just as white-hot, but we feel differently. Sure, a part of our heart dies and goes with that animal, but a life with animals expands our hearts so much, that even with that part taken, we are still left so much more rich and full, that the gift received far outweighs the loss.
Either way, miss them, mourn them, but don’t let their loss diminish you. Let their lives make you better for other horses, let their legacy be a horsewoman who gives more than she gets. And maybe celebrate a Day of the Dead: Barn Version.
Cold, dark days are good for remembering and we lost some really great horses this year. Where to start? Your immediate barn family first, but we are part of a larger equine family, too. (Hover mouse for links.) Maybe a dance with Blue Hors Matine? Or how about a round with Teddy O’Connor? Or maybe Stacy’s mare, Roxy? Gone too soon, but worth a remembrance and a toast. Who do you miss?
Let your heroes haunt you this winter, take a tip and mimic a master. Be possessed by the ghost of Dr. Klimke, remember that victory gallop with one hand? Or maybe a quiet walk ballet with Nuno Olivera? When you lose time on YouTube, what riders do you watch?
Maybe you know a young rider? How about a Day of the Dead film festival on Halloween? How long has it been since you have seen Miracle of the White Stallions, or National Velvet, or Man from Snowy River? They beat witches on brooms any day. If you don’t know a young rider, who cares? Watch them again with your young rider heart.
Sometimes the best way to move forward is to look back and acknowledge those who have gone before. Be haunted by their bright spirits: horses loyal and brave, with riders who lifted high this art of riding. And in that golden light, acknowledge how far you and your horse have come.
Maybe you aren’t famous, and maybe your horse doesn’t have legions of fans, (besides you.) Whether it’s your first horse or you’re the happy rider who has ridden good horses forever, you are still part of this family of world-class horses and riders. It’s a family that crosses cultures and has been passed down through time. A rescue pony in your back yard is no different from an international competitor: our horses are a priority and a privilege. Let Halloween be a sort of equine memorial day, let it inspire us on short, dark winter days to come.
Now, time for those long johns and Carharts, and treat yourself to a new pair of wool socks. Then trudge out to the barn and nicker back a hello to them. Warm his bit inside your clothes while tacking up, or if it’s really cold, a bareback/halter ride will do just fine. Work slow and keep him strong. Reward your horse for last summer, by sticking with him in the winter, by riding through. Because that’s how we survive, too. We ride through it.
Happy Day of the Dead, Happy Remembering.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.