I have my husband to thank for this photograph.
This is me walking with Sophie from the trailer to her retirement home. This was eight years ago today.
When I met Sophie, I had been looking for a horse for months. I felt like I was meant to be with a horse, and that was all I was going on. I would show up at auctions in the area, hang out around the pens outside, and ask, "Is anyone here supposed to go home with me?"
I don't remember how I met Sophie's person. Our paths crossed for the first time one week before she planned to take Sophie to auction, and she mentioned that there was a man who was interested in giving her a home so he could ride her. Something about that didn't feel right to me, so before I had even met her I volunteered to giver her a home. A retirement home where she could decide if she wanted to offer riding or not.
So I bought a trailer and showed up to meet Sophie and welcome her to our family, not knowing what to expect. I saw defeat. She looked like she had given up on life. By the looks of her very small run and stall, I can't say that I was surprised. How she had been living wasn't the kind of life that any horse deserves.
Her person told me that Sophie wasn't easy with a trailer. She told me all of the things I should expect to have a hard time with, a few things that might be easy. Like she was giving me a temperamental electronic device that had to be plugged in and handled just so to work, not like she was offloading a living creature.
I stood outside of Sophie's stall and introduced myself. I wanted her to approach at her own pace rather than rush her into meeting me and then trying to load her in the trailer. That didn't seem like the best first date. I stood there talking to her and thinking that what I was doing was absolutely crazy. I told her about her new place and how she'd have a few buddies and could be turned out full time during the summer.
She ran toward the gate so quickly I thought she was going to break it down. I clicked on the lead rope and walked her out to the trailer.
She loaded herself. Then she stomped and whinnied the entire 23-minute drive to her new place.
Her person was right - she wasn't easy. I didn't expect her to be easy for my convenience. I wanted her to be herself.
She wasn't a hard keeper. Several of her teeth were missing and she needed her grain to be in a warm mash so she could eat it.
She wasn't uncooperative. She wanted to work with a partner, not a master.
She stood for grooming beautifully and patiently when I followed her rhythm. She didn't need to be cross tied.
Sophie had boundaries and was willing to enforce them. She had preferences she wanted me to know about and respect. There were things she didn't like to do, and once I learned about those I didn't ask (unless they were related to her health or safety).
Sophie was, and still is, the strongest and most compelling female leader I've met. She modeled what it was to be a beacon of light that others couldn't help but follow, not because she was the brightest light but because she shined her light on the places others wanted to be. Sophie had vision. She was cunning, honest, firm, gentle, feisty, demanding, unrelenting, playful . . . she could be all of those things without losing any credibility because she was so grounded in herself.
We were together for just over two years, and I learned from her every day. It felt like we had been together for a lifetime. The day after The Boy was discharged from the NICU, I took him to meet Sophie. I hadn't seen her for more than a month because I had been on bed rest and was then in the hospital. She whooshed warm breath from her nostrils over his head like she was anointing him with secrets that only horses know. I loved on her while The Boy was snuggly wrapped against my chest - I wanted that moment to last forever.
This is the part where you might want to have a tissue handy.
Sophie laid down in her paddock that night, just outside her stall, and died. I sat with her body the next day, weeping next to her while once again bound to my human bundle. I'll write more about how that felt another time. Today is for remembering how we came to be a family.
Soph, I don't know how you did it or why. I thank you for choosing me. I miss you every day.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.