From the window I saw the horses.
Like waves of fire, they flared forward
and to my eyes filled the whole world,
empty till then. Perfect, ablaze,
they were like ten gods with pure white hoofs,
with manes like a dream of salt.
Their rumps were worlds and oranges.
Their color was honey, amber, fire.
There, in silence, at mid-day,
in that dirty, disordered winter,
those intense horses were the blood
the rhythm, the inciting treasure of life.
I looked. I looked and was reborn:
for there, unknowing, was the fountain,
the dance of gold, heaven
and the fire that lives in beauty.
I have forgotten that dark winter.
I will not forget the light of the horses.
~Pablo Neruda from “Horses”
Haflingers have lived on our farm more than half my life. Like me, most of them are now retired, living a quiet life on pasture most of the year, and warm and dry in the barn during the winter months.
Trillium was one of our first foals born here, over thirty years ago. She had a pure Dutch pedigree with parents both imported from Holland. When she was five, Trillium became the McKee family’s first Haflinger, giving them three colts, and many trail rides over the years. She came back to our farm after fifteen years away, resuming her alpha mare role in our herd and worked part time as a schooling horse for beginning riders. She was a mainstay in our Haflinger display at our local fair, allowing hundreds of children to sit on her back for their first ever encounter with a horse.
She has been fully retired for a number of years as her joints became arthritic; she loved her time out on pasture, even during the last few months as she began losing weight and becoming more frail. The last cold spell was particularly hard on her so I had scheduled the inevitable appointment with the vet for her final goodbye for later this week.
Last night she ate all her hay and passed the usual amount of manure. Yet this morning, when I entered the barn to begin morning chores, I found her down, breathing her last breaths. Clearly something sudden had taken her down – perhaps a stroke or heart attack. Within ten minutes of my arrival, she was gone, just like that. She had decided to leave on her own terms, dying in the very same barn she was born in. How many horses ever have that privilege?
Trillium, like our other Haflingers, belonged on this farm even more than I do: she was born to graze on steep hillsides, to find the tenderest of clover leafs hiding among the bulrushes and thistles. She loved to laze about under the branches, swishing flies.
Most of all, Haflingers are the copper and gold so badly needed in the gray light of a northwest fall and winter. When my eyes and heart feel empty and in need of filling up, I go out into the fields to absorb the riches of their honey amber coats, their deep brown eyes, their stark white mane and tails. Trillium was always a rich and treasured part of the scenery.
Of course, I know the aging Haflingers won’t be here forever, nor will I. Like Trillium, we will someday be dust – no longer glinting of gold nor burning with the fire of life on this earth. But the memory of our light is forever as nothing can extinguish a beauty that is heaven-sent, whether it is horse or human.
You will be sorely missed, Trillium – may heaven’s clover always be sweet in your mouth.
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