Life After Loss

Coping with the loss of a beloved horse can be a painful process, but there are ways to find healing while remaining connected to your late equine partner.

By Alana Harrison

It was 8:30 on a warm evening in early October when I got the call that all horse owners dread. My 23-year-old gelding was in trouble, and I needed to get to the barn if I wanted to say goodbye. Too distraught to drive, my husband took the wheel and we embarked on the somber 45-minute journey. As the city lights faded into darkness, I desperately tried wrap my brain around the enormity of what I was about to face.

“Memphis” had suffered a stroke. At his age, and because all clinical signs indicated the hemorrhage had damaged a vital part of his brain, recovery was not possible.

I could barely make out the silhouette of my trainer holding Memphis out in his pasture amidst the vast inky night sky as we trundled over the gravel driveway and pulled up to the barn. Despite my emotional devastation, the only thing left in my power at that moment was to muster enough gumption to remain strong and be there for my best friend as he left this world.

Once the veterinarian had sedated Memphis and he was safely on the ground, I nestled up alongside him, stroking his sweet face and velvety neck for the last time. My brain could not accept that I would never again hear his cheerful whinny greeting me at the barn or feel the warmth of his breath against my cheeks.

Memphis had been my rock—a consistent source of happiness—since my grandmother gifted him to me as a college graduation present. He was there when I got my first job, when I got married, when I experienced many other losses and personal hardships. He’d become such an intrinsic part of my identity for almost two decades, I couldn’t fathom how I was going to navigate life without him.

After his heart stopped, I remained nuzzled against him for another minute or so, disoriented and unsure of reality. I buried my face in his mane for the last time and said my final goodbye.


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2022 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.