Horse Care Other

Love & Let Go: Saying Goodbye to Your Heart Horse

horse face sepia tone
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Written by Natalie Gasper

Finding & Losing the Horse Who Has Your Heart

Some of us are fortunate enough to forge a special bond with a horse. These horses are commonly referred to as “heart horses” (or your equestrian soulmate). Because of this unique bond, it can be difficult to navigate their loss. And I would know. Unfortunately, many, many equestrians know, too.

A heart horse is a once-in-a-lifetime find, a special bond, your equestrian soulmate. You don’t decide to find them but trust your heart horse will find you (usually with the help of a great trainer). You could be involved with horses for fifty years and own dozens of them, but there’s no guarantee you’ll find your heart horse.

Because of the special nature of this relationship, losing your heart horse can be especially hard.

horse with heart shaped star

Source: Canva

Heart Horse Defined

A heart horse is difficult to define. He’s a horse that understands you like no other horse ever has (or will).

He’ll push you and make you a better rider (and person). His soul compliments yours. They’re rarely easy and never perfect, but they’ll give you their whole heart.

There are no guarantees that you’ll find your heart horse.

And you can still create a bond with your horse, even if they aren’t necessarily a “heart horse.”

shaggy horse

Source: Canva

Finding Your Heart Horse

At the end of the day, you don’t get to decide you’re going to find your heart horse. The real ones will find you. That being said, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances.

Know yourself

Be honest with yourself about your skills and what you can handle in a horse. Your heart horse will always compliment your riding level (and frequently push your buttons).

Enlist the help of a friend or trainer

My first trainer introduced me to my heart horse. I didn’t realize that’s what he was for a couple of years, but in the end, she was right (as trainers usually are). He’s not a horse I would have chosen for myself, but we ended up being extremely well-matched.

There are no guarantees

I always get annoyed when I see someone post this online: “I’m looking for my heart horse. Must have…,” because that’s not how it works. You can choose to make an effort with every horse you own, to bond with them and learn to understand them, but that doesn’t mean they’re your heart horse.

Heart horses are special. Truly once-in-a-lifetime.

I know some people who’ve owned horses for forty years who haven’t found their heart horse. Just because you want to find yours doesn’t guarantee you will.

Build a relationship with your horse

Heart horse or not, you can still create a bond with every horse you own. Take the time to groom them before every ride, hand graze them, and learn their likes and dislikes. These things make the horse-rider relationship easier and more enjoyable, even if they’re not your heart horse.

Some things take time

If your experience is anything like mine, heart horses are rarely a “love at first sight” deal. I hated my heart horse for the first six months of our relationship (trust me, the hatred was mutual). He was overweight, cranky, mean, and difficult under saddle.

heart shaped white spot on horse

Source: Canva

Over time, we grew an unbreakable bond that even 13 months apart couldn’t sever. Had I given up on him when things were tough, I would never have realized what he was to me.

Equine End of Life

Horses can die at any time, from any number of causes. It’s always wise to have a plan in place so you don’t have to make big decisions while you’re processing a loss.

The lifespan of a horse

Horses have a life expectancy of 25-30 years. They can, however, die much younger without any warning—from riding accidents, colic, or even a lightning strike.

Common causes of death in horses

Colic is one of the most common causes. Injury/trauma, respiratory problems, neurological disorders, cancer, and laminitis are also common causes of death.

What to expect towards the end

One of the most obvious signs your horse is at the end is lying down and not being able to stand up. Many horses may also stop eating and drinking. Changes in behavior, like lethargy or decreased excitement, can also be signs.

senior horse wearing blanket

Source: Canva

Grieving the Loss of Your Heart Horse

I consider myself equally lucky and unlucky in the heart horse department. Lucky, because I found my heart horse when so many riders don’t. Unlucky, because I lost him when I was 24. Here are a few things I wish someone had told me, to help me navigate his loss.

It doesn’t get better: you get used to it

Common advice with grief is that the pain of the loss gets better. In the beginning, I avoided grieving because the pain was so great. Truthfully, this isn’t a loss that fades with time. You simply get used to missing him. Your heart grows around his absence. Missing him gets easier.

Take time to grieve

Losing a heart horse is a special kind of pain, as significant as losing a parent, a partner, or a child. Take time off work and grieve. Cry. Yell. Lay in bed staring at the ceiling. Share memories of him with a trusted horse friend someplace private (because you’ll cry some more). The how doesn’t matter as long as you grieve.

It’s OK to need a break from horses

After losing Icon, I forced myself to go to the barn at least once a week. Groom a horse. Lead them around. I even tried taking lessons. Nothing about being around horses felt the same. Horses weren’t giving me comfort because none of them were him. It’s OK if you need to step away from the barn for a while. Horses will still be there for you when you’re ready.

gray pony

Source: Canva

It’s equally OK if you feel like you need to immerse yourself in horses to recover. Take lessons, do a lease, attend a few shows. Figure out what your next step with horses should be.

Just don’t feel you have to jump right back into ownership. The next horse you own isn’t going to be able to take the place of your heart horse, so when you make your next purchase, make sure it’s for the right reasons.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a heart horse?

A heart horse is a soul mate, the horse who will understand you in a way no other horse ever will.

Q: What does it mean to lose your heart horse?

Losing your heart horse feels like losing a part of yourself. It’s an intense loss. Take the time to mourn him and honor your memories together.

Q: How do you comfort a dying horse?

The best way to comfort a dying horse is to be present with them. Keep them in familiar surroundings, and be prepared to make the difficult decision with your vet when it’s time.

Q: What is a prayer for the loss of a horse?

The Day God Took You Home – Unknown Author

A million times I’ve needed you. A million
times I’ve cried. If love alone could have saved
you, you never would have died.
In life I loved you dearly, in death
I love you still. In my heart you hold a space
where no one can ever fill.
It broke my heart to lose you,
but you didn’t go alone.
Part of me went with you
the day God took you home.

Q: What are good ways to memorialize your horse?

Have a piece of his tail turned into a keychain, bracelet, or necklace. Create a photo book with all your favorite pictures of him. Get a custom plaque or gravestone.

foal with heart shaped star

Source: Canva

Parting Thoughts

Finding your heart horse can be as difficult as losing him. If you’re fortunate enough to meet yours in this lifetime, treasure your time together, and, when the time comes, take the time to mourn his loss. And always remember him with a smile.

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Sources

Losing Your Heart Horse: Where Do You Go With a Broken Heart? – The Plaid Horse Magazine

Equine15_is_Mortality.pdf (usda.gov)

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About the author

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Nancy loves retraining off the track Thoroughbreds and working with her dogs!