Heartbreak: Merlin Leaves Me

Heartbreak:  Merlin Goes Home To Visit His Real Owners For A Horse Show

The reality of only half-leasing Merlin hit me when he stopped eating.

Half-leasing entitled me to lessons with Merlin three times a week with a trainer.  It allowed me the privilege of grooming him and tacking him up (skills my daughter mastered in summer horse camp and taught to me.)  It did not mean I owned him nor had any rights to him.

Merlin was owned by a the Thatcher School, a wonderful boarding school that offers an outstanding equestrian program to high school students that come from all over the world.  Merlin was on loan to Far West Farms because Thatcher did not have any student riders for him.  If they ever did, Merlin would go back to them.  This thought was never far from my mind.

From time to time, the school had come to take Merlin back to be used in their own horse shows.  Merlin, a former show horse himself, never seemed to mind.  In fact, Thatcher School is beautiful, fantastic, and if I were a horse, it is definitely one of the places where I would want to be.

One morning, I got a call from Kathy, our barn manager.  She knew how much Merlin meant to me so she wanted me to know he was going back to his school for a week for a show.  She had just found out and the school was already enroute to pick him up.  I raced out of the house as fast I could and arrived at the barn just as Merlin was being loaded into a trailer.

I went to the side of the trailer and saw him, head down, standing quietly like the good boy he is.  I said his name, so happy that I was able to see him before he left for a week.  The sound of my voice was met with a frantic, loud bellowing whinny, head bobbing and pawing.

It was then I fully realized Merlin was just as bonded to me as I was to him.  He did not want to leave this time.

It was one of the longest weeks of my life and every time I passed by his empty stall I choked back tears.  Merlin had eased a horse-shaped void in my heart and now it felt empty again.

Missing him was not just sad — it physically hurt.  It hurt as much as when I suddenly made the decisions to whisk my children away with me to find safety and build a new life 2,300 miles away from an abuser.  I felt like my world had been violently taken from me then — and I felt those same intense feelings of loss and helplessness again now.

Kathy, who is one of the nicest people on the planet and is totally crazy about horses — especially the unlovelies — knew I wanted to make Merlin my forever horse someday and had told me when I was ever serious about buying him to let her know.  We had already had frank discussions about the financial commitment to an older horse; the long-term care required when Merlin was retired and could not ride with me.  Merlin was old and did not have many riding years left.  I did not care.  I walked into her office the day after he left and said, “I cannot stand the thought of Merlin ever going away again.  I’m serious.  I want him to be my forever horse.”

Merlin after he stopped eating for a week.

Seeing Him Come Back Hurt Even More

Merlin returned five, forever-long days later.  I was there within minutes when I heard the good news but my heart broke when I saw him.  He was desperate to see me, anxious, and clingy.  He had lost weight and no small amount.

It is very important to make clear that Merlin’s owners were wonderful, caring, and responsible.  Merlin had been “home” several times and always done well in the past.  But this time was different because he had developed a bond with someone (me) and as he was getting older and more set in his ways, he was not as adaptable to changes in his routine.  He clearly suffered as much separation anxiety as I did.  While he was away he simply stopped eating enough to sustain his weight.

I learned that horses can lose weight rapidly – 50 pounds or more in a week.  And, that it can take months to gain it back.  This was the case with my Merlin.

I never felt so helpless in all my life.  I knew he was going to go back again in a month and I was worried about his weight — so worried I did not ride him for a few days to make sure was eating again and then went light because he was still getting out for other lessons.  Our barn manager immediately increased his food, and was just as concerned as I was about his weight and his separation anxiety.

Kathy was Merlin’s best advocate.  She contacted his owners, made a plea for them to sell him to me, and made it possible for Merlin and I to be together forever.

Thank you, Kathy for all your support, love and help in making my horse dreams come true.  And thank you, Jeff, my darling husband, for being so supportive and wonderful about adding Merlin to our family before you had come to love him yourself.  And, thank you to Thatcher School, who owned Merlin for years and cared for and loved him before I even knew about him.  Thatcher demonstrated true compassion by letting Merlin go to become a privately owned horse.  I will be forever grateful to you all.