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ON GRIEF... THE LOSS OF MY MARE, CUPCAKE

Instead of writing about myself I try to use this blog as a way to highlight the amazing people who make up Herd of Zebras. By now if you have been following our journey on Instagram and Facebook you know a few things about me already.

-        I am a passionate person. Passionate about my animals, my family, and the people I love but also about building a brand for like-minded people.
-        My sister in law, Liz, is the other half of Herd of Zebras; a creative mastermind and my best friend.
-        I live for my horses. They are what keep me motivated and keep me, simply, me.

On May 7th I lost my Irish Sport Horse mare, Cupcake, during a lesson at the farm where I board my horses.  This was just two days before we were to leave for our first show together. This may be graphic and I could go into far more detail about how this situation played out but I will keep it short. Cuppy had felt off that day. Not physically but just in her behavior and I could tell something was wrong. My instructor and I were trying to work through some things.  When we both became uneasy I hopped off and put her on the line for a few minutes before we continued that day’s lesson. What happened, minutes later was nothing short of a nightmare. Once she was attached to the line she stopped, did not want to move forward then as if in slow motion reared straight in the air, and fell flat on her head/ back. It was that insane silence that hovered after the sound of her hitting the ground that will always make me feel physically sick. Once her body hit the ground blood starting coming out of her ears like someone turned on a sink and she began to seize. She died five minutes later.

I went back and forth about if I should describe what happened to her but in order to me to use this blog as a way to unpack my emotions, I found it necessary.

To say this was one of the worst days of my life seems like an understatement. It was clearly horrific and I pray that no one ever has to see their beloved pet leave this life the way I did. I have been struggling with the loss and all the emotions that come with it.  I have lost many animals in my life time, including Bling, my big unicorn of a mare at the beginning of 2018 who I loved deeply. But this was so different than the peaceful way Bling left this world surrounded by love. This was one of my worst nightmares coming true right in front of my eyes and I could do NOTHING to help my mare.

Here are some truths I have learned since losing Cupcake. I hope that if you ever have to deal with this type of unexpected loss (I pray you don’t) these will help you.

Grief comes in waves that can knock you out for days at a time. 

After the accident I slept for nearly a week. I did not want to get up out of bed. I did not eat to eat or talk to anyone. And I certainly did not want to go to the farm.

Your body can become exhausted in ways you didn’t know were possible. 

You can cry so hard that your eye lids will chap and your body will stop producing tears until you least expect it. I don’t think I have ever cried so much in my life as I did the week after losing Cupcake. Sometimes I would feel fine and others a total mess. For someone who does not cry a lot and doesn’t like to cry, this was exhausting. It is okay to spend days in your bed. But you have to get up at some point. Often times before you feel ready. But as the saying goes, life does in fact go on.

It is okay to be off social media and not respond to calls/ texts.

The people who love you will understand, or just show up at your house to make sure you are still breathing. Take time for you. As much time as you need. Sometimes you just need to put your phone away for a while.

It is okay to be angry. 

Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve having all my hard work taken from me? Am I cursed?  Why does something like this happen to such a young animal that was finally, after a year of struggles really coming along? Why don’t the horses that have “ghost” owners die instead of my horse I see nearly every day? What the F*@K.

Grief is not selfish. 

I have felt so damn selfish through my grief and then have an overwhelming sense of guilt for feeling this way.  I was days away from my first show with my mare when she was taken from me. I wanted to show again. I wanted a summer of clinics, trail rides, and bigger fences. There were so many things that I wanted to experience with this horse that now are simply day dreams of what was to happen.

You are allowed to be sad for yourself. This has been really hard for me to wrap my head around.  But I am now able to identify that when Cupcake died so did a part of me… and it really sucks.

Trust your intuition. 

If something doesn’t feel right with your horse GET OFF. This is something I normally do not do. I always try to work through an issue I am having but I can’t express how thankful I am that I trusted how I felt and that I listened to my instructor.  Please, please, please, if you ever have any feeling something could go really wrong, don’t be a hero.  Just get off the horse.

Being scared normal.  

This whole situation has me really freaked out. This was the first time in my life with horses (27 crazy years of riding) that I know if I would have not gotten off the horse, I would be dead. There is no way I could have lived (or worse been left paralyzed) with the impact of her weight on my body. That realization is terrifying.

You don’t have to do anything you are not ready to do. 

About ten days after Cupcake died, I forced myself to get on my 24-year-old retired jumper, Rudolf, and go for a hack. I didn’t want to ride. I am still not wanting to ride, but I know I have to get on or I will stop riding completely. I stood on the mounting block for what felt like hours before hopping down and walking Dolf around the outdoor for a while. I cried. I wanted to go home. But I got on and rode.

Lean on your loved ones. You would do the same for them.

If I have learned anything through this it has been that I am so amazingly #blessed with the amount of people in my life who love me. My barn family has been supportive to the point I still can’t wrap my head around. I am so so lucky to have my horses in a place where everyone supports, loves, and lifts each other up; especially when tragedy hits. I will always be grateful to the people who were at the barn when this happened and took care of things for me when I was in shock. They made a horrible day a bit more bearable by being there.

Family is always there.

After the accident happened, I called my mom, who was just about to leave with my father for NYC for the week. They dropped all their plans and my mom got to the barn in record time. My dad came over when I got home and let me hug him while I sobbed and helped me with every step of dealing with the insurance claim.

Terri, the breeder of Cupcake and Bindi, has become a family member. I called her right after my mom arrived.  All I could do was say I am sorry over and over to her. She was with Cupcake when she took her first breaths and loved that little mare like crazy. I thought for sure she was going to want nothing to do with me after this but once again her kindness and love showed through.

Liz and her 14-year-old daughter, Bryn (who deeply in loved Cuppy), showed up for me when I needed them the most. Liz and  Bryn intervened when I said I wanted to sell Bindi (my three-year-old ISH who is a half sibling to Cupcake) and be done. They came over even though I told them to stay home because I wanted to be alone.

You know you have a good man when he understands your love of horses.

I called Dan moments after sobbing and hysterical. This is now the second horse I have lost during our time together and in both situations, he has been my rock. His calm energy and support have reaffirmed why I love this man (among many other reasons) and shows how genuine his feelings for me are. Although, after this, I am sure I really will never get him on a horse.

There is no timeline for grief.

I am not done mourning Cupcake or the dreams I had for us. I do not think I ever will be. But I do know that I have a wonderful support system, animals that I need to show up for now, and the will to keep moving forward with my riding.

I am so grateful for the time I had with Cupcake. She taught me so much about patience, love, and hard work. She always tried for me. I will miss (and do, so damn bad) her deeply.

Thank you for warning me something was wrong, Cup. I am so glad I listened to you and  so grateful for the time we had together although it was far too short. I will always love you. 

Hug your animals (and humans) today. 

Warmly,
Forest