equine grief

“Perhaps it was through her own experience of loss and grief that she was able to empathize with others who were having a difficult time.”

Carmen, one of our favorite show mares, was expecting her third foal, and we were all very excited. Carmen was a big, beautiful chestnut and a real people-lover. Her previous foals had been easy, fifteen minute deliveries. Then one night our ranch manager came and knocked urgently on our door. He was very upset. Carmen was having some problems with her delivery. We quickly went down to help her, but the baby was lodged. We tried to reposition the foal, but it was impossible. We called the vet, and he said to wait until he arrived. He explained that if the baby wouldn’t easily shift, something was seriously wrong. Moving the foal could kill them both.

There was nothing we could do but wait by Carmen’s side and attempt to comfort her. Looking for assurance, Carmen put her head in our laps, and we stroked her.

By the time the vet drove onto the property, the foal had died. The vet needed to work quickly because Carmen was failing. In moments like this, we learned what it means to surrender to the vast power and incomprehensible wisdom inherent in nature.

When she was out of the woods physically, our real work began. Carmen was in great emotional turmoil. She would look all around, calling and crying for her baby. Her eyes were listless, and her head hung low. It was heart-wrenching to see her in such despair. She had always been such a proud and majestic mare. We could see she wasn’t going to bounce back overnight. Her grief and depression continued for months.

During her grief and mourning, she stared blankly and isolated herself. The other mares knew she was distraught, and many tried to comfort her. But Carmen remained aloof.

Then one day, feeling melancholy and grief ourselves, we walked out to the barn for our morning visit. Much to our surprise, Carmen was eagerly waiting for us. She jumped in the air, let out a joyous whinny, and put on a big show for us. We were ecstatic. Carmen had completed her dark night of mourning and was rejoining the living.

Carmen made a complete physical and psychological recovery, but her days of having foals were over. Recognizing her loss and knowing how much she enjoyed mothering, we decided to give her a new role. We put her in charge of many of our human kids. In time, she became one of our most capable healing horses. Perhaps it was through her own experience of loss and grief that she was able to empathize with others who were having a difficult time. She took a special interest in all youngsters, both human and animal, and extended to them her caring nature. Carmen went on to lead a productive, fulfilling, happy, and healthy life.

From the book Horses and the Mystical Path, Copyright © 2004 by Adele von Rüst McCormick, PhD, Marlena Deborah McCormick, PhD and Thomas E. McCormick, MD. Reprinted with permission from New World Library, www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657, ext. 52.