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The Death of a Horse – Fire-Walking through the Flames of Grief

29 August 2018



~ Remember our boundaries
~ Letting go
~ Grief as initiation and ultimately; re-birth and renewal

The magnificent North Star, who features a lot in my book The Horse Leads the Way because there was simply no other way that book could have come across without his and our experiences together, passed away in November 2017. Just 13 months after coming back into my life so unexpectedly and miraculously.

Here then dear readers, is an update about our experience. In time I shall write more about our last days together as they were utterly different to our first time together, four years before.

One of my favourite parts in The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran is when he talks about our children not being OUR children, but rather, that they come through us and we must allow them to be who they are, and to go in life wherever their own souls’ need to take them. They don’t “belong” to us, we are simply their guardians.

I believe this is also very much the case when it comes to our beloved horses, (or dogs and cats for that matter).

Our horses don’t belong to us either. For a time, we share our lives together and yes, we have certain vital responsibilities just as a parent does, to keep our horses fed, safe, content and well. However, we don’t “own” them, no matter the financial transaction or even the love transaction that took place to bring them into our lives.

No. Instead we are privileged to stand beside them and them us; for a time at least. We are two equal sentient beings, each on our own path and trajectory. Each with a Spirit, purpose and destination of our own that for a time happens to coincide with our own path. But that is all.

This was brought home to me in the grandest of terms last November when I had to walk beside my beloved horse North Star through the fires of death, loss and grief as he made his exit from this world to the next.

Nothing exemplifies this separation of beings more than death.

No matter what I wanted, he had his own decision to make and his own destiny to follow. And yet, we were able to take this decision together, each checking with the other what was needing to happen and asking for each other’s consent for it to be allowed to unfold as was destined. For it was destined. There was NOTHING I could do to stop it. For I am not a God. Somethings ARE out of our control. Except, surrender. And, allow North to be his own horse, with a will and vision all of his own. Separate to mine, and separate to our journey together.

Today, it struck me at 12.15pm, that it is exactly nine months to the day and hour that I held the space for North to die and transition. Nine months. Another gestation period. Remarkably, in recent weeks and days I have been feeling exactly as if a re-birth is happening within me, with renewed energy at last after months of deep healing, grieving and adjusting.

After several weeks of intense pain and stress, North died on the 29th November 2017. His death was not without its omens. Two nights before I had an incredible dream which prepared me for what I was going to have to face very shortly. I dreamt that I had driven my car frantically down a dead-end and very cluttered side-street, which was on high part of a town. I began to reverse quickly and uncontrollably, and before I knew it, I had misjudged the road and driven speedily backwards, right off the edge of the street. I was falling to my death, terrified and utterly unable to do anything to stop this. As I fell fast, I realised two things all at once: That I was completely and utterly out of control and that I was going to die. I panicked, thinking: “Wow, this is it, it was over so quickly…”. With an accompanying huge feeling of sadness and loss as my life sped before my eyes and I took in that I was dying still so relatively young. And then, the most miraculous and healing thing started to happen: I began to surrender to the truth of the situation because, well I had to. My panic began to subside and I began to accept that I WAS dying and that it was the end of my life. Uncannily, the more I surrendered and accepted what was happening, the slower my fall became. Until I was just gently floating down like a feather to the ground, and with a palpable sense of now being back in control. There was one of life’s great paradoxes: The more I accepted I wasn’t in control of my life and death, the more I became in control. Through surrender I was able (or allowed?) to live.

The second omen occurred a couple of days before too. Late at night on the yard, with only me and North still around, two owls suddenly appeared, one chasing frantically after the other, both screeching and both just a few feet above my head. They sped over me. I stood, mouth gaping, heart pounding, trying to take in what I was witnessing. Owls are one of my most potent Power Animals and favourite birds. However, they are also seen in some cultures as omens of death. The fact that one was chasing the other so voraciously seemed to echo my current inner turmoil, part of me wanted to flee, the other part was chasing down that which was the inevitable, or so it was slowly dawning on me.

On that freezing cold day last November, what had been a hugely traumatic and dismembering experience for me on all levels, turned into the most sacred, special and privileged experience I have ever gone through. To hold that space for him, was nothing short of an honour. And, as I look back now I can at last feel the immense relief and privilege it was that it was ME, and no one else, who stood by his side and helped him depart. Thank you God/dess for bring us back together once again so we could enter the fire together and side by side.

Many horse owners get stuck in a mindset of believing that they would never be able to sell or part from their horses. This rigidity of attitude binds them and their horses into a state of enmeshed boundaries, with neither being able to see each’s unique and separate needs and destiny through the mire of dependency.

This is unhealthy for all concerned and it comes about from a deep fear of being in emotional pain and walking head-on into the flames of grief and loss. Both of which are utterly transformative and which you never come out of the same again; thank goodness.

At the end of the day, there is NO greater gift and kindness we can give to a horse than the gift of their departure when they deem it is time to go. To let go rather than hold on through our own fear of the depth of our feelings is the greatest bounty we can bestow to them. We have to be willing to let our heart shatter into a thousand razor-sharp fragments while at the same time as allowing it to fill with more love than we knew we had in us, and hold the door open for them and to say goodbye. And, thank you.

To see this as a privilege is where I feel the real healing happens. To face death head-on and embrace the gift that it is for the one leaving. Then to ultimately realise that it is also a gift of the most precious liquid gold to us too. Well, there simply is no other experience like it, as anyone who has held the space of their beloved ones to depart knows only too well.

So remember Gibran’s words and relate them also to the animals you cherish in your lives as they offer us wise medicine for these times of deep-seated fear and control. Reinstate any boundaries which have lapsed and offer those you love the greatest gift you can; that of self-determination and honour to go when and where they are destined to go.

And, thank you North Star. Once again, thank you for all that knowing you has done for me and for enabling me to become a fire-walker of my own inner-flames of immense love, loss, grief and ultimately, gratitude.

Angela Dunning, 29 August 2018

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