By Susan Smith – In Loving Memory – April 12. 1989-August 15. 2015 Khami, my bay Arabian gelding of 26 years, passed away quickly today of what appeared to be a heart attack. He was doing what he loved to do, running with his beloved herd, when he collapsed and died shortly after.
This horse was one of the greats; he carried me and sometimes my friends through nearly 2,000 endurance competition miles, countless conditioning and pleasure rides, always with joy and a sense of humor. This was a horse who loved life to the fullest. In his retirement he taught all my grandchildren to ride. I’m still in shock at his passing, but grateful he went out doing something fun. I took photos of him minutes before his death, having no idea this would be the last time I saw him run on earth. I have owned this horse for 20 years and I truly can’t imagine life without him. He will be greatly missed by both human and his horse herd. Bye, Buddy, see you on the other side.
As I have done for as long as I can remember, I write my way through grief, not knowing any other way to really process that deep sorrow and loss at something happening beyond my ability to change, something so precious being taken suddenly from me.
I wrote this eulogy on Saturday. This morning I awoke with deep pain in my heart, and the feeling from my Arabian mare Zuzka that she experiences his leaving in her heart as well, as deep and red, and she can feel it coursing through her veins. I want to feel it with her, not because I want to wallow in pain, but because he was so important to us and we can honor his passing together. Zuzka has known Khami since she came to live with me. He has been part of her life for 17 years.
I am feeling what Patches feels, who has known Khami for the past four years. They became fast friends, as they both love to goof around. With Khami, Patches found his inner foal and became young and light again. For Khami, he found in Patches a soulmate who would engage in boyish behavior that mares don’t want any part of.
Khami came into my life when I was in sorrow about my mare Opal, who was diagnosed with malignant melanomas. I needed a riding horse, but it became very clear very quickly that I had a very loyal and playful companion in him. He loved trails and loved to camp.
I took him everywhere. We did years of endurance, rode many mountain ranges and deserts, took jumping lessons with a class of little girls, participated in the Buckaroo Ball event out at the Eaves Ranch, where he was the only Arab in a sea of Quarter Horses. As one attendee said, “That ain’t no western horse; that’s an A-rab!” The man was indeed, correct about that one, and we leapt and jigged all along the lines of entering cars, greeting everyone.
He was an easy horse in so many ways; yet he was fiery and mischievous but could be completely focused when he had a job to do. He was loyal and devoted, and a great caretaker, while at the same time being a rascal.
What gives me comfort about his life is that he died as he lived, with great exuberance and joie de vivre. I can’t think of a more fitting way for him to go out, and yet I am still heartbroken at his passing. I feel him all around me. I have stories, memories and photos from 20 years together, all the many places we went, the moments and miles shared. He taught me to trust, to expand my heart, to laugh at myself, to be as fearless and bold as he was.
Spending many years with a horse really deepens relationship to the point of bottomlessness. Khami and I know everything about each other, we are in each other’s pockets, on all dimensional levels. He was a very well-adjusted, self-confident horse, and I’m honored to have given him a good life for all these years.
Before he died, a friend and I were talking about someone who expected to have a relationship – devotion from a horse she had just gotten from the shelter. We talked about the deepening stages of relationship – how it doesn’t happen over night, and can take longer with horses who have been damaged in life. Some people seek relationship but they often don’t really want to take the steps to attain it. I would hope they would try to have patience and love and honor the moment as each one unfolds in getting to know one another.
It doesn’t take 20 years, in fact, it can take far less time, obviously. But it is the quality of it that counts, where both horse and human know they can trust – and wait for – the other.
When I first brought Khami home, we were riding alone over some hills, and he suddenly spooked and I came off. He galloped back to the ranch without me. A couple of years later, the same thing happened somewhere else – I came off, and he jumped around a bit, but stayed with me and waited for me to get back on. And that was how he was always after we got to know one another.
Since we moved, Khami participated fully in our Liberty Workshop a couple of months ago. He knew what each person needed. I was delighted to see this part of his personality develop with other people. It seemed fitting since he has always been a people horse.
Today I let the horses out to graze. They moved from blade to blade, but not with the exuberance of the day before. At first, Zuzka didn’t want to come through the gate, perhaps because her friend had gone through the gate and then not come back the day before. In some ways the horses are better prepared for grief. The horses support each other and me, and their rhythms will help heal the grief that defines us all right now, while the condolences from the human herd also serve to soothe the rough edges of my loss.
Khami was so big in life that I feel his presence everywhere, and I hope it continues, that he will stay with me forever. I never want to forget those inquisitive, mischievous brown eyes, the wiggle of his nose, the way he managed to escape and run around laughing, the way his energy would come up suddenly from a great wellspring of joy and off he would go.
I think of Khami this morning, Monday, of how it was his MO to gallop and leap, and how he galloped joyfully into the afterlife, unaware he was leaving his beautiful body behind.