The Last Goodbye
**Please note- this chapter is sad. If reading to small children, you may want to read ahead to see if it’s appropriate.**
A year later Jenny had to move to a new house so I moved Dan to a new farm about twenty minutes away in Westfield. Bobby Baker, a friend of mine, owned the farm. Bobby had about thirty acres in pasture and an old orchard where he raised a dozen or so Hereford steers. Danny had a good stall in Bobby’s old barn and the company of cattle.
One early spring day the kids and I went to visit Danny and trim his feet. I had the kids sit on the fence and ordered them not to move off that fence while I worked on Danny’s hooves. I cleaned his feet and started filing down a chipped area, then went to get a stump I used as a hoof stand, a few feet away. Dylan slipped down to the ground and ran to hug Danny’s leg. I turned and yelled “Whoa!” I think I startled Dan rather than made him stand still and he started to take a step. I grabbed Dylan by his overalls and pulled him off of Danny’s leg just in time. Dylan got a bruise on the side of his leg but that was all. Dylan was crying, he couldn’t understand how the horse he loved could hurt him. I picked him up and hugged him for a while then walked Dylan over to pat Danny’s nose. They both needed to know everything was all right after such a scary and confusing incident.
The kids and I rode Dan on weekends around the small apple orchard.
There was an old stone wellhead that we could stand on to mount Dan. We had a wide Cavalry saddle with an extra large girth to fit Dan. Sean was old enough to ride by himself and sometimes he took Teresa riding behind him and sometimes all three kids rode at once. I often took Dylan riding and sat him in front of me. Like Sean, Dylan always liked to “steer.” The best part was all the brushing and petting the kids gave Danny. The kids always had a good time and Dan loved the attention.
Once in a while if I needed someone to talk to I would go see Danny by myself and we’d ride through the wooded hills, the way we used to. It was the way I worked things out, talking to Danny.
On my birthday I went to ride Danny alone, a present to myself. I groomed him and rubbed his legs with liniment, the only thing that got those old stiff legs working. When I got him, Danny was at least sixteen years old – we never really knew how old he was – and our relationship lasted fourteen years. By now Danny was very arthritic. His old knees just didn’t work the way they used to. As he walked he loosened up. We went up through the wooded hills behind the farm. It was such beautiful winter’s day. I had to stop and rest Danny more often now that he was aging, his breathing was harder and his legs were stiff. But he had the heart to do anything I asked of him and wanted to keep moving. When we got to the top of the mountain he stood very calmly for a long time as we gazed out over the valley, it was one of those special moments I will never forget. When we got back to the farm I brushed him down, put liniment on his knees and put him back in the pasture. When I started to leave, Danny ran to the fence and nickered to me several times. This was unusual. He seemed to be saying goodbye. I went back and petted him, then I had to go back to town to take care of the kids.
Three days later, late at night, I got a call from Bobby. He said Danny was injured and I needed to get down there right away. I called my girlfriend to come stay with the kids and then the vet so he could meet me there. I jumped in the car and had to control myself not to drive too fast. I cried all the way. When I got to the farm Danny was lying in the snow with a crowd of people around him and truck headlights shining on the area. As I walked up to him and said, “Danny!” he tried to get up so I dove to his head and held him down petting him. The veterinarian John Connolly was there. He said Danny hadn’t moved until I got there but tried to get up when he heard my voice. I was crying and the John took my arm and led me a distance away.
We thought that Danny had been sleeping, leaning against the side of the barn in the sun as he usually did. The ice melted under his feet and he slipped and injured himself badly as he struggled to get up. John said to me, “Danny will never walk right again. It’s time to put him down.”
“I know. That’s why I’m crying,” I said through sobs.
I went back to Danny and held his big head, stroking that long beautiful face. I thanked him for all the love and devotion he had given me. I told him I would love him forever. At last, I told the vet to go ahead. Using a large needle, he gave Danny a huge dose of sodium pentothal. As I held his head that proud heart in Danny kept ticking for a long time. The vet was amazed but I wasn’t. There never was a horse with so much heart.
The next day I went back to the farm to figure out how to bury Danny.
Bobby said there was a construction site a few houses away and maybe the backhoe operator would come help us. Bobby went to talk to him and a half hour later the backhoe was in the farmyard. The operator was a horse owner himself so he understood and wanted to help out.
We chose a place at the back of the farm, under Danny’s favorite big pine tree. The backhoe dug a deep hole and I said goodbye to him for the last time. As the dirt covered the last visible piece of him, I felt a nudge in my back, so strong it almost made me fall forward. It felt just like when Danny and I would play our old boo game. I turned around to see Danny prancing next to the big pine tree. His body was a sheer light and his legs drifted into spirals of sparkly mist. I only saw him for a second but in that moment he told me he was O.K., he was young again, no longer in any pain.
The kids were very sad their old friend was no longer with us. I took them down to the farm and they placed flowers in the snow on top of the grave.
For years afterward every time I went walking, I would hear his heavy thudding footsteps beside me and feel the ground shake with each step. It took me a long time to grieve his loss. We had lived and worked so closely, our bond was stronger than any I have had since with any horse.
I felt untethered not having a horse, so two years later I bought another Percheron that was going down for meat. I called Bobby and asked, “Is my harness still hanging on your barn wall? I just got another horse yesterday and will be needing it.”
Bobby replied in a startled voice, “When did you buy that horse?”
I said, “Yesterday, about one o’clock.”
He said, “Wow, I was in the barn at that time and Danny’s harness fell off the wall. It spooked me!”
I replied, “I guess Danny likes this horse I got.”
My girlfriend named him Goth because he was all black like the young people in town who dressed in black called “gothics”. I had him for twenty years, but that’s another story.
Now my kids are grown and I live on a hay farm in the hills of Western Massachusetts. I have a studio above the tractor barn and sell my landscape paintings around the country. Danny’s harness hames hang next to our kitchen door and Alice’s cream and green cookstove warms our kitchen on cold mornings. My husband Paul and I have five horses, mostly rescues. There is one young horse we’re training that is a half Percheron with bay coloring named Jake. When I ride, I look down to see those black tip ears and black mane against the brown neck and all I can think of is Danny. He was an gentle being who graced my life and I thank him for it. It was an honor to have known him.
to receive email notification when the book is available in print in March 2016! You will not be sent any other emails unless you choose to sign up for my newsletter, and signing up to be notified does not obligate you to purchase. Thank you for your interest!
Estimated price: $25
Estimated date of availability: March 2016
Form: 9 x8 paperback, color
About the author
Jamie Young is an artist whose paintings have evolved from impressionism to expressionism and have appeared in galleries around the country. She has been involved with horses since a young age, almost as long as she has been painting. She grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and studied art at the University of Massachusetts. She was 21 when she found Danny and their life together spanned fifteen years. She now lives on their horse and hay farm in Ashfield, Massachusetts, with her husband, Paul Milani. Jamie’s great-grandparents, Mary Ida and Wilbur Young, developed the original formula for Absorbine liniment, which became the W.F. Young Company, a leading producer of equine products and one that is still owned and run by the Young family. Jamie went on to work in product development for the company. For more information about her art work, go to www.jamieyoung.net.
About the editor
Edie Clark, the editor of this book, has been an editor and writer for the past forty years. She is well-known for her articles and essays in Yankee magazine as well as other publications. She is the author of six books. If it had not been for Danny, Jamie and Edie might never have met. For more information about her work, go to www.edieclark.com.