Grieving and Loss Crosses all Boundaries: Including Horses and Eating Disorders

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As many of you may know, we took our 16 month old Walking Horse filly, Jazz-a-Belle, to training last Wednesday, July 3.  We had carefully selected the trainer to “start her” since we knew that it was time for her to begin her training or schooling.  All were in agreement, after careful consideration, that she was now ready for the next stage of her learning process – professional “finishing.”  Although we were ready for this process, and had become so over a period of time, there was no way for us to prepare her miniature horse pasture mate, Angel, for her departure.

As we were loading Jazz in the trailer Angel stood quietly and made no fuss.  Yet over the following days she became more despondent and spent a great deal of time lying down in a corner of the pasture near where she and Jazz ate their meals.  She has made little effort to come over to the fence to interact as she had in the past.  Throughout the day you can see her lying in the corner of the pasture flat on the ground, causing a great concern for all of us.  But in time she will perk up again and things will return to her “normal”.  Tomorrow she will be joined by another equine friend that she has shared a pasture with in the past.

Grieving our personal equine loss is extremely painful, however, watching our equine friends grieve their loss is emotionally challenging as well.

A number of years ago I mentioned to our trainer that I was looking for a pleasure horse to ride on field trials.  He invited me to come and look at a 2 year old Walking Horse that was very settled and had been eliminated from the potential of being a performance horse.  I made the two hour drive to the barn early one morning and walked in to see one of the most beautiful horses I had ever seen (to that day or this) standing in the cross ties.  I had no idea that this was indeed the horse that I had come to see, but immediately felt drawn to him.  I walked over and instantly felt connected.  I then learned that this was to be my next equine partner.  Collector and I spent the next seven years together and learned to move as one.  We rode for miles; sometimes at the waters edge and other times meandering through plantation properties or cantering after the dogs as they searched for birds.

All was well until one morning when all the horses came to the barn for breakfast except Collector.  I began to look for him only to discover that he had broken his leg and that he had sustained compound fractures.  The sight was too horrific to describe and one that I would not want anyone to ever be subjected to.  However, Collector refused to stand still and hobbled toward the barn disregarding my plea to be quiet.  The vet came immediately and confirmed the inevitable.  There was no way to save his life.   My husband, the Vet and I stood together and said a tearful goodbye to a beloved and cherished traveler.   I decided to allow the other herd members an opportunity to grieve their loss as well.  Closing the gate that separated their  pasture from the adjoining pasture with Collector,  we turned the other horses out of their stalls and stood back.  They slowly walked in line with the dominant horse first and the order of the herd followed.  The leader stood about 30 feet from the gate that separated the pastures while the others stood about equal distances apart in a quiet reverence.  They stood silent and motionless for over half an hour.  The rest of the day they remained quiet and none of them finished their feed for almost a week.

Grief is a strange and unique process.  One that holds great significance regardless of what we have lost.  There may be times that we need to give our selves permission to know that we are hurting and that it is ok to be sad.   We also need to be mindful that others may not understand our loss but that does not mean that it is not real – even if it is “just a horse” or “only the thought of life without an eating disorder”.   It can be said that the loss of a dear equine partner is truly a loss where the loss of an eating disorder has meaningful benefit.  How true that is, but, unfortunately the eating disorder victim has had some previous experience with their eating disorder that seemed to have brought temporary relief.  Others have had their eating disorder for such a long period of time that life without is very unfamiliar.  This can bring uncomfortable feelings a well.  But  we know that there is a blessing that has been promised to all of us; we have been created with the incredible ability of surviving our feelings.  This is true for all losses real or perceived, and especially for surviving the irrational thoughts, self doubt, and self dislike that accompanies Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorders.

~Lynda A. Brogdon, Ph.D., C.E.D.S., C.E.A.P.

Canopy Cove’s Eating Disorder Treatment Programs offer compassionate, comprehensive treatment for females, males, adolescents, and adults, who are struggling with Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorders and Co-Existing Diabetes, Depression, and Anxiety. Equine-Assisted Therapy is an weekly part of the Recovery process at Canopy Cove.

Call us today at 1-800-236-7524 to speak to a qualified representative!