The week after the chestnut mare was put down last November, the veterinary hospital sent a card and a packet of wildflower seeds – now that was a great idea. When my Arabian mare was buried back in 2014, I’d wanted to plant a beautiful tree on top to mark the spot, but the cattle found any human attempt to grow a seedling tree irresistible and promptly removed anything like that. We considered rigging up a small temporary electric fence, but then needed the back-up energiser unit to do exactly that around our new solar bore. What to do?
Wildflower seeds – so obvious in hindsight! So when they sent that packet of Australian Everlastings, I planned on splitting the seeds between the two grave sites when the winter rains set in. And now they finally have.
So yesterday was Flower Memorial day. In the early afternoon, I packed the old dinner fork I use for planting out seedlings and seeds in the vegetable garden into my pocket, along with the seed packet, and told the dog we were going for a walk. This is when a lovely thing happened.
Julian, who had been grazing with his herd, saw we were leaving and made a beeline straight for us. He and I greeted each other, and then he decided to tag along! He simply came walking with us, at liberty, away from the pasture and the other horses, around behind the house and onto the central sand track that leads through our bushland conservation area and down to the gates with our southern neighbours.
It’s a really special thing when a horse just decides to go for a walk with a human and a dog. Julian, of course, loves to explore and at 17 is the youngest member of his herd – and with a lifetime of being locked into his loose box and small sand run by himself day in, day out until he came here last November, he has a lot of lost time to make up for. When he first arrived, he fell in love with all the space of his giant natural playground, and thrived on being social in a herd – but would leave the grazing herd to walk here and there and sniff this and that and do big exploratory loops around the place, looking with great interest at various things in succession. If I came out of the house to do some work in the treeline, for instance, and the herd was a collection of little dots grazing at the far end of The Common, pretty soon a bay horse with a blaze and socks would be heading in my direction to come and see what I was doing, and just to have a “chat”.
It’s moments like these that I have treasured since we bought this place in 2010 – horses very much set free at our place, with 62ha to roam, watching them enjoy this and each other day in, day out, and that they are always choosing to take the time to come and touch base with me. If I want the horses and they are far away, I just call them, and then come sounds of distant thunder that soon distinguish into hoofbeats, as the group comes running up like a bunch of racehorses, which of course they all are. It’s a spectacular sight to see them running like this.
So today, Julian accompanied me halfway to my first destination up the central sand track, and I was chatting to him and showing him bush grasses he could eat, and he was looking at me and sniffing things I held out to him and putting his muzzle softly against me from time to time, the same way a friend might put his hand on your shoulder occasionally. I explained that I was going to put flower seeds in the ground for the girls, whom he both knew by sight from back in the old days. It doesn’t matter that they don’t get all of what we say to them, because they get so much from it – and they learn so much about you when you chat to them. They enjoy it anyway, playing their ears at the sound and looking at you with those little pleasure crinkles around their eyes, so I tend to tell them things.
Halfway to my first destination, there was a sudden and alarming ruckus coming from the local access road, and Julian took to his heels. He wasn’t particularly alarmed – this horse was never very spooky – but racehorses seem to enjoy having excuses to run, so off he went at speed, back down the sand track to the pasture. I was left with a smile on my face at this little interlude.
Five minutes later I turned left onto a little bush track. Soon I was on charred ground with large bones scattered around. The fire came through here in May when it flared into the swamp, but you can still see the spot where we laid the chestnut mare on the earth the day she died. Where her belly was there is a flat patch of manure, and into this I planted some of the flower seeds. Most of them, I planted in a number of scattered clumps around the area where she had lain. And as I was making the little grooves with my fork and scattering seeds and tamping moist earth back over them, I talked to the mare. Obviously she couldn’t hear me, but that’s not the point. You know how they say, Write a letter to someone who has done bad things to you expressing all you feel and then don’t send it, this was for you? It was kind of like that, but also a nice thing to do in her memory, to tell her what I would tell her if she could hear me.
So I told her I was glad I knew her, and glad to look after her for the last three years of her long life. Glad of the freedom she had here, and the friendships, and the room to roam. Glad she was re-united with her only foal here for her last three years, and their enjoyment of that reunion. I told her how she’d helped Sunsmart over the loss of his first best buddy, the Arabian mare, whom I was going to bring the other half of the seeds. How it was the grey mare’s passing that made the room for us to retire her and her brother, and how her own passing had made a space for a horse who really appreciated it – Julian, who’d come halfway to her grave area with me just then and who is now walking where he chooses and no longer lonely in his new life. How death was sad but made room for more life, and how she was going to make flowers bloom, and if this seed packet didn’t take, I’d bring out more until they did. How she had made the birds fly when she died, and stopped living things from being hungry.
And I thanked her for looking after the herd as lead mare after the herd was bereft of their original lead mare, and for producing Sunsmart all those years ago and looking after him, a wonderful horse who takes me places on his back and has had all sorts of adventures with me in the wider world for nearly ten years. How I was taking good care of him and always would. And that I missed her, and her lovely personality and her friendly cuddles and nuzzles, and scratching her itchy spots.
How I missed the grassy smell of her breath when she sniffed my face, and her bright chestnut shape so like her French grandmother’s, and that floaty trot and the way both of them dropped their hindquarters and went base wide when really gathering speed. How I’d loved to watch her doing that in the paddock, and how it had reminded me of my first horse whom I had lost in great sadness and much too soon a long time ago, but whose death had allowed them to live in turn. And how there was always life, and how even in death you are part of that life, a physical part of it in other living creatures, in birds and flowers and butterflies, but also in all the legacies you’ve left behind and in the minds and memories and lives of those who knew you, whom you are still affecting. How she had contributed even to the culture of her herd and changed it in ways that still persist with her gone. How her friendliness and affection towards others had softened the whole lot of the boys I was left with. And how when I was thinking of her, I was thinking good things.
I then took my leave and continued on the central sand track to the back of our property, and turned left along the boundary, and left again into a little area where we had buried the Arabian mare. On a patch of raised dirt there, I made her a sort of headstone of flowers while I talked to her about her life and times, and life in general, and thanked her for being my childhood companion and being my friend right through to middle age, my longest-standing continuous friend, over three decades of friendship and adventures that had given me such freedom in difficult times, and that I was so glad to have brought her home for her last three years, to freedom and friendships, and if I had to bury her, to have buried her at home, where I would always live and where I’d like to be buried myself alongside them.
Then the dog, who’d been watching me planting, wagged her tail and started digging a hole, which made me laugh. She also does this in the vegetable garden when I’m planting out, or harvesting potatoes. “Look, I’m helping!” And when I laughed, she wagged her tail more and started digging very theatrically, with sideways glances in my direction, and I laughed even more, and she started making assorted growly noises while digging furiously. I went over to her and thanked her for her contribution, let her sniff the seed packet, which she did with great interest, partly backfilled her crater, and then scattered the last of the flower seeds in that loose earth before covering them lightly with more earth. The dog and I had a cuddle and an impromptu game, and then we both went on our way, walking a loop of bush tracks and enjoying each other, the sun and air, the ground beneath our feet and the sky above and the life all around us.
To see the other forms of life to which our girls are now contributing out on the conservation reserve, here is a selection of beautiful flora and fauna amongst which they now are:
Red Moon Sanctuary Flora and Fauna
A song which conveys what I wanted to with these words.