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Julia Khan

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How to Cope When You Lose Your Partner in Crime

Photo by Nicole Pfeiffer Photography.

All of us readers of EN know what it’s like to be in love. We experience it everyday with our animals. For us, horses are not just a pet. They’re also the backbone to our sport, our teammate, our best friend, and our partner in crime. So what happens when they get ripped away from us?

On Monday, October 9th, I lost my best friend. Think Big (Elmo) had been by my side for over a year, but it felt like an eternity. Together we had undergone numerous challenges and triumphs. Losing him was my biggest challenge yet, and I would have to face it without him by my side.

This isn’t only about Elmo though. This past week I have received unbelievable support from family, friends, and the incredible horse community via social media. I have heard numerous stories from those that have also lost their lovely horses. It’s unfair. I wanted to share how I have been getting through it.  This is about how to cope; although, it is different for everyone. So here is my version: the do’s and do not’s of grieving the loss of a horse.

Photo by Colin Khan.

Do’s

  • Do cry, and cry a lot. Take the time to miss your horse. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that
  • Do take time to yourself. People will bombard you about what happened and how sorry they are for your loss. Unfortunately, some people will not understand why it hit you so hard. They will question why you are so upset, so do avoid them at first.
  • Do go back to the barn when you are ready (this was the hardest for me to do). Pick a time where you know there will not be many people and go. Being surrounded by horses has a healing power. The negative to this is that your horse won’t be there. You will walk by their empty stall expecting to see them in there. It hurts. You’ll cry. At the barn,  you may see people who understand, and you will most likely get some big hugs. Your barn is part of the family, and chances are they miss your horse, too.
  • Do keep busy. At first, I refused to leave my bed. I now thank my best friends for getting me out and active. Dwelling on it does not change anything that happened. You have to keep occupied to avoid the hurt. This does not mean you are forgetting, just healing
  • Do accept the love. Everyone feels for you. Once the word gets out, you may have flowers showing up at your door or maybe even cupcakes. The horse world is here to support you, so let them.
  • Do allow yourself to heal. No one is expecting you to be okay.

Do not’s

  • Do not feel guilty when you begin to cry less often. Moving on is okay — it does not mean that you are forgetting.
  • Do not reject a hug. You may not want people to hug you, but you will feel better after. I promise.
  • Do not rush into anything. Healing is important, and only time will allow for that.  
  • Do not avoid the pain. There will be triggers that cause you to break down, or your heart may hurt at the sight of something. That isn’t bad. Those are just memories coming to the surface. Allow them to fill your heart with joy — those memories are good.
  • Do not give up. If you had a dream to compete at the 4* level then keep trying, and when you get there do it for your beloved horse. If you had a dream to compete novice then do it. If this is what you love to do, do not let heartbreak stop you. But as I said, take your time to get there. Take your time to heal.

Now, I know some of this sounds a bit ridiculous. I agree. I never thought I would be able to return to the barn and see Elmo’s empty stall.  I never thought I would stop crying. I did not think that I could go another day without seeing him. I didn’t think I could survive it, but I did. I have returned to riding; although, everyday I wish that I could give Elmo once last hug, or ride him one last time.

It still hurts; I think there will always be a hole in my heart that I will never be able to fill. I have come to realize that the hole is good. The emptiness of it is also full of the love between us. As riders we form an unbreakable bond with our horses, and that never goes away even after they are gone.