November 14, 2013

Life on the Farm: Mourning Murphy

There is so much life on this farm that makes me happy. Every morning the hens are lined up on the bench outside the kitchen window, waiting for our leftover toast from breakfast. Then there are our twin black kittens. I still call them kittens, but they are now full-sized at 18 months old. They are so deferential to my kids’ treatment of them – last night Coco built Dizzy a hammock and made him spend the night in it and he obliged her – but then they go outside and they are both badass hunters. The kittens also defer to Ginger, who sees them as competition for food and affection and does her best to ignore them. But they LOVE her and spend a lot of time either seducing her into paying attention to them or stealing her food or her bed. And she lets them.

But the real heart and soul of our farm is the horses. We live amongst these beautiful, oversized, prehistoric creatures. We sit on them as they carry us around the countryside, as if we were flying. We love them. We fear them. We revere them. They live for many decades (often three or more), far longer than the other pets. Last week we had 9 horses. Now we have 8. Murphy died this Tuesday. We put him down. He was easily 30, and he had been losing teeth for years. Each year we would debate whether or not he would live another winter, and he always would. But the stakes got higher and higher as he got thinner and more frail. He could no longer eat the hard food that the other horses enjoyed in the winter. We’d have to soak his food for an hour so he could slurp it up. And even then he couldn’t get it all in. His belly would swell from the lack of proper digestion, but his hips and shoulders were so emaciated. When all the other horses trotted across the field, he shuffled slowly, as if in pain. We just couldn’t imagine him losing any more weight as he inevitably would this winter.

Murphy had been my niece’s horse for a time, and she quickly outgrew him. And then I rode him, and then my little sister rode him, and then our houseguests and friends rode him. He was a fixture on the farm, as was Mr Teddy before him, and as Polo and Sailor are now. They serve us well, and we keep them around long after their prime has come and gone. Each time I drive by them in the field, I roll down my window and say hello to them. They really are our family here.

Christopher and I have never seen a horse put down, and we both felt compelled to watch. It was horrible. Really, truly horrible. But I’m glad I was there to take responsibility for the decision we had made. I managed not to cry in front of the groom and the huntsman, but afterwards I took Ginger for a walk and let the tears flow. Later in the day, I dug up pictures of all of us with Murphy at one time or another. And of course, we have his superstar moment on the cover of the J Crew catalogue. I showed all the photos to the kids at dinner that night. They had cried on and off for three days. But there was this one picture of Murphy trotting across a field, maybe 7 or 8 years ago. Coco couldn’t believe that it was him. His happy, healthy self was completely unrecognizable to her. That’s when I knew we’d done the right thing.

Even though Zach is not so big on riding, he loved Murphy. It was impossible not to.
We decided that we’d have a family ride last Christmas to say hello to all our neighbours. Murphy was my loyal steed that day. It was muddy and cold, but we had a great time.
This is my favorite photo of Murphy. I took it around this time last year.
I think it was my little sister Phoebe (on the left) who loved Murphy the most. She spent every summer from age 13-18 with us here on the farm and she always rode Murphy. She thought he was the bomb. And yes that’s a young Miss Coco on the pony in the middle.
I’m tempted to say this was the only time Christopher ever got on Murphy, but actually I remember once when Coco was very very little. I was riding Murphy and Christopher was walking along side us. Coco said she wanted to see a horse gallop, so I jumped down, Christopher got on, and he blasted away up the gallops on Murphy. Coco was delighted.

 

Young Murphy, in all his glory.

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K. Roe
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3 years 5 months ago

What a lovely tribute. Great photos. You have inspired me to get back in the saddle — literally. We have beautiful horses and we don't ride anymore. Too busy. If I do it, my husband will too. I love your blog but have been away from it for a while. Got a new laptop. Lost my favorites. Got a puppy, etc. But I'm so happy to find it again. I left the city for country life a decade ago and you help me remember why I did it. It's wonderful. Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences.

Lara
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Lara
3 years 5 months ago
I'm so sorry for your loss. I understand the pain; I lost my little Morgan mare last Valentines day. She was 33 and I got her for Christmas when she was 5 and I was 12. I was fortunate enough to live in the country so that I could keep her with me and when I moved away after college my mom took over her care so that she would always stay with us. We had so many great times. I did not watch as she was put down, I couldn't do it. You gave Murphy a wonderful tribute.
Megs
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3 years 5 months ago

Grieving with you. What a profoundly beautiful post, thank you for sharing this with your readers, and for your gentle, human, approach to life & living fully. Your words bring joy, even in the darker moments. Sending comfort from Arizona.

Heidi
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Heidi
3 years 5 months ago

Im so sorry for your loss. Murphy looks like he was a wonderful guy, all things to all people.

I have a 27 year old quarterhorse who was recently very ill. he has been my companion and heart for the past 15 years. The keeper of my secrets and my buddy. I couldnt stand the thought of losing the old gentleman. He is coming back nicely though now and is back to his sweet and cuddly self. I dread the day i have to make that decision though. I admire your courage.

Debra GW
Guest
3 years 5 months ago

So sad to lose what I consider a family member. Still teary.

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