Somewhere along the line, I heard the term “disaster fatigue.” It was in the mainstream media, at a time when there had been a few devastating natural disasters and a few mass shootings in the same time period, and the newscaster I heard use the term put it in the context of a slowing rate of donations to the Red Cross: The population was so exhausted by the barrage of calamities that they couldn’t feel the pain of them anymore and as such weren’t moved to donate to organizations to help the victims.
A few weekends ago, Danny got a lot of colic, badly and quickly. He was so dire so fast that he wasn’t able to get on the trailer to go to a clinic. We put him down.
I was on vacation.
I’d stepped away from the festivities to take the call. It was relatively quiet where I was, and I hung up the phone and prepared for a breakdown…and it didn’t come. As I write this, it’s been 2 1/2 weeks, and I’ve shed a few tears, but that’s it. And there can only be two explanations: Either I’ve gotten tougher, developing disaster fatigue from 18 months of heartbreak and mayhem and chaos and death, or I’ve gotten so good at saying goodbye to my dreams with Danny that saying goodbye to him altogether just wasn’t that big a reach.
Danny was the right horse at the wrong time. I needed him in my pipeline, as I didn’t have anything in between Johnny and Fender, but I didn’t have the money for him. He’s the first one I borrowed money to buy, which is a pretty stupid thing to do, but he was just so clever, so athletic and so right, that I couldn’t follow my brain and followed my heart instead. He scared the hell out of me, because he was SO fast with his disobedience. He dropped me twice in the course of about a month at age 7. The year before, my assistant trainer Lisa took him to a show because she needed one more score for her bronze medal. He passaged the entirety of the trot tour with his tail over his back. And the year after, at 8, I showed him Prix St. Georges with both hands on the hand brake because I was very seriously concerned that he was going to dump me at X.
So to look at him on paper is not to see the amazing. That show in the summer of his 8-year-old year was the turning point; I realized that I could (mostly) trust him, and I started to ride without fear. By January of his 9-year-old year he was touching everything from Grand Prix in the most amazing effortless way. Had I been someone else I would have turned up the heat and showed him, but I knew better and kept his work basic, just focusing on building strength, so he wouldn’t get hurt.
He got hurt anyway. He recovered. He colicked. He nearly bankrupt me, and then the community of friends and blog readers and internet followers gave me more than I could have asked for, coming to the rescue with a silent auction that yielded the cost of saving his life.
Through it all, Danny was funny, tough as nails and brave. A few months ago, I talked to him via an animal communicator, who told me that he would do anything for his people, and that in spite of injury and surgery, he wouldn’t let any pain hold him back. It didn’t surprise me in the slightest. And as such, the greatest kindness Danny ever gave me was letting his end be so clearly the right decision, with no waffling, no slow decline, no wondering if we’d made the right call.
This blog has taken me two weeks to write not because it’s been too painful, but because I’m just out of clever or wise things to say. The disaster fatigue hasn’t taken away my ability to laugh or experience the joy in how well my other horses are going or how well my students are doing or my rich and happy life outside of the barn; it’s just left me with nothing else to say on the subject. I’m grateful, as always, to my amazing staff and to all who’ve sent notes and cards, both friends and strangers.
Hug your horses close, and also your people. Life is short and wild and beautiful.