A version of this story appears in my book Secret Animal Business.
It’s Samhain in the southern hemisphere – All Hallow’s Eve — a time for remembering and honouring those beloveds who have left us for other realms. A time when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest. While my daughter paints a cardboard pumpkin, I’m aware that Sollie has come to visit and silently acknowledge his presence.
He’s standing there at the stable in which he died, his round chestnut form filling the doorway. His soul-filled eyes follow me as I take hay to the ponies standing in the yards. He’s grazing in the yard near where he is buried and looks up as I enter the gate, sending me a silent whinny. He already knows that tonight I will conduct a ceremony to honour the first anniversary of his death. That I will light a candle and shed a tear and try to put aside the awful grief I feel at the loss of him in my life. He’s looking forward to that. He never wanted to give me grief.
Sollie is a horse. He arrived one day, twenty three years ago on a visit — a bonny chestnut Australian stock horse with a thick white blaze down his nose and big round soul-filled eyes, that made his first people call him Sorry. My partner and I both fell in love and soon he was ours to love and care for. I didn’t want him to be sorry all his life so I changed his name to Sollie, after the brightness and strength of the sun.
Sollie quickly settled in to life on our farm, and there was an immediate bond between him and me. When we rode he would send me pictures, communicating to me that he would like to run faster or to visit a special place by the creek or even someone’s house. It was the first time I was aware of animals sending me pictures, even though I felt their communications in my body and wondered at their perfect understanding of mine. All the animal companions in my family were doing their best to wake me up to what would become my life’s work. But it was Sollie who got through. Words came quickly after.
When my relationship broke up three years later, I left Sollie on the farm, underestimating the enormity of the bond between us, only knowing that I had to get away. I would visit on weekends and he would seek me out, trotting over to me and telling me that he just wanted to be in my presence. We’d ride the trails as we had before, accompanied only by my dog Reka, but it wasn’t the same. Sollie was playing up. Gone was our spiritual rapport. Sollie would bolt and pigroot and dance all over the place making it hard to mount. He’d take the bit in his mouth and zig zag to try and dislodge me. He’d go underneath tree branches and wipe me against fences. He’d bite. And when I asked him what was wrong, he was silent, looking at me innocently. He wanted to be with me, but riding had become a nightmare.
He didn’t tell me he was being ridden behind my back, how angry he was that I had left, and how much physical pain he was in until much, much later.
My former partner tried to sell Sollie. After all, we were both headed back to the city. Where would either of us keep a horse? But when a man came to test him out, Sollie looked at me with pain in his eyes. “No,” I said, surprising my partner and angering the prospective buyer. “He’s not for sale. Not now. Not ever.”
Sollie and I both felt a sense of huge relief. I fell in love a short time later with a wonderful man who was as sensitive as I was to the world of animals and nature. We sold the farm and bought another. Sollie and the horses came with us.
Sollie and I entered part two of our life together. He’d become a problem horse and I knew why but lacked the horsemanship skills to deal with it. Telepathy wasn’t working because Sol was in denial. According to him, he loved me, he was happy. Nothing was wrong. But I knew there was.
I knew I needed to learn horsemanship, instead of the bush riding I’d been doing since I was six. I was instinctively natural. Not for me was the solution of bigger bits, or anything designed to control a horse through fear and pain. I felt their pain. It was not an option. And so I discovered Parelli Natural Horsemanship and began a path to freedom that was to last Sollie all of the rest of his life.
My first instructor sussed Sollie out. “This guy is a major problem horse. We deal with them in Level 4. You’re just a beginner. I wouldn’t take him on. Start with an easier horse.”
He didn’t realise that I was as stubborn as my horse. I didn’t just want to learn horsemanship, I wanted to be with Sollie. It wasn’t about how good I could get with horses. It was about my relationship with one horse and how I could make that the best it could be. And so we began. And on top of the lessons that taught him and me a new language of mutual respect there was a pathway of the horse that is one of self discovery and leadership skills.
There was also a round of chiropractors and acupuncturists trying to deal with the pain he felt but wouldn’t admit to. For all these treatments he was a perfect gentleman.
Sollie loved it. He loved the clinics and study groups we held at our place, the riding, the games, and all the other horses. Best of all he was home with me where he belonged and he was never alone.
Over the years other instructors told me to get another horse, as Sollie wasn’t going to be physically able to take me on the journey to excellence I’d embarked on. I knew that. But the only horse I wanted to spend time with was Sollie. It was about our love. Our relationship. However when Sollie broke down again with his sore back and hips, I found and rescued Montana, a half starved Appaloosa mare. She was willing and eager to please. A very different ride to Sollie. But after my first session with her, I watched as Sollie warned her off. “She’s mine,” he said.
And later, when he was recuperating in a stable, I saw him telling her to “look after her.” Montana understood and respected our relationship. She agreed.
We moved again to a larger property and our herd of rescued horses had grown to 20. Our place was a sanctuary, a horse heaven where horses roamed freely in huge paddocks and all gentled to our handling. Sollie had a girl friend too, a tiny Shetland called Sam who adored him and was always by his side.
Sollie was no longer a problem horse. He was a saint. Still stubborn and single minded, I’d often have to convince him it was a good idea to go somewhere. He revelled in it. “You need to be more assertive in life,” Sollie told me. “I’m teaching you to be more assertive.”
Every afternoon after work, I’d slip on his bare back and let him graze around the house paddock while I read to him. I’d take him for walks with the dogs and jump on his back to ride home, bareback and bridle-less. I did beautiful bending games with him when I was eight months pregnant and when my daughter was born, he was the first horse she sat on. He adored her and as she grew, it was Sollie who gave her riding lessons. I trusted him completely.
My life still revolved around thinking about Sollie – because he was thinking about me. He was always in my consciousness. We’d go on picnics with Sollie and the other horses and dogs. I’d think of interesting rides we could take and people we could visit. Sollie dominated my world. And we both loved it. He was my stress relief, my joy. He was my down time. He held my heart.
I first noticed something was wrong with Sol when I was in the middle of making my first feature film. We were shooting on our place and the pace was intense. He whinnied at me as I rushed past the pony paddock one afternoon.
“It’s only for three weeks Sol. And we’ve only another week. I’ll be with you soon.”
I kept my promise and before the camera crew left, I had him hanging out with me in the yard. His coat looked off.
That winter he looked like a shaggy sheep dog.
“What’s wrong Sol? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I am well and happy,” he would say.
I got out the acupuncturist vet. “Cushings Syndrome.” she said. “He’ll live two years, probably – there’s no cure and the cost to keep him on allopathic drugs is just prohibitive.”
I’d never heard of Cushings Syndrome but I was sure there was something I could do with alternative therapies. I researched on the net and there was a lot of Cushings horses living happy productive lives.
He went on a strict regime of natural therapies and next time the vet came out she was very impressed. “He’s maintaining very well,” she said. Except for a coat that didn’t shed quite as easily as it had done the year before, there was no sign at all that he was anything but healthy.
But I knew he wasn’t. Sollie was constantly in my head. He wanted his special treats, his meals, attention. He wanted me. Sam was dumped. The herd was dumped. Sollie had become a loner.
One day there was a massive thunderstorm and after it was over I could see all the horses – except Sollie. Heart in my mouth, I called to my husband Andrew to help me find him. I ran for the top paddocks where I knew he liked to go. And the shock of not finding him sent waves of panic through my body.
“There he is,” Andrew said calmly. And I burst into tears of relief. He was grazing quietly by a Hawthorn tree. Alone.
“What are you doing here big buddy?” I asked him.
“Having a snack,” he said.
I slipped on his bare back and headed him home.
Some friends came over for a trail ride and it was suggested that for a ride this long, I should take Montana. But again I felt compelled to ride Sollie. I wanted to be with him and Sollie was telling me he wanted to go. When my daughter wanted to come too, the decision was made. Without anyone calling him, Sollie trotted over, his ears forward. Tamsin was put behind me and the three of us had a joy filled ride on a sunny autumn afternoon. Soul food. Pure bliss. Sollie had a ball and he handled it easily.
It was his last ride.
Soon after he developed a number of health problems. He got laminitis and an abscess in his mouth. It seemed easy to treat but things kept going wrong. Vets couldn’t make it out to our place when they said they would, and when one of my healer friends told me of her dog who had died from an abscess, I felt the chill of premonition.
Sollie was not going to die if I had anything to do with it. I rang every healer I knew and some I didn’t. Every morning I drained his abscess and it was healing beautifully. I tended his feet. He was on a range of alternative therapies to protect and heal him. He was getting more and more demanding and wandered in to the laundry every night, making his presence felt, sticking his head through the door. I loved his presence and didn’t care if he psychically and physically woke me up with a whinny every morning because he wanted breakfast. I didn’t care if caring for him dominated my world. This was Sollie. My special friend.
Later I realised he knew he was going, as I did on one level. And we both wanted to cling to each other in what little time we had left.
I had an animal communication client and when I sat down in a light trance to connect to the animal in question, Sollie barged in. “What’s up Sol?”
“I am not your friend,” he said. “I am your soul mate.”
Frantically I emailed my animal communication friends. “It’s just a health hiccup,” they told me. “He said he’s not going to die.
But Sollie and I both knew better. Neither of us were willing to admit it.
I had a long chat to him one night. He told me he wanted to be in a book, and to be a movie star. I laughed. Of course you will be, I assured him.
I felt a lightened sense of heart. Sollie would live. Nothing would ever separate us.
The next morning he wasn’t in the yard. I had students arriving from all over NSW for an advanced, two day animal communication clinic. I found Sollie in a stable where he had gone on his own. He looked at me with his large soul-filled eyes. We both knew the lies and games were over.
“Sollie’s dying”, I screamed to the wind. “He’s dying and I’ve got people coming in two hours and I can’t cancel .”
The people came and took one look at me with my horse at the back door of my place and lent me their healing gifts and energies. Perhaps they were supposed to be there. The vet came and told me he would be gone in 24 hours. She wanted me to agree to “put him down” now. Sollie threw me an anguished look. “No,” he screamed at me.
“No,” I said. “That’s not what he wants.”
I’d read about all kinds of miracles happening to people and animals. If love could heal this horse, I would heal him. He didn’t want to go. But he knew he was going. On one level I guess it was his time, but in the moment I couldn’t see that. All I knew is that my best friend – my soul mate – was leaving me. And I was going to do everything in my power to make sure I had done everything I could.
I worked frantically all day. My partner took over the class. We cancelled the rest. Sollie had homoeopath ics every few minutes. He had Reiki and I appealed to my healing spirit guides. But the miracle didn’t happen. He responded to nothing.
Tears streamed as I begged him to respond, to stay with me, ignoring all the rules of healing and of spiritual truth which is to honour the being’s decision.
“I am holding you back,” he said, simply. Calmly.
“Nooo,” I cried. ‘Look at how much I’ve learnt because of you. Look how far I’ve come.”
Later that night I prepared for a cold, long night vigil with Sollie. Wearing two horse rugs, he took me out of the yard and for a long moon lit walk, saying goodbye to all his old haunts. It was full moon marked by a lunar eclipse. The leaves were falling off the trees. It was silent. It was magical,. It was beautiful. It was a night I will never forget.
He wanted to walk up the hill, to a favourite place by the Hawthorn trees. But he was tiring and I suggested he not over do it. He needed his strength. He nodded and took me back to the open stable where he sank down gratefully and dozed until dawn. I camped with him, curled up in a sleeping bag. At dawn he got up and walked past the ponies, giving a weakened whinny goodbye. Sam responded.
He wanted to go into the other pony paddock, where his long time mate Sebastian resided with his mare Saraid. A communication passed between Sollie and Bastie that I was not allowed to read and then Sollie barged into the stable, ordering Saraid out. He sank down on the fresh, clean straw. He didn’t get up again.
I asked him if he wanted help to leave this world. He was obviously uncomfortable.
“Then I’ll be gone forever,” he told me.
He was dying. He refused all homoeopathics. The only remedy he took was Transition Essence – an Australian Bush Flower Essence to emotionally help with the process of passing over.
“Go Sollie, please go now,” I cried. He didn’t take his eyes off me. But I couldn’t look at him. I sat in the stable holding him, trying to pass soothing energy to him.
Sollie’s spirit slipped from his body at 8.30 am. His body stopped breathing and heaving and I curled up to him, nursing his head on my lap. He was free. I was alone.
Later, after he was buried in the backyard where he loved to graze, his spirit was everywhere and so strong that sometimes I’d look up and do a double take. I thought he’d come back.
My heart froze with his leaving, like a glacier through my body, making me numb. I felt I lived in a grey, cold world and no amount of hugs from my family could thaw me.
“You’ve lost your friend,” said Tala, my dog, understanding.
“Yes,” I said. “And so much more.”
Some people told me he was old. Some people told me to “get over it”. Some people made disparaging remarks about my inability to work. But while a part of me was glad he was free from the pain in his body, the other part of me wanted to join him. I was in a ghost town of despair, an icy wind whistling around the derelict buildings of my mind. I was alone.
His death brought up feelings of grief, guilt, hurt, abandonment. I had been touched by love for 22 years, longer than I had been married. But I was lucky I had Andrew. The horses were lucky too because I couldn’t go in to the feed shed without feeling a shaft of pain that brought tears, swift and vicious.“Why does it hurt so much,” I would say to Andrew. “He was your life,” he would say, giving me the space and permission to be as devastated as I needed to be. It was a year before I could start to feel gratitude for that life with Sollie, instead of pain.
So tonight almost marks the anniversary of his death. A year in which I have travelled on a journey of enormous adjustment. I haven’t ridden. I have planned no picnics. I haven’t read to another horse. But I can be among them again and the colours of life are vibrant. I love their beauty and it doesn’t hurt so much to see the herd without his familiar shape among them.
Sollie told me more horses would come. And they have. And I feel an old stirring of joy as I watch them heal and fly around the huge open paddocks.
And although I might still cry at the loss of him, still mourn the lack of his physical presence in my life, I feel him beside me, urging me to horse play. To find joy with another horse again.
Montana checks every day to see if I am healed. Gypsy too, wanting me to touch her with soft hands and to exchange the breath of life.
Jaffah came, a red mare who barges in psychically to help others when they need help with their horses. And Erin, a lively grey pony, who makes me laugh.
It is only now that I can appreciate the truth that there is no loss. That Sollie and I are still together. He is here on the other side of the veil of illusion we have erected with our mind. I miss his physical presence. I recognise the selfishness within that wants him with me on the physical plane. I recognise the journey the lesson of his death forced upon me.
We can still talk. I can visit him in the spirit world at any time. And I do. I know I can take as long as I want to heal.
It’s Samhain and tonight I will light a candle. I will invite Sollie’s spirit into the house and sit down with him and have a loooong chat. I will bury a crystal holding my sorrow in the soil in his grave site in the back yard.
And tomorrow, I will call Montana. And I will ride.
. . . . . .
© Billie Dean, 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any format without prior written permission.
Originally Published in Conscious Living.