One of my favorite photography subjects passed away last week. He was a Belgian draft horse that lived in our village. At least I think he was a he. I realize now that I never took the time to inspect and confirm this, but we’ll just go with my assumption.
He lived in a small piece of pasture adjacent to an old farmhouse. The house and the farm buildings, which include a small roadside chapel, are so quaint and picturesque. A scene so perfectly Belgian, especially with him in it.
For as long as I can remember, something in my DNA has drawn me to horses. I am 37 years old and I still get distracted every time I see one. “Oh, a horse!” says a little girl’s voice inside my head as I nearly drive off a road, staring into a field. It’s no surprise to me that I would form an attachment to this one.
I’d pass him often on drives, jogs, or bike rides. When we first moved here, everything seemed foreign and scary. This calm, gentle looking horse in his idyllic setting was a predictable, non-threatening, lovely constant for me in a time of newness. Seeing him and his pretty little space in this world gave me comfort.
I never actually met this horse. I never came close enough to stroke his long, sweet face, scarred by a too-tight noseband from long ago. I never felt how soft his muzzle probably was. But I looked at him a lot and sometimes took his picture. I appreciated him.
I never saw him do anything other than stand around with his head hung a little low. He seemed to have a few favorite spots in his pasture. Sometimes, if he was close enough, I’d talk to him as I passed by. Yes, I’m the kind of weirdo who talks to animals. I’m okay with that.
When he heard my voice or the rumble of my tires, he’d glance my way. His eyes were soft. He’d sometimes look at me with hope – was I bringing him something to eat? And when he realized I wasn’t, his eyes would sometimes change ever so slightly, with either disappointment or boredom. Sometimes his expression would seem to reveal a desire for attention. Sometimes it seemed like he was saying, “just take the picture and move on already.”
At times, I wondered if old age and pain were the cause of his calm inactivity. I hoped it was maturity more than failing health. I don’t know how or why he died. I won’t tell you how I know he died, but I do.
I’ve never met his owner and know little about her. I think she is an older woman who lives alone. That’s what I’ve gathered from seeing a head full of curly, gray hair peek out from behind one of the farmhouse window curtains. I know she has garden gnomes, chickens, and a big, scary goose. I know she had cows last year who are gone now, too. I wonder if she’d like my pictures. I wonder if she misses her horse.
This weekend I passed his pasture for the first time without him in it. This beautiful little scene that I’ve admired so many times looked and felt different without the horse in it. Bigger. Vacant. Quiet. Chilly. If you’ve ever loved and lost a pet, you know the feeling. The house feels so empty without them.
I think something strange happens when a living being resides in a specific place for a long time. The being becomes a part of the place. Its life merges with the space, as if the ground and the objects around it absorb its every breath and heartbeat and become alive because of it. So much so that once the living being is gone, it feels like the actual place dies a little, too. It felt to me like the little plot of land misses him as much as those of us who appreciated him do.
So, to the horse I never actually met, I say again what I said aloud to him when I realized he was gone … “Rest in peace, sweet boy.”