There are some definite do's and don'ts for helping a friend through the loss of a horse.
Saying goodbye to any animal is difficult in a way that only animal lovers can understand, but saying goodbye to a horse seems to come with its own unique set of challenges, maybe because horses are not just companions and best friends, but teammates and partners.
Losing a horse is incredibly painful, but there are a few things that friends can do to help. Here are some do's and don'ts to keep in mind.
Don't be insensitive.
This should go without saying, but sometimes non-horse people simply don't know how their words sound to the equestrian ear. Avoid using words like "pet" and consider how your words could be taken before you say them.
Even well-intentioned questions like asking when they're going to get another horse can come across as callous to someone who just lost a being they may have considered their best friend, partner, and soul mate. It's true, they probably will get another horse someday. But right after the loss that is the last thing on their mind.
Don't minimize their grief.
Unlike the people who are insensitive because they don't know any better, some people are intentionally insensitive. Don't do this. Telling them it's "just a horse" helps no one. Rest assured they know it was a horse, they just happen to have a higher opinion of horses and their capacity for loving relationships than you do.
Even well-intentioned comparisons to other pet losses can cause them to feel as if you are minimizing their grief because most horse people believe the relationship they have with their horse is very different and often more profound than the relationships one shares with most other pets.
When in doubt it's best to say, "I don't understand the relationship you had with your horse but I can tell it was very special."
Do acknowledge the loss.
For people suffering a loss of any type, the pain is often compounded by the guilty and frustrating feeling that their very presence is making others uncomfortable. It's hard for people on both sides -- those dealing with loss may be in your physical presence, but they are also in a place that seems unreachable, and it's hard to know what to say to them.
Still, it's important to try. You don't have to get into a long conversation, but the first time you see them after the loss try this:
"I heard about your horse and just wanted to tell you how sorry I am and that I'm here for you if you need anything."
Even if they don't show it, they will appreciate it.
Do follow their lead.
As the days pass, this is the most useful tactic you can employ if you want to help someone through their loss. Everyone handles loss differently; some people never want to talk about it, and some want to talk about it a lot. So instead of guessing or assuming they handle loss the same way you do, simply take your cues from them.
If they never bring up their beloved horse, or seem to grow agitated or upset when someone else does, don't bring it up. But if you notice them mentioning or talking about it, be a good listener. And then feel free to do the same.
Do help them remember their horse.
As time moves on, it's easy for those suffering from a loss to feel as if everyone else has forgotten about the horse that meant and still means so much to them. So if you have determined that they are comfortable talking about the loss, assure them their horse will never be forgotten by reminiscing about favorite memories, like silly things he did, or lessons you learned from him.
On the anniversary of the day your friend had to say goodbye, a text, a call, a message on a Facebook wall, sharing an old picture you found, a flower on his grave, or a card in the mail can make a huge difference and can help turn the day from something sad and painful into a celebration of what must have been a life truly well lived.
As with most things, broken hearts heal only with time. But until that happens, these do's and don'ts can help.