Posted on Oct 12, 2017
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
We don’t usually take in people’s retired horses and that’s what we told her family when they called. But they kept saying that she danced and it intrigued us enough to come out and see her. The first thing that struck me when I met Rascalina was her eyes: soft, deep velvet brown, with so much kindness in them. She looked like those toy Breyer horses I used to play with when I was a child: long graceful legs, petite sculptured face, perfect thick main and tail, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. But at The Gentle Barn we take in animals from severe abuse and neglect and just because she could not carry people anymore was not reason enough for us to bring her home. Just as I said that out loud, as though on cue, Rascalina started “dancing.” To me, it was more of a rocking back and forth. I wondered if she did that out of anxiety? I wondered, if she was kept busy all day, if she could play with other horses, and if she had a job with children who needed her, would she stop doing that?
We brought Rascalina home on a chilly fall evening exactly eleven years ago. We made sure she had soft fluffy shavings, filled her feeder with the freshest hay, and gave her lots of welcome cookies. Over the next few weeks, as Rascalina settled into her new digs, made friends with the other horses, and got to know us, her rocking diminished. Once she was fully acclimated to the rest of the herd, her rocking stopped completely and Rascalina became one of the best ambassadors we have ever had. She was gentle and kind to everyone. She would hold still for special needs children so they could brush, pet, or hug her and she greeted each school field trip we hosted. Rascalina would walk into the middle of a group of children and allow them all to hug her. She always took carrots gently out of even the smallest of hands. I trusted her with everyone. For over a decade, I worked with her to soften the toughest gang members, to witness the most lost children, and to heal the most broken adults. Rascalina doled out unconditional love to all of us.
When she was younger, Rascalina was more like a ballerina than a horse. In the evenings when it was time to bring the horses in from the pasture for dinner, she would race around and around the pasture. She would leap effortlessly into the air. She would buck and rear up on her hind legs. She would jump up and twist around in mid air like a bird and she would gallop with her tail in the air, her main streaming behind her, with a twinkle in her eye, and a smile on her face. When we brought our other horse Magic home as a baby, Rascalina took one look at him and claimed him as her own. She would groom him from head to toe and gently nuzzle him with her nose. She would eat by his side and play games with him during the day and when he lay down in the pasture to nap, Rascalina would stand guard above him as any good mommy would do. For five years, until Magic was full grown, Rascalina acted as his mom and took care of him. She filled him up with the same nurturing that she gave to us all.
As is common with any senior, Rascalina had poor blood circulation which caused inflammation in her body. The inflammation in her hooves caused her front feet to founder. Foundering is when the coffin bone in a horse’s foot rotates. It is very painful. We had our vet come out and monitor her a few times a week; we talked to him on the phone every day; we treated her with anti-inflammatory medications, pain meds, ice therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, and a special diet. At first the rotation stabilized and we were so hopeful that we could get on top of the situation. She rallied and seemed to have improved. Then last weekend she suddenly took a turn for the worse. The coffin bone had rotated even more and she was in a lot of pain. Of course we called the vet right away and when he came out he vocalized our worst fears when he explained that there was nothing more we could do. Having no more hope and not wanting Rascalina to suffer, we helped her out of her old, tired body to gallop in other lands.
We are all so sad that Rascalina is no longer in our barnyard, and we miss her terribly. But she had such an amazing, full life. She was one of the lucky ones who had a family who loved her and took great care of her and then she had a great big purpose here with us. Rascalina helped so many people during her time here and she passed knowing that she was loved and important. In our culture, we treat death as a tragedy and our reaction to it is to cry, grieve and feel awful. But Rascalina lived to be thirty-two years old which is the equivalent of a human living until 98. Her life was full of adventure, family, and purpose. She loved her life and she was ready to transcend it. She left with a full heart, a peaceful mind, and a smile on her face. Instead of crying, I am going to celebrate her life and her journey. I feel so grateful that we had the chance to know her, love her, and be better for having her in our lives. I am grateful that her family wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and kept calling until we took her. I cannot imagine our lives without her. That would have been the one and only tragedy: if we hadn’t known her at all.
How do we celebrate and give honor to someone as magnificent, generous and loving as Rascalina? How do we say farewell to someone who was family, as close to us as our own arms and legs? We keep her alive by thinking about her with a smile. We talk about her and trade stories. We remember her and the mark she made on all who knew her. And we thank goodness that we were lucky enough to have known her.
Thank you Rascalina for being such a blessing, an honor, and our miracle! You will be part of us forever!