Today is Dia de los Muertos, a holiday celebrated in Mexico and some cities in the US with large Mexican-American populations. The literal translation of the holiday is “Day of the Dead.” This day is set aside for the living to honor the memory of family and friends who have passed away.
Today is also the three-year anniversary of the death of my favorite, most beloved horse DC.
I was at Little Wood Farm in the aisle way grooming another horse the first time I saw his elegant face with the striking, backward question mark blaze. His long neck hung out over the top of the stall door as he was nibbling on and tossing his nylon halter which was nearby, hanging on a hook.
I thought to myself, “That is the most beautiful horse I’ve ever seen.”
Little did I know that several months later, the mischievous halter chewer would be mine.
Last week while teaching my Thursday night ESL class of intermediate English speakers the subject of Dia de los Muertos popped up. I was surprised to learn that basically every culture besides the United States has an annual celebration that honors the deceased. Korean, Thai and Persian cultures have similar celebrations to Day of the Dead which occur around their respective new year or spring.
My ESL students explained that in order to honor their loved ones who’ve passed away, it is common to place an item that represents the person at the table to serve as a reminder. For example, if great uncle liked to smoke a pipe, a pipe is placed at the table for the day.
In the United States we don’t really have one day set aside every year to remember loved ones no longer with us. We have Memorial Day, but that holiday is focused mostly those who’ve fallen in battle, not necessarily deceased family and friends. And, of course, there is no day set aside to commemorate the life of a family pet, let alone horse that’s passed away.
Regardless, today I remember.
DC was magnificent. He was the fulfillment of this horse crazy girl’s dreams. He was my best friend for 16 years.
DC was a stunning bay Kentucky Thoroughbred with the world’s shortest, fuzziest forelock that contrasted with the longest, thickest black tail. In the spring before the sun faded his coat, he had brown dapples.
DC loved being photographed and would point his ears forward, taking on a very interested and intelligent expression. I think he knew just how handsome he was.
DC’s canter was buoyant and expressive and not the easiest to sit to, yet so fun–better than any Disneyland ride.
DC was a blast, and frequently challenging in a keep-the-rider-on-her-toes kind of way.
Especially when he was young, DC would select a “scary corner” of pretty much every arena we rode in. It might be near a mounting block or by the far end of the outdoor arena, close to trees or maybe near a rail where someone temporarily draped a lunge line or left a winter blanket. No matter how many days we’d ridden past and gotten over the scary corner, he’d routinely spook whether big (leaping away from the evil corner) or small (simply flinching his muscles and tensing) when faced with it again. I think it was an act.
One day when DC was around 10, I turned him out in the empty indoor arena so he could buck and thunder around, tiring himself out before my ride. He put on a brilliant display of racetrack speed and intensity, rocketing from one end of the arena to the other, narrowly missing jump standards in the middle.
As he huffed and puffed and raised his tail like an Arabian, he shot off directly toward the gate that separated the barn aisle from the indoor ring. I knew he couldn’t stop in time and feared he would crash through the solid wooden gate.
I was wrong. He flew over all four feet of it. I watched in horror and awe. A few boarders in the aisle way with horses on crossties got quite a show both with the impressive aerial escape and me sprinting across the barn in chaps and paddock boots to capture my temporarily insane steed.
Everyone loved my handsome gelding at the various barns where he was boarded in both Illinois and California. He endeared himself to both family and friends. Even people who didn’t know him would stop us at horse shows and start talking to me about my pretty bay—much like what happens when my husband and I take our handsome Golden Retriever to Home Depot.
I’ll never forget one show several years ago. A woman approached me as I was hand walking DC. She asked a series of questions ranging from how old he was to how long I’d had him to what I fed him. She concluded our chat by patting DC’s forehead and instructing me, “Take good care of my boy.”
I will honor my boy’s memory today regardless of how silly it might seem to a non-horse person or how lame it might seem to someone who is not sentimental.
It is Dia de los Muertos today.
Tonight there will be organic carrots with feathery stems and crisp green apples on a plate at my table, as I continue to miss him and remember.
Update November 1, 2013:
When I think about DC I still miss him, but in honor of his memory I have moved on with my current horse Knight. One of the best parts about blogging is being able to chronicle my journey through life and horses. Losing a beloved horse is never easy, but it does get better in time. To celebrate today’s Day of the Dead I will be watching the Chicago Cubs hopefully win in World Series Game 6.
(Blog post photo credit to Kerri Weiss of On Location Photography)