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Lessons from a Very Special Horse
There are many people in the world today from which I draw inspiration. My parents have always been an inspiration to me. They gave me excellent advice as I began to make choices about colleges and a career. They helped me understand the values of our family. I established my work ethic by observing my father’s dedication and faithfulness to his job. My spiritual values were founded upon those of my family.
There are others who have influenced my life – teachers, my priest, and other family members. But there is one almost human-like animal that taught me so much about life, he tops the list. I met Razzamatazz when I was a freshman in high school. I wanted a part-time job to earn money to buy – what else? – a car. The local stables had an opening for a general flunky and I got the job. My duties included mucking and cleaning out the stalls, feeding the horses, wiping them down after a patron has ridden their horse. Like I said, general flunky. I really didn’t mind the work. I have always loved horses and although I’m not a great rider, I do enjoy riding occasionally. So I decided that this job would work for me. I could earn money, work after school but still have time to socialize and, oh yes, study and I could spend time with the horses.
I got along well with all of the horses at the stable, but Razzamatazz was my special horse. He was a retired, pure-bred Arabian. And he looked every inch the proud Arabian. He had a high-carriage tail that must have extended two feet in the air. His head was the refined unusual wedge-shape associated with Arabians, and his neck was arched. Razzamatazz had the most amazing eyes I have ever seen. His eyes were extremely large and dark brown. There was intelligence and a human quality in his eyes. It was almost as if he could read my mind because his eyes would change in intensity and in depth depending on my mood and our conversation.
Yes, we carried on many conversations during my four years of work at the stables. Razzamatazz knew about my silly high school girl crushes. He knew that my best friend, Deb had started dating a guy named Charlie. He knew that I hated algebra but loved English. He knew what every girl in school was wearing to the prom, and who everyone was going to the prom with. More importantly, I told Razzamatazz my secrets, my dreams and my desires. He always listened intently and I knew that I could see approval, and sometimes even disapproval, in his eyes. He had a way of looking into my soul with understanding and love. And if he disapproved of something, I knew it because he would usually lean down and butt his head up against my shoulder!
I confided everything to Razz, as I called him. It took quite a while for this proud Arabian to get used to the nickname. After all, Razz is not very distinguished. As if Razzamatazz is!! When I first started calling him Razz, he would butt up against me every time – sometimes even knocking me down! But I persisted and he eventually caved.
Razz had every right to be a proud horse. He had won the Kentucky Derby a record-breaking six times. He won the Preakness twice and had taken the Triple Crown once. He was an amazing horse with a speed unmatched any other time in history. Even with his strength and power, however, he was as gentle as a lamb with the children who came to the stable for their weekly riding lessons. They trained, of course, on other horses, but there was something about Razz that drew everyone to him. The children always came by to say hello and give him an apple or carrot before they left. He never once butted against his stall when the children were there and I could see in his eyes how much he enjoyed their visits.
In my senior year of high school, I was walking Razz around the corral when I noticed a slight limp in his right front leg. He did not seem very bothered about it so I wasn’t too worried. The next day, he seemed fine and the incident of the slight limp was forgotten.
However, a couple of months later the limp returned with a vengeance. Just walking Razz to the door of the stable showed me that he was in pain. I led him back to his stall and called for the stable manager right away. When he looked at Razz’s leg, I could tell by the look on his face that the news would not be good. I feared his leg was fractured, but when the vet came, he said it was arthritis. Arthritis in a horse is as painful as it is in a human. So this diagnosis was, in some ways, even worse than a fracture. Just as in humans, the arthritis will eventually affect all of the horse’s joints and will become very painful. This was my proud Arabian’s future.
After that diagnosis, Razz and I drew even closer. It was as if we knew our time was short. I was leaving for college in a few short months. And although I did not want to think about it, Razz’s owner would probably have him put to sleep before the pain became completely unbearable.
I did leave for college that fall and when I came home for Christmas break, one of the first places I went was to the stable to see Razz. I was surprised at his appearance. The arthritis had already begun to affect other joints and he moved stiffly, when he moved at all. It was one of the saddest sights I had ever seen – this once proud horse, winner of the most prestigious races in all of horse racing – moving so slowing and stiffly. I left the stables, crying.
Just before spring break the following year, I received a telephone call from my mother. She called to let me know that Razz’s owner had called with a message. He was going to have Razz put to sleep and wanted to let me know. There was a planned memorial service and I was invited. So I left for spring break a couple of days early to go home and say good-bye to Razz.
The day of the memorial service dawned bright and clear. The sky was a beautiful turquoise blue and the sun bright and warm. As I turned into the stable property, a gentle breeze blew the daffodils planted at the entrance. Azaleas bloomed riotously in colors from white to the darkest of pinks. It was a gorgeous day to celebrate the life of Razz.
All of the seats which had been placed outside the barn were taken. Many of the children who had always stopped by to see Razz after their riding lesson were there, along with their parents. All of the trainers had come also. The service was brief, but so appropriate. Razz’s owner had made a display of all of Razz’s ribbons and trophies. Pictures of Razz at various ages were set amongst the awards. Laurel wreaths were displayed at the end of each table. Razz’s owner spoke briefly. What can you say about a championship horse that was almost more human than horse? Each guest was given a balloon which we released at the end of the service and a short reception was held afterwards.
Driving home after the service, I began to reflect on all that I had learned from Razz. Razz had always listened to me, never making judgments and never talking when he needed to listen. (Of course, had he spoken, I would have fainted!) But I knew that, whatever I said to him, I would still be accepted and loved.
Razz showed me compassion just when I always seemed to need it the most. His eyes would fill with compassion and he would nuzzle my face when I poured out my heart to him, tears running down my cheeks. He taught me how to be compassionate with others.
Razz’s owner had shared with me that Razz maintained his dignity and grace in the midst of his pain. And that is something else he showed me. I can go through the trials that life brings with dignity and grace; doing everything I can not to inflict my pain on others.
From Razz, I learned to be gentle, and at the same time, strong. I remembered his strength when I would ride him around the property, and later on the same day, his gentleness with the children. I realized it was okay to be a strong woman and a gentle one at the same time.
Razz was a spirited horse. He loved nothing better than to race across the meadow with his face in the wind, free from the restraints of competition. He taught me to celebrate the good times with abandonment – my face in the wind.
Finally, I learned it is okay to be proud, as long as the pride is mixed with a heavy dose of humility. Razz could hold his head high because he was one of the best, all the while looking at me with a humbleness not seen in many humans.
Razz was the only animal I’ve ever known who was more human than some people! He was my mentor and my inspiration. And he was the reason that I became a veterinarian. Here’s to you, Razz!!
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