We said goodbye to Sunny on December 17, 2023 after he tragically broke his front leg. There was no recovering from his injury and the only option was to release him from his suffering. I lost a piece of my heart that morning.
Sunny stepped into my life as I approached the cusp of my ‘later years’. I was 48 years old. My husband and I were a year into ‘upsizing’ into an 82 acre farm. The property came with a barn, stalls, and pastures that seemed empty without animals. “I think I am going to buy a horse,” I declared. Surprisingly my husband Chris said he thought that was a good idea. While horses have carried me to places throughout my life, I never expected to have one (or now 13) in my backyard. I knew very little if anything about them.
So off I went horse shopping on Kijiji. The ad read: “Stunning palomino Tennessee Walker.” Tennessee Walkers are a breed of gaited horses known for their quiet disposition, flashy movement and unique four-beat running walk. The picture featured a mud-covered, wild man with a long blonde muddy, messy mane and tail. He was my ‘Barbie’ horse in living flesh.
So on a cool, grey, rainy November day, my husband and I took a drive to meet Sunny. There he was in all his glory, surrounded by a few cows and a couple of horses in a pasture of mud and manure. He had not been ridden in a year. We walked him away from the herd closer to the barn for a trial ride.
That day, we threw a saddle on a horse that I knew little about and subsequently who taught me how little I knew about horses in general. I don’t know what I was thinking or expecting from this experience, but I suppose that’s how I had always treated horses – with ignorance. It hadn’t occurred to me that a much deeper partnership based on mutual respect could be achieved with these beautiful sentient and sensitive beings.
Jumping on Sunny’s back that day, we walked around a few manure piles that dotted the field. Sunny was pretty good for the first round and the second. Then Sunny began to dance his way back to the herd. A novice rider, I felt myself losing control. I am sure now that Sunny had me figured out. I didn’t fool him – I was the fool.
“Take him around again,” my husband said. I could feel the tension of Sunny between my legs. He was getting ready to bolt. “If you have any doubts, you should get down,” his then owner said. I got off. I said I would take him. Little did I know then that this decision to invite Sunny into my life would turn out to be so life-changing – transformational actually.
Since Sunny needed some “fine tuning” after living for a year without expectations, I sent him to Randy Bird, a local horse trainer, for a month. “He’s green,” Randy said. “He has a temper. He doesn’t like new experiences. I don’t think anyone has ever really worked with him.”
On his ‘graduation day’, Sunny and I took our first solo ride before going to a barn to board that winter. The farm that exists today – did not exist at that time. It was the first time that I had ridden a horse without the company of others. I was nervous. I rode him around the track a few times, we walked back and forth across a bridge, and we went for our first trail ride together. Sunny had learned the route and knew what to do. We arrived back to the barn safe and sound. A walk through the stream completed our adventure. We stopped in the water and in that moment, captured on camera by my husband, I felt honoured to be in the presence of this wonderful being. It was magical. Having Sunny was an unexpected dream come true for me. He was still a mystery to me, but our initial journey was successful. When we left the farm, I was on a personal high.
A large indoor riding arena was waiting for us at the boarding facility where Sunny was now being kept just down the road from our farm. Full of anticipation and expectation that day, I went to the arena to take Sunny out for our first ride. My husband came along for support.
As we walked into the arena, Sunny seemed nervous and jumpy. It hadn’t occurred to me that he may have never been in an arena before. There were other riders and horses already there. I took Sunny over to the mounting block so I could get on. He danced around and wouldn’t stand still. So my husband held him while I mounted up. Amidst the other riders, I was feeling self-conscious.
Stepping away from the mounting block, Sunny and I were almost immediately assaulted by the sound of snow sliding off the arena roof. This highly amplified sound of fingernails scratching down a giant chalkboard made me jump. Sunny jumped even higher. Then we both landed in the fetal position.
Frozen in fear, Sunny refused to move forward, his lower lip quivering. I jumped off. Never had I experienced a horse spooking before and little did I know then that this would just be one of many spooks I’d experience while riding Sunny. His well-developed instinct for flight and highly sensitive nature would ultimately earn him the barn title: Sunny — With a Chance of Tornado.
This was the beginning of my relationship with this special horse. At that time, I was running my own management consulting company and commuting two hours back and forth from Peterborough to Toronto. Saying goodbye to Sunny each night, I left the barn feeling more relaxed than when I arrived. I had to be fully present and mindful when working with him, anticipating his moves, and providing leadership along the way. This connection meant that I had to let go of the mind-full of “stuff” that I had collected each day – expectations, worries, to-do lists.
My time with Sunny became unexpected ‘therapy’ and stress management. Both mentally and physically, I became a healthier person. I looked forward to my arrival at the barn and each moment I spent with this beautiful horse. I had found an outlet that appealed to and engaged all dimensions of my being – intellectually, emotionally, intuitively and spiritually. I had found my passion.
Sunny was the beginning of The Mane Intent. He was the impetus for it all. Much has happened since that first meeting. Sunny touched countless lives over the past 10 years. He has served as a herd leader. He has been a teacher of boundaries, overcoming fear and stepping into leadership. Sunny was one of my best equine therapy horses. Sunny was my heart horse and I am grieving this heart-wrenching loss.
I am grateful for all of the messages of sympathy that followed Sunny’s passing. Mostly, I am grateful for the role that Sunny has served in my life – catalyst for change, leader, co-facilitator, holder of secrets. I trust he is enjoying a well-earned rest. Goodbye Sunny. You are forever in my heart.