Thursday, 14 November 2013

A final farewell.

In every family, there is the one who is not much talked about. Not because they are wicked or shameful, but because they are so good. They do not run off with drummers or take to the bottle; they just get on with it. They do not create drama. They just, delightfully, are.

Myfanwy the Pony is like that in my family. I don’t write about her much here. It’s all about the great journey with Red the Mare, my mighty thoroughbred, with her famous grandsire and her beauty and her great spirit.

Myfanwy came quietly and unexpectedly into our lives because Red needed a friend. And there was this little grey person, with her pretty face and her pricked ears, who almost dropped out of the sky. The lady who transported Red to her first home up on the hill had a pony her children had grown out of, and Red needed a companion, and the lady very generously offered us the loan, and it was as simple as that.

When the small person arrived, my big mare, who had been on her own for a doleful week, whickered and whinnied as if her long-lost sister had suddenly pitched up at the gate.

A few weeks after that, the American Paint filly joined us, and last November we moved the herd down to their new home in the shadow of the green woods, and they have been there ever since, a little trio of calm and joy.

The stories that got told here were all of Red. Quietly, in the background, Myfanwy, in her grand old age, her riding days over, enjoyed her retirement. She settled most mornings under her favourite tree, watching sagely as the younger ones got worked and schooled and educated. We did inculcate her into our school of horsemanship, and she learnt to hook on and back up off a soft cue and yield her hindquarters, and always looked rather pleased with herself when she had done this new work. We sometimes took her out for a good walk in hand, and the little Pony Whisperer would come and give her a grand groom, and only last week I did a join-up with her in the field, and she remembered all the steps as if we had done it yesterday.

But really, she was just a continued presence, with her bright face and her sweet ears carved like commas and her surprisingly low, throaty, Lauren Bacall whicker. She made no drama; she created no three-act opera. She left that to the other two. When the gales came last week, she amazed us by kicking up her heels and doing a perfect bronco display in the wild weather, and the Horse Talker and I looked at each other and said: ‘Well, there is life in the old lady yet.’

Not that much life, as it turned out.

This morning, there she was, standing under her tree, like a little unicorn in the autumn light, waiting for us to come back from our ride, as she always did. We were just about to leave the field, when we saw her stumble and stagger.

I, always convinced that she would live until she was thirty, almost ignored it. Not Myfanwy; she was a tough mountain pony; she could deal with anything. But then I looked again, and I could see something was very wrong.

We thought she had colic, at first. The vet was off on a call, so the Horse Talker and I walked her and walked her, for an hour and a half, round the field. Then the Remarkable Trainer arrived, closely followed by the vet. By this stage, violent streams of mucus were coming out of the poor old lady’s nose and mouth and she was shuddering all over, her small furry body shaken by violent spasms, low groans coming from the very depths of her.

The vet, one of the kindest, most sensitive women I’ve ever met, tried a single injection, and said to see what would happen in a couple of hours. Heart failure, though, she thought; possibly multi-system failure. She held out little hope.

The injection had no effect. The three humans sat in the shelter, which is built up against an old granite wall, filled with soft straw, a place of quiet and safety. The old girl shuddered and went down and got up again, and then stood, suddenly very still, almost in a fugue state.

I made the decision. ‘She is telling us she has to go,’ someone said; everyone said; everyone knew.

The light was failing in her black eyes.

She lay down again and I sat on the packed earth floor with her and gentled her on her forehead, in that exact place that mares nuzzle their foals. ‘It’s all right, old lady,’ I said. ‘You can let go now.’

I said that to the Pigeon too.

It was very quick and very good, in the end. The vet warned us there could be struggles, jumps, spasms, gasps or groans. But there was none of that. She let out one last cry, lifting her head in a final effort and neighing. Her two friends, put safely in the far paddock, called back to her, their voices carrying bright and vivid on the chill air.

Then the needle went in, and she fell straight to earth, with no battle, as if she was so ready that the very ground was pulling her to it.

And she was gone.

She went in elegance and grace. She made it very simple for us. It was her time, and she knew it.

The vet, who is not a sentimental or anthropomorphic person, said: ‘I’m glad she said goodbye.’

We were all slightly surprised. But that last call, and its responding cry, did feel like a final farewell. Horses do not do sentimentalism. They understand and accept life and death much better than humans do. They have a lovely, honest flintiness which I adore.

For all that, I think it was a goodbye, a bookend to that first hello, when the big red mare and the small Welsh pony first set eyes on each other and called out in greeting, as if they were old familiars, as if they were each the one the other had been waiting for.

12 Nov 1

The last picture I took of her, two days ago, in the lovely November light.

And Red the Mare, who loved her well, and who, when I went down to check on her just now, by the light of the sailing moon, would not be consoled:

14 Nov 2


  1. Oh, Myfanwy. Have loved her since the day she made her appearance here and Red cried out to her. I too thought she would just be there forever, the quiet older presence. Very sad to see her go, very glad she had this last year and more with her friends, as it had to be the perfect closing chapter to her life. Your many pictures of her line up now like so many wonderful memories.


  2. Oh, that is such, such sad news. All I can say is thank you though for giving her such a beautiful obituary and, more importantly, filling her last years and hours with comfort and love, Rachel

  3. I admired that lovely photo of Myfanway the other day and thought to say so then. In the end, I didn't. I regret it now, not paying a compliment when I felt it arise. I'll not missed an opportunity in the future. That pretty pony hss taught me that much :( I am sorry for her loss - for you, the herd, for us readers. So many gone lately - hard times.

  4. Feeling very sorrowful for a far-away creature I hardly knew... Commiserations.
    As always, your wonderful photographs continue the story.

  5. I thought she would always be (t)here. I never thought she might be "older"...
    Saying good bye is so sad.

  6. Oh dear, Tania. That delightful Myfanwy stole my heart from her first intro and I am so very sorry. Thank you for sharing her with us and for giving her such a wonderful home.
    Your last pictures are as beautiful as ever and made me teary. Love to you and Red. xx

  7. Myfanwy's pictures were always my favorites. I love a fuzzy pony. So sorry to hear about your loss.

  8. Oh. I have just returned from a great performance of Bach's Magnificat and now I shall always think of Myfanwy when I hear it.

  9. I always loved that pony. Weeping as I read this. *sniffle* Love to you and Red and Autumn.

  10. So beautifully and honestly described. Such a magical last photo of Myfanwy, delicate and rugged in her winter teddy whiteness and flowing mane. I am so sorry she has gone.

  11. Oh Myfanwy! When I read the title, my heart missed a beat. Whose farewell, I thought? I rushed to read it and was so shocked to find it was the sweet and stalwart Welsh pony who always lent such a homely air to the paddock. A ray of goodness and light. I cannot believe this happened so quickly but in some ways I suppose that is a blessing in disguise.. The fact that I am so upset is also a tribute to your ability to bring your surroundings and your companions to life for those of us who live far away. Most beautifully and sensitively written, dear Tania. I hope you can take comfort in the fact that she was surrounded by love and friends.

  12. I hope she knows how many fans she had.

  13. Another fan thanking you for your eloquence in describing her farewell. And for that beautiful last photo of her in the light.

  14. I'm so sorry, Tania. What a grand little thing she was. But I am glad you all got to say your goodbyes. xx

  15. Myfanwy, white light, bright spirit
    Dark elfin eyes and fey grace
    Of Scotland such an elemental part

    Myfanwy, small friend, dear one
    Like Scotland, you yet live
    On the wild moors of my heart

  16. So sorry for the loss of a wonderful, steadfast, little friend. A beautifully written account of her passing and what she meant to the members of her herd. You gave use one last photo of her when she was clearly looking her loveliest-thank you.

  17. What a plucky pony. Dear old girl, she will be missed by your readers as well as her 'Family'.


  18. I wasn't going to write at all, because losing a beloved is always so difficult for me to read about; however, as a horse person I couldn't not say anything. Having lost a cute little mare several years ago and having her BFF next to her being unconsolable and very upset with her humans for putting a gelding in Maggie Too's place, I got your mare's attitude right away. My sympathies and warm thoughts to you and Red, plus the rest of the "family" who mourns the little lady. You did her a great honour with your beautiful post and thank you. MMR

  19. I'm so so sorry. I loved your little pony. Love to you.

  20. That piece made me cry. She sounds like a gallant girl & ready for the end, but I'm sorry for your loss.

  21. Oh, Myfanwy. I'm so sorry, Tania. She reminded me of another little white companion pony who lived with one of my favorite horse-people long ago. Such small animals and such big spaces in our hearts.

  22. oh, the poor little girl - just think how happy you made her last years though and the companionship she had - with all my love, through floods of tears, @betsyspangles x


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