He was beautiful. He was grand. In the summer, his coat was as shiny as a new copper penny. He spent most of his life trying to please everyone around him, especially me. He passed away Oct. 19 at the age of 25.
His name was Royal Crest’s Hi Phi. Though he was a horse, he was my best friend.
Many times, when pet owners have to put an animal down, they have misgivings. “Did I do the right thing?” they ask themselves. I had no misgivings. I had a spectacular vet whom I trusted completely, and I knew it was Phi’s time. I do, however, have misgivings about the amount of time I spent with Phi before he left me.
Phi was one of those one-in-a-million type horses. I first met him when I was 9 years old and looking for my first horse. While I was impressed with him, it was my mother who took to him first. His size intimidated me a bit, and his price tag was too high for my father’s tastes. Instead, I ended up with a free horse whom I also loved to pieces.
Fast forward six years. Phi is skin and bones from several years of neglectful ownership and ends up at the stable where I ride; the owner takes him in and helps him get his strength back. He had seen some hard years since the first time we met, and I wanted nothing more than to wrap him up in my arms and protect him forever.
Once he regained his strength, I started taking riding lessons on him. We bonded instantly, and everyone knew it. People would come up to me and comment on how well the two of us rode together. A year later, he was my Christmas present (now at a price tag much more to my father’s liking). Soon after, we proudly took first in our first horse show together.
Age eventually took its toll though, and Phi came home to begin a life of near retirement. We rode trails and roads for a few years, but toward the end, my 3-year-old daughter was the only one I would set on his back.
What also happened in the last few years, though, is something I am not proud of. While I continued to always give him all the food he needed, and I fussed over him anytime he had a scratch, my life also got in the way — college, marriage, kid. I only got out to my mom’s to see him once, maybe twice, a week. And when I did get out there, my daughter Isabella usually limited my time.
I always kept it last on my list. Once the work is done, the homework, etc., then I can go see him. I missed seeing him every day, but I just couldn’t find the time to see him more.
I understand now what a mistake that was. Friends are priceless. They guide us through the tough times and give us a shoulder to cry on (Phi’s was an especially big shoulder). Yet I’ve had a habit in life of placing friends last, hoping they will be there when I have time for them. Even as I write, I think of cancelled plans for this weekend with my closest human friend because of too much homework.
Especially with the friends who really rely on you, like Phi did, we have to give them the attention they deserve so they know how much we care and appreciate them. While Phi was well provided for physically, he would have loved some extra brushings now and then or an extra scratch behind the ear. Phi was even content to just hang out in the pasture with his head by my shoulder.
While I have and will have other horses, a piece of my heart will always be his. Besides a friend, he was also a teacher, and the last lesson he taught me was to value that friendship and take care of it. One day you might lose it, and never get it back.