Atticus, my horse, died over the weekend. He had chronic respiratory problems that all stemmed from a tooth he broke several years ago. On Sunday, when he ran away from me because he was afraid I was going to give him another shot and then got so out of breath that he couldn’t keep up with the other horses, I knew it was time. He died peacefully watching the sunset over the Rocky Mountains.


I am going to miss him more than words can express. He was my childhood dream realized at the age of thirty. I had just hopped off a mare who wasn’t a good fit for me when the ranch manager said to one of his wranglers, “How ‘bout that Paint in the back. He’s no good with cows.” I tossed an English saddle on him, warmed him up a bit, and then pointed him towards a small jump. He hesitated for a second, obviously thinking, “You want me to what?” But his adventurous spirit overrode his caution (a theme throughout his life), and he bounded over it. In that moment, I fell in love.


Atticus had one of the coolest personalities I’ve ever encountered in a horse. He was smart, loving and gentle, but also had an impish side that made him a whole lot of fun to be around. He was an incredible athlete too. He could run faster than any horse I’ve ever ridden, literally whisking your breath away when he was going at a full tilt. He loved to jump so much that I’d often have to pull him up halfway through a course. He’d get so excited that at a certain point I’d have to admit that I wasn’t really in control anymore, and it was safest for everyone if we took a breather.


I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe our relationship. He was not a “fur kid.” I’ve had other pets that fit into that category, but Atticus and I were not that interdependent. He had his separate horse life and I had my separate human life, but still we sought each other out. I think Atticus was my boyfriend, my guilty pleasure. Every moment (and dollar) I spent on him could have been spent more fruitfully elsewhere (husband, kids, career, etc.), yet I wouldn’t give up a single second we had together. In fact, my only regret is that I didn’t spend more time with him. Surely the world would have kept rotating if we had disappeared into the woods together a few more times.


So here I am. Feet firmly planted on the ground. No strong back to leap on, mane to tangle my fingers through, and ears in which to whisper “Run boy, run.” I feel like a pilot who has been grounded, but my airplane was a magnificent horse.


I told you Atticus had a life separate from my own. He used to share it with a mare name Harper. If I was Atticus’s girlfriend, Harper was his wife. Harper died almost eight years ago now, but I’d like to think she was waiting for him on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. I’m sending Atticus back to you, Harper. Take good care of each other. I love you both.


horse companion, loss of pet


Dr. Jennifer Coates


Image: ashkabe / Shutterstock