Turning the Light Off

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Marlee has gone home this morning, far sooner than we planned.  She was only twenty two, born only two months after our daughter’s birth, much too young an age for a Haflinger to die.

But something dire was happening to her over the last two weeks — not eating much,  an expanding girth, then shortness of breath, and last week it was confirmed she had untreatable lymphoma.

Her bright eyes were shining to the end so it was very hard to ask the vet to turn the light off.  But the time had come.

Marlee M&B came to us as a six month old “runty orphan” baby by the lovely stallion Sterling Silver,  but she was suddenly weaned at three days when her mama Melissa died of sepsis.  She never really weaned from her bottle/bucket feeding humans Stefan and Andrea Bundshuh at M&B Farm in Canada. From them she knew people’s behavior, learned their nonverbal language, and understood human subtleties that most horses never learn. This made her quite a challenge as a youngster as it also meant there was no natural reserve nor natural respect for people. She had no boundaries taught by a mother, so we tried to teach her the proper social cues.

When turned out with the herd as a youngster, she was completely clueless–she’d approach the dominant alpha mare incorrectly, without proper submission, get herself bitten and kicked and was the bottom of the social heap for years, a lonesome little filly with few friends and very few social skills. She had never learned submission with people either, and had to have many remedial lessons on her training path. Once she was a mature working mare, her relationship with people markedly improved as there was structure to her work and predictability for her, and after having her own foals, she picked up cues and signals that helped her keep her foal safe, though she had always been one of our most relaxed “do whatever you need to do” mothers when we handled her foals as she simply never learned that she needed to be concerned.

Over the years, as the herd has changed, Marlee became the alpha mare, largely by default and seniority, so I don’t believe she really trusted her position as “real”. She tended to bully, and react too quickly out of her own insecurity about her inherited position. She was very skilled with her ears but she was also a master at the tail “whip” and the tensed upper lip–no teeth, just a slight wrinkling of the lip.  The herd scattered when they saw her face change.  The irony of it all is that when she was  “on top” of the herd hierarchy, she was more lonely than when she was at the bottom and I think a whole lot less happy as she had few grooming partners any more.

She accompanied us to the fair for a week of display of our Haflingers year after year after year — she could be always counted on to greet the public and enjoy days of braiding and petting and kids sitting on her back.

The day she started formal under saddle training under Val Bash was when the light bulb went off in her head–this was a job she could do! This was constant communication and interaction with a human being, which she craved! This was what she was meant for! And she thrived under saddle, advancing quickly in her skills, almost too fast, as she wanted so much to please her trainer.

She has had a still unequaled record among North American Haflingers. She was not only regional champion in her beginner novice division of eventing as a pregnant 5 year old, but also received USDF Horse of the Year awards in First and Second Level dressage that year as the highest scoring Haflinger.

With Jessica Heidemann she did a “bridleless” ride display in front of hundreds of people at the annual Haflinger event, and with Garyn Heidemann as instructor,  she became an eventing pony for a young rider whose blonde hair matched Marlee’s.  She galloped with abandon in the field on bareback rides with Emily Vander Haak and became our daughter Lea’s special riding horse over the last few years.

She had a career of mothering along with intermittent riding work, with 5 foals –Winterstraum, Marquisse, Myst, Wintermond, and Nordstrom—each from different stallions, and each very different from one another.

This mare had such a remarkable work ethic, was “fine-tuned” so perfectly with a sensitivity to cues–that our daughter said:   “Mom, it’s going to make me such a better rider because I know she pays attention to everything I do with my body–whether my heels are down, whether I’m sitting up straight or not.”  Marlee was, to put it simply,  trained to train her riders.

We will miss her high pitched whinny from the barn whenever she heard the back door to the house open. We will miss her pushy head butt on the stall door when it was time to close it up for the night.  We will miss that beautiful unforgettable face and those large deep brown eyes where the light was on.

What a ride she had for twenty two years, that dear little orphan.  What a ride she gave to many who trained her and who she trained over the years.   Though I never climbed on her back, what joy she gave me,  the surrogate mom who loved and fed her, unable to resist those bright eyes, which are now closed in peace.

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Photo Montage by Emily Dieleman

20 thoughts on “Turning the Light Off

  1. These photos show the gifts she gave… our condolences to the many hearts she touched, and to you, Emily. I am sure she leaves a huge hole in your herd and in your heart. Bless all horses, and let them run forever.

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  2. What a lovely “eulogy”! You have captured the essence of your beautiful horse and shown her struggles, triumphs and gifts and that in many ways she experienced the selfsame feelings we as humans do. Thank you and deepest sympathies for the hole she has left in your heart. Pat

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  3. Dear Emily,
    I’m so sorry to read about the loss of your precious Marlee. What a wonderful horse! You and your family are in our prayers.
    With love, in Christ, Carol

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  4. Don’t know you but I think I know your hearts, I lost my dearest boy,Sweet William, the most endearing haflinger, he grabbed my heart the second I saw him! He was Christmas everyday for me. I lost him when he was only 12, kidney disease, the odds that a horse dies of this disease is rare. We had a beautiful 8 years that were full of laughter and love. I feel like I was blessed to be his human. Marlee sounds like an amazing girl,I hope she and Willy meet in heaven and tour the universe together.

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  5. Emily I am so sorry for the loss of your lovely, remarkable Marlee. She sounded like a one in a million horse. May the good memories linger as the sadness fades. Hugs to you and your family.

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  6. Emily, your deep love and feelings of pain and loss for Marlee shows in every word that you have written here. The last picture shown — the one with Marlee and Lea, focusing on their eyes — with its muted eloquence touched my heart deeply and is one that I know you will treasure forever.

    I grieve with you, Emily.

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  7. I’m sitting at my desk with tears in my eyes. Oh, dear Marlee. I’m so very sorry–for you to go too soon, and for your family, who loved you so.
    A big hug, Emily.
    Amrita

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  8. It’s almost midnight here in Sydney and like Skyblaine the ears are streaming down my face. Even with the less than easy passing of time with her training, line in the hierarchy etc I know you would never have traded her for the world. An obviously “special” girl. Long may she live in the warmest place of your heart.

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  9. These souls we care for and love take a part of us when they leave. The feral cat who found you and this tiny foal who was blessed to find an understanding family add more to our lives then we do to theirs. May your sadness be replaced by 22 years of happy memories of Marlee with her human family.

    Grace Amoroso and Nash Flies

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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  10. Being able to live near animals and learn about them as you have is a great privilege. Thank you for sharing the joy of Marlee and your grief at her leaving. I disagree with St. Augustine; the afterlife belongs to such as these, too.

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  11. Reading this blog and seeing your images made me realize that these images of Marlee (and many of your other horses) was the reason I decided to go with a Haflinger for my next horse 8 years ago. Now, I am getting ready to say goodbye to my Haffy too. My boy is going much too soon as well at 10, and I am wondering how I will ever go on without him. Not sure I will ever have another Haflinger, but I really am glad that I got the experience even though it is being cut short. Thank you for sharing your Haflingers with the world it has meant the world to me!

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