Delilah was my first horse, a stunning mare the colour of dark burnished copper.
Only Delilah wasn't the horse I thought I had bought. I thought I had bought a young mare. It turned out that Delilah was old, and had a wall eye.*
Delilah might not have been the horse I had wanted but she was the perfect horse for me. I the novice rider she the old hand, we got on famously. Patient and gentle she taught me at a novice's pace. My pace.
I'd had Delilah for almost three years when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer.
For the next five months Delilah lived on a diet of prednisolone; 200 hundred tablets a day. I would give them to her in sandwiches. The only way I could think of delivering such large doses. It was like catering for a five-a-side football team. And the matches were every day of the week.
Delilah's health was deteriorating. She was becoming increasingly uncomfortable; the day I had dreaded had finally arrived. An appointment was made with the vet and I spent as much time with her as I could.
I'd chosen a small field far from the main pastureland where I knew the herd would be grazing.
I walked Delilah from the stable for the last time. I remember the sun was shining, hardly a cloud in the sky, the perfect May day, the ground hard under foot, it hadn't rained for days.
The vet said it would be instant. I held Delilah's head, tried to hold back the tears, failed miserably. Delilah was gone.
And that's when it happened.
Faint at first and then unmistakeable. The thunder of hooves. The thunder growing to a roar. The herd, 20 strong, wheeled into view and slid to a stop in a cloud of dust. Silent observers, they lined up along the fence.
And then as if from some signal unseen they turned and moved off at a canter back to where they had been grazing.
All that is except one horse, Delilah's stable mate. Ears pointing forward, motionless, intent he stood, watched, waited, before finally raising his head and making his way back to join the rest of the herd.
Although I didn't know it at the time this was Delilah's parting gift, one that was to have a significant impact on my life and which I would only become fully aware of with the passing years.
How could the herd have known? Out of earshot out of eyesight. No discernible breeze to carry the scent of what was going on in this far off field.
Although I didn't know it at the time this was Delilah's final and most important lesson. Her parting gift, one that was to have a significant impact on my life and which I would only become fully aware of with the passing years.
*Horse traders would take a horse that had one blue eye and stand it with the blue eye facing the wall so potential purchasers would not be put off by its chilly stare.