When the news broke that my horse was sick, I was several hundred miles away from home.

I was at the state capitol for work, where I had anticipated staying for several weeks. I had coordinated with my barn owner to care for Belinda, my Hanoverian mare, during my extended time away. But the early morning call I got from my barn owner just a week into my trip sent me packing in seconds, and I embarked on a miserable five hour drive to get home.

Belinda was too sick to stand. The vet gave her pain killers and fluids, and pumped an acid-like orange fluid out of her stomach. He relayed to me what was happening over the phone as I drove south like a maniac through Florida’s spiderweb of highways.

I had to pull over a few times when my hands were shaking too much. I mentally coached myself through a panic attack on the grassy shoulder of the road. There was a real chance that the vet would have to put her down before I could get home. I bawled my eyes out for hours, alone, in the driver’s seat of my car thinking about it.

I made it back in record time, but Belinda’s prognosis wasn’t great. I cried as I wrapped my arms around her neck which would be one of the last times. She would ultimately never recover from a severe bout of anterior enteritis, and I’d have to make the difficult decision to let her finally rest just two days later.

Fast forward eight months, and my heart still aches for my mare. Last weekend I returned to Tallahassee, the city I was in for work when Belinda became ill, for the first time since it happened. I worried that the trip would bring back the horrible memories from that day. So I braced for it.

It was definitely a melancholy weekend. But my husband did his best to make it a fun and easy going trip. We did have a nice time together. But Belinda was never far from my mind.

Grief is a strange thing. Most of the time I can revisit the memories I have of my girl and feel happy now. December means it’s time for year-end award ceremonies at show circuits, and I smiled warmly when TimeHop reminded me of Belinda’s Grand Champion placing from 2016.

But occasionally I’m still struck by this gutting sadness.

I bought a new horse who brings me great joy. Of course, he is not Belinda. He’s quite the opposite, and I’ve kept my distance from him emotionally on the off chance I sell him or if disaster strikes again. But he wears Belinda’s old halter and her old blankets. Sometimes I ride him in the monogrammed “Belinda” saddle pad I bought for her.

The ache that comes from losing your heart horse never goes away. But it dulls with time. My new gelding is a happy and healthy distraction. And I’m thankful for the years of memories I have to remember Belinda. Hold your horse tight around the holidays. This is as good of a time as ever to be thankful for their companionship.