Since we got our first horses 15 years ago, I'd avoided thinking about the day I'd have to say good bye to them as much as I could. Sure, it had come up in conversation from time to time, but it's not the kind of thought that I—or most horse owners, for that matter—relish thinking about.

But about a month ago, I had to start thinking about it for real. Our first horse Taz, the handsome 27-year-old Appaloosa who's made many appearances in this blog over the past year, wasn't doing well. Old age and some complications with medical conditions had caught up with him, and after discussing several factors with our wonderful veterinarian, we decided that it was time. We wanted him to still be the same horse we knew and loved when he left, so we made the decision to put him to sleep before his infirmities took a more drastic toll than they already had.

Rest in Peace, Taz

Photo: Keith Larson

On March 23, we gave him a big breakfast, filled him with treats, showered him with love, and said a final good bye to our beloved Taz.

In the week preceding and for several weeks following, I started crying at the smallest thought of never being able to pat, ride, or even see Taz again. My very patient fiancé sat by my side, telling me it was okay and I needed to grieve. And grieve I did. I miss him terribly and I know my parents do too, but we all take comfort in the fact that he left us peacefully and while he wasn't in a lot of pain.

As the weeks have gone by, it's gotten easier to deal with. But a few days ago, I started thinking about all the wonderful times Taz gave us and all the priceless lessons he taught us. I smiled as I drove to work one morning, just thinking about him. It gave me comfort that I could still celebrate his life and our times together, even though he's gone.

A few memories stuck out as my favorites, and they're making me smile, even as I write this:

Within the first week he arrived at our home, then in Massachuetts, Taz taught my parents and I just how talented horses can be at opening barn doors that lead to pastures, and just how quickly they can eat substantial amounts of grain when they gain access to said barn from said pasture. He would be fine, the vet said after a check up and a tubing, but we sure beefed up the door latches pretty quickly after that.

One of my favorite things Taz taught us was that horses can be comedians—he was the funniest horse I've known. He repeatedly nudged barn cats off walls and made funny faces when he wanted a treat. On more than one occasion he planted a hoof on your foot before looking you straight in the eye and clearly saying, "Look at that! What are you going to do now?" And, perhaps his most famous stunt, he always repeatedly reached for the bit while being groomed and tacked up, but clamped his mouth shut with a smile when it was actually time to put on the bridle. He always had a comedic plan up his sleeve…we loved it.

Taz taught me to ride. I'd been taking lessons for years before we got him and am still taking lessons now. But I learned the most when I was just riding him through the fields, in arenas, at shows, and down roads and trails. I'll miss those rides.

But most of all, Taz taught me and my parents what it means to be horse owners: Early mornings and late nights, vet calls planned and unplanned, excitement and disappointment, good rides and bad, successful shows and not, and everything in between. He taught us that if we did right by the horse, he'd give us his trust, loyalty, devotion, and—if you believe they can—love.

Since Taz has been gone, the remaining four horses in Michigan have been sorting out a new pecking order and getting used to life in one big group, as opposed to the pairs they were in before. And my parents (while carrying on with caring for our Jessie, Brandy, Sadie, and Lance) and I, with Dorado, have noticed a little bit of Taz's personality and quirks—that we knew backwards and forwards for years—showing up in each of our five horses.

When dealing with the loss of a beloved senior horse—or any horse for that matter—it's a time to grieve. But it's also a time to celebrate that horse's life. Reminiscing of the good times has brought tears to my eyes, but it's also brought a smile to my face. I'll always miss him, but we were so incredibly lucky to have 15 wonderful years with him that can never be taken away...and that's what I'm celebrating.