In my latest novel, To Ride A Wylder Horse, horses take center stage. Set in the fictional town of 1878 Wylder, Wyoming Territory, horses are the main mode of transportation. Thankfully, we don’t have to ride horses for logistics now, only for the pleasure of their company. While writing To Ride A Wylder Horse, Choco served as my inspiration.

In the above picture, Choco was a healthy, happy, beautiful Rocky Mountain gaited horse and as crazy about pears as I am about cheesecake. My favorite haul from Trader Joe’s was a bag of organic pears for this pretty boy, for which I’d get kisses.

Fast forward to late winter 2022.

Choco lost weight in February. We called the veterinarian, and he prescribed some antibiotics. Choco picked up a little, then lost more weight. (For those of you who haven’t had horses, when sick, they can drop 200 pounds like it’s nothing.) We loaded him in a horse trailer and drove him to a large animal hospital where the tests commenced, including ultrasounds and bloodwork. The horse specialist suspected liver cancer and took her samples to a separate area to run through the diagnostic machine.

In the hospital, my husband slipped through the stall door to use the facilities. Choco took a sharp breath and a forward step. He clearly intended to follow Tony wherever he went, including the restroom. I loved Choco, but my husband was his human–the close friend that links man and horse like two halves of one whole. They trusted one another.

I stroked his neck. “There, there. He’ll be right back.”

He dropped his head and pushed a shoulder toward the door.

I placed my hand firmly on his forehead. “No, we’ll wait here.”

Choco obeyed. But he was in pain and confused and becoming frustrated. A container of pens and colored markers rested on the counter. Choco picked it up in his teeth and shook his head, scattering the pens and knocking his nose against the counter’s underside.

The doctor opened the door. “Is everything all right in there?”

I stuffed the pens back into the jar. “It’s fine. Just upset the markers.”

The hospital nurse administered intravenous fluids and kept him for a week, during which we received updates and phone calls. We’d never been happier than when we received the call that he was ready to come home. We picked him up, along with a fat bag of medicine, and reintroduced him to his buddies in the pasture, although at a safe distance from an outer paddock.

His improvement continued–for about a week. Unfortunately, he was not able to stabilize. I’ll spare you the details, but he is now resting on our farm beneath some freshly planted pear trees. We could think of nothing he’d like more as an eternal resting place.

The grief is still palpable.

Renee Johnson is the author of Reminiscing Over Rainbow GelatoBehind The MaskHerald AngelsAcquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a sweet romance and a historical novel while editing a suspense novel with international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and two very spoiled German shepherds named Hansel and Hannah.