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Saying Goodbye is Never Easy

A three rifle volley solute was fired, the solemn notes of Taps hung in the humid air and salty wet tears flowed freely during the celebration of life for Melody Whispering Love Song the horse. The ashes of the 33-year-old Morgan mare, who was called Melody for short, were scattered with care over the grass in the upper ring at the Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue in East Hampton, Connecticut as her owner, Rick Kowalker, adorned in a plaid shirt, jeans, sunglasses and a black cowboy hat, looked on with stoic love while his best friend in the world was laid to rest with pride and care.

Melody and Rick a team, a couple, a pair, and a perfect match of hearts and souls. A man and his horse; they found one another in a world that otherwise seemed unbearable. Rick, a veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, was searching for a reason to wake up in the morning and Melody, a retired show horse, willingly became that reason.

Twelve years ago the two united and were inseparable, until two years ago when Rick’s health began to decline necessitating him going into a nursing home. It was then that Veterinarian Doctor Stacey Golub, founder and Executive Director of the Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue and Melody’s vet, decided that Melody, then 31 years-old, would live out the rest of her life happily at the rescue. So, that’s exactly what happened and for the past two years, Rick has made a weekly trip to visit Melody in her paddock, sharing sacred time together, comforting one another.

Friday, June 15, was that last of those visits and as Rick kissed his dear horse on her soft muzzle for the last time a chance photo was snapped of the two. At Melody’s ceremony, the photo was presented to Rick in the form of a painting that one of the rescue’s artists created especially for the extraordinary horseman.

A man of few words, Rick’s appreciation for everything that was done by the rescue for he and Melody could be felt in the strong grip of his thank you hand shake.

In the last decade, the importance and credence of equine therapy as a tool, especially for those suffering from PTSD, has been studied at length and the science of the horses’ innate ability to intuitively understand where an individual is inside themselves has been proven time and time again. This was the case for Rick and Melody and as much as he loved and needed her, she loved and needed him right back. This was made abundantly clear on her last day here on earth; as the CDHR volunteers, along with Dr. Golub, tried to get Melody up from a downed position.

“Nothing was moving her,” explained Golub. “Then, we played a recording of Rick’s voice and the ailing mare perked up her ears and scanned the immediate area for her beloved friend.”

It was then that eight volunteers lifted the aged horse to her feet, but she was unable to stay up and the decision was made to peacefully help her pass.

“The bond between Rick and Melody was so strong and so was her spirit, but her poor body was old and tired and at 33 it was her time to go,” said Golub, whose heart is dedicated to caring for horses.

Together Rick and Melody attended 723 military funerals providing peace and respect to the families of veterans, Rick adorned in his full uniform and Melody outfitted with her beautiful, official McClellan military saddle, which was donated to the pair by Smith Worthington. Melody’s rank, which was given to her by Rick, was Sergeant Major and her saddle pad proudly displayed the golden chevrons with the star in the center and her stirrups always housed backward riding boots, signifying the passing of a warrior who would never ride again. Those symbolic boots where always filled with horse treats for Melody, given to her for a job well done.

In addition to attending funerals, the unlikely pair also rode in numerous Memorial Day parades, and would often be seen around the town of Cromwell ambling along, stopping every now and then for a beer for Rick and a treat (often times it was a plain donut or two) for Melody. She was so well trained she was even allowed inside several funeral homes and would ask to go to her trailer when she needed to relieve herself.

“Melody was a bit of flirt,” said Brendan Boyle Marine Corps League Champlain. “She was spoiled to death by Rick and everybody loved her. No one could do her job better than she did.”

“I think there is an incredible bond between people and horses,” said Golub. “They are the family members we choose and Melody was Rick’s family. She gave him a reason to wake up, a purpose and a friend. She gave him everything and he gave her a great life.”

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