Saturday, December 16, 2017

The first adventure

Sig and I went for our first ride around the farm today!

It's been a long week.  I have been in/out of the office for the better part of two months now, and now that it's all over, I have to get several things back on track, including and entire subordinate office that needs a lot of fixing.  All that means that I don't feel like I can be very flexible with my schedule during the work week, which creates a challenge because we do not have an indoor.  Between that and the weather, it's been a long six days waiting for Saturday's arrival to hop on Sig.  In the meantime, he has settled well into the farm, has done a couple of round pen sessions with me, and is getting better about the cross tie thing.

But today was the day.  It felt so good to put the riding clothes back on and head to the barn.  It felt like going home.  Going back to a routine that I deeply missed.  It's a part of me.  I need this.

I got to the barn, brought Sig and his daytime turnout buddy, Z, inside, and decided to take Sig down to the round pen first to see if he had any extra sass he would like to work out.  On the way down, we took the opportunity to meet the ALIENS mini donkeys.  Scarlet, aka Baby Floof (for her adorable white star/floof), our yearling, was her usual perfect ambassador self.  She was Soonie's girlfriend, always the one to march over bravely to the fence, touch noses, and hang out with the Big Horse.  She very gamely showed Sig there was nothing to be afraid of, and despite the most hilarious, tiny under-his-breath squeal ever, Sig decided he wanted to chill with the donks for a minute or two.  Not bad for the three year old's first up close look.

Baby Scarlet Floof and Baby Sig

It was perfectly apparent that Sig has figured out the point of round penning, he was completely content to follow me around like a big dog from the very beginning.  There was a quick couple of spins around and a change of direction or two for good measure, but he came right back and was ready to go.  No shenanigans.  No sass.  Just quiet relaxation.  I decided to tack up and hop on.

He's still pretty squirmy in the wash stall where I tack him up, but it is quite busy in that barn at times.  I checked the fit of my saddle (YES THANK YOU BABY JESUS), which is actually quite good, adjusted his bridle (I have NO idea how he has a smaller head than Soon), and off we went.

We did about 15 minutes in the ring of just walk and trot, to get a feel for each other.  I like how he feels in the loose ring copper oval mouth, he started reaching for the contact a little after just a couple of minutes.  Overall he felt good - I think there's always that "Oh no did I make the right decision, is this going to work?" after you buy a new horse, especially if you don't take it on trial first.  But just sitting on him, then walking and trotting around I felt why I liked him.  He'll be easy on my bad back, but still feels like he's going to be very fun and fancy with more time, strength, and training.  He was foot perfect in the ring, didn't care to look at any of the dressage lettering or the jumps on the other side of the ring.  No spook, no real interest at all, actually.  So chill!

After the quick ring refresher, we went out for a short hack around the back field.  Again, he was super chill, basically on the buckle most of the way, no spook or much concern about anything at all (and there are a few things to look at!).  It was a very pleasant, relaxing first ride, which is what I need.  I love my hacking time.  My horses have to wear Big Boy Pants and go on their own, and Sig is totally game for that.  Very glad for Carleigh and her giving Sig plenty of hacks on Mt Brilliant!

After the ride, he got more grooming time, dinner, and kicked back outside with his night herd.  And his giant bean bag of hay which he seems to cherish deeply.

OMG can you please hold still

The plan for Sig this winter is to put front shoes on, and stick to mainly just hacking around the farm.  The hillwork will be good for him, it's less stress on him at this point in his development, and also relieves me of needing to be on a strict training schedule in the dead of winter.  With my current professional obligations, this is a good plan.  We found a trail riding partner, so when the weather cooperates, we'll head down the road to the park for some trail rides to get him out and about.  We'll do 10-15 minutes in the ring a couple times a week as well, to work on the concepts of straight, forward, and contact.  I will introduce him to lunging, and eventually to side reins, as well.  Maybe some in-hand work in the meantime when it's too cold or I'm feeling a change of pace.  And maybe we'll take a field trip to the trainer's once or twice to learn how indoors work.

Come the end of March, we'll shift focus and add additional dressage schools, and resume some jumping, probably mostly grid work, and perhaps some baby XC stuff we have on the farm for variety.  We already know he's a great jumper, very game, and is a lovely ride over fences.  Carleigh put a fantastic foundation on him already.  Now, between my schedule, the winter weather, and where he is development wise, it's a good time of year to slow down and focus on some other things and then hit the ground running again in the spring! 

To summarize, Sig's first ride felt like he has lived on this farm his entire life.  I am very impressed.  And by impressed, I mean I was walking back to the barn with him, grinning like an idiot.  He's young and green and we have a long road of development ahead of us, but that's okay, I love green ones.  This is the right horse.  I'm finally home.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sig Update #1

I'll try to keep it concise as I'm sleep deprived and it's late already, but only a few days into the relationship and I'm already very impressed with Sig.  He is both similar to Soon, and vastly different...and his age is probably the biggest difference, as he is still very much a baby.  But that said, he is one helluva baby that has a pretty damn good sense of humor about life.

The Arrival
I shipped with Brook Ledge again, having had a great experience with Soon three years ago.  I can't say enough good things about Brook Ledge, their folks are the best, from the office staff, to the drivers and horse handlers.  Shout out to Aaron, the driver, for saying lovely things about the goofy three year old alone in the back of his truck, and handling Sig with all the patience in the world!

I can't lie...seeing that beautiful Brook Ledge rig crawl down the street was like watching the slowest Christmas present unwrapping ever. 

To my surprise Sig wasn't shipping in one of the smaller gooseneck "shuttle" vans...Aaron was bringing the R.M.S. TITANIC MASSIVE TRACTOR TRAILER down the teeny narrow and obnoxiously twisty back country roads.  Because our farm driveway better resembles a Rubik's cube rather than an actual road, they informed me they'd be parking the rig on the main road, and the horse would be unloaded there.

So, Sig's first test was getting off the van, and walking the half mile across cornfields and down the driveway by himself.  And he was foot perfect.  Walked right in the barn, settled immediately, never jigged, or called for anyone, or put up a scene of any kind.  Just strolled onto the farm and said, "Ok, this is fine.  Oh look...hay."

This is major eye candy geeking in my world. 

Hi baby horse!

Figuring out what chickens are

The rest of his first day was uneventful: a quiet hand graze, a test turnout where we learned Sig is the Most Chill Turnout Buddy Ever, and dinner.  He was mildly concerned about the mini donkeys and the goats in the lower paddock, because....

But actually

...but the worst he did was pick up his head and snort. Then he went back to eating grass.  Which, for a three year old horse, fresh off the truck and not having been around farm yard aliens before, I think that was totally impressive.  I didn't push him on the donkey/goat thing, I figured he had enough for the day, we could tackle meeting them once he was more settled.

Sig is basically out 24/7 right now, he has a daytime turnout buddy, and a nighttime turnout group, all of whom he gets along with beautifully.  He is such a quiet, laid back horse out in the field.  And by "out" I mean he probably stands in the run in shed 99% of that time eating the round bale.

Full disclosure, I am digging out of a pile of issues at work which have amassed over the last month or two during my partial absence.  It's caused some long days, and because we have no indoor, has put a damper on me playing with (or getting on) Sig this week.  Which is totally fine, it's good to give him a few days to just settle into the farm, his new routine, and get comfortable.  Basically he's been learning about nightly groomings and how cross ties work.

I have played with him twice in the round pen though.  I get the feeling someone did some basic ground work with him at some point, because he caught on to the round penning quickly.  I am impressed how he handles himself in an unfamiliar corner of the farm (just next to those aliens we were talking about), by himself, and focuses on his work.  Seriously....the round pen is covered in leaves, and apparently leaves are like his Pringles potato chips.  You imagine trying to concentrate on algebra or something boring-ish while sitting in a kiddie pool full of Pringles.


You're welcome.

I like to keep the round pen sessions short maybe 15 minutes, just enough to get him moving his feet the way I want, responding to some of my cues, softening up a little, and finding a happy place to stop.  We're doing some moving of the haunches by swinging the rope, and also standing still and relaxing while I throw the rope over and around him.  It's about me being able to move him around me when I need to, and him standing quietly when I want that too.  The first day, much to my surprise, he actually connected with me (Join Up™, Hook On™, or whatever absurd natural horsemanship school you subscribe to for 6 easy installments of $99.95....).  This evening it was even faster and he was getting right down to business.  This horse is an absolute goof, wiggly and mouthy like most three year olds are mouthy...but you give him some work to do, and all of a sudden he's all business.  I love it. 

I normally round pen with the 30 foot line as my driving aid, but I forgot it in my trailer so I thought it was a good opportunity to introduce him to the lunge whip.  Before we got down to any actually round penning, I rubbed the lunge whip all over him while I scratched his neck, threw the lash over his back, across his hindlegs, and absolutely no fucks given.  He's clearly never had a bad experience with whips.

I am hoping to get on him tomorrow or Saturday, and right now the plan is to stick to hacking and some light dressage work this winter.  He's going to get front shoes, we're going to check saddle fit tomorrow, and he'll get a visit from our massage therapist soon, just for funsies.

Getting a three year old is a drastic change, but it is a welcome challenge, and while it will be challenging at times, a horse with a great attitude like Sig makes it so much more fun and enjoyable.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Changing of the Guard

There was a moment, maybe halfway through Soon's hospital stay and on a low of the emotional rollercoaster, where I declared that if Soon didn't make it, that I was done with owning horses.

Maybe I would keep riding, maybe train some OTTBs or young horses on the side, help some friends...or perhaps I would sell everything and walk away completely.  I had owned horses since I was the 14 total years of horse ownership over my 25 years in horses, I had endured three colic surgeries.  I had been beyond blessed two have two horses that I considered my "horse of a lifetime", Triple and Soon...and colic had claimed both of them.  I was done.  I could not do it anymore.

Then, not long after Soon passed, there was a feeling of peace on this subject where before there had been bitterness.  I knew there would be another horse someday.  I did not figure it happening any time soon, but I knew there would be a day where I would call another my own.  And I hoped, when that day came, that I would do right by the new addition, and in doing so, honor the two great soldiers that came before.

Well, that time has already come, and the changing of the guard is taking place.

I had not intended to look at horses for several months, at least until I knew what my next military assignment was going to be.  Part of me decided that Soon's passing was a sign for me to finally move to England and go on that new adventure on my own.  In the meantime, I was going to ride some OTTBs for my trainer friend, go out to do more normal social stuff, and just wait until the right horse came along later (like...when I was in the UK, or when I moved back stateside). Was not looking....

And then the right one fell into my lap. His ad kept popping up in front of me despite my strict "I'M NOT LOOKING FOR HORSES!" policy.  I ignored it initially.  It was too soon, I was not ready.  But when it kept showing up, I finally looked at it closely.  I was interested in what I saw; I exchanged some very informative emails with the seller, and took 24 hours to really consider what I was doing.  Was I doing this because I was truly ready for another horse?  Or, was I rushing into something after Soon's death and acting irrational?  What about England?

I took that 24 hours and thought it over.  I bounced it off some good friends who knew what Soon meant to me.  They were excited and supportive.  And after a few signs that I could not ignore (keep reading...), I made the trip out to Lexington, Kentucky this past weekend to give him a try. No expectations. No pressure.  If it wasn't totally right, I would walk away and resume my European plans.

I went out and saw him.  Rode him.  Hacked him. Jumped XC fences in the most polite, huntery manner ever.  Snuggled.  And he was perfect. And he's coming home this weekend.

Introducing Sig!!

His name is Lucky Strike (aka "Sig"). He is a 3 year old, full Thoroughbred gelding by Northern Afleet, out of Godiva (CHI). He was purpose bred in Lexington by Mt Brilliant Farm for elite polo (via AI, so therefore not eligible to be registered with the Jockey Club), but grew too large. He was sent to Carleigh Fedorka of A Yankee In Paris fame, who started putting a foundation on him.  He had a brief start as a 2 year old, then turned back out, and probably has about 100 or so days on him total.  Keep that in mind when you watch his sale video!!

Sig is a true unicorn. His personality is super sweet and affectionate, decidedly non-obnoxious for a 3 year old, super quiet, has the best brain, and he is taking to training like fish to water.  Carleigh has already had him out to a baby jumper show, XC schooling over lots of little obstacles, water, and he hacks like a champ.  By himself.  Through 30-foot wide streams.  He's like little a wunderkind of awesome.

My trial ride started in the arena, which went well.  He's a young horse with (hopefully) some more growing to do, but despite that and the relatively short time he's been undersaddle, he is very soft in the bridle and has moments of moving uphill.  He will be super fancy on the flat with more time and training.  And his jump?  Perfect metronome unicorn.  He didn't change to or from the fence, jumped with a lot of promise with his front end, and is already using his head/neck and displaying some bascule.  The boy has talent.

And also, he goes out of the ring like an old trail horse, canters around the XC field and pops over fences without changing.  I just had to close my leg and soften my hand, and he was there at the base of the jump.  It is going to be so fun to see him develop as a jumper!  And he's quiet and fun enough to enjoy lots of time hacking outside the ring too.   He can do it all.

Here's some video of he and I trying each other out:

Apparently, flunked polo ponies is where it's at, ya'll. Go get you one.

I've been thinking that Soonie sent me a gift here.  But why, exactly?  Well, the Thursday night before I left, as I was still contemplating it (mostly sold on the idea of going out to try him), I was driving home, on base, listening to Cole Swindell's "You Should Be Here," and getting pretty misty eyed thinking about Soonie. As I was listening and crying a little, I was stopped behind someone at an intersection and I saw they had Kentucky plates on their car. Now...yes I live on a military base and yes there are plates from all over the country, but I've not seen a ton of KY plates around here. Timing was uncanny. I smiled.

Then, when I tried Sig, while he's still very unique and has some differences from Soon, they're similar in some important ways of how they ride. Sig is really incredible for his age, very level headed and soft like Soonie. Both have a super jump. I had a great, super fun ride on Sig and he made me smile (I had not ridden at all since 14 Oct, the day Soon went in for colic surgery). Then after the ride, Sig was playing with his Carleigh's zipper, something that Soon used to do from time to time. I don't see a lot of horses do that, and to have Sig do it right then when I was standing there contemplating the next step was coincidental...but also uncanny. I just remember standing there thinking "Ok, I hear you, Brother." And decided to proceed with vetting Sig and went from there.

Sig's getting on the truck tomorrow, I expect he'll be at the farm by Saturday morning, and the new adventure begins.  I'm ready.  

Look at this amazing caption of me not falling off after not riding in forever!  And baby genius!

Now, I do like Lucky Strike and I probably will just stick with it, but since he's not JC registered, I had been contemplating changing the name for his USEF registration. There are also 14 other active Lucky Strikes in the USEF database, not even counting the inactive listings. So, I guess I'm interested to see if we can come up with a more interesting, unique name to use moving forward. If I can't pick one then I guess he'll be just another Lucky Strike. I like his barn name and have no intention of changing that.

I like the idea of a one-word name relating to nautical/maritime, or military themes. I have considered "Northwestern" (the name of the crab boat on The Deadliest Catch, as Sig is named after Sig Hansen), but I don't like that name for him. I think his sire's name/lineage may be useful, so I'm open to suggestions. I'm not sure how to work in any reference to Godiva (legend or chocolate).   So if you have any suggestions or thoughts, please let me know!  Some current favorite options are:

- Lucky Strike (current name, very common in the USEF)
- Strike the Colors (military/maritime reference of the age of sail, not in the USEF registry!)
- Signal the Fleet (not in USEF)
- Trafalgar (surprisingly popular in the USEF....)
- Insignia (awesome, but also very popular in the USEF)
- aaaaaaaand maybe one or two off my ancient list o' horse names that is probably on my external hard drive

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Healing, one phone call at a time

I have some news to share shortly.  Some great, exciting, and most importantly, HAPPY news!  It's going to be a long story about a new adventure and a new partner that deserves his own post.  But before I get to that, I have to say I had a very necessary and difficult talk tonight.

I've known for a couple weeks now that Soon's former race owner, Dennis, had been wanting to call.  I knew that was going to be a very tough conversation.  He decided to wait a bit, and I'm glad for that, because I think I needed a little bit of time so I wasn't a complete, blithering mess on the phone.  But even almost four weeks now, and I was still pretty much a blithering mess.

He called tonight, and it really did make my heart happy to hear from him.  I always liked Dennis, he seemed like the type of guy I could just hang around and drink a beer with.  He's a good, old school horseman who put his animals first, as Soon would absolutely attest to.  Dennis is what's right with racing - a kind hearted, hard working guy, who puts his horses first both on the track and afterward.  We kept in touch for over a year after Soon retired, I would send him pictures and updates before we finally lost touch back in late 2014.  Some of the CANTER girls had kept him in the loop more recently with our horse showing and clinic escapades.  I am so grateful for that.  Dennis deserves to know that his horse became a superstar, and was the most important part of my life.

Dennis called tonight to say he was sorry, how he knew how hard it was and how he knew how much Soonie meant to me.  He said if there was ever a horse and person meant for each other, he knew it was us.  He told me about how much Soon had given him, how much of a "people person" he was.  And Dennis told me how he had turned away several buyers, because they weren't right or couldn't provide Soon the home Dennis thought he deserved.  And then he said when he watched me walk in the stall, he knew that was it.  I admit, I spent the majority of the phone call trying not to break down and cry.

And yes, I did break down and cry uncontrollably at the end of the phone call.  

This guy remembered all the details of that day I came to see Soon.  He remembered everything about a racehorse he sold over four years ago.  This guy cares.  Always has.  We both remembered how it was between Soon and another horse that day, and I had come back to see Soon again to see if I could make up my mind.  I walked back in the stall, Soon planted his face in my chest, and that was it.  Dennis said he knew then.  He told me, right there, that "I can't sell him to anyone but you."

I don't think either one of us had any clue in that moment what Soon and I would go on and do in the future, any clue what an important role he would play in my life and how much of my happiness would be wrapped up in him.  But I think we both had a feeling about something, and that was good enough to believe and take a leap of faith.

The call probably only lasted 10 minutes or so, maybe 15, but it was good to hear from him again, and I hope to keep in touch with him again.  He asked for some recent photos, which I was happy to text him, but I told him I'd do him one better.  I've ordered some nice prints of some of our best photos, a mix of candid shots and show photos, and will mail those to him along with all the Chronicle articles about Soonie.  Going to write him a card too.  And if I'm ever in the St Louis area again, or if I ever make the move to Kentucky, you bet your ass I'll be making the trip to Fairmount to catch up with Dennis and cheer on his horses.

I don't speaking with Dennis it was like another big milestone in healing.  And in being reminded how much Soon gave Dennis, it makes me that much more grateful that I had Soon in my life at all.  I'm grateful for Dennis, I'm grateful for four amazing years with a horse that touched a lot of people.  That time was an absolute gift and while I'm still sad it got cut short, I have to start appreciating having it at all, and I smile now just knowing I had the opportunity.

“This one isn’t just any old horse. There’s a nobility in his eye, a regal serenity about him. Does he not personify all that men try to be and never can be? I tell you, my friend, there’s divinity in a horse, and specially in a horse like this. God got it right the day he created them. And to find a horse like this in the middle of this filthy abomination of a war, is for me like finding a butterfly on a dung heap. We don’t belong in the same universe as a creature like this.”
- Michael Morpurgo,
War Horse

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Five More Minutes

I knew there would be a day when he had to leave and would break my heart.  I hoped, that in that moment, that I would not be standing there pleading for more time.  That I would have the strength to let him go and feel satisfied with our time together.  And I did let him go when it was time, I didn't delay, I didn't bargain for more time or feel bitter that night.  I had appreciated every little moment along the journey, said thank you, told him I loved him every day.  I had done it right.

...And it doesn't matter.  Because here I am 10 days later, and what I would give to see him just one more time.

Time rolls by the clock don't stop
I wish I had a few more drops

Of the good stuff, the good times
Oh but they just keep on flying
Right on by like it ain't nothing
Wish I had me a pause button
Moments like those Lord knows I'd hit it
Yeah sometimes
this old life will leave you wishing
That you had five more minutes...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Collateral Beauty

When The Chronicle of the Horse invited me to contribute to their Amateurs Like Us blogs, I had grand visions of regaling the internet world with tales of Soon and I.  Soon, my intrepid and worldly off the track Thoroughbred (OTTB) gelding, who went on a tear with me this summer and accomplished some pretty incredible things.  Perhaps I would write about our summer riding with Joe Fargis and Linda Zang, or perhaps the journey of training your own OTTB on an amateur schedule, or what life is like balancing horses and the military.  Perhaps I still will.  

…But I never imagined I would be describing to you all how he died.

It was just after midnight on the morning of Sunday, November 12, 2017.  In the end, I suppose it was fitting that Soon’s final day was Veterans’ Day.

You see, Soon was a true War Horse.  He had 52 starts on the race track over the course of five years.  He had run-away wins, and wins that came down to the wire, where he dug in and showed real grit in order to run down his opponent.  I bought him off the track in 2013, he was sound as a dollar and came with a sort of old-soul wisdom that you only find in those older war horses.  He was the closest thing to rational I had ever seen in a horse.  He was far too polite to be anything but perfect.  His work ethic and athletic ability were just icing on the cake.  He loved his people, too.  I have said many times, that if I had the ability to custom-build a horse for my needs, I could not have done a better job than Soon.  Who he was is what made him so great.

But in addition to his race record, he became a war horse in the truest sense after he retired from racing, as he accompanied me in my service in the United States Air Force.  He has been with me at two duty stations, even “deployed” with me to Dover Air Force Base in 2015 to help me cope with my somber responsibilities at the Port Mortuary.  Since then, we had a legendary run in 2017, training with my idols, and setting what I believed was a successful foundation in the jumper ring.  There was so much to look forward to.  And then, it was just gone.

They say old soldiers never die, they simply fade away…

After Soon’s brilliant display of Thoroughbred qualities at the September George H. Morris clinic, he and I followed it up with an outing at the Piedmont Jumper Classic in Upperville, Virginia.  Afterward, when we came home, I found myself a bit lost and lacking motivation.  Our big push for 2017 was the GM clinic, and there was a bit of an empty space to fill once we were beyond it.  There was a lot of hacking; we both needed some extra downtime.  

That came to an abrupt end on Saturday, October 14.  Soon colicked badly late that morning, and did not respond to the intravenous Banamine.  I called an emergency vet, who dropped everything she was doing to come out, but in the time we had to wait, Soon grew increasingly painful.  It was so great that multiple times he collapsed; twice I thought he was about to die in my arms.  I could not believe what was happening.  My nightmare. My nightmare was happening.  

It was exactly like the ending in Phar Lap, but with no cute Australian guy.  

The vet arrived, but we knew after the exam that he needed to be at a surgical center.  We topped off his sedation and pain relief, and I loaded Soon up and drove him to the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Virginia.  He was in surgery shortly thereafter for a displaced large colon, and some twisting of the small intestine.

The next three weeks were an up and down saga of immense and unhappy proportions.  He suffered numerous complications.  Every day I made the three-hour round trip to visit, and every day I rode that emotional rollercoaster between expecting him to go home, and expecting to have to put him down.  He had two stints in the isolation barn, where I was unable to touch or interact with him at all.  I was in a living hell.

The surgeons and staff pulled out all the stops, and eventually got Soon stabilized to the point where they were comfortable with him going home.  He would be in an equine hernia belt harness for some time, require follow up exams and a lot of work, but he could go home to continue his recovery.  I was ecstatic.  He was happy to be home, looked so bright and happy, until he had another bout of colic that afternoon.  He came out of it, and the next couple of days were uneventful, but there was this overwhelming feeling of stress and dread in the back of my mind.  

One Last Fight

Late on Saturday, November 11, Soon colicked again.  The vet arrived immediately and sedated him.  We were hoping after the exam that he would be more comfortable.  Perhaps all he needed was a little extra help and some IV fluids.  But after the rectal exam it was clear he had a new issue with the small intestine.  We called his surgeons at Leesburg and they discussed options.  I did not want to send him back to the hospital.  This horse, who had given me everything he had for four years, had been through hell.  If he came out of the sedation and drugs well enough, then we would continue.  If he started acting painful, based on his pain level and the palpation of the small intestine, I would put him down on the farm.

Unfortunately, once the drugs wore off he became painful again, and knowing where I stood, we all agreed that he had enough, and it was time.  Soon fought bravely for a month, and never complained.  He maintained an incredible attitude through it all, but looking at him that night, with him being in that much pain, I knew.  He tried.  I tried.  All his medical staff had tried everything.  This just was not meant to be.  There was not any amount of medicine that was going to cure him, and he did not deserve to be put through any more.

I had a moment alone in the stall with him to say goodbye.  I pressed my forehead against his and cried; I told him he was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.  I said “Thank you Brother, for everything.”  I told him I loved him.  Then he was ready.  He practically dragged me out of the stall.  He went peacefully just after 12:30am, I was with him the entire time.

He was my “heart horse.”  And it felt, and still feels, like my heart has been ripped from my chest, living a gaping, bleeding wound from which there is no recovering.

The Collateral Beauty
There is a movie, Collateral Beauty¸ which struck some raw nerves with me over the last month of this struggle.  The idea that there is beauty to be admired in the face of tragedy, or even because of that tragedy, sounds poetic, but in the midst of that struggle, how do you bring yourself to appreciate it?  Is it even real, or just something that people say to make you feel better?

The collateral beauty in the wake of Soon’s hospitalization, and later his death, is bittersweet, but obvious.  It has some rather immense importance.  It is having the extra time to say goodbye to my sweet boy.  It is knowing that he was at home when he passed.  I feel it in the condolences and messages of support I have received from close friends, family, even perfect strangers.  It is the connection I feel to fellow Thoroughbred owners and fans, and fellow horsemen in general.  It is in the comfort I have knowing we exhausted every effort to give Soon the chance to live.  In knowing that he is no longer in pain, no longer suffering, no longer facing an uncertain future.

It is meeting a wonderful team of veterinarians and nurses who truly put everything they had into Soon’s care.  I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Brown and Dr. Dubois, and the entire staff at Marion duPont for everything they did for Soonie and me.  I also want to sincerely thank Dr. Bryant of Wolf Creek Equine for her quick response and compassionate care.  You are an angel.  Please know that you are all my heroes.  

Collateral beauty is reconnecting with someone from my past, someone I never expected to hear from again, and that person supporting me through this tough time.  It is in the possibility of a friendship, healing, of possibly keeping up to date with a kid I once loved as my own, and who is no longer in my life.  Collateral beauty is one of your friends dropping what they were doing and spending the night in a freezing cold barn with you while you sit up with a colicky horse.  It is another friend being there and holding your hand in your horse’s final moments, reassuring you that you did the right thing.  Collateral beauty, in this instance, is me seeing the good in people.  Maybe that was Soon’s final gift to me: the hope that maybe not every person is going to let me down.  

Collateral beauty is real.  Do not let a tragedy blind you to the fact that perhaps there is some good that can come out of it.  It will not bring Soon back to me, and it will never make it right.  But it is there.  You have to want to see it and accept it.  

Soon was a horse of a lifetime.  I often correct people when I say that I did not rescue him; he rescued me.  He gave me a reason to love again.  He gave me a reason to smile some days when I did not want to.  We pushed each other and he truly made my dreams come true.  He wanted nothing, and yet gave me everything.  He was all heart, all class, all the way through the very end.  I want the whole world to know who he was, what he meant to me.

They say old soldiers never die…they simply fade away.  

Long live all the mountains we moved
I had the time of my life
fighting dragons with you
I was screaming long live that look on your face
And bring on all the pretenders
One day, we will be remembered

He's gone.

Soon left us this morning at 12:30am. Another colic, the responding vet concurred it was not worth prolonging his suffering. He tried, we all tried, but it was not meant to be. He went peacefully and I was with him. I cannot express what he meant to me, what he did for me, and what he represented in my life. He was my life. I did not rescue him, he rescued me. He was my War Horse...they say old soldiers never die, they simply fade away. Thank you, Brother. I love you and I miss you already.

"Good-night, sweet prince;
And fights of angels sing thee to thy rest."    

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Please pray for Soonie

Sitting here at 10pm crying my eyes out.

Soon went in for emergency colic surgery on Saturday, 14 Oct.  I've been meaning to blog about it, but we've been on such an exhausting stretch since then, I've not had the energy.  That day was the most traumatic of my life.  Despite the 10cc of of IV Banamine, he was so painful he threw himself on the ground multiple times while we waited for the emergency vet to arrive.  He was covered in sweat from head to toe.  Twice he laid out flat, presumably from pain and exhaustion, and I legitimately thought he was dying in my arms.  I was crying over him, holding his head thinking he was taking his final breaths.

The driveway looked like a murder scene thanks to an impressive nosebleed from the nasogastic tubes.

We rushed him to the emergency medical center and he was in surgery shortly thereafter.  His large colon displaced and his small intestine had some twists, which they caught (presumably, anyway) before any damage set in.  I watched him walk out of the recovery room, abdomen bandaged up, and I drove home late that night with an empty trailer, still covered in his blood from my waist down.

The two weeks since has been a rollercoaster of nightmare proportions.  He seemed to be on track to come home five days later, but then had some colicky symptoms.  Then fever.  Depression.  Then fluid in his belly.  Off of the IV fluids, then back on.  Painful, then happy and bright.  For nine days I made the 3+ hour round trip and would sit with him for hours.  Or take him for hand grazing when he was well enough.  He'd have one good day, then the next one or two would be bad.  I would go from being happy and optimistic and making plans for his homecoming, to sitting alone and crying about losing him in less than a 12 hour span, many days in a row.

The day after surgery

This was such a great moment

When things were good

When things were not so good.
Then the fever came back and he has spent the last five days in isolation, where I cannot touch him or interact with him.  This has been torture.  To have him not feel well is one thing, to not be able to comfort him (and in turn, comfort myself) shattered my heart.

This reality continues to break my heart

He had what we thought was the turning point yesterday, the fever was gone and his incision infection was draining.  He came off fluids. Then today he had two colicky episodes, the drainage stopped, and the doctors are all baffled.  I can see they're getting frustrated and are sorry to not have consistent good news for me.  Today was the first real hard talk with his surgeon about how far we are going to go, and when is the right time to say enough is enough.

We're not there yet, but we're closer to that decision every time he has a set back.  And it breaks what's left of my heart.

We are going on two weeks now, and I am suffocating under a million pounds of decisions, thoughts, feelings, emotions.  Does he just need a few more days for the new antibiotics to kick in, then he'll bounce back and start his long journey to a (hopeful) full recovery?  Or are we just prolonging the inevitable?  He was dull and stocked up and is starting to shed weight and look terrible, which is crushing me on top of everything else.  I do not want to give up on him early, but I do not want him suffering, he does not deserve that.  "Better a day too early than a minute too late" they say?

I have gone beyond my years
I've wasted half my life
But I found it all in you
Did I save you?
'Cause I know you saved me too

(Stone Sour, Song #3)

I look back on this amazing year we had and I can't help but think "Was it all leading up to this?"  Were all those milestones, those achievements, those dreams come true just part of some higher plan, or does life just randomly rip what you love away for no good reason?  If not, if there's some meaning behind it...then take it.  I'd give all of it back.  Every last second.  The lessons with legends, the horse shows, the GM clinic, the Chronicle blogs, all of it.  Have it.  Just give me my horse back.

This horse has gotten me through the hardest moments of my lifeHe taught me to love again.  And as I type out those words, I'm crying again.  I don't want to lose him.  I don't know if I can lose him.  Life would eventually carry on, but right now it feels like it would be so empty without him.  I have no great love for people anymore.  People let you down.  People use you.  Love is something people do when it's convenient for them.  But not him.  He's always there for me.  He has no agenda.  He's the one last thing I truly believe in anymore.

So please, please....if you have any prayers or good vibes to send his way, he needs it now more than ever.  And so do I.

This came on the radio on one trip out to visit...

I wonder, I pray
I sleep alone
I cry alone
And it's so hard living here on my own
So please come home soon
Come home, Soon
(Shedaisy, Come Home Soon)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

....Now What?

The GHM clinic was our goal all year.  We worked hard for it all summer, really put the pedal to the metal and got stuff done.  Then it was clinic time...We came, we did, we didn't die.

We followed up with a fancy pants horse show in which I managed to not permanently damage my horse.

Can't get enough of this photo

And now I'm sitting here wondering:  now what?

There is an empty void and I'm not sure how best to fill it.

It was a seemingly non-stop summer between all the different lessons with Joe, Linda, and Stephen.  Now that everything's over, part of me wants to take the foot off the gas pedal and just coast, and return to our old "oh hai nice pretty horsey let's go trail riding and dressage (maybe) but probably not, just trail ride because that's all I have the motivation for" routine.  I do have a hockey season to start getting ready for, and I haven't skated since the spring. 

But the other part of me wants to ride this train as long as we can in light of all the progress we have made, together.  That part of me wants to do the Anne Kursinski clinic in November.  The other part of me feels like I'd rather not.  My dilemma is that this is limited opportunity to ride with another great that might not come my way again, and certainly not anytime soon if my job has its way with me.  The downside is that I'm not super enthusiastic about it, and it's a rather large check to have to cut.

The struggle is real and it is in my brain between two completely different energy levels:


And maybe I'm just dreading the feeling of wanting to vomit and die for three more days straight, who knows.

So...Soon and I had a few days off from riding after Piedmont, and have been hacking the last three days and staying out of the ring.  My motivation factor was in the tank, but I have managed some shoulder-in, leg yields, and general dressage-ness while riding around the farm.  I did drop into equitation weekend today at Capital Challenge, and just being back in the horse show atmosphere made me want to run back to the barn and set up some gymnastics, or do some ground poles without stirrups.

Lazy!me just wants to do more of this: