Phoenix Amani
Irish Sport Horse
By Formula One out of Gussie Up by Wayne County (IRE)

On Nov. 2, 2015, we took our beloved homebred mare Amani on her final journey, to the University of California Veterinary School in Davis, Calif. It had been six months since she’d been diagnosed there with a malignant form of squmacell carcinoma. Heather and I had decided then to keep her happy and comfortable for as long as possible, that she’d let us know when her time was over.

And that’s what Amani, whom we lovingly called “The Princess,” did. I had noticed, over the previous 10 days or so, that her zest for life, which expressed itself often in her strong opinions about everything, was waning. She’d become unusually quiet. She was still the boss of the girls’ field, but it was mostly out of respect. She wasn’t really in charge any more. I had stood close to her one morning, about a week before, and I felt like she was telling me that it was time to say goodbye, while she still had her beauty and her dignity.

Amani was my baby girl, which was a good thing and a not-so-good thing. We bred her to sell (she was by Denny Emerson’s Irish-bred Formula One out of our Thoroughbred mare Gussie Up) but she became an orphan when Gussie died about 15 hours after foaling. We guessed that Amani had nicked a vein during delivery, causing Gussie to colic as she slowly bled to death. It was a horrible morning, made just bearable by the fact that Gussie had delivered to us this beautiful, athletic and tough filly.

But now we had to feed Amani, 12 times a day. It was then that I decided we couldn’t sell her—because you become tremendously fond of them when you spend hours a day looking into their eyes whiles thye drink all those bottles of milk.

Amani was a fabulous jumper from the start—scopey, clever and catty, she never put a foot wrong. She was a bit too careful as a young horse, and we had several sessions where I had to, somewhat forcefully, explain to her that she could jump anything I’d ever present her to with one leg tied behind her back. By the time she was 5, she believed me.

But Amani hated dressage. She just didn’t see the point. She could walk trot and canter; she could go sidewise and do counter-canter; and she was always beautifully balanced. So why did I nag her about keeping her head down? She needed to look around, to run the world, for god’s sake. That was the not-so-good part about her being my baby—I could never bring myself to have the kind of dressage conversation with her that I should have when she was young.

So we were on the verge of moving up to intermediate in the winter of 2015. I’d never entered her in a CCI1*, because there was no point in paying that expense to finish 40th on her dressage score. But she was going quite nicely in a double bridle on the flat, so we decided to do a CIC1* instead, to get the necessary qualification for a CCI2*, where I could use the double bridle.

The CIC1* at the Fresno County Horse Park Horse Trials in February fit perfectly. By halfway around the cross-country course, she’d jumped two fences unusually awkwardly, but I wasn’t worried as we approached the first water. There, though, she inexplicably veered left to jump the widest part of the corner out of the water—a shock because she was always perfect to skinny jumps. Her Herculean effort to clear it dislodged me, and when she stumbled on landing, I came off.

I was dumbfounded. What had gone wrong? Maybe it was just a one-off mistake at a bad time, I hoped?

I’d planned to run Amani in her first intermediate two weeks later at Twin Rivers, but, feeling Fresno wasn’t the best effort to do that off of, I dropped her back to preliminary. She was to be the first on course, at 8:00, when, on what was supposed to be one of her last warm-up jumps, she jumped right through an oxer. Rails between her legs—I don’t know how she didn’t fall. She was clearly shaken, and Heather wasn’t there to tell me what she’d seen, so I scratched her. Amani would never run again, and by two months later her head was starting to become mis-shapenened.

Thoughts about our time together kept swirling around in my mind as I led Amani around a covered arena at Davis, waiting for the vet and the technician to come, to administer a sedative before I took her out to the grass field where the end would come. Amani was her typical self, strutting around, highly alert but completely composed.

It had been raining that morning, but the rain had stopped just before I took Amani out for that final walk. Fortunately, when she went down, it was on the swollen right side of her head, so all I could see was the beautiful left side of her head as she lay motionless in the short, green grass. The kind people at Davis let Heather and me stay with her for as long as we wished, before we walked back to the empty trailer, carrying just her leather show halter.

Late that afternoon, a long, beautiful rainbow appeared over Mt. St. Helena, a few miles to our east. We decided that was Amani, saying goodbye. That rainbow was my Princess, making her grand, final curtain call, as only she could.

Alpine Music
Born 2012-Died Feb. 3, 2018
Chestnut Thoroughbred mare by Swiss Yodeler out of Seniti (FIve Star Day)

Before we lost Amani to malignant tumors in Nov. 2015, Heather searched for get of the Thoroughbred stallion Swiss Yodeler, because she’d heard that his get had excellent workhorse temperaments. She found a 3-year-old, unraced filly, who’d been turned out for about 6 months after getting slightly injured in what was to be her final workout before her racing debut. We took her out of the field at the trainer’s farm, and John set about longeing in a flattish area next to where her half a dozen pasturemates were milling anxiously about. Lola went right to work, ignoring her pasturemates. That moment was an accurate indicator of Lola’s work ethic, and John said then, “If this horse can’t gallop and jump, then I haven’t been paying attention for the last 40 years.”

Everything we’ve done with her since , her reaction could be best described as, “I was wondering when we were finally going to do that!”

She coliced sudenly and swiftly. Despite vet care and a trip to UC Davis for surgery, she did not survive. our hearts are broken over the los of the special, fierce, brilliant mare.


Master Merlin
17.2 hand bay Thoroughbred gelding

"Merlin” is the horse that inspired Phoenix Farm. An unwanted washout from a steeplechasing barn, he was given to Heather and John as a 3-year-old after he had hurt several people at his previous owner’s. Merlin proved to be a big, strong horse with a myriad of fears and idiosyncrasies, who after years of patient training and handling blossomed in to an eventing champion. Because of Merlin we believe every horse deserves a chance and that the right situation is out there for every horse. Merlin suffered an injury in the fall of 2006, and it was a struggle to get him back to competing. In 2008 we made the painful decision to retire him from upper level competition. We were fortunate that more than a year after that he shared his vast expreince with our students, both human and equine. Horses like Merlin come along once in a lifetime, and we are grateful to have had him in our lives.

Career highlights: 2006, 19th at Jersey Fresh CCI**, 2nd Open Intermediate, Morven Park (VA). 2005: 3rd USEA Master Amateur Intermediate rider. USEA Area II Intermediate Champion. 1st Open Intermediate Middleburg Horse Trials (VA). 4th- Virginia CCI*, 1st Open preliminary Southern Pines Horse Trials (NC). 2004: 9th Morven Park CCI* (VA).

Our Memories of MerlIn:

From Heather: We're facing saying goodbye to our beloved Master Merlin, our retired CCI** horse. It's come unexpectedly, but he's suffering from a condition he won't recover from, and we've decided to let him go before it's a crisis. I'd like to share a bit about him. Our old Area II peeps may remember him, our new Area VI peeps didn't get to see him much before we elected to retire him.

Merlin's background is sketchy at best, and we don't even really know how old he is. In 1997 we got a phone call from a steeplechase trainer friend of John's. She had a horse that wasn't working out, and the owner wanted it to go to New Holland, but the trainer thought that the horse could be something useful in the right hands and thought of us.

She warned us that the horse was prone to violent outbursts, was a rearer, a terrible spook, and had broken the owner's arm, and injured the shoulder of one of her grooms. She also said he was 17.2, a ten mover and had a jump that was "ridiculous".

The original idea was that he was going to be for me, due to his size (I likes 'em big) and John was going to be out of town the next weekend, so I made arrangements to take the trailer and meet them at a race meet and collect my new horse. I found their trailer and when they opened the back door, I saw this enourmous bay creature hunched and sweating in the corner of the slot. He turned to look at the open door, and I saw he had my favorite face marking, a star, stripe, snip. I knew right then I was taking him.

When they went to get him out, he absolutely paniced, flew backwards out of the rig on his knees, and then toppled over in to the grass like he'd been shot. He laid there for two full minutes, with me and several onlookers wondering if he was in fact still alive, before he staggered to his feet.

"He's a little funny about backing up." said our friend.

I got him home, and when I unloaded we repeated the collapse on to the grass performance. I walked him around for a while, and then put him on the longe. He was a fancy mover, with great balance and huge, sweeping canter stride. Feeling like I'd just raided the king's woods, I chuckled to myself all night at what a steal I'd gotten.

The next day, still feeling like a thief in the night I tacked him up and got on him in the barnyard. An hour later we were still there. To say he was barn sour did not even begin to cover it. And he could rear. High. And spin.

I gave up and led him to the ring, and got on him in there. He knew less than nothing, but felt amazing, and you could feel him trying, if not always succeeding, to focus. I popped him over a cross rail, and he damn near jumped me off. Partly because he jumped that hard, partly because he left a good two strides early, and well, I just wasn't expecting to suddenly be in flight.

I rode him the first year plus we had him, teaching him the flat work, trying to make him ridable. I got dropped by him a lot. A lot. Things that were not Ok in his world included any small animals (small birds especially), anything that sounded like a gun shot, (especially the neighbors backfiring tractor), small, dark tunnel like spaces, being alone and anything having to do with his left ear. He was diagnosed with shivers/stringhalt, which ultimately wouldn't effect him performance wise (except he always got a second look in the FEI jogs, and his turns on the haunches were always pretty poor). What took longer to deal with was the reaction he had to the stringhalt going off--he was used to get hit for "kicking" so he'd leap away from you in a panic.

John hunted him in the fall, and the next spring I tried to event him. We had some steering and control issues, capped off by my jumping a child and small pony because I couldn't stop or steer. A bigger issue was looming though, having suffered to severe injuries earlier in my career, his, um, enthusiastic style was slowly crippling me. The day after a jump school pretty much meant 50 tylenol, slow movements, and tears. I rode him a denny clinic, and the next day, literally couldn't get in the truck to drive him to day two. Not wanting to waste the money, I talked John in to riding him, and the rest is history. Denny loved the horse and the match, and me not being an idiot could see how much better of a match it was than the two of us. Funnily enough, the one who took the most convincing was John. He liked small, hot horses, he kept insisting.

They moved up the levels together, first with my help, then with Sharon White's help. They took their first lesson with Sharon as we were debating the "should we go prelim" question. She watched him jump one fence and proclaimed, "You are going prelim with this horse!" She believed in him as much, if not more, than we did, and she made room for all of his quirks. She rode him only a few times, most notably for a week while we were away on a business trip. I called to ask how it was going, and she replied "He's as awesome as I thought he'd be!" Her grin was coming through the phone.

Ultimately, he won an event at every level from Novice to Intermediate, was the 2005 Area II intermediate champion, completed two long format CCI*'s, finishing 9th and 4th, and finished in the top 20 at the 2006 Jersey Fresh CCI**. Not bad for a crazy dangerous horse no one wanted.

Throughout his life, there were certain things you just lived with: he was always buddy sour, always had a rear in him, always didn't like small, dark spaces. He spooked at the same thing every day you rode him, without fail. If something scared him somewhere once, he'd remember the spot, and wheel, pretty much permanently. He always backed out the trailer "creatively" though we did eventually get him to stop flopping over like he'd been shot. It took a year to be able to put boots or wraps on him without him falling over and laying there. He was never "easy" but he was always wonderful.

He was injured in a freak accident in late 2006, and after a rehab which was only partially successful we retired him as a schoolie in 2007. In summer 2008 he packed our working student around a Novice, where they were 2nd.

Watching John and Mer go cross country was something remarkable. The horse was such an extravagant jumper, with a front end like Snowbound. He never jumped a fence a little bit, he jumped the hell out of it. They had such complete trust in each other. I was so nervous at Jersey I couldn't watch their round live, instead I huddled next to the vets and listened to the round over their radio. But I got the video. It still makes me tear up.

I've been their groom, chauffeur, caretaker, trainer, and manager, but I loved every minute of it. Though I was no longer his rider, Merlin was always my horse too--he had a penchant for seeking me out and finding me after every test or round, he'd make a beeline to me for his pats, then follow me back to the barn, without being led, with his head right at my back.

I can't believe he won't be here anymore. That such a bright light will go out. I'm crying so hard I can barely type. Please keep a good thought for a special guy who always gave 150% to his people.

From John: We said goodbye this week to the horse who’s shaped our lives for the last 12 years. Merlin, whose show name is Master Merlin, taught us so very much, confirmed our belief in so many things, and played an integral part in strengthening the deep bond that my wife Heather and I share.
It’s now been more than two years since I last competed Merlin, as the infirmities of age made competing him at intermediate level impossible, and since then he’s been the schoolmaster of Phoenix Farm, teaching other horses and other riders his work ethic and about courage and desire. We’d hoped he’d be able to do that for years and years, but sarcoidosis, and the lymphangitis and laminitis it caused, have claimed him. We decided to lay him to rest before the pain became worse, because the last thing we wanted was for Merlin to suffer. We owed him everything; he owed us absolutely nothing.

I have so many memories of Merlin that I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps it’s best to start with how he was at first and how he was late in his wonderful life.
Merlin was given to us by our friends Lilith and Richard Boucher, steeplechase riders and trainers in Unionville, Pa. Let’s just say that he wasn’t working out as a racehorse, and Heather went to pick him up at the race meet in Middleburg, Va., in October 1977, since I was away on an assignment. She remembers him as big and awkward and terribly insecure, but he had her favorite facial marking—a giant-sized star and broad stripe. She tried to ride him the next day and fell off in the barnyard, the first of many times she’d fall off when he spooked at a movement or a noise.

But Heather persevered, doing a lot of longeing and flatwork to develop him physically and to develop his understanding and trust in her aids. And I started foxhunting him, to give him cross-country experience and confidence. Merlin loved to hunt, because he loved to go across the countryside and he loved to be with other horses, figuring whatever demons there were would get the others before they got him.

We worked hard in those early years to develop his trust in us, and whenever Heather would teach me on Merlin, or whenever we’d come out of a dressage ring or off a jumping course, Merlin would look for her and go to her. She would forever be his comfort zone, his protector on the ground, just as I was on his back.
Merlin never completely got over his anxiety about the world around him. He just became less explosive in his reactions. And the two funny things about his wary personality were that he wasn’t afraid of anything as long as he was galloping or if he was with another horse. The other horse didn’t even have to be in front of him. I ponied dozens of horses from his back, and he’d rarely spook if another horse was by his side.

And his ability to pony horses across the countryside was Merlin’s biggest contribution here at Phoenix Farm. He, quite literally, taught the babies and the “crazy” horses who’ve been sent to us as their last stop. I know it sounds airy-fairy, but I’m convinced Merlin imparted wisdom, a confidence, a work ethic to them. He told them, “This is how we play the game, and if you do it right, it’s a lot of fun.” That’s just one more reason we’ll miss him so.
I’ll always cherish our cross-country rounds, especially the ones at intermediate. I always felt that, with his long stride and his huge jump, it was the closest a human could come to flying. But it was also an existential experience, a feeling of the extraordinary trust we had with each other. All I ever needed to do was look at the next fence and put my leg on, to say to him, “We can do it, buddy.” And he’d say, “Hang on, Dad, here we go!”

That didn’t happen right away. It was the result of doing a lot of things together—years of foxhunting, years of competing through the levels, and three years of invaluable training with Sharon White—that built his confidence in himself and me, along with his complete understanding of the challenges he would meet on the cross-country course.

When we first moved up to the preliminary level (a level at which I hadn’t competed for 20 years at the time), I would have to ride him very positively, even aggressively, to the first three or four fences, until his confidence sort of switched on. But I’ll always remember the first classic-format preliminary three-day event we did, at Morven Park (Va.) in October 2004. Heather and I watched about a dozen videotapes of Merlin’s career last evening, after he’d left us, and we happily discovered we have two tapes of the Morven Park CCI*. We watched them both, cherishing that weekend.

Merlin and I cruised through the two roads and tracks phases and easily galloped the steeplechase phase 10 seconds fast, despite his incredible over-jumping of the steeplechase fences. He came into the vet box in great shape, and from the moment he left the cross-country start box, I could tell we were going to jump clean.
We flew over the first fence, and I reached down and patted him on the neck and said, “We’re gonna do it, buddy! Let’s go!”

As our veterinarian began administering the drugs that would take Merlin away, I kept repeating to him, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil,” thinking of all those cross-country rounds we shared, of us galloping and leaping, together. Thank you, Merlin, for everything.


John and Merlinasset_upload_file272_15922.jpgmerlin3.jpg

Western Jubilee
16.2 hand gray Thoroughbred gelding

Heather and Sam Cross Country
My Sam--Heather Bailey"

I didn’t want him. Not initially. The first time I saw Sam, he was bolting wildly across the property with a rider who had broken one of his many rules—he disappeared in to the trees and reappeared alone, branches and leaves clinging to his mane and tail. My boss at the time, Sharon White, who was charged with selling him, said cryptically, “That’s not a match.”

Sam had an accident and an injury shortly afterward—one of many that should have ended his life—and he disappeared for several months while recuperating. In the meantime, I would lose a horse, a beloved, enormous, gentle soul called Bentley, as black as a moonless sky. When Sam returned to our farm to be sold post-rehab, I’d just started looking for a new horse.

The pressure from Sharon started subtly enough. “You know who you should sit on? Sam. I mean, he’s here, he’s in your price range . . .”

I’d politely decline, smiling, but in my head thinking, “Is she nuts? He isn’t like my Bentley at all—small and white, and crazy!”

As weeks would go by, the pressure would increase, until I sat on him just to shut her up. And I learned: Sometimes it’s just as important to have wise friends as it is to be wise yourself.

 I didn’t want to like Sam, but it took less than one lap around the indoor ring to get a big, stupid grin on my face. From the moment my bum touched the saddle, and my legs clasped his sides, we fit. Like coming home to the smile of an old friend.

I tried not to make the decision in haste. I rode him for a few weeks, I made John take a spin on him, and I even took a lesson from an impartial third party. But the deal was sealed in those first five minutes, whether I could admit it or not.

When I vetted him, the vet said, while watching him jog around on the longe line, “He won’t make a conformation hunter with that head, eh?” And while most people would say calling his head “common” was a kindness, he’s spoiled me forever on typey. “He needs room for all the extra brains,” was all I would say.

We didn’t have much of a honeymoon, as he set about immediately explaining to me how it was going to be. I’d come to understand that living with Sam came with a lot of rules, and that the fact that I hadn’t been given a copy of the rulebook was not his problem.

He was an inveterate cribber, a habit I’d eventually give up on trying to stop. We just called it “the sound of Sam.”

He didn’t care AT ALL for whips. Or metal bits. Or other horses doing anything other than walking past him. But his No. 1 rule was: Do not hang on my face. He’d already washed out as a racehorse and as a foxhunter by the time I met him, and two different event riders and their trainers had given up on him.

 Right before I wrote the check, another trainer called me and told me, “That horse is dangerous and is going to hurt someone. Don’t let it be you.”

And the thing was she was right. And wrong. It was all about the rulebook, you see: Sam believed that if you followed his rules, you could have the ride of a lifetime. But ignore the rules at your own peril.

 At the first event I took him to, I was walking unsuspectingly around the cross-country start box on long reins, fiddling with my watch, when the starter began to count me down, “10-9-8 . . .”

 And Sam let out the most joyous of squeals, before he started leaping and bucking, great pouncing leaps, dragging me to the box. I was horrified (he nearly dropped me) and exhilarated—here was a horse who loved his job. I never let anybody count me down again, past 30 seconds or so. It’s not like he’d stand still in the box anyway; it was far too much excitement, and standing still was for suckers.

 The first winter I had him, he spent the majority of our dressage rides rearing or running backwards as I attempted to teach him lateral work. He simply couldn’t envision why going sideways was a good idea, unless I was trying to kill him. When he finally got it, it went in to the database, and he would later teach those skills to numerous students.

I won a lot on Sam. A lot. But I also fell off of him in every jumping lesson I took for the first six months. He was a terror in a warm-up ring, and he never approved of lots of horses cantering and jumping around him. Warm-ups were short and sweet. And I tried to warm-up, get off and walk the course, and then get back on again exactly once. He insisted on once. There was that golf cart he damaged when I tried to break that rule.

Sam would eventually retire from competition and become our assistant schoolmaster to Schultz. And while the rules always applied, there was something grand about watching this “crazy, dangerous” horse pack around 8-year-old kids and timid mature ladies. He’d teach them how to do shoulder-in, how to not jump ahead of him, how to refine their aids, how to listen when your horse speaks (which Sam did often). And if you didn’t listen well enough, he’d just talk a little louder.

 Sam had a wicked sense of humor. As sly and sarcastic as a fox. If you didn’t think his jokes were funny, well, that was your problem. When you’d break a rule, he’d correct you, and peer down at you with the most pointed look on his long white face. “Oh, dear human, whatever did you do THAT for? You left me no choice, you know…”

And yet after a hellish, bedridden pregnancy, he was the first horse I got on, just a few weeks post c-section. For all his silliness, I couldn’t imagine who else I’d trust more.

 As mentioned, when I bought him he’d already survived one death-defying incident, when he got a foot caught in a stone-riveted bank. In the years I would have him, he’d do that twice more.

 Shortly after I moved with him to California, he got cast, seriously injuring his neck. In the early days it wasn’t clear he’d survive it, and then it was, well, he’d survive, but he’d never be ridden again. Then one day I was cleared to ride him, maybe just light flatwork. Then I was told I could jump him. I’d never compete him over big jumps again; the potential strain on his neck was too great. But I did compete him again, and his second show back he was reserve champion for Area VI at novice. We’d been leading going in to show jumping, where we dropped a rail to fall to second.

I was teary in the awards, and I think a few people thought I was crying from sadness. But I explained that every day I sat on him was a gift, one I didn’t take for granted. That was five years ago, just a few months before I became pregnant with our son, Wesley.

I late June, we had a rogue weather event, in which a lightning storm, with powerful thunder, swept through one night, an almost-unheard-of event here in Northern California. We suspect hat one of those thundering cracks spooked him, and he bolted into a fence post, impaling himself with several massive shards in the front of his chest. As horrid as it was initially, it healed with hardly a scar.

 I guess it’s because of how many times he’d cheated death that I became convinced he’d live forever. When John called Monday morning to say they’d found him down in the field and it looked bad, I was sure he’d be fine. When I saw him swaying and in shock, ataxic and shaking, I still though he’d be OK. When the vet told me there was no hope, I couldn’t hear him.

And in the end, when he was gone, as I held his big, ugly, noble head in my arms and wept, I kept thinking he’d somehow leap to his feet and be fine. He’d been fine so many times before. Why not now?

But this time he didn’t get to his feet. He’s really gone and will not come back to me in this lifetime. The hole in my heart is great, too great to yet be filled. But even if lessening the pain meant one less moment with him, I’d still take them all. Because my world is so much better from having had him in it. I would not be the rider, the horseman, the trainer, the teacher, or the person I am without my Sam. My Sam. Gone, but never, ever forgotten.

I miss you, old boy. Thank you.

Hanoverian Gelding
"Schultz" is one of the kindest horses we have ever known and had the pleasure to own. He exemplifies everything there is to love about a warmblood, and he is a wonderful combination of talent and heart. After his competitive career ended he became Phoenix Farm's resident schoolmaster, teaching new riders the ropes. He was the first mount for more than 50 people, and taught every rider who sat on him lessons they will never forget. His kindness and heart are an inspiration to us every single day at the farm.

Saying Goodbye--Heather Bailey

This week was one of those weeks, where we take a moment to reflect on our involvement with horses and maybe do the oldest and darkest of maths--is the joy we experience in owning them, worth the pain we feel when they leave.

You see, here at the farm we said goodbye to our Very Special Schoolie, the irreplaceable professor, Schultz.

He was an enormous Hanoverian, standing 17.3 hands plus, and I first met him as a 4-year-old, fresh off the boat from Germany. I would come to learn he was actually half Hessen, and later research would suggest his exemplary temperament came from that side of the family tree. The first time I rode him, I remember thinking 'THIS is what a top class horse feels like.' I've ridden a lot of nice horses in my life, but I've never felt a canter like his. Or a jump. I remember wondering if I'd ever be able to afford a horse as nice as he was (as he was for sale for high 5 figures).

He eventually evented through preliminary and did the 1.40 jumpers, both with his ammy owners and the pro that I worked for. I loved him unabashedly, and always looked forward to riding him.

Time moved forward, and I moved across the country. Last I'd heard he was still for sale, but had been injured in a fall on cross-country.

About six months after the move, I was contacted out of the blue by the owners. They had decided to make a loss of use claim on their insurance, and wanted to know if I possibly wanted him. They remembered how much I loved him, and had to divest of him for insurance reasons.

They didn't know how sound he was ever going to be, but I remembered thinking, with his temperament, even if he was never more than serviceably sound, he could still be serviceable.

He arrived on a commercial van in the middle of the night, and John, who didn't know him as I did, kindly got up to meet the shipper and when he came back to bed he said, "Oh my god, he's HUGE. Did you know he's HUGE?"

"Uh, yeah sweetie, I'm aware."

He never came sound enough to be more than a school horse, and we never jumped him (although he did occasionally get to do courses of poles or a cavaletti or two, and he would just light up with joy).

But what a school horse. Conservatively, he was the first horse for well over 30 people. He tolerated their lack of balance and their nervousness with gentility and kindness. I could give a longe line lesson on him with no longe line. For a more experienced rider he could be as light as a feather on the aids, but sometimes I'd be encouraging a new rider to try cantering, and he'd refused to be budged from the trot, and he'd shoot me the most hilarious look that always said "They aren't ready yet, so I'm not doing it." As soon as they were truly ready in their hearts as well as they were in their minds, he'd lope off gently. He never lost that exquisite canter, and he taught a lot of my more experienced rider how to do flying changes.

He'd slowed down in recent months, even with his chiropractic, massage, adequan, etc., and we'd been discussing his retirement. I looked forward to giving this old warrior a long and happy rest.

It wasn't to be. Monday night he appeared lame on a front leg, and while all signs pointed to heel abscess, I had the vet out Tuesday morning. He also thought heel abscess and we wrapped, started antibiotics, and lots of pain drugs on board. But he didn't get better, and his leg began to swell, and he became non weight bearing. He was seen multiple times a day by the vet, and I got up every hour overnight. But by Thursday morning he began to deteriorate quickly and he was clearly suffering. We let him go.

Best guess is septicemia, possibly from a bizarre foot abscess. My vet says he's seen similar one other time in 35 years of practice.

I'm so sad. He was my friend. My business partner. My co-instructor. I took him knowing I'd be his last owner. But I thought I'd have a lot more time with him. I still can't believe he's gone. What's mollified my pain though is the enormous number of people who reached out to me--students who rode him and remembered him with love. Knowing how many lives he touched has made this bearable.

The bare truth is this—we will always outlive the ones we love. And it always hurts like hell when they go. Whether it’s after 30 years or 30 days, we’re never ready for them to go on without us, to that unknowable other side. But the only other option, never having them, is an even worse thing to imagine that the pain when they leave. So we grieve. And we cry. And we carry on. And we mostly decide we’d rather mourn them, than never know them at all.

They got a good one on the other side. I hope they appreciate him as much as I did.

Horses from our past:

There are a couple of horses from our past who deserve mention here, even if they are no longer with us.

ChuckieRunning on Empty: "Chuckie" was John's first CCI horse. A 16.2 hand classically bred Thoroughbred gelding by Wind Driven, who took John to three CCI* and placed in two of them. (4th and 10th) Chuckie was the epitome of a classic TB event horse--big gallop, big jump, mild disdain for dressage, and heart and try ten miles wide.

BentleyCorniche: "Bentley" was a true gentle soul, who despite his enormous size (nearly 18 hands )was everything an event horse should be--kind, generous, willing, and smart. This lovely horse helped Heather return to competitive eventing after she had been severely injured, and helped her regain her confidence and her joy. He may not have looked like a typical eventer, but he had it all when it counted most. We lost Bentley too soon to colic, and he is missed every day. Bentley taught us that the most important quality for any event horse is not the size, shape or ability of the body, but the heart that beats within it.

GusGus Costadi: Though Gus' fame took place largely after Heather had stopped riding him, she remained a part of his career throughout his life. Heather met Gus after he had been recently started under saddle, and she brought him along and competed him through the training level. Lovingly called the "Flying Sausage" due to his exuberant jumping and "pleasingly plump" frame, the ride on Gus was passed to Heather's friend DeAnna Hines. With Deanna, Gus went on to be a winner at the advanced levels of eventing, including a 11th placed finish at the 1996 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, where Heather accompanied him as his groom. When Gus passed away following a pasture accident in 2000, he had been teaching a young girl all about the sport he loved. Gus was a part-warmblood who should never have gone advanced. At Rolex, every fence was at the top of his scope. But, it never occured to him to say no or refuse any request made of him.

The important thing to remember is that our horses are our greatest and most frequent teachers. Every horse you have teaches you something, even if it's not always what you wanted or hoped. They key to good horsemanship is taking the good lessons and the hard lessons and carrying them with you from one horse to the next.