I'm currently sitting in Atlanta Bread Company in Aiken, South Carolina, after a whirlwind 18 hour drive down with Kiki and Ringo to drop them off for the winter while I'm abroad. ABC is famous among Aiken eventers as a place to get free WiFi, and on my year off I can't even count the number of nights I spent here nursing a soda until closing time to get some precious internet time. So, I'm feeling a bit twilight zone-y in more ways than one: here I am back almost three years to the day in Aiken, everything weirdly just as I left it, the farm I worked at looking almost unchanged and all my favorite landmarks still intact. I've also been up almost nonstop for the past 24 hours in a haze of adrenaline and caffeine, and so I'm feeling more than a bit delirious at the moment!!
The horses both settled in well, barring one small meltdown from Ringo when we first arrived. Kiki of course was a total star: she trotted around a little bit, drank a bucket of water, rolled, and started eating grass. When we just left, she was napping in the sun. What a champ! I'm going to miss them very much but know they'll be in good hands at the farm in Aiken.
Pony profiles will resume when I get home, whenever that may be...
After my fall with Sam, I was pretty rattled. Actually, rattled would be a vast understatement. I was a basket case. I didn't even realize how bad it was at first: I soldiered forward and went to some preliminaries that fall with Dually, cruising around the cross country with about 35 times penalties a pop at each one and turning sea-green on each of my course walks at fences that a mere few months earlier I wouldn't have batted an eye at, but without other major incident beyond that.
(One of the jumps I had to convince myself wasn't 18' high... thanks for putting up with that, Dually!)
Then that winter, I started my time as a working student in South Carolina. For folks that followed this blog last January, you might have gathered that I am NOT a January person: I have clinical depression anyway, and then get seasonal depression piled on top in the early winter (those dreaded months when the solstice and christmas are passed and yet winter somehow remains as miserable as ever… blahhh). Now at least I know that about myself and so can kind of understand why I suddenly become a huge Negative Nancy for no particular reason whatsoever come the second week of January; in the winter of 2008 I was still blissfully unaware of this little trick my mind likes to play on me, and so wandered into an incredibly stressful and potentially frightening period of my life completely unprepared.
I went to work first for a guy who I'd heard good things about but had never met in person. Well. After two weeks of having Dually out in a shedless, grassless field (in Aiken, where lightning storms are a REAL threat and horses actually die every year) with no hay (because it was "too expensive") and no shelter to retreat to in case of bad weather because the farm had only three completed stalls (which had already proven to be death traps, as one horse had skinned his leg down to exposed tendons in one of the too-low windows overnight and almost had to be put down) and fifteen horses on property, I decided to get out.
(We certainly wouldn't have been presenting to any ground juries in the incredibly crappy conditions he was being kept in!)
I tried to quit three times in person, only to have my employer refuse to talk to me in private and purposefully stage the entire barn around me whenever I tried to talk to him, so that when he made me cry with the verbal abuse he handed down after my muttered attempts to extricate myself from this situation I could be humiliated in front of everyone. Finally, I just hitched up my trailer and left right as he was teaching a lesson, and sent him an email afterwards. I'm sorry; I will take a lot of abuse personally if I see the benefit to it, but I won't sit around for a moment when I don't think my horse is getting safe or adequate treatment. I still feel just as justified in doing that now as I did the morning I pulled out the driveway.
(The Dude came first, and I wouldn't have it any other way)
So, Dually and I headed back to my old trainer. Things were a million times better immediately in terms of horse care (because I'm not sure there's anyone out there who treats the horses better than Suzi), but on a personal level I realized I was still a mess. I could barely canter a cross rail without going to pieces, even on Dually. And try putting me on another horse? No. Way. I felt so worthless; I had come down to learn and ride as much as possible, and I literally couldn't start tacking up another horse to get on without having my knees turn to jello. I starting hating myself so much and overanalyzing and overthinking every little centimeter of my riding, which of course just made everything worse.
(Good thing the Dude never seemed to care much about what I was thinking unless it could help him! What a clever boy)
Finally I hit a breaking point. I got bucked off a sale horse, thrown into a fence, and broke my hand; the horse got loose and then I got screamed at for endangering the horse by "letting" it run around the property and was told not to go to the doctor even though my index finger was already the size of a small banana and could not be bent or moved. At that moment, I'm pretty sure I hated every single thing about riding and horse people. I just wanted to get out.
(Dude says, "booo drama!")
Of course, it was Dually that saved me. Every time I wanted to quit or thought that I couldn't get through another day of drama, I'd go and sit with him in his stall while he ate dinner, just listening to the sound of him eating hay, or I'd lay down in the grass beside him and take a little midday nap while he grazed (yes I know this was incredibly dangerous; at that point, getting trampled to death by my horse was low on my danger priority list). For over a month, we just cantered cross rails and the littlest wee verticals. Dually was a total saint and didn't mind a stitch that, for those first weeks, I probably made him canter at walking speed and then asked him to jump from that. With him, I slowly got it back. I slowly felt like I could do it again.
(The little moments are always the best)
Before I knew it, we were schooling bigger fences than I'd ever jumped before, and making it seem easy. I was so bonded with Dually at that point that I felt like I could point him at anything and I had the skills to get him there with the best chance of clearing it well. We went to a Training, a few Preliminaries, and then, in May, entered and completed my first Intermediate. I can still remember every jump of that Intermediate cross country course; it was one of our best rounds ever, and I remember just thanking him over every fence for being there and being as amazing as he was. Driving back, even my trainer commented on how incredible it was, knowing where I'd been in January. I just had to chock it up to Dually. I couldn't have done it without him.
(Big D was foot-perfect at our first Intermediate)
(... he even managed to save my bacon when I got him into this dock jump completely wrong! Thank you, Dude!!!)
I finished up my time in South Carolina (and man, to this day I miss those days in early May, when the grass was greening, the flowers bursting, the strawberries coming out, and all the other horse people had left) and then had a pretty quiet horsey summer as I spent a month of it backpacking in Alaska (AWESOME, but not great for preparing for events!!). I spent the fall getting Dually back into shape and settling into school, got my first taste of West Coast Eventing, and then headed to Galway that fall for my first ever long format event.
(4'6" jump approached at 26 mph... no big thing for the Dude!!)
(Me, Pa, and D coming off steeplechase - probably one of my favorite pictures of all time)
I won't go into great detail here because I wrote about it on this blog (just go back to November 2008), but it was THE BEST EXPERIENCE EVER. Coming off steeplechase bang on the time was probably the biggest high I've ever had; I felt completely bulletproof. The cross country afterwards was one of our best rounds ever, too, because I think he'd already found his rhythm on the steeplechase and could just go. It was an awesome, awesome, feeling. After that, to show jump clean and win a national championship was just icing on the cake =)
(I finally didn't mess up long enough to get Dually the moment in the limelight he deserved =D)
(Man he looked good that weekend! Every picture I have of that weekend he's blindingly shiny and looking every inch a top horse, bless his heart)
After Galway, I knew that Dually had given me more than I ever could have possibly imagined, and then some. He owed me absolutely nothing, and I owed him everything. I had some plans for the next year, but decided at the outset to take them one event at a time and see how he was feeling; if it ever seemed like he wanted out, then we would work something out. We did a Preliminary to get going and then had a good outing at Intermediate at Galway again (winning prize money! Who'd have ever thought??), barring a very worrying stop at the triple in show jumping. Dually never, never ever stopped outright (sometimes he ran out when I couldn't steer him!). He still blasted around the cross country like a champ, but I was beginning to understand that the show jumping, which had always been his weakest phase, was going to be too hard for him.
(The dude does the Big Boy drop into water going OI at Galway)
I entered him at one more show just to make sure it hadn't been a fluke, and he stopped at the triple again. Dually could not tell me any more clearly, and we decided right there that his Intermediate days were over. It was bittersweet (especially since it occurred on my 20th birthday… not the best birthday present I've ever received!), but ultimately good because I knew I'd made the right choice and had done so with a horse who was still healthy, sound, and happy.
(We could jump single fences in the show jumping quite well at Intermediate, but those pesky combinations just required too much scope)
I entered Dually in one last event at Rebecca Farm, but it wasn't to be: he cut his leg through his galloping boots (note to self: woof boots are NOT adequate protection!!) on steeplechase and was a bit sore in the 10-minute box so I elected to withdraw him before cross country. And, just like that, my competitive career with Dually was at a close. Dually went on to be my father's horse, and I've gained an immeasurable amount of enjoyment from grooming for them and watching them grow as a partnership this past year.
(Thanking Dually for our last dressage test together at Rebecca Farm)
(Going into the steeplechase, the best half-terrified half-exhilerated feeling in the world!!)
I hope this story has in some way approximated the amount of love and gratitude I have for this horse, even if it can't actually come close to expressing how ardently I truly feel for him. He was the horse who opened doors for me, revealed possibilities to me, and most of all confirmed within me once and for all a love for the quiet, unbreakable bond between horse and rider that I know I will carry forward with me for as love as I live. I can never thank him enough.
I had to keep from tearing up I was so excited! Pa and I did it "Racehorse to Post Parade" style to keep things extra safe, with me aboard holding the reins with Pa leading beside. Ringo was absolutely perfect, stretching into the bridle and chewing the bit the entire way (though there were a few times when his head shot up at some rustling leaves, and I was glad we had him on lead just in case!!). It was just five minutes, but it was probably one of the best rides I've had all year =)
So in 2007 I graduated from high school and took a year off before college to pursue horses full-time. Even though I was in my prime with Dually, I was also aware of the fact that he wasn't going to stay 12 forever, and so got it into my head that I needed to start getting bonded with a new prospect. I won't go into great detail about whether, in retrospect, I think this was a good idea (short answer: I don't), but in any case it happened. And so, in March of that year, I got Sammy.
Show Name: Pro Prospect
Markings: Big star, LH coronet
Years we Were Together: 2007
(He was a cutie!)
Sammy had done a few Prelims with his previous owner but we were able to get him at a pretty reduced price because he had had three months completely off when I got him. He was a super sweet horse with a real TB-trier personality, but he was also much more sensitive than any horse I'd ever ridden, especially in those first few months coming back from total rest, and I admit that he rattled me a little bit right off the bat. Additionally, his flatwork had never (and would never) be super stellar, and I quickly realized that I didn't have the skills at that time to make him better. Part of me wishes that I could redo that spring again now with the better flatwork education I have, and see if it would give us a better start in our partnership together.
Instead, things never really clicked. We got into more and more confrontations, and his sensitive side increasingly butted against my perfectionist side (which, at the time, I wasn't nearly as good at tempering). In the jumping, especially, things went from bad to worse - Sam had a natural tendency to be a bit quick to the fences, made worse by the lack of proper flatwork I was giving him, and then made even worse beyond that by the fact that I began to fear his quickness and pull in front of the fences.
(Sammy with my trainer, showing off what a cute jumper he was when I wasn't pulling his face off!)
Hindsight is always 20/20, and in retrospect I should have known that things weren't going well and made some sort of big change. Instead, I just tried to keep soldiering on. A few weeks after Young Riders, in August 2007, I decided to pop Sam over a few little show jumps in the ring at home. My dad came out to ride with me and set fences, etc. We warmed up over an x a few times, and he was actually better than normal with his rushing, then I picked up a canter and came around to a 2'6" oxer off of a pretty long approach. A few strides out Sam started to quicken, I tensed and pulled back, and he grabbed the bit and bolted right into the jump.
When I started remembering clearly again, it was about three days later. Piecing the story together with my parents, it turned out that Sam had bolted into the base of the fence, gotten his legs tangled in the rails, and flipped. Sam scratched up his face and knees but otherwise was totally fine. I fell mostly clear but landed forehead-first and then flipped onto my back, fracturing (we would discover later) a vertebra in my neck. I never lost consciousness, and when we went to the ER the first time they turned me away telling me I was fine. I went home and fell asleep for two days straight and was actually unable to get up -- of course, I actually had a huge concussion and had to go back to the ER to get the CAT scan I should have gotten in the first place to confirm that I wasn't going to die of a brain bleed. I told them that my neck still really, really hurt, but they just said that I probably had strained a muscle and I was fine (note: never go to my local ER. It blows.)
(Sammy with my trainer again, in serious Yeehaw mode!)
I'm thankful for being alive from this accident, frankly: I'm absolutely certain that if I wasn't wearing a helmet (which I do every time, every ride! I used to wear a hunt cap at shows, but not anymore) I would be dead right now, and probably if I had fallen on hard ground instead on in the sand arena things would have been much worse. I lived with chronic, intense neck pain for almost 18 months before I finally had it looked at again and it was discovered that I had actually broken it; by that point the vertebrae had fused together somewhat sketchily and most of the nerves connecting to the right side of my body had become entrapped in large amounts of scar tissue. From the entrapment, my right side had atrophied to the point that I could barely use my right leg when I rode.
Even today, after two and a half years of physical therapy (which has made huge, enormous, wonderful changes!!), I still have altered sensation between the right and left sides of my body. My neck pain has mostly gone away, but it will never leave; the altered sensation, too, will likely be a permanent souvenir of that one day. I can also now crack my neck like nobody's business - possibly the weirdest "gross talent" I could have ever imagined having ;)
The only good thing about this story is that it has a wonderful, wonderful ending. After the accident, I decided to sell Sam; I was too rattled and understood too acutely that it had been my nerves as a rider and not his shortcomings as a horse that had caused the fall in the first place. I knew that this wasn't going to be something that I was going to be able to grit my teeth and get through; if I kept riding him, I would only get more and more tentative and scared, which is what had caused his rushing in the first place.
My trainer helped me find a wonderful girl for him who actually lived only one town over. She loved Sam and did a wonderful, wonderful job with him. They had great success and he even took her to her first Prelim and many after that. Since she lived so close, she kept Sam at our house so I still got to see him (and he really is such a love; it was great to not have to say goodbye completely). Just this summer, she decided to sell him and he's now with a wonderful little girl up in Vermont, who rides him around bareback and hopes to take him Novice and Training. He's such a good horse, and I'm thrilled that he was able to find a rider that could bring out his talents.
(Sam this summer at Stuart with his new owner's mom; they were sooo cute together!)
Meanwhile, I was feeling pretty justifiably rattled. Add the accident in with Dually's health issues at Young Riders just a few weeks before, and I was feeling pretty low from both a riding and horsemanship and standpoint. I just felt like I'd let both my horses down so badly.
It's with that in mind that I really can't put into words how much I owe Dually for the next few months of our career; he never missed a beat and went instantly from being partner to protector, picked me up, and took me out of some seriously dark times. But, that will have to wait until tomorrow!
So I'm going to split Dually's story into two, the reason for which will become pretty obvious tomorrow. So, here are the first four years of our partnership:
Show Name: Dually
Breed: Perch/TB (PMU Foal)
Markings: Diffused star, LH coronet with ermine spots
Years we Were Together: 2003-2009 (today we'll cover 2003-2007)
(D at our first Prelim... what an absurdly handsome boy)
So, something I haven't really mentioned in this narrative so far is the fact that I was but one member of the family who rode: in fact, everyone in the fam has ridden at one time or another, and growing up my brother was actually a much more naturally gifted and competitive rider than I was. In 2000, he was looking for a new horse, and my parents found for him (through Corinne Ashton) a lunky, green 5-year old PMU rescue horse named Dually. He had a big head, big slab feet, and-- though he was always a remarkably genuine soul right from the start (I'm not sure, for example, that Dually has EVER successfully ditched ANYONE on purpose in the 10 years we've had him)-- basically knew how to walk, trot, canter, and that was about it.
(the Dude chillin in the South Carolina sunshine in 2007)
At first, I really wanted nothing to do with Dually. Sure, he was pretty cute, but he was green, he was big and awkward looking as a young horse, he was hard to steer, and he seemed ridiculously uncoordinated. Plus, he just seemed like a dude's horse: I was used to the ponies and to Boris' gently dished face. I didn't know what to make of Dually's big jug head at all.
(But I came around!!)
It turned out that my brother didn't want much to do with him either: he was just too green and difficult to ride (not because he was dangerous but because he was the most awkward, uncoordinated wiggle-worm on the planet). Fortunately, my brother's trainer at the time agreed to take him on, and Dually spent the next few years in training with her. In late 2003, Dually finally came back to the farm, looking for a new rider.
(Dually and I at our first FEI jog together in the dark at Poplar)
As I talked about last time, I also left for boarding school at that same time and had to find a new lessor for Boris. We thought that that would mean the end of my riding career for a while; it turned out, however, that boarding school was NOT for me. Like, emphatically emphatically not for me. It was not only torture to be away from the horses, but boarding school girls and their attendant drama weren't great shakes, either.
Fortunately, in the spring of my freshman year I was able get a little riding in at home (we lived quite close) as the light got longer in the evenings. Because Boris was happily with his new rider, I was at first horseless. Of course, Dually was at the time riderless, and so one thing led to another. At the end of my Freshman year I was able to move home permanently, which opened up opportunities not only for escaping the prison of boarding but also for more riding again.
(Ahh horses... the perfect alternative to high school drama!!)
And what a blast he was!! in the passing few years since I'd first written him off, Dually had gone from a awkward kid into a very cool grown up horse. He was athletic while still feeling safe, knew enough to help me out but was still tricky enough to make me work for the right answers, and had the sweetest, biggest heart of any horse I've ever met before or since.
(Like, this horse is a god. Srsly.)
Our relationship was pretty slow to build (he was a still a much bigger, more athletic horse than anything I'd ever ridden before, and that took some serious getting used to), but by the end of 2005 I'd done a fair bit of show jumping with him (with often hilarious results, as Dually was never the most careful creature, even when ridden to his best... which in those early days, he often wasn't!!) and gotten my B rating in Pony Club.
(Wahoo!!! This jump literally came up to my chin in brush)
Then, in July 2005, we went to my first event. I'd done some little mini-things with Boris, but I pretty much count Fitch's Corner with Dually that summer as my first real taste of eventing. Certainly, it was the first time I'd tried it and felt the absolute, unstoppable NEED to go back and do it again. Dually, whatever his other quirks were, was and would always be a cross-country MACHINE at whatever level I faced him at: in our 32 events together after that, there would only be a total of one round where he felt even the remotest bit sketchy, and it turned out he was having a pulmonary bleed at the time. He was a horse that didn't really even have the scope for Intermediate, and yet I'm pretty sure he would have scrapped his way around an Advanced cross country course for me if I'd asked him on sheer grit and will-to-please; he was that genuine and brave.
(Better start calling this horse Neil Young 'cause he's got a Heart of Gold)
At Fitch's we blasted around Novice with minimal steering and brakes, and I had never had more fun in my entire life. We moved up to Training later that year, and were going Preliminary less than a year later (this time actually equipped with turning and stopping abilities, thanks to some improved riding on my part!). I left a lot on the table in the dressage department (and Dually certainly wasn't giving it away for free) and we would often have a few rails in the show jumping, but MAN did we have fun cross country. After my second Prelim at Millbrook, one of the Area I Young Rider selectors came up to us and suggested that we should look into going to Young Riders the next summer. I'd heard of the championship before, but had never dreamed in a million years that I could ever be a part of it. With those words of encouragement, I was off on a mission.
(Dually was ALWAYS on a mission on cross country!)
I took a few extra weeks off of school around spring break in my senior year (fortuitously missing an out of control party that ended up getting a large number of my friends expelled or suspended and their college acceptances revoked-- yikes!) to go down to Aiken to pursue my qualifications for Young Riders. It was my first time really riding full time (outside of the summer), and, despite the incredibly hard work it required, I loved it. We ticked away all the qualifications except the biggie: a CCI*.
(Probably the best jumping effort Dually ever gave in our entire career together, caught on film... too bad I'm trying to impersonate a praying mantis on his back!)
Then, on my 18th birthday, I trotted down the centerline of my first one star, and by the end of the weekend I was qualified for Young Riders. Had that actually happened?? It seemed like such an incredible dream. I couldn't believe how much Dually had given me in such a short amount of time, because I knew acutely that it was his generosity, heart, and athleticism that had allowed me to progress so quickly, and hardly my virtuosity as a rider. I couldn't wait to get to Young Riders to show him off on an international Championship stage.
(About to go in the startbox of my first CCI* - a very exciting and nerve wracking moment!)
And yet, it wasn't to be. Instead, Dually ended up contracting a pulmonary bleed on cross country that required me to pull him up half way around. I've never been so scared or crushed: not only did we not complete the competition, but I was so worried that I had hurt my wonderful horse in the pursuit of this dream. Even when he ended up being totally ok, I was still devastated. I felt like I'd let him down.
(The feeling after our first one star was incomparable, like we could move mountains together; after Young Riders, it was a shockingly different story)
But, as I was about to find out, Dually had even more heart than I thought he did. After Young Riders I was feeling so low, and then would have a serious accident less than a month later that continues to affect my life to this day (that part of the story will come tomorrow). It would only be through the Dude's remarkable kindness and love that I would make it through some very dark times ahead.
(Words can't articulate how much I owe this horse, and how thankful I am that he came into my life)
ZOMG guys I'm writing this post from my BRAND NEW, SUPER SEXY COMPUTER!!! Holy crap I cannot even begin to describe how lucky and excited I feel. My old computer spent the past four years pretty much physically attached to my body (as in it slept with me in bed every night... except really) and it showed: it had huge structural problems that made it almost impossible to charge (the place right where the cord was supposed to go in was all dented and so it was really hard to get the cord to actually get in all the way), it had almost no memory left, and it crashed every time I tried to watch a youtube video. So, the reins have been turned over. I'M SO EXCITED!!!!
Anyway, back to the pony profiles:
Show Name: Aurora Boris
Breed: Appendix QH/Paint
Color: Liver Chestnut
Markings: Star, snip, RH sock
Years we Were Together: 2000-2003
(Boris and I at GMHA at my first ever recognized event!)
So, in late 2000 it was painfully clear that, despite my nightly praying otherwise, I was already far too big for Jacob and only getting taller. Since every other creature on the farm was only marginally larger than him (our biggest pony being 14hh), we set out on a search for my very first horse-sized horse. In an amazing stroke of luck, it just so happened that a Pony Club acquaintance had just decided to buy a young prospect and needed to sell her current horse: he was 15, had a been-there, done-that attitude, had done a good bit of Novice eventing, and was very reasonably priced. It only took one ride for me to realize that he was perfect.
Boris was pretty much the exact opposite of every horse I'd ever had before: namely, he was incredibly lazy!! For a girl that had spent most of her early riding experiences getting run away with in one form or another, this was an AWESOME feeling. I loooooved having to kick =). Boris was incredibly genuine and, for the first time, made me feel really really safe when I was riding him. Even Jacob, who I felt mostly safe on, had some incredibly "thrilling" moments - Boris had exactly two in the entire time I rode him: once when he bucked me off the first spring I had him totally out of the blue on a trail ride (we later found out he always bucked on the first warm days of spring and I got more prepared), and once when he bucked me off when we were riding in an indoor and a huge load of snow suddenly slid off the roof. Other than that, he was pretty much a bonafide saint.
The big thing I'm thankful to Boris for is bringing jumping into my life. I'd done a bit of jumping with the ponies but had never enjoyed with very much: Pinky dumped me all the time, Lady ran away, and I felt very conscious of Jacob's size when we jumped. With Boris, all of a sudden I couldn't get enough of it. Together we got my D3 through C2 ratings in Pony Club (and he got me the flatwork for my C3), jumped bareback, jumped in the snow, and went to my first little mini events. It was such a blast!
But, Boris did have one downfall: by the time I got him, he was already 15 years old with many, many miles under his belt. By 2002 he was 17 and it didn't feel totally fair for me to keep asking him to jump with the height and frequency I did in those first years. So, we turned to dressage. I was a pitifully bad dressage rider (and by this point weighed almost 180 pounds!! Early puberty was a bitch), and Boris, as a mostly Quarter Horse, was not naturally gifted at dressage, but we had some great times together, even making a musical kur and going to Pony Club Nationals in dressage.
(Boris with his new girl in 2009)
At the end of the summer in 2003 I left for boarding school and we decided to find someone who could give Boris some unconditional love while I was away. We had already promised Boris that he had found a forever home with us, and so were lucky to find a nice Pony Club mom to do some dressage with him. Even though it was torture to say goodbye to him, it was great to know that he had found somebody to love and be loved by as much as I had.
Boris went on to have a few more riders. Starting in late 2008, we found a little high school girl for him who just absolutely adored him and he adored her right back. They were so unbelievably cute together, and I could see myself in her often, when they went to their first show, their first little pony club event, and he gave her such a feeling of joy and safety the entire way. I was so thrilled for both of them and expected them to have years of happiness together.
(Bor and his girl at their first show together)
But, just a year later, everything came to a sudden stop. Boris contracted acute colic from a previously undetected anatomical abnormality in his intestine. We did everything we could to save him but, after a few incredibly stressful rollercoaster days, we realized that we had to let him go. I was in California at the time, and never got to say goodbye. It was so sudden, and so sad. I still can't go past his stall, even though it's now been occupied by another horse for over a year now, without feeling a twinge of sadness. Boris was hardly a young horse but it still felt far too soon: he'd been in perfect health and was gearing up to take his girl to their first real event together. Even though he was 23 years old, he had seemed like he was in the prime of life.
Even though I wasn't there (and I'll never truly forgive myself for not being there), I know that Boris was loved intensely right up to the last moments of his life, which makes things a little easier. I'm so thankful to him for giving me not only such a great first step into horses, but also a strong foundation of skills that all of my riding still sits on today. I wouldn't be here without him.