“The ones that love us never really leave us.” – Sirius Black from Harry Potter and the Prisoner from Azkaban.
It has taken me time to finally write this next blog entry. But I couldn’t get on with telling the exciting parts without first addressing the sad parts.
Within my first week of arriving in Aiken my world was turned upside down. I had to say goodbye to Stryder, my ever loyal, always-there-for-me, seen-me-through-so-much best friend. Stryder was my 13-old-lurcher dog. A lurcher is a sighthound crossed with a working dog – think sturdier greyhound or whippet.
He had been fading fast this fall and I knew the journey south to Aiken would be too much for him. I honestly felt that he had kept his spirits bright for Christmas but after that he just started to deteriorate. I don’t think I was down here a week before it became evident back home that he was in his final days.
Stryder was a very important part of me. I named my business after him and I thought the world of him. So over FaceTime, I was able to be with him in his final moments. Surrounded by his friends and family in his home, in a room filled with love, he left us.
There are many great (mis) adventures that involve him, but I’m not quite ready to put those memories into words. Although the time he leaped up and yelped because I had a leach on my foot always makes me laugh. His greatest skill was to look deep into what felt like your soul and, if you were having a bad day, just make you smile. His lean and nudge of my hand onto his head is permanently embedded into my muscle memory.
On the heels of that sad day came another. Stryder’s death was expected and I had been as emotionally prepared for it as one can expect. The next tragedy rocked me to my core.
Cat Dancing was a stunning Thoroughbred mare. A Storm Cat granddaughter, she had all the makings of a top horse, but also that Storm Cat attitude. Our relationship was not always smooth. Many would have unloaded her – an aspect of our industry that bothers me. Not every horse will be a top horse. Some will teach you the greatest of lessons without ever being your top horse. I couldn’t let her go when I knew she could easily end up in a bad situation.When she was on, she was amazing. So we bred her. Cat gave us a stunning filly named, Katniss. I approached her like a new horse as she came back after pregnancy. No baggage, clean slate. I learned how to have greater patience and how to listen to mares. And she blossomed.
I had one of the best Cross Country rides on her last summer. It was years and years worth of accomplishment tied into a 4 1/2 minute course. I felt like our relationship was ready to reach it potential. I had no pressure or expectations just the love of a partnership starting to really click. My ultimate goal for her was that she could teach my students the art of a tactful, quiet ride.
Tragically, that all changed. We were out schooling Cross Country – Cat doing what she loved best. She was going great and I was remembering how awesome she was on Cross Country. I used a small 2-ft log to set for another jump. But soon as she landed from the log, the ground felt like it disappeared. The next thing I knew we were both falling to the ground. I was stunned, but luckily not hurt. But Cat was.
Somehow on landing she had fractured her leg high up, close to her elbow. There was no positive prognosis from that. Only one option was available. The vet was there in seconds and Cat was soon gone from us. I am so thankful to the expert and competent care that was given to her. I was just shocked and everyone around me just rallied and took care of everything. I am reminded how amazing our community is.
Tears come to my eyes as I write this because the loss is still fresh, but also because of my gratitude to everyone. It was a very freak accident. She jumped the fence well. The ground was good. She had been happily doing her job. It is a reminder about how things can change in a moment and to be thankful for all that has been given to you.
I am forever grateful to Cat for teaching me how to work with difficult horses, for rewarding good classical riding and for having faith in me. She will continue to live through her daughter, Katniss. I am reminded of Cat every time Katniss paws when she eats, gets her leg in the water trough and splashes the water out and, best of all, nickers softly when she sees me.