It seems like there are certain events on the calendar which mark the passage of time more clearly than others. Some of these are nebulous, undefined points in time — the first time you jump 3′ on the green horse you started from ground poles, or the first time you realize that your horse has loaded on the trailer without incident for months.
Some are more concrete — points in the year where you stop and take stock of what has truly transpired in six months or 12. For me, the Midsouth Pony Club Horse Trials is that event. I don’t know exactly why, but this is the event that makes me evaluate progress and changes, and think about goals for the future; this year is no different.
I truly met my first horse Augustus at the 2013 Midsouth event. I had signed up for my first ever recognized event with a green horse I’d been leasing for six weeks — and it did not go well. Gus was finishing his career with my coach and completed his last ever Prelim that weekend. It was suggested that I lease him to gain some much needed confidence, and I agreed, somewhat in disbelief that I’d be allowed to ride such a nice horse. That decision changed everything that was to follow for me. I won’t get into detail, but leasing (and later owning) Gus changed my life priorities in a massively rewarding way.
At my second Midsouth, Gus helped me conquer some major sports psychology issues I’d been having all spring. We won our Novice division, and I was thrilled. At my third Midsouth, Gus and I successfully navigated the Olympics of Training level in a literal monsoon, and I began to feel that with a horse I trusted, anything was possible. And last year, at my fourth Midsouth, I began to have the first inklings that our competitive relationship was drawing to a close. Nothing was wrong, per se, but we amassed time penalties on a scale unusual even for me, and I just didn’t feel that I could push the way I used to. We finished out the season, and Gus happily retired to a life of lower level lessons and cribbing.
Which brings us to this year. This year, I will head to Midsouth with a new partner to contest our first Beginner Novice together. I am excited and nervous to face this new challenge with him, but my heart is heavy, because this point on the calendar forces me to remember that time has passed and Gus is no longer with me.
In late April, Gus stumbled and fell to his knees twice. A neuro evaluation revealed moderate deficits, and none of the potential causes were good, at all. He was going to get worse, and it was only a matter of time. With this information, I made the gut wrenching decision to say goodbye to my best friend before he ever suffered. We spoiled him rotten, had lovely photos taken, and on June 9 he was laid to rest peacefully in the company of the two people on earth who loved him most — myself and my coach.
Despite the fact that I know this was the right thing, it is still a punch in the gut to realize that I can’t go see him, hug him, or kiss the snip on his nose as I always did. I do not write this for sympathy — Gus had a great, long life, filled with adventure and accomplishment. He had a job he loved, never knew hunger or true fear, and had a quiet end free from pain.
There are two reasons for writing this: one, as explanation if someone sees me bawling my eyes out at the cross country finish this weekend, and two, as a reminder to everyone — hug your horses. Give the extra treat. Blow off a dressage school every so often to gallop through the fields. You can’t get the time back — make the most of it. Go Eventing.
In memory of Augustus: 1997-2017.