What They Didn’t Teach Us in College

EN guest blogger Katharine Stancliff has often regaled us with stories of her “wonder horse”, Poppyfields Tristan. Now, she takes the time to reflect on sudden losses and life lessons. Many thanks to Katharine for sharing her blog, and thank you for reading.

The three amigos from this summer: Bear, Paco, and Tristan. Photo by Katharine Stancliff.

The three amigos from this summer: Bear, Paco, and Tristan. Photo by Katharine Stancliff.


When I was a kid, people would suggest I turn my love of horses to a veterinarian profession and I shied away from the thought. Not only did the idea of gore, needles, sticking your arms up various bits of the horses, turn me off, but there was always the calls to put horses down that made me know that a career path in medicine definitely wasn’t for me.

So instead, I opted for happier work like boarding, training, retail, and saddle fitting, thinking I’d be safer from grief except for my own horses.

Getting a bachelor’s degree helped prepare me for my career path and opened my eyes to new facets of equine care; farm design being less about aesthetics and more about ventilation, drainage, and safety.

Planning schedules for veterinary and farrier appointments, maintaining pastures, fencing, arenas, proper electrical considerations to protect against barn fires, all in the name of the safety and health of horses under our care. We learned how to recognize and treat illness and injury in horses, how to identify various lamenesses, and properly condition to prepare for competition. All in the name of safety.

But life doesn’t always follow the rules. Even if you offer the best care, top of the line service, and your client’s horses thrive under your care, tragedy can and will still strike.

Nothing we learned in school prepared me for the moment I saw that my best friend’s horse had sustained a life ending injury in a freak accident. Nothing prepared me for the panicked phone calls to local vets to get help as quickly as possible.

Nothing prepared me for telling my friend her horse had passed before she could see him. Nothing prepared me for the grief over a horse that was never mine, but had still managed to leave a huge impression on my heart.

But life goes on. The rest of the farm still needs care, the other horses need to be fed, stalls need to be cleaned. Seeing the other horses seeming to process the loss was the hardest. My horse Tristan was most closely attached to the horse we lost, and he never once called out to him. I caught Tristan gazing from his stall at the spot where he passed, but not a single whinny.

We take solace in the things we can. The injury was dealt with immediately, he wasn’t in pain for long. Nothing could have been done to foresee the accident. We are lucky to have the support of wonderful friends and family that have offered love and shoulders to lean on.

I will always live with some small amount of guilt. What if I had caught them to feed five minutes sooner? Would it have never happened? Would it have still happened but in the middle of the night under worse circumstances? We’ll never know, but I’ve been over and over it in my head enough to know I did everything I knew to protect him. It just wasn’t enough this time.

Appreciate every moment with your horses. For being such strong and graceful animals, they are so very precious and fragile.

We will be ok eventually, things will go back to normal. Life goes on. For now, there will still be some grief.

Rest in peace, Bear. Once by our side, but forever in our hearts.

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