I spoke with Mandy Alexander recently when I was working on a Thoroughbred Legends article about her OTTB, 3 Sleets to the Wind. Mandy said something that resonated with me and got me thinking:
“There were many times, especially at Advanced, when we would be marching to a huge fence and I’d have a fleeting thought, ‘Why do they do this for us? What makes them jump this stuff?’ The answer was because he loved it, not because he was stupid or had no sense of self-preservation. He just loved his job. He tackled every fence like he owned it.”
When I learned of Powderhound’s passing this weekend at The Fork, a feeling of helplessness immediately set in. Today, I breathed a quick sigh of relief after the announcer said that both Will and Conair were up on their feet after a fall on course. Minutes later, I found out that Conair had also passed away. My gut twisted, and tears welled in my eyes. I spent the remainder of the live stream holding my breath and praying that the remaining horses and riders would get safely home.
When such unspeakable tragedy occurs in our world that is filled with these incredible animals, there is a feeling of shared grief. It is the sympathy you feel no matter what your connection was to the horse. As bad as we as onlookers feel, the grief of all who were directly connected to these horses is something that should not have to be experienced by anyone.
Mandy’s question comes to mind again: Why do they do this for us?
The simple truth is that we are given a gift when we are able to form a partnership with a horse. There is something special about seeing a horse who knows it’s cross country day and practically leaps out of the start box. It is a gift to be able to see the horses who are at the top of their game galloping gleefully across country, ears pricked and hunting their next fence. It is a gift to see the smiles on the riders, owners, grooms and spectators’ faces as a horse crosses the finish after a clean run. It is a gift that these horses love their jobs and that we are able to enjoy their company.
On days such as today, it is difficult to move on, and it is easy to place blame or consider all of the what-ifs. It is beneficial to remember that accidents and tragedies occur in every arena and in any situation. It is a harsh reality that these horses, who become so integral and vital to our existence, are placed on this earth for such a short period, and some are gone far before their time. It is incredibly important to remember, then, that we have been given a gift — and that gift should be treasured until the very end.
Give your four-legged companions an extra hug tonight, EN. We are so deeply sorry for Andrew and Will, all of their connections and for all others who have experienced loss this year.