The final page was turned today on one of American eventing’s most memorable fairytale partnerships when Jill Henneberg said goodbye to her great partner Nirvana II. Jill and the scrappy grey mare were in one another’s lives for three decades when Nirvana passed away today at 33 years old.
“It was my greatest honor getting to be your person for 30 years,” Jill wrote on Facebook to a cascade of condolences from their fans. “Thank you for being my everything. My heart is yours forever. Rest in peace, my love.”
The story of Jill and her “diamond in the rough” is legend — she got the mare for $600 as a 3-year-0ld off-track Thoroughbred, when she herself was only 13. She rode her bike to the barn every day to ride and they found their way up the levels together, propelled by Jill’s tenacity and the mare’s big heart and love of jumping.
Jill was only 19 when they finished 8th and earned the best conditioned trophy at the 1994 Rolex Kentucky CCI3*. They were short-listed for the 1995 Pan American Games but sidelined by an injury from which they recovered to finish 10th at Kentucky in 1996. Their spotless cross country record was marred only by a fluke fall at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, where the U.S. secured a team silver medal.
Afterward they took aim at Badminton but it wasn’t to be, as a tendon injury ended her upper level career. But her story was far from over — Nirvana went on to birth two foals and show one of Jill’s students the ropes of eventing in the early 2000s. Jill reports that even in advanced age she never lost her feistiness and zest for life. Read more about their inspiring career in this 2013 EN “The One That Started It All” feature.
Join us in sending lots of love to Jill and all those whose lives her special mare touched over the decades.
Go Nirvana. Go Eventing.