EN Blogger Contest finalist Sally Spickard send in this beautiful tribute piece to Zeppo, an OTTB who tragically passed away this week at just 12 years of age. We’ve all experienced equine loss in one way or another. Even if our own horses haven’t yet passed away, we know a barn friend who has faced the death of their partner and friend. Rest in peace, Zeppo.
It is days like today that make us glaringly and acutely aware of what we have and how fragile it is. A good friend of mine, Makenna, received a phone call from her barn owner, who said her OTTB partner of 4 1/2 years to the day, Zeppo, had appeared to have gotten cast the night before. He was a little banged up, so Makenna cleared her day and drove to the barn, only to find that her horse of a lifetime was down in his stall having convulsions. He stopped thrashing after a few minutes, and she was able to get into his stall and hold his head as he took his last breaths.
It is her belief that he held on long enough to say goodbye to her, and at the happy and healthy age of 12, Zeppo passed away in Makenna’s arms. My heart is breaking as I write this piece knowing that there are no words, no condolences, no thoughts or prayers that will be able to bring back Makenna’s best friend. I think of the horses that we as an equestrian family have lost, and I know that we all wish that we could bring them back to us. We are all too often reminded that life is too short and that we are never afforded enough time with the ones we love. For all of the horses we have had to say goodbye to before we were ready, this piece is to serve as a humble tribute.
It’s not often that you find someone who understands the bonds we share with our horses. If I had a dime for every time someone raised their eyebrows and immediately moved me into their “not quite right friend” category whenever I tell them that horses mean the world to me, I would be filthy rich. It’s not something that is easy to understand when you are not a part of this world. They don’t wake up at 4 a.m. on the day of a show, riddled with anticipation and nerves at the prospect of competition. They don’t feel the weight of the world lift from their shoulders when they set foot in the barn and hear the quiet breaths and inhale the comfort of hay and leather. They don’t feel a rush of pure happiness when they put their left foot in the stirrup. They don’t comprehend the unadulterated love and joy that comes from seeing your horse prick his ears and nicker in your direction when he sees you coming. And they most definitely don’t understand the earth shattering, heartbreaking feeling that comes when you must say goodbye to one of the only things that keeps you sane and makes you feel whole.
In our world, we understand these feelings. We know how surreal of a feeling it is to forge a partnership with a living, breathing creature and cultivate that partnership into a lasting bond of trust and friendship. We have all held our breath in anticipation while watching these partnerships in action, watching the ears swivel back in concentration before the next jump and seeing the smiles of complete satisfaction and the floppy ears after a stellar dressage test. We have seen these partnerships galloping home at Rolex, fists pumped in the air in triumph and ears pricked forward and ready for more.
Today, I would like to take a moment to memorialize the horses we have lost. I know that they say time heals everything, but our horses leave us with lasting memories and feelings that will never fade. Take a moment to be grateful for what we have, as life fails to make sense sometimes, and sometimes all the love we have is not enough. Our lives have all been touched in some way by a horse, and it is worth remembering that without our companions, we are limited to only our own earthbound feet. Rest in peace, Zeppo, and may we never forget the others we’ve lost along the way.