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Trish cantering down centerline for the first time on Mercedes (show name "Inquisitive") at the Aiken Spring Fling in 2013.

It was 1AM on Sunday, December 24th. I was pushing my 26-year-old F-250 diesel to its limit flying down the interstate to the barn. Just a few hours before my good friend and equine massage therapist, Lisa, had texted me to let me know that our nearly 24-year old Oldenburg mare Mercedes was colicking. While Lisa had been leasing “Mercy” for the past three years, I hadn’t seen her the entire time and she basically was Lisa’s horse. I greatly appreciated her letting me know what was going on though, and at first neither of us were concerned – while Mercy didn’t have a history of colic, or really any health concerns for that matter, we did have a cold front coming in and a few horses I knew of had some minor gas colic issues recently. But when Lisa texted me shortly before midnight saying that even the vet was concerned, I knew I had to make the sixty mile drive to see her. What made it worse was that Lisa was 400 miles away visiting family for the holidays.

As I flew down the interstate I kept telling myself that Mercy would be fine, but I kept blinking back tears from my eyes. It didn’t matter that I had not laid eyes on her for the past three years, or that when people ask me how many horses I own I tend to forget that technically she still was mine. I kept thinking about the first time I tried her out and brought her home, the months of rehabilitating her for severe “high-low” syndrome in her front end (that led to a minor tendon strain and overall body imbalances), our first horse show. Mercy was the first horse I ever cantered down centerline (on purpose! Lol), and even though we scored in the 50’s at fourth level the experience was one I’d never trade. What she taught me about riding and rehabilitation was priceless. But Mercy also taught me so much more. Through her I really began to see how much damage could be done to a horse – both physically and psychologically – when we force them to do a job they are not suited for, or when we rush them through their training. I also began to understand how very important it is for us to really, truly enjoy the journey with our horses, and not just focus on our end game. When I purchased Mercy (which required two substantial loans from good friends), she was supposed to be the horse I would get my USDF bronze medal on, possibly even my silver. But instead I spent years and loads of money rehabbing her, and by the time she finally was balanced and ready to do what I wanted to do she was twenty years old and was going to require some pretty hefty maintenance. After all the time and money I had invested in Mercy, I could have pushed on and squeaked by with the scores to get our medals. But would either of us have enjoyed it? Would pushing my horse beyond her comfort zone been worth it just to say I had my bronze medal?

Trisha and Mercy participating in a dressage clinic with Spanish Riding School bereiter Marius Schreiner.  PC: E. FlamandTrisha and Mercy participating in a dressage clinic with Spanish Riding School bereiter Marius Schreiner. PC: E. Flamand

Recently I had an in depth talk with a friend of mine who was dejected about his horse’s suspensory injury and their lack of progress over the eight years he’d owned him. My friend was trying to decide if it was worth even trying to bring the horse back to work, and one of the questions I asked him was “do you love your horse and enjoy riding him?”. His answer was a resounding “no”, and I was shocked. As a professional trainer I’ll admit that I’ve had horses in training that I just don’t like, that no matter how I try I just can’t bond with. But I have loved each and every one of my personal horses, and will never own a horse that I don’t enjoy working with on a regular basis. I relayed to my friend my Nationals story – I currently own a five-year-old purebred Arabian gelding that I bred and raised. He is the third generation that I have had the privilege of training, and he is like a child to me. And yes, there are days when my child angers me lol! But for the past two years we had been training for the Arabian Horse Association Sport Horse Nationals, with the intention of showing in hand as well as in the training level junior horse class and the newly created Young Horse Dressage class (the only year “Tango” would be eligible for this class). We had some road bumps along the way, but we worked hard and I spared no expense on his care. I just knew coming into the show in September that Tango and I would be coming home with a National Champion trophy, or at least a top ten ribbon. All total, including entry fees, shoes, and body work over the year I’d spent no less than $5000, and Tango and I both were in the best shape we could be in. I agonized over what outfit I would wear for the young horse jog, what tack we’d use for each class, what schedule leading up to the show would give us the best performance each day. I imagined where I would put all of Tango’s trophies and wall plaques.

And do you know what I came home with from Raleigh in September? A lame horse and an $800 equine hospital bill.

On day one Tango had an unfortunate trip in his training level dressage test, which we placed 12th in (literally less than a point out of the top ten). The in hand judges didn’t like him (he was 4th under one judge and not on the cards with the other). The next day a light swelling in his fetlock and minor lameness turned into an emergency trip to NC State, where the words “tendon infection” floated around and sent me into a catatonic state. Fortunately it turned out to be only an odd presentation of cellulitis, and within a week Tango was escaping his stall and trotting around the farmyard sound as could be.

eye

My point in telling my friend, and you my readers, this is that I was completely crushed and heartbroken at what most would perceive as our “failure” at Nationals. But I had a fabulous dressage test and in hand runs, and I enjoyed each and every ride and show leading up to Nationals. I love working with Tango everyday and am grateful that his injury was minor. So we picked up the pieces from September and I’m looking forward to moving up to first level in 2018. Our journey was not over with just that one show, and I pray we have many more goals to meet in our life together.

Just like with Mercy – I didn’t “fail” at earning my bronze medal scores. I had an amazing, albeit short, journey with my mare, and I am grateful for every moment I had with her. Mercedes – registered name “Inquisitive” – was laid to rest at Whitehaven Plantation on Sunday, December 24th, 2017 at 8am due to torsion colic. It was certainly not the way I planned on spending Christmas, and even though she was no longer “my” horse it was no less heart wrenching. For many of us it is way too easy to get caught up in chasing a goal with our horses, that we forget just how important it is to bond with them. And while it may make it hurt more when we lose them, it makes the journey so much more rewarding. So my advice to you as we enter 2018 is to love thy horse, and the next time you are at the barn hug your horse, look into his eye, and remember why it is that you ride horses.