A Letter to Chilli Willi

A Letter to Chilli Willi

It’s been more than a year now since we lost you. It was a real struggle at first. It was heartbreaking, what happened, and I still think a lot about it. It’s so difficult to describe. In the beginning, I didn’t even realize it was true. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like watching a bad movie or something that I couldn’t look away from, and then it became too real. The only thing I can do now is try to give that grief a place. I try to be happy to have had such a great horse in my life and that we had such a fantastic time together. 

It’s more important to think about the good times than the bad times, and we had a lot of good times. 

We were a team from the beginning to the very end. The first time I met you was when you were six years old, a very big guy, but still pretty weak. You were always careful, jumping a lot of clear rounds from the start, and I was able to watch you grow into yourself more and more. I’m grateful we had the time to spend producing you without rushing too quickly to bigger classes. We played around a lot and waited until you were really ready to jump the higher stuff. We gave you the time you needed to grow into yourself and your size, and in return you were careful and gave me everything. You had a massive stride, even as you got older. In the combinations with two strides, you would do like a little bit of a half step the second stride. You had a long body, but through the years we got to know and trust each other and always worked together with the strengths we had.

It’s so hard to think of one memory to share when there are so many good memories. One special moment that stands out to me was when we really realized how good you were. You were an eight year old and jumped the masters class in Mechelen. I don’t remember who won, but you were jumping easily over those big jumps, and I started thinking, this is going to be a serious horse. I started really feeling that power and what you had in your margins. From that moment, I knew this horse was going to be a superstar.

After that, we had so many good results. One year, we did three or four Nations Cups together and only jumped double clear. You gave me so much confidence as a rider because we were so consistent. We didn’t have many lows; you were so reliable and in good shape, and you always made me believe in our combination. I really think the Longines Global Championship Tour in Chantilly was an unforgettable show for us, and it stands out for me as a memory that truly encapsulates your spirit. You were unbelievable there. Actually, it was a super quick jump off, and to be honest it really was out of nature for you to go that fast. I knew that you were not the quickest horse in that jump off, but there, you really gave everything. I was so proud of that. You went flat out on that jump off, which I know wasn’t always easy for you. You knew how to put it together when it mattered most, and you knew what was important. 

No matter what we were doing together, you always gave your best, as much as you could.

You were a fantastic horse, mentally and physically, with the best personality. If I could go back in time a year, I would just tell you how thankful I am for all the good moments we had together. You always liked to go into the ring, and I loved being there with you. When I rode you at home, you would sometimes be a little bit lazy, but when we came into the ring for the big shows, you would just light up. After a big show, I always liked to take you out on a hike in the forest. Even then, you would be flying around and get so excited when we could see the ring through the trees.

A good rider always gets better when they have a fantastic horse, and for me, you were one of those horses that made me a better rider. You were so chill and relaxed; even when we went in the bigger classes, I wouldn’t have to worry about the height or the difficulty. Then, I could get on another horse and carry that same confidence, so the other horse would pick up on that and also get more confident. That’s quite a big thing you taught me, and I’ll bring that confidence you gave me, and by extension of your memory, to every other horse I will ride. 

I think all the people who were involved with you say the same: you were a fantastic horse to take care of, and you had a happy life at our place. I will never forget how you would put your head out in the morning and see me coming from far away. You were more like a teddy bear than a stallion, with such a good character. And although the sadness of your passing won’t ever go away for any of us who loved and cared for you, I will choose now to remember you as you were: not just another horse in the stable, not the sum of your worth in prize money or big wins, but a real friend.

Thank you for leaving me with a lifetime of good memories,

Nicola Philippaerts

Read other "Letter to my Horse" Installments

As told to Cheryl Witty-Castillo. Feature photo NoelleFloyd.com, inset photos courtesy of the author.