We're honoring the deep bond between horse and rider in our series, A Letter to My Horse. After reading touching tributes from professionals like Lainey Ashker and Beezie Madden, we launched a contest to read about YOUR horse of a lifetime. Now we're thrilled to share the stories of our three winners.
To me, you were perfect.
I met you when I was 13-years-old and you were 12. I had been begging Mum and Dad for a horse for as long as I can remember... finally, my relentless persistence had paid off. Months of barn chores, dog walking, and babysitting lined my pockets with a pre-teen’s lifetime of savings. I was ready. I searched the classifieds daily, waiting for an ad that fit my childhood of dreams of the perfect horse. When my eyes skimmed internet postings one January evening, my heart stopped – a brilliant photograph of a stunning gelding stopped me in my tracks. An ex-racehorse with five years dressage schooling was looking for his new home. Sure, you’d never jumped a fence in your life and I was an aspiring Hunter/Jumper. That didn’t matter to me. To me, you were perfect.
$1500 later, you were mine. A real bargain! Mum surprised me by bringing you home a few days later. Under the pretense that we had to drop feed off at what would soon be your new home, we rounded the corner and she exclaimed, “surprise!” with a grin from ear to ear. There you were, standing in the corner stall, ears pricked and eyes bright and curious. You stood 16 hands at the wither, and your dark bay coat glistened with dapples. Your crisp white star was the shape of a heart. You could’ve been perceived as unruly and fresh, sensitive to the world around you, and arguably a bit neurotic; to me, you were perfect.
Our first few years together were, well, challenging. A retired Thoroughbred with more quirks than racetrack wins, you were complex and overanxious. Hot and often difficult to manage, you taught me patience, determination, and resiliency. As we got to know each other, our bond began to solidify. I learned your tricks and you learned mine, and we slowly united. Hard work and a soft hand allowed me to introduce you to my world – together, we navigated the Hunter/Jumper circuit and moved from novice shows to the rated rings. We won a few classes, we tried new things, and you made my childhood dreams come true. You may not have been a circuit champion but to me, you were perfect.
You were my everything. As I emerged from high school and pursued post- secondary, your role in my life transformed from competitive partner to therapist, confidant, best friend. Your place by my side transcended friendships, relationships, trials, and tribulations. Long summer evenings were spent grooming your coat until it shone, splashing in the river, and cantering through the forest.
Long, cold, winter afternoons were spent galloping across snow blanketed fields, and walking down silent trails together. When you entered your twenties, I began to recognize your age and your workload began to change shape yet again. To alleviate any stress and offer you a long, healthy life, I leased a competitive horse and you took on new partnerships. You took Allison, Kate, and Caroline from the beginner level of quiet lesson ponies to the next step in their riding careers, offering them a more complex ride and skillset that prepared them for one day purchasing their own horses. I loved watching you with them; however, I recognized that your quirks and idiosyncrasies made you an often challenging partner for a novice rider. That didn’t matter. To me, you were perfect.
Together, we moved to a place of our very own. At 24, you finally lived at home with me! The first few week I would wake up at our new home, look out the window and see you happily grazing, and feel so giddy I had to pinch myself. It was a childhood dream come true. After two degrees and a short stint working abroad, you were more or less fully retired as I moved into my professional career. You would occasionally provide pony rides to friends and family, but for the most part, your only job was to continue offering me your friendship. In a few short years, I said goodbye to both grandparents, and spent countless evenings crying into your thick, black mane. I experienced breakups and together we navigated love and loss, one hoofbeat at a time. I would ride bareback down the road in a halter with the dogs running behind, sharing with you everything that was on my mind. You eased my worries and provided great comfort to me. The star on your forehead began to grey your entire face, and your ribs were ever so slightly, albeit persistently, visible. Even as you started to age, you remained handsome and fit. It didn’t matter to me that were starting to show your years. To me, you were perfect.
As winter turned to spring in your twenty fifth year, I began to worry. Your summer coat was coming in at a snail’s pace and your weight was low, but worse, your muscle mass began to decrease in ways it never had before. Each night before bed I would pad down the stairs and slip quietly in the barn to tuck you in, making sure your sheet was snug and warm. I would often sit down at the edge of your stall and murmur to you how special you were, and you would blow warm breaths into my hair, as if you were reassuring me as much as I was providing comfort to you. Slowly, I became astutely aware of how finite our partnership was.
When you let out one last breath, your heart stopped and mine broke into a million pieces. I will miss you for the rest of my life. You galloped into my dreams when I was a young girl and added richness to my adult life.
On June 20th, 2018, I said goodbye to you, my very best friend. You had aged rapidly in a few short weeks, and after a third episode of choking it was clear what was best for you. The vet had done his best but you looked defeated. Your eyes were resigned and your head hung low in the barn aisle. It was late, and my hair was piled messily on my head. I just knew.
During your last few minutes with me, I spent every last second telling you how much I loved you. How sweet, tolerant, and gentle you were. I asked you to visit me often through my senses and begged you desperately to appear frequently in my dreams. I told you that I could not have asked for a better best friend to share more than half of my life with. I apologized for not being able to fix you, and to forgive me if I ever put you through too much. I thanked you for defining my childhood, my youth, and my early adulthood. I buried my face into your forelock one last long time and told you that you will forever occupy up a piece of my heart. I told you over and over that there will never be another one like you. When you let out one last breath, your heart stopped and mine broke into a million pieces. I will miss you for the rest of my life. You galloped into my dreams when I was a young girl and added richness to my adult life. Many hearts were broken as you touched more lives than just mine.
Two years later and my heart still aches for you. In our 13 years together, I must have asked you one million times, “What am I going to do without you someday?” Since you left, I have asked myself one million times, “What am I supposed to do now that are gone?” You taught me more about myself, friendship, and life than I could have ever asked for. A long time ago we were both young together — me in my early teens trying to find myself, and you, a childhood dream come to life.
Spyder, you have my whole heart. On rare, lucky nights, you visit me in my dreams. They’re surreal – in each instance, I am aware that you are gone and I float through sleepily, clinging to the foggy moments I have with you. I still lack the words to explain the void you left behind. I’m sure that no matter how much time passes I’ll still be here, trying to figure out what to do without you. You are my never-ending journey and to me, you will always be perfect.
Feature photo by Natalie Kowalenko. Inset photos by Kristy Waddell and Vanessa McCauley.
Written by Isobella Cuan
Isobell first sat on a horse at age four, but she's been obsessed with them for as long as she can remember. Her heart horse Spyder shaped her riding career, and after he passed she's using everything he taught her to bring along her 5-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Sprocket.