Dear Dempsey: You Had a Heart as Big as the Grand Canyon

Dear Dempsey: You Had a Heart as Big as the Grand Canyon

Dear DD,

It’s been 43 days since I went with you to the hospital, worried sick that something was seriously wrong with you after our stumble on cross-country. Soon, we learned that you had a minor fracture, but would be good as new after surgery. I was still worried that you had to stay in Canada without me. I gave you a huge hug — many actually — and told you how happy you would be getting to live in a field at Jennie’s for a few months after going to the best rehab facility in New York.

I kissed your nose, you licked my face, and I promised to come visit in a few weeks. You were going to be galloping across country before long, and you just seemed like you were content. Walking around with your peg leg like nothing was wrong, and being the best patient.

I told the vet students as soon as you were feeling better they would know, and also about your little quirks and the things you liked and disliked. They promised to itch your spot, feed you cookies, and send me lots of pictures. I left to head home, knowing we would be back together before long. Then, the surgeon called me, and my world was instantly turned upside down.

You had serious complications while getting up from surgery. They weren’t sure you would make it through rehab, and if you did, you would not be able to live even in a pasture. I had to send a text telling them to do what was the only humane thing to do so you weren’t suffering: “I, Tamie Smith, authorize euthanasia of Dempsey.”

My heart broke in a thousand pieces. In fact, I sat looking at my phone and Lauren had to finish the text for me. I just wanted to wake up from this terrible nightmare. I’m not certain you know the impact you had on me.

I met you as a rank five-year-old. You were in dressage training with Niki and the second I laid eyes on you, I knew I loved you. You were pulling your boots off with your mouth in the cross-ties. I kept trying to find reasons why I shouldn’t buy you, but I just couldn’t find one that was good enough. A wonderful group of people saw in you what I saw in you: a future champion.

I will never forget the day when you arrived at the farm to start our new partnership and you promptly tested me. I stayed on, God only knows how, and then half-heartedly did a couple more transitions and promptly hopped off. I still knew you were probably the best jumping horse with the best gallop I had ever sat on, and I was up for the challenge.

Your desire and appetite for life was infectious. Anyone that met you remembered you. I mean, how could they not remember you?

I am grateful for the time we spent together learning the sport of eventing. The many lessons you taught me. That incredible feeling you gave me jumping and galloping across the country.

We traveled the world together and met so many people and saw so many new places. You were my buddy and you always knew how to comfort me. You were smarter than you needed to be and bolder than you probably should have been. You tried harder than any horse I know, which was your downfall. You always wanted to be good, even when you couldn’t be. Your athleticism was brilliant. You were a young horse with a huge, bright future, and just like that, you were taken too soon.

To say I was crushed is an understatement. My heart still aches when I think that I have lost you. Your stall is still bedded in oat hay and straw, just like you liked. I’m not sure I can ever put another horse in there.

You and I had big dreams and goals to fulfill. You were my Burghley horse, and there was never a shadow of a doubt I would ever lose you. So resilient and brave. You had a few — or 10 — screws loose, but every month, we got another one that much tighter.

You were one of my best friends and partners, and it has left a void in me I can’t explain. Riding again hurts, but I keep thinking of how much you loved our sport, and how angry you would be if I gave it up.

You were never a quitter and had a heart as big as the Grand Canyon.

I want you to know how much you taught me about patience, and how to think outside the box. You were a clown and made us all laugh, even Emily, who had to vaccinate and keep up with your vet care. You touched so many of us in such a special way. The West Coast Dempsey Syndicate has a few people who want to keep going forward, and although there will never be a horse that could replace you, there is a legacy in your name. Whoever steps in to fill those shoes will have to be worthy to be part of this great team. I think of you every day, and talking about our good times makes me smile. My tears have subsided for now, but as I write this, they well up, and my heart aches.

Thank you, DD, for all of you. For always giving your all and teaching me what it means when a horse loves cross-country. Writing this letter reminds me of the harsh reality that you really are not coming home, and that breaks my heart all over again. Somehow, it makes me take a deep breath, and realize how fortunate I am to have such a great group of partners and companions to continue to dream with.

You’re my flying monkey and in my heart forever. Go show the greats up there how incredible that stride and jump is, and how you’re always the life of the party. I love you and miss you more than I can write in words. Thank you for the ride of my life!

With love and forever gratitude to have had you accept me as your person,


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Feature photo by Hope Carlin.