Last night, my little three- year old thoroughbred mare Pepper passed on to greener pastures.
There is a lovely and heartbreaking story connected to this very special equine partner of mine. We all know the heartbreak when having to let loved ones go, and yes, that means our animal family as well. Be it a soft velvety loved cat, an always forgiving warm- eyed dog, or the equine partner that got you through so many ups and downs with hours of trail rides or dressage sessions that finally gave your brain the peace of mind it needed.
We all know the empty heart we experience when they move on and we are left behind; we know the helpless feeling when friends go through it, not knowing what words of comfort to use because we know, nothing makes it better or more bearable.
Being in the mountains skiing with the family this weekend, usually it is a very peaceful time and hardly any connectivity. A blessing in our busy technology driven existence.
Unfortunately the text came through that my little racehorse mare passed away from a heart defect. Nothing could be done. Of course, my heart shattered into millions of pieces, not even being there for her and accompanying her on her transition to a better place.
In August, before I even started my Horse Boy journey, I got a phone call from a friend offering me to have a look at a horse that might be a nice project for me. When I went out to see her, she was wild! We had to chase her from the pasture into a smaller corral to even get a closer look. Her ears were pinned back and she did not want to be close to us except to bare her teeth and to use any opportunity to dig them into any human approaching.
Her story was that she washed out on the track at two and hated humans ever since. They carefully tried to get her closer by feeding her, but she was very hesitant.
When I saw her, there was something in her eyes though, she looked straight into my soul it seemed. Just like an autistic child at the one second of peace, seemed to truly connect. She moved beautifully and she was so young that I could not imagine giving up on her this early in life. I felt challenged and wanted to work with her.
When she arrived at the Air Force Academy Equestrian Center, we started at square one. I spent all of August just with the basics: haltering, brushing, letting her touch me, moving to basic ground work. Putting on a halter was a challenge, brushing her, she tried to turn, aim and kick with a purpose... she was dangerous! But absolutely gorgeous.
And again, her eyes told a different story. She wanted connection, but she did not know how... sounds familiar? Yes, I see it in my classroom all the time, it was just like teaching; I needed to find the key to this one horse to unlock her full potential.
With a lot of patience and not rushing anything, she started to build a connection. I still had to watch her body language closely, but we started to speak the same language. How I earned the privilege of gaining her trust, I am not quite certain, and most likely it was nothing I did, but her grace that eventually granted me her heart. But once she gave it, she gave it whole heartedly.
The moment she decided she could trust me and wanted to have a relationship, I felt she would have done anything for me. She started working hard for me, overcame her fears, relied on my guidance, and was there when I needed her.
We spent endless hours in the dressage arena working on that secret invisible language, the dance moves only true dressage riders appreciate, fine tuning every piece of communication to perfection; she took jumps where I could feel her blood rushing through her veins as she approached not knowing what to expect but taking my gentle pressure and supportive balance as reassurance that it was okay to go for it.
She was that special horse that you do not find every day and that you could not afford to pay for the relationship she granted.
I have never owned my own horse. From early on I trained and rode for other people and learned not to get attached. Usually ‘my horses’ would end up being sold, or riders would get them for showing etc. Pepper was different... I let my heart get more involved than was wise.
After I got trained on Horse Boy and Movement Method, I was very excited to have Pepper involved in the program. Of course, she was way too young to work with our families, and that made total sense. However, she learned the countdowns perfectly on the bit, and even picked up the beginning of the Spanish walk in less than two weeks.
I wanted her well rounded, bomb proof, balanced and having a job in a program that mattered. When I shared that with the owner, she had a different vision. She wanted her trained and showing at FEI level and absolutely not trained the Horse Boy way.
I noticed how successful the methods were that I brought back from Horse Boy. They were well thought through, gentle, based on the German training scale, focused on the development and care of the horse, and the positive impact on the young horse was immediate.
I am absolutely convinced, it is one of the best methods out there- and I have experienced a lot of different styles training horses in Germany, Columbia, and the US.
Doing the right thing was important to me, and I had a difficult choice to make. I had to let Pepper go and give her back.
And so, I did.
She ended up in a pasture with other mares, right where I trained the other horses daily. Nobody really connecting with her. It broke my heart.
I still believe she would have made a great horse! It also made me realize, sometimes we have to give up what is very important to us in order to do what is right and live what we believe.