This is a day I’ll not soon forget. Just like October 24 and November 30.
They are anniversary days. I know normally of course most people remember anniversaries of birthdays, weddings, or such. Of course I do too, but these date are also burned in my head.
I have trouble remembering a lot of things, which is probably why I journal, blog, photograph, video, and such… to help me remember. But these are dates I know I will not likely forget.
October 24 (2000) I had to euthanize my precious first horse, Lady (Pass A Native). She was going into heart failure. She couldn’t use her left legs. My first horse, my first equine death. I did not handle it well.
Lady was a wonderful horse, energetic, and wild. She was not the easiest horse ever, nor was she anyone’s version of a good pick for a first horse, but it all turned out well enough. Lady was awesome. We got along great and despite the fact that I didn’t know how to ride when I bought her (despite taking lessons for several summers before that), she taught me. Hang on or die. That was a good lesson.
Her story is right here.
November 30 (2009) was the last day on this Earth of my beautiful buckskin, Tate. He was a bit older of a horse that I purchased because I was trying to rebound from another mare that damned near did kill me (not Lady). I wanted something a little more seasoned and gentle and Tate fit the bill. He had been living a hard life of a Western gaming/light rodeo horse – poles mostly, and barrels and cattle. Speed & gymkhana. Then I come along with my dressage tack and his owners probably thought I was nuts.
Tate was wonderful. Sweet and kind and I kept him going for several years until highly advanced ringbone and navicular got the better of him and the decision was made.
And… so you can imagine now why I will never forget March 2 (2018).
It’s been one year today since one of the single hardest days of my life. Way back in 2007, I drove in January to somewhere in the middle of nowhere Illinois to bring home a scraggly hackney pony. He was so undermuscled and scraggly it wasn’t even funny. I tried him out in a cart held together with duct tape, and a harness held together with bailing twine.
He was perfect. Luke Skywalker as he would come to forever be known, was my shining light in the horse world. For over twenty years I pursued horses in every fashion, always thinking somehow I could be the best… (Grand Prix Jumper, Grand Prix Dressage… Combined Driving master… you name it). I didn’t have the money, help, skill, ability, or confidence to do it, but I did have one thing that was special —
Luke was the top of the top. He was, is, and always will, an unsurpassable embodiment of everything that makes a horse great – and that greatness can make a hopeful aspirerer life me feel great.
For 12 years, I watched Luke shine. He won everything everywhere. While he was an endless bundle of energy, it was always a very focused energy. Luke took his job seriously and got it done every time with grace and style… and sometimes some bucking. He had personality, and he was a showman through and through. There was no question that he knew he was in a show ring and wanted to perform.
Then, in 2010, Luke got a “big brother” in his wonderful counterpart, Chewbacca.
Above and Below, day 1 of Luke and Chewbacca meeting.
Chewbacca was a chill dude. A drastic difference from Luke, the high energy hackney showman. Chewbacca was a relaxed and far less energetic guy who just enjoyed hanging out. And he let me do literally anything and everything to him. Yet another Western (barrels) horse turned-English (Then driving) for me, Chewbacca let me jump him, then finally hitch him up and pull a cart.
Chewbacca knew when he was in a showring, too – and hated it. He fell apart instantly every time he was in a show ring. He tensed up and stressed out. Suffice to say, showing (in an arena) wasn’t going to be a strong point for him – well hey… it wasn’t a strong point for me either.
Where Chewbacca did shine – was doing literally everything else. He wasn’t the athletic, speedy, flashy showman that Luke was – but he was true and honest and willing. And when I put him to a cart, it turned out – driving was kind of his thing. He loved it, and he was bold and confident with Combined driving, and cross country was easily his best section. He did OK in cones, too. Dressage was his weakest, but Chewbacca never did like that impulsion thing.
Still, he would canter along a trail beautifully and collected and calmly, and suddenly, I had a pair of incredible horses. They were a true team. They were bonded at the hip; they learned from each other, and they both performed single and together in amazing ways. Heck, I even drove them tandem, with Luke in the lead.
I showed them, I hauled them all over the place – and for 8 years together, whatever one did, the other did. I showed them both myself at shows together- leaving one to wait tied at the trailer while I showed the other. They just knew, and they just did. Trails. Rivers. Shows. Hills. Whatever. Didn’t matter the surroundings – from fairs to busy streets to wide open fields – they were unbelievable at their jobs and amazing in every way.
Their personalities were totally different, and I think the photo above left shows that really well, lol! One thing I often let them do was run free on the farm (fully fenced, of course). They loved “getting away” with running up to the front yard, which was totally out of sight from the barn and munching on the green grass. When I called for them, they would come. Didn’t matter how far away they were, or how much grass there was. They would come- Luke at a full on run, and Chewbacca at a slow waddle.
For years and years, this was my view. Green grasses and perfect horse butts working for me at a walk, trot, and canter, over whatever ground I asked of them.
It was all so sudden. It was all so sad. Chewbacca went lame in 2015 and needed to be pulled from all work. His suspensories on the hind were giving out- desmitis. Luke continued to machine on, along with Jesse. And I kept showing them both. Luke and Jesse were of equal, flashy performance, and I showed them both frequently at events, but they did not get along. Like… at all. They would actually attack at each other with teeth bared, so I always had to keep them separate.
Luke worked right up through December 2, 2017. I moved them to a new barn on Decemeber 1, and the next day the weather was good enough to take him out for a drive. Then the weather changed, and so did everything else. (Totally unrelated to the move of course, although possibly a stress factor from the move did amplify Luke’s issues).
By Christmas, Luke had lost “some” weight. That was odd for him, since he was always – for all the 12 years I had had him – one of those easy keepers on air. Luke was 22 years old after all. He was not a young man anymore.
After doing everything I could for him, over the next few weeks, Luke’s condition got worse and worse. He lost over 100 pounds in weeks. His abdomen distended. He had no muscle left. Chewbacca was moving slower and slower with each passing day, too. Not specifically “in pain”, but most definitely “uncomfortable”.
My precious amazing incredible horses that had given and done everything for me, were failing before my eyes.
Thus, March 2 had to happen.
It was a road I’d walked down before. I thought after losing Lady that I would never get another horse. But… 18 years and more than a dozen horses later, the final road is one you just have to travel as a horse owner.
I had always said the days (aka two separate days) when I lost Luke and Chewbacca would be the two hardest days of my life. Turned out, it ended up being one day. There was no way I could separate them. Chewbacca had always been Luke’s protector.
Chewbacca is still Luke’s protector.
One year later, this beautiful bracelet is all I have of them. That, and more than a decade of memories, photos, and videos, and ribbons.
Two amazing horses. Tragically gone. Always Loved. Never forgotten.