In Loving Memory of Pass A Native 5/21/81- 10/24/00
I began with lessons at the age of 13, and I learned the art of horseback riding, or at least of falling off horses! It wasn’t until the year 1999 came around that my life changed. I still knew very little about riding. I had ridden western, I had taken to English riding and took lessons when I could, I had jumped some, I rode bareback a few times. I still needed to check my diagonals and could not tell one lead from the other!
Then Lady came into my life. I was told by a friend of a barn where I could continue taking lessons, which I had stopped for quite some time. I walked in, had a brief tour, and then was shown the arena. In the last stall before the indoor, there stood a lanky, skinny bay mare that I was in love the moment I saw her.
Jockey Club Registered as Pass A Native, the bay mare that traced back to Native Dancer had raced until she was 4 years old. She raced at Charleston Track in Virginia before coming north to end her racing career at Penn National race track near Harrisburg, PA. From there, as my trek into the history of her life revealed, she was sold no less than 6 times and used as a broodmare and a jumper. She had done some fairly high level jumping, through 4′, but if she had a show record, I was never able to produce one. I did locate information on 2 of her 6 foals, and found the names of all of them.
By the time I had come to know Lady, on that fateful day in April of 1999 at the age of 18, she was living a rather attentionless life. She lived in her stall and pasture with little grooming or anything other than basic care covered under board. Unable to keep a breeding anymore, she was sold from a farm in New Jersey and ended up back near the Poconos in Pennsylvania. She had not been ridden in several years. Her owner found her to be too much horse. She stuck her head over the stall door and I could see ribs, she had burrs in her mane and tail, and clumps of winter hair still clinging to her narrow frame.
She was by far the worst choice for a first horse that a person at my level could have possibly purchased. Or so they say. The 16.2 hand mare had a spirit and personality that immediately captured my heart. I was warily returning to the saddle after a harsh fall from a bolting horse that left a hoof imprint on my thigh for quite some time afterward. I was a novice, and I had confidence issues. Lady had issues, too. She was hyper, a handful to ride, and a challenge just to lead. She would ground the bit, whinny to the pastured horses from the arena. She preferred flirting with the horses in the open stalls she passed by and broke free of my grip on numerous occasion as I started to get to know her.
Despite her personality, we quickly became friends. Lady taught me quickly that a little gentleness and a lot of patience was all that was needed. I barely knew her a month when in May of 1999, Lady bolted from the pasture and got loose on the property. She failed an attempt to jump a 3′ high barbed wire fence. Her right front leg went between the top and middle wires and the fence dragged her to the ground, ripping all the muscle and skin from her leg, exposing bone, uprooting fence posts, and leaving hash marks streaking across both sides of her body as she pulled herself loose and bolted off, pouring blood.
After a four hour wait for the veterinarian, the pool of clotted blood below Lady was two inches deep and as long as the horse. The veterinarian said there wasn’t enough tissue left to suture together, and Lady would never recover properly from her injuries. She managed to put 14 stitches in the wound, enough to cover the exposed bone, at least. Lady was laid up for two months, receiving twice daily care from cold hosing to antibiotics.
She healed flawlessly, she was sound, there was barely a scar left, and by late July, we were a team again, and we were even jumping cross rails. We went on trail rides, we hacked in the arena and we enjoyed each others company. Lady mellowed out dramatically, and she became tolerant of me and my novice mistakes. She gained weight, she shined, and she was gorgeous.
Then one day, in September of 1999, Lady tried to bite me when I girthed her up. It was totally unusual behaviour and my instructor suggested I brush it off as a bad day. Lady continued to try to bite me, time and again, and still, it was shrugged off as a bad attitude change for some unknown reason. Then, one day, Lady fell while cantering with me on her back. She scraped her knees, and I had the farrier and vet out. Everything checked out alright, from her feet to the footing in the arena, but I backed off on the amount of cantering all the same.
On New Year’s Eve 1999, Lady fell while cantering again. This time crashing down upon me and breaking my ankle. For two months, I was in a cast and Lady was not ridden. Once the cast came off, I only hopped on for brief rides of walk or trot, all that my ankle could take. Two weeks later, I received a call that Lady was down in her stall with apparent colic. I raced to the barn and the vet arrived soon after. Lady’s intestines were fine, but her heart had a severe murmur and a palpable thrill. A trip to Cornell University and a full heart work up revealed that four out six of the valves in Lady’s heart were failing. She was given a good prognosis for long term life.
I moved Lady to a different barn so I could be closer to her and better care for her, and despite everything, she tolerated brief rides well, although we refrained from cantering completely. One day, in August of 2000, Lady made it clear she would not be ridden any more. She tried to bite my leg and she offered a slight buck. I never rode her again, but I watched her deteriorate before my eyes.
Her high strung attitude and love of life were soon fading away, along with her muscle and weight. Then, in September, Lady fell in the pasture. Her knees, fetlocks, hips, ears and nostrils were bruised and scraped and bleeding. Several weeks later, she fell again, this time while merely grazing on the end of the lead rope. She was shaking and frightened, and so was I. She had been seen by veterinarian after veterinarian and she was living on medications and was taking her life one day at a time, but we knew euthanasia was on the horizon.
In mid October, Lady’s heart began to fail. Fluid built up around her heart and began to back into her lungs, causing difficulty breathing. She had to be separated from the other horses. At one point she walked next to the Alpha mare, and fought for the position herself, but by early October, she was chased from the herd completely, until she was ultimately removed from the pasture turnout for her safety. Within a week, her weight dropped by a hundred pounds and despite medical efforts, she was faltering.
On Tuesday, October 24, 2000, I found Lady in a terrible state. She had had a stroke overnight. She could not use her left legs. She struggled to reach to eat hay, nearly toppling over, and she was dragging both of her left legs with each struggling stride. The veterinarian arrived and I stayed with Lady. At 1:40 pm, her ordeal had ended. I stroked her forehead and let her know it would be alright. We would see each other again someday, I told her.
I only knew Lady for a very short time, but I learned the most important lessons from her. She not only taught me how to ride, she taught me to trust. She taught me the most about friendship and responsibility, besides horsemanship and horse care. She taught me how to listen when a horse speaks, and taught me that even the slightest change in personality could mean something much larger.
Lady was my friend and teacher and she will always have a place in my heart for as long as it may beat.