This article won the 2022 GMO Newsletter Award for a first person article for GMOs with fewer than 75 members. It originally appeared in the Columbia Dressage and Combined Training Association newsletter, Direct Rein, December 2021/January 2022.
The USDF Group Member Organization (GMO) Newsletter Awards are designed to recognize outstanding efforts by GMOs that produce newsletters. Awards in two categories will be presented for exemplary articles. Nominations are due by August 31st. Only an official representative of a GMO may submit the nomination. For a nomination form follow this link.
By Beth Hussey
I saw him for the first time when he peered out at me from the grooming stall of a St. Louis dressage barn; he was big, black and beautiful and I couldn’t believe that this majestic animal might actually be my next horse.
He wasn’t perfect. That first day, I watched him being ridden by his trainer in the windowless brown box of an indoor arena and he was lovely. I asked them to see how he went outside and a look passed between trainer and assistant. “He has a few issues with outside” I was told. Since my limited at home facilities consist only of “outside”, I smiled and asked them to ride him outside if at all possible, which they did-and he wasn’t awful, so I put that down in the plus column, along with his aforementioned more superficial assets. He really was an astonishingly good-looking horse.
Readers, I bought him.
My instructor Crystal Kendrick told me I had purchased the equivalent of a college education, and that he would teach me all about riding real dressage. He was so talented and such a good mover. When he was good he was breathtaking, and I was awarded one of the Dressage Foundation Gifted Scholarships the year after I got him. The lessons I learned were hard ones though, and not without some heart in the mouth moments. The same athleticism that gave him his perfect gaits made it all too easy for him to leap fifteen feet sideways at a flapping plastic bag. I never did come off his seventeen-three frame but it was a close thing more than once. I got credit for being a much braver rider than I actually am!
Our show record was patchy. His potential was clear to the judges but I was never able to unlock it ful-ly. Crystal had more luck, and even took him to a couple of events with successful results. I did lots of clinics and took lots of lessons but year three of our partnership rolled around and he began to develop an occasional hindlimb lameness. It wasn’t debilitating, but it was enough that our canter transitions became difficult and our extensions problematic. I had a basic lameness exam performed but nothing dramatic was found, so I opted for the time honored tradition of rest and turnout for a few months.
I didn’t feel he would benefit from completely being let down mentally, and so during his down time I started working with Melanie Stolz-Brown, a former CDCTA member and natural horsemanship instructor. I learned a lot, and Wolfie learned some, but mostly I learned that he was not a horse that eagerly accepted some-one as his leader.
Eventually we started riding again but it wasn’t long before the nagging lameness cropped up again and it was time for the full-on lameness workup, which resulted in a diagnosis of degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis. I know vet school was a long time ago for me, but I had never heard of that particular problem. Apparently it has only been recognized since I graduated, and it afflicts mostly gaited horses but more and more we are seeing the extravagant-moving dressage horses coming down with it as well. There is no cure, and only pal-liative treatments of varying efficacy.
It was a hard blow. The most talented horse I had ever owned, or am likely to own, doomed to eventual non-rideability and worse. Although it is not unheard of to keep riding affected horses, his unpredictability even before diagnosis made any kind of serious work out of the question…and he never was a particularly reliable trail horse. All my daydreams of taking a really competitive horse to the dressage finals, or maybe even to Florida for a week or two in the winter, evaporated into the reality of keeping a large, lame horse as essentially a pasture ornament.
Horses break our hearts all the time and many others, club members included, have had to deal with this sort of situation. He was still a beauty and fun to have around, king of the barn always. He even had a (very) brief career as a riding horse for one of my boyfriends. [If you want to read that story again look up the summer newsletters from 2019-editor].
Only a week or so after his annual vaccinations this year, he developed a large swelling in his prepuce that did not respond to the easier treatments. His usual cocky arrogance leaked away, along with his appetite, and on December 9 I made the difficult decision to let him go. Thank you to my Dressage Posse, which has been called into action more often than I would like to help with this type of situation: Lisa Morrissey, Rosy Erganian, Amy Stapleton, Crystal Kendrick, and Dr. Martha Scharff.
There is a very large warmblood-shaped hole in my heart. Crystal was right….he taught me more than I would have imagined: about love, and patience, and loss.