I wrote this quite some time ago, but have mostly kept it to myself. I lost my heart horse on June 11, 2018. Trigger warning/tissue alert.
On a perfect early summer day, with blue skies and sun shining, a goldilocks kind of day that was not too hot and not too cold, the very best kind of day, I laid my head on his cheek and listened while he took his final breaths. I watched as the life left his eyes, and took in one last deep breath of his coat, that familiar mix of fly spray, hay, dirt… and something else, something utterly indescribable. And while I wish I could say it was as peaceful as it sounds, it was the single most horrifying and devastating moment of my life.
Intrepid Air came into my life as slightly awkward 5 year old stud colt. One of the farm hands called him “the black stallion”, which sounds striking and regal. In reality, he was a rather stout dark bay colt, who would be more often mistaken for a Quarter Horse than a thoroughbred. He had recently retired from racing at Belmont Park and was sent off to be sold as a sport horse prospect. My sister and I were 15 years old, relatively green riders, and so we were obviously the perfect match for an in-tact young racehorse. (Disclaimer: that’s sarcasm, we were NOT the perfect match. Spoiler: it worked out okay in the end, mercifully.) He was gelded just before the sale was complete. Our trainer nicknamed him BooBoo, (because he had a big boo-boo!) and though our teenage selves did not think such a juvenile name was suitable, it stuck.
Deciding on BooBoo’s show name was more of a process than one might think is merited. There are so many options that could incorporate “Boo”. Ultimately, our trainer submitted the entries for our first show, so she got the deciding vote. “What To Do About A BooBoo?” complete with capitalization and punctuation. His name was butchered by announcers even more frequently than his breeding was questioned. It was fitting though, as we often asked him “what are we going to do about you?” This was as often in response to his antics under saddle to make sure his rider was paying attention, as it was to his uncanny ability to cut or injure himself in a freak and ridiculous manner.
BooBoo turned out to be a cute little hunter, and he took me around the schooling shows and local hunter/jumper circuit. His two white socks and multiple facial markings, set against his dark bay coat made him stand out in a flat class. He had the potential to go further, but I just didn’t have deep enough pockets. While many riders choose to sell their horses when they go to college, I was determined to make it work. I worked 2-3 jobs for so many years, in addition to full time classes, and still found myself saddled (pun intended) with student loan debt. If anything was worth it, BooBoo was. Then I went to grad school in a city on the other side of the state. I made two attempts to bring him with me, but just couldn’t find a farm that worked out. So back home he went to my sister. When I got married and moved to another state, he came with me for good. Each time he returned to me, he would peek out of the trailer knowingly, as if to say “oh, you again?”
I started teaching beginner lessons, and he taught some right along with me. He was a faithful summer camp mount, who was certain to let his riders know when they got it right, and when they got it wrong. We took up dressage, wherein BooBoo exceeded everyone’s expectations. When I had my babies, he was patient while I focused on them for a little while. He waited for me when work and life were busy. I carted BooBoo from barn to barn, searching for the right one. There were so many, I’ve lost track, but he settled in at every one of them, making friends and winning admirers at every stop along the way.
BooBoo’s last job was teaching my babies to ride. At 3 and 5, if you ask them, BooBoo was their horse. They were like two little walking treat dispensers. His reward for a career well done. He loved them and carried them faithfully around the leadline ring. At one of our last shows, the judge asked what breed he was, clearly assuming he must be a Quarter Horse. When I told her he was a thoroughbred, she exclaimed “but he’s so quiet!” He was an ambassador for his breed, and a professional in everything he did.
Even at age 24, he galloped out to meet his friends in the pasture, reverting back, if for a moment, to his brief race career so many years ago. He loved to rub his head on me, rather exuberantly and without exception, every time I removed his bridle. It was as if he knew just how hard he could scratch his head on my shoulder without knocking me over. He liked blueberry Pop-Tarts (no frosting, please) and Willie Muffins. He disliked walking into the wash stall forward (totally cool to back in), and had opinions on how long he was made to stand in the cross ties. He loved dogs, but birds, not so much. (I’m looking at you, horse-eating cranes!) He had a thing for tall chestnuts and small children.
I lost my sweet boy very suddenly. Even after the lifetime we had together, I still had so many plans for us- our first dressage show, a return to the hunter ring, a paper chase, his short stirrup debut. He was a mischievous baby, and a great old man. The kind that will teach you the same lesson over and over again until you finally understand. The kind who will try so hard for you, even in his final moments.
My 3 year old son climbed into my lap, hugged me, and wiped away my tears. My 5 year old daughter is always pragmatic. She told me I should feel a little less sad because I got to have him for so long. In a way, she’s not wrong. I got to spend 18 years, 5 months, 3 weeks, and 6 days with the most beautiful creature I have ever known. I have spent more of my life with him, than without. It is hard to know who I am without him. I do know that I have been privileged to have been his keeper for all of these years.
In the end, he knew I was there with him. He lifted his head, despite his clear distress when he saw me running across the pasture in my skirt and dress shoes, having raced an hour to the farm from work. His eyes looked a little less scared when I sat with him, knowing what I needed to do, but unable to speak the words. His breathing quieted as I rubbed his face, and finally whispered “okay”- to him, to myself, to the vet. That perfect day stole my heart. He was my first love, and my deepest heartbreak.