Last Saturday, I lost my best friend and the equine love of my life. Will was so very special to me and words can never adequately express how much I love him. I may have joked that my horse got better care than me, but he truly deserved the best. He gave me so much patience, he taught me humility and he taught me how to lose gracefully. He was so athletic, talented, beautiful, smart, and sweet. Although I’d describe him as an introvert, he had such a beaming personality once you knew him. He was like a big dog on the ground, perfectly behaved, but a freak of an athlete and hotter than hell when I rode him (and I wouldn’t have it any other way). I had so much trust and faith in him and I know if I asked him to jump the moon he’d try.
Our journey started in late October of 2009. I wasn’t very committed about horse shopping, but Julie had me go to Antebellum with her to look at Will. Within minutes we knew he was the one. He looked like he needed a lot of muscle and a few pounds, but he fit the bill perfectly- he had done training, had talent to move up to prelim, and looked like he’d be a lovely dressage horse. Plus he was forward (very forward)- I couldn't handle the horses I'd tried who felt half dead. I called the vet on the way home for a pre-purchase exam. Within a week all the loose ends were tied up and I loaded Will up in my trailer on Halloween morning.
Will adjusting to life at Heronwood Farm.
Jon made Will a lovely stall plaque as a stall warming gift- too bad you could never see it underneath all his blankets!
Will was bargain-basement priced, and I soon found out why. He had several tricks up his sleeve, but his two favorites were to “leap”- to fly forward while rearing- and to leg yield sideways at about 200 mph. When we jumped, he could slam on the breaks faster than any horse I’d ever ridden. When we actually went over the fence together, he had the ability to literally jump me out of the tack. To sum it up, he was a lot of raw talent.
I thought he was awful fancy at our first unrecognized dressage show. I think he just put up with me!
We got along pretty well, and at first I was in love with how fancy he was. Riley’s little body just couldn’t bend or lift the way Will’s could. I couldn’t understand why he got such high dressage scores at USEA horse trials- until of course I took him to our first recognized show. He was a nervous wreck. I had never considered the possibility of being eliminated before dressage until our first test together. Will reared so big in front of the judge that I thought he was going to flip. We scored a 58 that day and I realized that if I wanted to ride Will, I’d need a good sense of humor. I also needed to formulate a plan to manage his nerves, which I started doing as soon as we got back home to Kentucky. I decided that it could only get better from there, and thankfully it did.
This photo sums up our test- tenseness, a dread sense of fear, and a feeling to please just get it over with.
In 2010, Will took me around training like a champ. I was on a crazy train to the Indiana T3D and I had to take a serious reality check when things didn’t pan out the way I dreamed. It was ok because I don’t think we would’ve been ready for it- we could successfully negotiate training courses, but we weren’t best friends yet. We finished up that season with a fantastic performance at the Team Challenge, where our team brought home first place. The Team Challenge course felt like cake, so I thought I’d try to take him prelim at River Glen. I have terrible luck at River Glen, so that didn’t work out, but it just meant we’d regroup and try again in 2011.
Not that he wasn't pretty before, but he had truly blossomed into a gorgeous horse after gaining some muscle, some weight and his summer coat in 2010.
Will won me a big blue ribbon and saddlepad at the May 2010 WTPC combined test, where I said he was so good because the entry fee was so cheap. He seemed to know the difference between schooling shows and USEA shows- or maybe I was just a little extra nervous and he knew it.
Catching Will early one foggy summer morning- Will's the furthest horse on the right in his fly mask. I think this was before a schooling show at Antebellum, where we were bored and thought it'd be funny to vetrap Will's floppy ears together. Of course he put up with it!
Will wearing his first USEA blue ribbon. Never mind that it was a team competition and not an individual ribbon- it didn't matter, because he rode so well that weekend.
Will chilling at River Glen- he loved his "voodoo" headband made out of magnets and Back on Track Sheet. Somehow they helped him relax at horse shows. I do think he liked the extra attention and even more carrots.
Will jumping like a champ at River Glen. He got VERY excited out on XC (other people may say uncontrollable), where he ran past his distance and got stuck in the middle of an A/B competition. He still tried to get it done, but we were in over our heads.
John decided that frosted grass was like Frosted Mini Wheats for horses. Will LOVED to graze, grass was probably his favorite food. His other favorites of course being alfalfa hay and carrots- all healthy salad type foods.
2011 was when I’d say our true friendship really started. We had all the qualifications for the T3D by this point and so I figured we’d start early- in February- getting ready with TONS of walking. Some days I got bored, but I truly loved our hour-long hacks and that’s when I think we really started getting each other. I always said that if Will had a dating profile, he’d say that he loves long walks in the woods. Some days John would help take him for his big long walks, and he’d even try his hand at trotting him. Our goals were slightly derailed by a nasty stone bruise early in the season, but we got back at it and we had the time of our lives at the IEA T3D. It was wonderful seeing Will’s Indiana Fan Club and he finished the weekend with one of his best performances, posting one of only three clean SJ rounds. We completed our first prelim in August, and in September he jumped his heart out for me on the very difficult Flying Cross prelim course. At Flying Cross I learned just how much he would do for me and I knew I could trust him to jump anything I asked, even if I was scared.
March of 2011 was the first time I decided to leave flames clipped into his rump for his body clip. They suited his personality so well!
My mom and I bought Will his silly pirate fly mask at Rolex in April. He put up with my goofiness so well- his crazy complimented my crazy in a way I can never describe.
Will was SO much fun to gallop, with his enormous stride. Here he is on Steeplechase at the IEA T3D. He was so well suited to the long format.
Will didn't seem to mind saving my butt when I gave him a bad ride- believe it or not, he cleared this fence.
Will's first completed prelim at Penny Oaks.
Will hacking around the farm near the end of 2011.
This year has been the year I’ve dreamed of. Will finally “came around” and we joked that he was starting to act like a normal horse. By this point, we'd proven several of his quirks wrong- he cross tied, he took a lot of leg to ride properly, and he wore (and liked) loose ring bits. He still had to walk when being girthed up to keep him from "sitting" and he still had plenty of quirks that I worked around and loved. His dressage was so perfect- he nailed all the prelim movements and he was starting to move like a big-time horse. He brought home more blue ribbons at jumper and dressage shows than he’d ever won before. He even won high point at Snowbird two weeks ago. He was a super-star and took John to his first intro test, where he got a 69% (amazing everyone because he was so hot, but we all knew how much he loved John) while he gave me the best dressage score I’ve ever received, a 76% (24 in eventing) on the Prelim A test at March Snowbird underneath a USEA recognized judge. His jumping was phenomenal and he was finally controllable in the ring. We even were able to jump around cross country in a plain full cheek snaffle. He gave me such a good schooling last Sunday, where he made all the prelim jumps feel like tiny logs. For the first time at a show this past weekend, a stranger complimented him, saying he was "lovely." Usually people saw him and kept their thoughts to themselves, because I'm sure they went something like "glad my horse isn't doing that."
This past weekend when I looked at the dressage scores, I was ready for my heart to drop like it normally does when I see that we’re in last place after the dressage. (I always hoped that dressage judges could see what I saw in Will, but he could never keep his brain in his head during a test.) Instead of dropping, though, it rose because we were in first place. For the second time ever we broke beneath a 40 and got the best score he’s ever received at a USEA horse trial, a 34.6. And the best part was that it didn’t even ride like our best test- he had more to give and I knew we'd impress the judge like crazy next time out.
Will went into show jumping and was SO excited he couldn’t stand still outside the ring. We joked that he was all riled up- but that we couldn’t say that because that wasn’t his name. We dressed him up for XC in UK duct tape on his boots right after and headed over to XC. Will was definitely a Wildcat fan and loved his adopted home state of Kentucky (he thought the grass was very, very tasty here). He was such a gentleman in the start box, like always, so long as I did things right (go in and stand still for a minute, no walking in and out). He galloped out and gave me the best ride. He soared over fence 17 and just couldn’t turn to fence 18. I think that’s when his heart gave out, but I just thought he was unfocused and knew he’d save my butt over the combination when he realized what I was asking. He couldn’t, and he didn’t, but he still tried. That’s why I loved him- he tried SO very hard for me.
The preliminary results indicate that Will died of an aortic aneurism. He died doing what he loved, in his favorite phase, and he didn't suffer.
I guess Will had the opportunity to pick when he was going to go, and he went out in true Will style. He went out at the top of his game (I don't think really growing old- he was still young at 17- really suited him), getting to have one last good gallop right before he went. He had recently had some Adequan, some acupuncture, seen the chiropractor, and also seen the osteopath, so I know he had to of felt pretty good. Two weeks ago he had one last go at trying to kill me in our train wreck of a dressage lesson, but then redeemed himself in one of our best ever dressage lessons last week. We had one great, last conditioning ride, where he didn't even break a sweat until the 18 minute mark during our 20 minute trot, and was hardly out of breath after cantering three 4 minute sets. He had a great big roll on Wednesday night and tried very hard to be ridiculously filthy all last week. He made me worry like usual over his hunger strike the past week or so. As always he was watching his figure, and I guess he wanted to look especially good for his last time out. I know he loved me, but it doesn't make it any easier to know I'll never see his gorgeous face and big floppy ears, probably covered in hay from his net (because he wouldn't eat hay off the ground- he was too good for that), peek out of his stall ever again. There are so many "I'll never..."s that I know I haven't even thought of, but all I know is that 3 years together was not enough time. I don't know how much time would have been enough, but he'll always be my big man and have a special home in my heart.