byCatie Staszak| Mar 28, 2018
Throughout my time as a journalist in equestrian sport, I have had the opportunity to write about many riders’ “horses of a lifetime.” I’m sure McLain Ward will look back one day and marvel about HH Azur’s perfect performance at the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final in Omaha, just as he probably already reminisces about the great Sapphire. My good friend Susannah Rose has been WEF Circuit Champion three times on her adult hunter Calero and has referred to him unquestionably as her horse of a lifetime. Still others have been propelled to wins at Devon, indoors, or the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships. I’ve been blessed to ride some very special, one-of-a-kind horses, too—champions at WEF, ribbon-getters at indoors, partners at the equitation finals.
But my horse of a lifetime is of the literal sense, the one I’ve had for, literally, most of my lifetime—and we never set foot in the show ring together.
Sobrie and I are less than three years apart. I turned 26 in December, and he’ll turn 24 in May. He was my first horse when I was six years old, and he a recently-gelded four-year-old, and he’s the only horse I still own.
I didn’t grow up in a horse-y family. My parents were not professional equestrians. My dad was a former professional…hockey player. My mom rode horses as a child but never took lessons. She signed me up for riding lessons after we moved to Florida when I was six, and I started out riding western in a bicycle helmet.
Sobrie came into our lives unexpectedly. My mom wasn’t exactly looking for a horse of our own, but when she saw the small grey up to his head in manure from an un-cleaned stall, abandoned and neglected by his owner, his big eyes won her heart. We rescued him, and we became horse owners.
He was always my best friend, the kind that would stand quietly for a long hug as tears soaked his neck.
Wouldn’t it be great for her six-year-old daughter to grow up with this horse? It was a thoughtful idea, but we weren’t yet at a barn with a knowledgeable trainer to tell us what a terribly bad idea it was.
Sobrie thought every meal was his last, so he devoured his food at an unhealthy rate and needed a cribbing collar. He was flighty. He took off with me in a round pen, and I fell off. He thought my finger was a carrot, and he grabbed it and didn’t let go. I still have a scar. On Halloween, I dressed up as Zorro, and he took the role of Zorro’s horse literally, galloping off when my cape made a snapping noise in the wind. My mom dropped her camera in fear and never found it again, but I stayed on, and those in attendance at the Halloween horse show clapped at the “intentional” show I put on.
When I was eight, he colicked. My mom had dropped me off at the barn, and I found him in distress in his stall. I knew something was wrong, so I got him up and hand-walked him until help arrived. His secum ruptured on the table in surgery; had that happened seconds before in his abdomen, he would have died.
Sobrie taught me everything and made me a true horsewoman.
When I took the leap and moved to Wellington to really get serious about riding, Sobrie moved home. We built a barn for him in the backyard; he wasn’t a show horse, but he was still our horse. It was then that he really became a part of the family. He was the first being I saw every morning. He knew I was the one that fed him, that cleaned his stall, that turned him out and brought him in each day, that sat with him every Fourth of July when the neighbors set off too many spooky fireworks. When I went away to college and didn’t have a consistent horse to ride, I always knew I had Sobrie. We trailed around the neighborhood and jumped small courses in the backyard. He had perfect changes, and while he was too small (barely 15 hands) to be a talented jumper and not quite fancy enough to be a hunter, he marched around the courses in our backyard like a perfect gentleman, always making me smile.
Sobrie has been the one constant in my life: through bratty ponies, high school bullying, the pressure of equitation finals, college decisions, breakups, family illnesses, and career choices. He was always my best friend, the kind that would stand quietly for a long hug as tears soaked his neck, the kind that would turn his neck to look at me with giant, caring eyes, as if to say, I still love you, the kind that would always listen and never argue.
When my parents sold our farm, we retired Sobrie to a farm in Palm City, FL—close enough where I could visit regularly. Even though he was
just an hour away, it was incredibly emotional, but nothing could prepare me for the heartbreak when he began getting a bloody discharge in his nose. As many grey horses develop, Sobrie had melanomas, but veterinarians discovered malignant tumors had accumulated on his arteries. On March 27, 2017, he was given days to live. At best, he’d have a year.
At first, I sobbed uncontrollably, but when a week went by, I changed my tune.
Mondays at Twelve Oaks Farm were—are—my favorite day of the week. I revel in the quiet and go back to my roots. Today, March 28, 2017, is Day 366 since Sobrie’s diagnosis. He’s doing great, thanks to the incredible care from farm owner Karen Goodberlet and the veterinary care from Harbor Ridge Equine. He hasn’t had a bloody nose in months, and he still eats like it’s his last meal. Karen’s children feed him treats, make him Christmas stockings, and read books to him, just as I did when I was their age. He has three paddocks to himself, and his closest friends are Garnet the pony and Pepé the miniature donkey.
Sobrie, we have officially beaten the odds. Every day with you is truly is a gift. You may be more of a pet than a show horse, but I wouldn’t be where I am without you.
Here’s to many more days together, Sobrie. I love you to the moon and back—my [non-traditional] horse of a lifetime.
Ph. Bianca McCarty and Kathy Russell, courtesy of the author.
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