My beloved Alberto…
I don’t even know how or at what point to begin this letter as I feel like words on paper don’t do justice to the trust that our 14 (and counting)-year-long relationship has embodied. Sure, I could talk about our “rags to riches” story about the first time I met you on that sweltering August day back in 2003, when you threw two shoes on the lunge line you were so overcome with nervousness and anxiety.
And how poor Lauren and Paul Tjaden were so desperate to get rid of you because you were, quite frankly, a “nut job,” that they gave me a two-week trial because they were probably more scared for my life than for yours. They must have thought me an idiot when I called them later that SAME evening and told them to cash the check (numbered “666,” that my mother wrote for you) because when you came off the trailer and stepped foot onto Crow’s Ear Farm, you were instantly quiet and sane, “slow blinks” and all.
Here, I was thinking I was some horse whisperer extraordinaire when, really, I would soon discover the true meaning behind your Jekyll and Hyde undulations in attitude on a little hack while at college in Charlottesville in a COW field later on that year. BINGO! I wonder what ever happened in your foal-hood to make you so damn flipped out about cattle? I even went to the great lengths of finding your breeder and race trainer Tom Swales (whose daughter Alex you’re named after—fun fact…Alex’s Castledream) to ask him if you’d ever been attacked by one as a young colt? Nada. So Al…your guess is as good as mine, my child.
I will NEVER forget the time in 2007 when we were training for the Hong Kong Olympic test event at Captain Mark Phillips’ yard in England when you mistook the neighboring sheep for cattle and proceeded to jump out of your pasture (quite majestically, I might add) nearly sending me into cardiac arrest as I am running like mad after my seven-year-old thoroughbred down a narrow road in a foreign country with a bucket of grain…and we ALL know how much you care about your grain come showtime. I was always jealous how you could have that mental fortitude when it came to food. If only I could be that tough.
Oh Al, the truth is, there are so many things I have to say to you…so many stones I felt I left unturned, bridges uncrossed. You are my once-in-a-lifetime horse, but I feel like I found you too soon in my career. I feel like I let you down so many times. Why did I let my nerves get the best of us on cross-country at Rolex in 2015? Why was it always two phases out of three with me? When will I ever be able to step up to the proverbial plate and swing for the stars on a horse that is nothing short of BABE RUTH?
I just feel like with a better rider, you could have won so much more—been a four-star winner, not just a placer, and been an Olympic Champion. Maybe I should have sold you to Dirk Shrade when he offered to buy you at the Olympic Test event in Hong Kong.
But no one knows the struggle we both went through, beginning on that hot summer August day when I took a chance on you. From terrible rearing issues with the cattle to tackling icing boots, which took two months of patiently placing on your little hooves in small buckets of water while I tacked you and gently patted and consoled you, letting you know that everything would be okay. In 2008, in June, after a nearly two-month-long stay in the hospital after my catastrophic fall at Rolex with my beloved Frodo, coming home to a nearly empty barn, guess who’s head was poking out of the stall greeting me and eager to get back into work? I bet you can guess who was doing the consoling then.
You see, Al, we were a team from Day One, whether we knew it or not. I saved you from the cattle, from potentially going into the wrong hands of someone less patient, perhaps, but you, my dear…you MADE me.
There are no ribbons, no awards, no copious amounts of money that will ever replace that trust and love that I have ever had for another being let alone an animal, and that is why whenever I’m galloping across the country, no matter the horse I am on, I will never stop hearing the crowd roar, “GO AL GO!”
Happy Retirement to my BEST FRIEND! I love you, Mr. Squishy!

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Photos by Shannon Brinkman.