Where to start… The journey Disco and I went on was one for the books. From being the one to claim him on the track, to rehabbing him from a torn tendon, and then restarting him to make a run for the Thoroughbred Makeover…. He was a horse that will forever hold a place in my heart. He was a horse with so much personality. You couldn’t help just laughing and shaking your head at him. From sticking his tongue out every chance he got, to always knowing how to be the dirtiest horse on the farm. He would pick up anything in reach, and I swear he always had a smile in his eye. He was young and flashy, and always showing off. He would have any animal behaviorist puzzled with how he ran herd dynamics. He was the boss of the alphas but a pushover to horses that had no confidence to any other horse. When it came to training, he would progress so beautifully, and then hit stuck spots that would make me so frustrated at times. But with every wall we hit, he made me think out of the box more than any horse I have ever trained. Just in the last week we had reached highs we had yet to accomplish in all of our training. We rode bareback and bridleless, he was finally mastering his transitions and pacing at the lope. We were side passing logs (which for him was a big deal), figuring out teeter totters, and doing full arena trail courses. I had been brainstorming my freestyle since May, and finally begun to accumulate props to start putting it all together. For the bumps we had hit earlier on that had me discouraged, we had rounded a corner that had me thinking we had a real shot at this thing.
But accidents happen. In this case, it happened so fast it was over before I could grasp what I was seeing. In a very uncharacteristic reaction, Disco spooked during a desensitizing session with a new prop and crashed through the arena gate. He ended up in our neighbors cattle fencing, and that is not a mix that is bound to end well. We got him cut out of the fence, and the vet arrived in minutes, but sometimes life isn’t fair. Despite our greatest efforts to save him (his external injuries, the heat, and internal injuries we may never know the extent of) we ended up only being able to end his suffering. In that moment, I found myself on the side of the road with his head in my lap apologizing to him and telling him how much I loved him. The words and tears kept spilling out, and I stroked his face as he slipped away I still can’t fathom how we got there. I have had it on replay in my head, trying to find things I could have done differently. Everyone tells me it’s not my fault, and I think a part of me knows that, but I have a guilty pit in my stomach that I just can’t seem to shake. We have all had those close calls. Disco could have just as easily spooked and ran straight home after getting loose and come back unscathed. He could have turned and run to his own field, or into the barn. But this was not a close call we will tell stories about one day. There is no comeback kid story this time. Just tears, heartache, and bewilderment at how fragile life can be.
We ask these animals to put their lives in our hands in every discipline. Wheather we are asking them to climb mountains, jump over the moon, or walk calmly near something that to them seems deadly. I do not think people give enough credit to competitive trail and freestyle riders who ask the latter of their horses. The physical aspect may be less than that of dressage horse, show jumper, or top tier eventer. But the fact is, an incredible level of trust, and an immense amount of horsemanship goes into getting a horse to not bat an eye at what to them seems like something out of a horror movie. If a person has an unrealistic fears of spiders, clowns, or heights we just let them be. Yet we scoff at a horse who won’t walk over a tarp, cross a bridge, or drag a log, because “anyone can do it”. So I want to tell everyone who is competing in competitive trail and freestyle how proud I am of all the work you put into your horses. What we do is not to be belittled. What we do is just as spectacular as every other discipline out there, even if it has less glitz and glam. Even though the journey for Disco an I has ended, I am rooting for all of you that are still in it. I will be cheering from home, and I’m sure that somewhere out there Disco is sticking out his tongue and smiling.