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 talk 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. Whether 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 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 fear of spiders, clowns, or heights we just let them be. We do not ask the them to change, it is accepted that fear is a part of everyone at some level. 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” with enough practice. 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 you do is not to be belittled. What you 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 and I has ended, I am rooting for all of you that are still in it. I said goodbye to a friend yesterday. I will miss him for as long as I live. This year I will be cheering from home, and I’m sure that somewhere out there Disco is sticking out his tongue and smiling.