This post is in honor of a very special horse my family lost exactly eight years ago today. He was a big part of Grady’s early years with me and a central part of our family for 19 years. The beginning picks up where my last post left off so click here if you need a refresher.
Riding Grady in that clinic with Jacquie Brooks was a huge confidence booster and a perfect stepping stone to the next phase in our training. Over the next couple of years, we continued our lessons with Jayne at home and riding in clinics with Jacquie. We still had our ups and downs, but the tougher rides didn’t upset me as much as they used to because I knew Grady always rose to the occasion when we did our lessons and clinics. I continued to work on being mindful in our rides and deal with each day as it came. Then, in the summer of 2014, everything changed….
At the time when Grady came into my life, there was another very special horse who had already been part of our family for 12 years. Toby was purchased in 1995 at the age of 5 as our “family fun horse”. We had been looking for a type like him to have around as an overall good guy who my dad could ride and who we could use for pony rides and guest rides. The funny thing is that I was paid to ride him that first day we met. I rode for a local professional who bought and sold horses and she had just acquired Toby. The minute I saw him, I was in love and when I rode him, I knew for sure he was meant to be ours.
“I think I found our family fun horse!” I exclaimed to my mom later that day.
She joined me the next day to video my ride on Toby. With his smooth gaits and quiet demeanor, I still believed Toby was the one and my mom agreed. It didn’t hurt that he was also absolutely adorable!
After a trial period at our farm followed by a pre-purchase veterinary exam, Toby became a member of the family. Over the next few months, as I worked with Toby and he got more fit, we realized that Toby was even more than a family pet. He became quite adept at jumping and we had success at local shows. He even won some year-end awards that still hang on the wall upstairs in our barn.
In order to keep things varied, I would trailer Toby to nearby fields and trails for outings. He always perked up when we got to a new place and carried an energy that he lacked during ring work. It was a great opportunity to build on his fitness while allowing him to have a little extra fun. We thoroughly enjoyed these adventures together.
My mom also enjoyed riding Toby. After years of riding Thoroughbreds, a lazy Quarter Horse was a new experience, but she soon realized that he was more sensitive to subtle aids than she thought. You just had to know how to ask.
When Grady came along, Toby was 17 years old. He was a good buddy for Grady with his quiet confidence mixed with a goofiness that kept us all smiling. Grady’s confidence would be years in the making but I know those early years with Toby have stayed with him.
One of the most important jobs Toby had in his later years was taking care of my two nieces, Tess and Vida. When Tess was born, Toby was 19. When she was old enough for us to put her up on his back for the first time, he was 21 and she was just barely two years old.
She loved the experience and got to do it quite often on her visits to Grandma and Grandpa’s. I even wrote an article about Tess’s first ride on Toby which was published in Equus Magazine.
When Vida was born, Toby was 22. Tess had gotten big enough to groom him and enjoyed showing her little sister all about how to take care of him and ride him.
Over the years, Toby had some hoof issues, but one day in the summer of 2014, something was different. The vet came out and took xrays and it did not look good. Despite all the precautions we took over the years, our worst nightmare had come true….Toby had foundered.
The next few months were spent trying to nurse Toby back to health. He was on stall rest, so I did my best to spend as much time as I could hanging out with him. I would groom him and sit outside his stall and read to him.
He seemed to enjoy the time we spent together but I knew he couldn’t go on like this forever. There were times when it looked like things might be improving but, by late October, it was becoming clear that Toby was not going to recover.
In early November, after much discussion with our vets, we all agreed that the most humane thing to do would be to euthanize Toby. The vets offered to come over in the morning and inject a nerve block that would numb his hoof which would allow us to walk him around and graze him comfortably. His last hours were spent doing what he loved most….eating grass.
Saying goodbye to Toby was gut-wrenching but we found solace in the fact that his last few hours were spent pain-free and surrounded by people who loved him. The transition was peaceful and everything went as well as could be expected.
After it was done, I brought Grady out to see Toby so he could process what had happened. Grady took me right over to Toby’s lifeless body and gave it a sniff. He suddenly jumped backward and snorted, looking at Toby with wide eyes. Then, he stepped back up to him and gently started nibbling his shoulder, as if trying to wake him. When that didn’t work, Grady simply started nibbling the nearby grass. I think he was experiencing grief in his own way.
They told me what was going to be happening that day. I don’t know why I got so surprised when I first sniffed Toby….I guess it was because he seemed so different. But I could still feel him around me. I could feel all the confidence he had given me, all the reassurance over the years when I was afraid and unsure of my place in the world. That was something I knew I could always carry with me. Toby was part of me even after he was gone.
Now that Grady was alone in the barn, we decided to move him to Jayne’s barn for the winter. He had spent lots of time there at all the clinics so we knew he’d feel at home, and he’d have lots of buddies to help him through his loss.
That winter was very productive and Grady continued to progress. Having daily access to an indoor arena allowed him to stay in consistent work and having Jayne around all the time allowed us to have more lessons. I always loved when we would be in the ring while Jayne was teaching someone else because I felt like Grady tried a little harder since she was there. I got that feeling a lot when we rode in the ring with others – he gave me the sense that he wanted to impress his new buddies and show them what he could do.
By the time spring rolled around, my mom and I discussed what the next step should be. Do we bring Grady back home and figure out a new companion for him or do we keep him boarded? Ultimately, we decided to stay put because he was thriving in his new surroundings.
The property was huge and had lots of areas other than a ring to explore. I never thought I would ride Grady around in such wide open space but he really enjoyed it.
As we rode around the hilly fields with vast views of the valley below, I thought of Toby and how much he would have enjoyed this place. I had the feeling that he was still close by and I knew he would always be with us…in the memories we shared and as we moved forward in our journey together.
Rest in Peace, Toby
April 21, 1990 – November 7, 2014
What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us – Helen Keller