The horse show world has often been compared to beauty pageants. The amount of effort required to keep a horse groomed to perfection– clipped, clean, shiny, and sound– is immense. That’s why meeting a top show horse can often feel like meeting a famous athlete or super model. Just being in their presence feels special.
That’s how I felt when I first met the impressive AQHA show horse, Sid. He arrived at my barn as a sales prospect. He was a giant, gray gelding that was one of the most stunning horses I had ever seen. Not only was I pleased to be able to work with this beautiful horse, I was pleased that I got to represent him. He was in top physical condition, had amassed an impressive amount of wins in the show ring, and at only seven years old– he had many, many, many more years ahead of him to be successful. He was every rider’s dream and every trainer’s goal.
After he had settled into the barn, I decided to saddle him up and go for a ride. He was just as perfect to ride as he was to look at. It was obvious that he sincerely wanted to make you happy. I took it slow with him– he didn’t need training, he just needed to be able to get out and move around a bit. As we were finishing a short, easy ride, he collapsed under me. I immediately called the vet who, after inspecting him, looked at me with a pale face and said, “You need to get this horse to the hospital now.” We eased him into a trailer and I raced down to the Littleton Equine Medical Center.
I stood beside him in the exam room, biting my nails, as they stuck a scope down his throat. Sid didn’t just have one bleeding ulcer, his stomach was completely lined with them. Much like in humans, horses get ulcers when they are under extreme stress. For Sid to have this many ulcers was unconscionable. I called his owner and explained the situation– even with immediate medical attention and thousands of dollars of care, it was a coin toss if Sid was going to live or die. The owners were understandably upset and told me to go ahead and euthanize him.
The words hit me like bullet. Before my brain could catch up, my mouth blurted, “Absolutely not.”
“What? He’s my horse. Put him down!” The owner said, clearly caught off guard by my defiance.
I sputtered back at them, my brain still not quite caught up with my mouth and heart, “What if he weren’t your horse? What if I can find a buyer in the next 10 minutes?”
The owner laughed– not a mean laugh, more incredulous that I could find a buyer for a horse that would immediately need about $5,000 in vet care and may not even make it in the end. “Sure. Find a buyer.”
I hung up the phone and let out a deep breath. I knew who to call.
I called my friend Virginia Morris.
“Virg! Want to buy a horse?” I said, anxiously– trying to hide my growing panic that I was going to fail this beautiful creature.
“Okay, Lee, what’s going on?” Virginia replied.
I wept and told her everything– the good and the bad. That we were his last shot. That she is going to have a long road to get him healthy and happy again, and that he may not even make it through the night. But if he did– this would be a once in a lifetime horse. I was getting ready to start shamelessly begging, but she just said, “Lee, let’s save Sid.”
She wired the money to the owners and we got to work.
Once he was released from Littleton Equine Center, we took him to the farm and spent a year working with him in a happy and stress-free environment. He got to play in the pasture all day, he got long grooming sessions with Virginia, and he got easy trail rides to get him enjoying life again. During the rehab process, we discovered more about Sid’s past. It wasn’t necessarily that Sid hated being a show horse, it was the discipline that was chosen for him. Sid is giant– he’s over 17 hands– and he was being asked to do highly technical obstacle courses that he literally could not scrunch his body to do. His trainers thought he was just being naughty, so they punished him and doubled his training. He kept trying to please his riders, and failing. He got to the point where he would look at an orange cone, poles on the ground, or other obstacle and have a nervous breakdown.
Once Sid was cleared with a clean stomach and we felt that he had a happy heart, we sat out on finding a job that he would love. I saddled him up for Virg and took him over a jump. He perked up his ears and looked at the next jump as if to say, “Can we do that again!?” I smiled at Virginia. I’m not sure she even saw me as she was watching Sid with tears in her eyes and her hand on her heart. We found a job he loved.
Virginia and Sid went on to show and win many championships in various classes. When it was time to retire Sid from the show world, Virginia donated him to the Equine Partnership Program. Sid has been instrumental in making our clients with severe depression and suicidal tendencies feel comfortable enough to tell their stories. He has shown that just because you are beautiful on the outside, or winning ribbons, doesn’t mean you aren’t literally killing yourself on the inside with worry and fear. Sid overcame the odds and has inspired dozens of other to do the same.