It used to be that I'd say, "I dread the day when that horse leaves us." I've had nightmares about it over the years, actually, not ever really being able to imagine what life would be like without him. Well, today is that day. And while I'm finding the day wasn't necessarily something to fear, a heavy numbness has set in that I know will give way to true sadness at some point. (How do those stages of grief go again?) Anyway, my mom and dad had to make the difficult decision to put our favorite equine family member, Icy Edge, down today. Part of me wishes I had been there, to see how he was comfortable enough in his final hours to search pockets and hands for carrots. The other part of me remembers how it was when I had to put my cat down a few years ago--my first pet I acquired as an adult--and I know I'd be a wreck and not much help in the scenario.
So from 500 miles away, I'm beginning to reflect on the impact this horse made on my life, knowing that words will inevitably fall short. Icy was a part of our lives for 19 years. This off-the-track Thoroughbred lived to be 30 and change, so his life was far longer (and probably richer/fuller) than many would expect. Just about every horseman or horsewoman has that horse they remember that was a standout: the one that taught them valuable lessons, provided companionship through a difficult or formative time in their life, or partnered with them on a particularly memorable adventure. Maybe all three.
Icy was that horse for me.
That regal gray first captured my attention as he blazed through a water complex at Pony Club's Eastern Championships many, many moons ago … and he kept it. I haven't ridden or seen another like him. He was my competitive partner, friend, and all-around celebrated gallant steed (yes, I used to write his name all over my binders and clipboards in high school … I was that girl). Since there are few memories out at the barn or on the road that don't include him, it's hard to know what to tell you. I could describe how he rebuilt my confidence to jump after I'd lost it on a previous horse, or how all the fascinating health challenges he brought to my attention over the years led to my current career; those things are true. But I've selected a few "lighter" revelations that might help you remember him too, family and friends, and possibly give those who didn't know him a taste of his humor and athleticism:
- He loved cross-country more than life itself and was a metronome once he was on course. He would do levitations above the ground and squeal if you made him wait in the start box, so we had a great system of walking or trotting into the box around about seven seconds before the starter said "Go!" Some of my happiest memories were careening around cross-country with Icy, always trying to hit that optimum time, but sometimes getting points deducted for being too fast.
- His canter was incredibly smooth, as were his canter transitions. He saved my tail at a dressage rally once when I went off course and had points deducted. We nailed two downward transitions in the remainder of the test, garnering the only two 9s I ever remember getting. He was an overachiever, sneaking in flying changes when he was supposed to do simple ones in dressage tests.
- His forelock was teensy teensy tiny, and his tail was always yellow, no matter how much of that purple shampoo I put in it. I established a great bath routine before Pony Club rallies that involved a mild shampoo over his whole body. Soak. Rinse. Purple shampoo in mane and tail. Listerine at the roots of mane/tail to get the dandruff out (Yeoowch! Sorry, buddy.). Rinse. Showsheen tail. Braid mane under barn lights until midnight, moths smacking us in the eye or getting caught in our hair as we listened to … well, probably top 40 hits from the early to mid-90s. That poor horse was SO patient with me.
- He was enthusiastic beyond measure. Back when cross-country had roads and tracks, we did a Torrance Watkins clinic in Virginia. I remember the glee of Icy's first realization that he could drag his legs through the brush on the steeplechase fences--it's as if he discovered he had wings. I also remember our triumphant first corner jump. It felt like we'd leapt over the Mississippi.
- He had a few quirky fears. He had an inordinate fear of the Southern States' Percherons. Icy always was in the top of the ribbons in our division at the 4-H State Fair Horse Show until the Percherons' temporary stalls were built at the end of the covered arena. At that point he wouldn't get near that end of the arena and we always did our flat class on a 40-meter circle at the other end of the arena to keep him from falling apart. My siblings and I also discovered that when we rolled down the hill beside the pasture (as kids do if given a hill and too much spare time), he found that pretty disturbing as well.
- He stayed between me and the ground, most times. I can only remember falling off (or with) him twice: once involved a stare-down with a deer that eventually snorted at an inopportune moment (that's when I fell). The other time he was ogling a mare and didn't see the PVC-pole cross-rail we were about to jump and got his feet tangled in it. We awkwardly landed on the ground in slow motion. I blame concussions if I've forgotten any others.
- We often went on hacks after arena work, interrupting cobwebs and finding a variety of adventures. He always wanted to gallop up the hill on his way home. I guess that's pretty typical of horses coming home, but he always seemed particularly enthusiastic about it.
I wish I had the video handy, but one of my favorite memories of Icy was a musical freestyle dressage ride that we did for a Pony Club rally one year to the themes from M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, and St. Elmo's Fire. He knew every single beat of the medley that was dubbed together for us on tapes, and it was obvious that he enjoyed performing to the music immensely. Icy had a knack for square halts, and I remember him nailing the halt at the conclusion of that ride and the crowd going wild. That halt didn't stay square for long, of course.
Well, I've rattled on about my old guy for well past midnight … I guess when, back in the day, I'd be braiding that silky white mane under the barn lights. Wish I could put my arms around his neck, bury my face in his coat and tell him what a good boy he is. Instead I'll try to go to sleep using the trick that I've always used when I can't get my mind to slow down enough to sleep … imagine Icy's canter transition, just how it felt … and then the perfect 20-meter canter circle.
Rest well, Icy. Good boy.