As equestrians, we can easily sit down and point to various horses we’ve come across that have had a huge impact on our riding careers. Maybe it’s the first horse you ever sat on, the first horse you owned, or somewhere in between, but these horses taught us invaluable lessons about riding… and about life. I can easily point to several horses I’ve ridden that have shaped who I am today, but there’s one horse in my life who I didn’t ride much at all that has not only touched my heart, but has forever changed my world view… and it’s that horse I want to celebrate today.
Anyone who reads this blog knows I have a huge soft spot for a chromey chestnut gelding. Both horses I’ve ever owned have fit this bill, and so does my best friend Nichole’s horse, Romeo. For nearly three years, our chestnut geldings have been best friends too — at opposite ends of the barn aisle, they couldn’t be more alike in look, yet more dissimilar in about every other way. Romeo is a 21-year old 16.3hh jumper who can (literally) turn on a dime and jump the moon. He’s hot and sensitive, with the most caring soul, and the longest legs on any mature horse I’ve seen.
The first time I sat on Romeo he carted me over a 2’6″ fence for the first time in over 5 years. He totally took care of me (including picking the distance), and it was an amazing feeling… one I’ll never, ever forget. Of course, about 10 minutes later he turned right out from underneath me. I’ve never seen a horse look more upset after his rider hit the dirt — he had no idea what happened, or why I was suddenly on the ground. It was at that moment I realized just how stupidly athletic he was. I’d asked him to turn with my hips, and he did… I just wasn’t prepared for how quickly he’d turn! Since that day I’ve ridden him a handful of times, and I always get the distinct feeling that I’m giving him mixed signals. This horse is way more trained than I am, but he never sets a foot wrong and always tries to figure out what the heck I want.
However, the lessons that Romeo has taught me, and the joy he’s given me, aren’t really from riding him… although he has given me confidence when I needed it the most. But aside from that, anyone who has lost a heart horse knows that you miss them… and while the pain subsides as the years pass, you never really stop missing them. Romeo is my best friend’s heart horse, and being able to watch them together reminds me so much of the joy I had with Visa. Romeo defied the odds for more than four years; he tore his right hind suspensory twice, and despite the vet saying “no one will ever ride this horse again,” he came back sound and continued to show at 3′. I cried the day Nichole and Romeo showed in the 3′ jumpers for the first time since Romeo’s injuries, and I’ve soaked in every moment of those two riding together, because the love and trust is palpable. Just being able to sit by and watch them is one of the greatest experiences of my life.
But beyond just watching their incredible partnership, Nichole and Romeo have consistently inspired me and helped me become the rider I am today. All winter long we rode together, working turns and pace, distances and adjustability. Nichole never let me skip a day because it was too cold — and watching her work so hard to accomplish her dreams pushes me to be a better, more dedicated rider. Watching them in lessons and in the show ring, I’ll never forget the trust, determination, and sheer joy they have brought to my life, and I couldn’t be more thankful. I’ll never forget the lessons Romeo taught me out of the saddle: where there’s a will, there’s a way; true love knows no bounds; hard work and dedication DO pay off; that there are good people and good horses, and when you find them, you never, ever let them go.
This weekend marked the end of an era, with Romeo sustaining another suspensory injury and ending his career. He’ll be retired in style, as only a horse of his caliber deserves, but my heart breaks for Nichole’s loss and really… this affects the entire team. Romeo has been our rock for as long as I can remember… and not seeing his face at horse shows will be hard. But today, I’m celebrating all the things that Romeo has done for SO many people, myself included. And Nichole: words will never be enough to describe what it means to me to be part of your ride with Romeo, and I can never thank you enough for sharing him with me when I needed it the most.