Saturday, February 14, 2015


4.25.1992 - 2.10.2015
And so, here we are. I'm not really sure where to start. For the past twelve years, Lissell has been home for me … it has always come back to her. She is my soul sister, caretaker and dream maker, all rolled into one. Saying goodbye to her this past Tuesday was probably the hardest decision that I've ever had to make. But as a very kind friend told me, the greatest gift we can give them is a soft landing when it comes their time. I can feel her in my heart, and just pray that she stays there as I navigate life without her.

Best way to start the day.
Lissell's greatest role in my life was as my teacher. And it was a job that she took very seriously. 

She taught me how to ride. For those that have followed Lissell's story over the years, you know that we didn't exactly set the competition world on fire. But the experiences I gained with Lissell were completely invaluable. If there is one skill that she taught me, it was to just sit there. She taught me how to find the middle of my horse and stay there. Stay out of her way and let her do her job.   

And while she had this annoying habit of just stopping if I got even the tiniest bit out of balance, she saved my butt countless times over the years. In all these years, I only fell off Lissell twice. Yes, only twice.  And that wasn't from lack of trying on my part! The first time she was stung by some evil bug that resulted in me landing in the middle of a sod field. She stood a few feet from me with this "oops!" expression on her face. The second time was when she stumbled in the water while schooling and I just couldn't save it and tumbled off over her shoulder somehow landing underneath her. I remember seeing a hoof above my head and thinking "Oh shit!" and then the next thing I know my horse is picking herself up out of the water while I'm sitting there wondering what the hell just happened. My trainer said she turned herself inside out not to step on me, resulting in her falling herself.  
Tacked up and ready to go.

Moment of take off at Middleburg.
Lissell also taught me patience. And she taught me the value of having a plan and just sticking with it. It sounds silly, but she taught me to just put one foot in front of the other and keep on keeping on. She and I came up against a lot of obstacles over the years, and yet we still did so much. Lissell did her first Training-level horse trials when she was 20 years old. TWENTY! Mid way through the season she was so fit that halfway through the cross country course at Middleburg Horse Trials she took off with me up a big hill, and I had little control for the second half of the course. But how did I make it through? By sitting in the middle and staying out of her way and just letting her do her thing. She then proceeded to jig her way back to the trailer. Needless to say, we cut back on her fitness days for the remainder of the season. Silly mare. 

Silly mare.

Always with an opinion.
Lissell also had an incredible knack for making you laugh. And she had a wicked sense of humor. She could be just so very bad, and all I could do most of the time was giggle. There was the time that she pushed past me at the gate and went cantering across the outdoor arena just to settle down outside the barn to munch on some grass. Or when I was lunging her and she decided to roll in the sand, shake off her grooming halter and refuse to be caught for 15 minutes. Mind you, she never left the arena (which isn't enclosed). She just stayed just out of reach until she was done amusing herself and the audience that gathered to watch her. Or the countless times that she managed to break out of whatever stall or paddock we had her in while recovering from various injuries over the years. I mean, just the most ridiculous things.

And then there was the cross tie breaking. She broke the cross ties the first day I met her in California, and this was a habit that continued throughout her life. She trained me fairly well over the years that I was able to keep it from happening most of the time. I think it was her way of teaching me to pay attention to details on the ground. Just like she demanded you be in perfect balance while riding her, she wanted your complete attention while you were working with her. 

Of course, I would be remiss to not mention Lissell's "personality" while grooming and tacking up. The faces she would make would make even the most experienced horseman take notice. She really didn't like to be touched, and it took many years for me to learn how to get her show clean without losing a finger. But again, she never actually did anything bad. And for all her ridiculousness with me and other more experienced riders, she was quite possibly one of the most kid- and husband-proof horses you could find. A friend's kid dragged a giant white bucket behind her, brushing her hind legs, while she was in the cross ties, and she didn't move an inch. If I had done that she probably wouldn't have stopped running until she was in the next county. Well really, she would have broken the cross ties, and then stood there staring at me with this, "You stupid human, that was totally your fault!" expression. I think this same kid tried playing jump rope with her lead rope, while it was attached to her, and again, she didn't move an inch. Scott could brush her head to toe without even an ear getting pinned back. She was just so trustworthy in these situations. 

A total pro.
Showing Lissell was just the icing on the cake. She was such an experienced show horse that you could concentrate on yourself and she would take care of the rest. She would stand on the trailer all day, or next to it. When I was younger and my dad would take me to horse shows, he would take her on walks around the show grounds so she could graze and I never worried about either of them. And in the last years of showing, she and Scott had the post cross-country cool down process down to a science. Scott would hold her as I would sponge and ice. Then they would go off for a walk, come back for more sponging and icing, etc. etc. There were times when I'm fairly sure that Lissell was leading Scott. But again, I never worried about either of them.    

And so this is what I am going to miss the most. Lissell was one of the special horses in this world that viewed it as her sole purpose to take care of her people. And I just got to be the lucky one that the universe chose to be her person.  

Over the past few days I've been trying to think of how I can honor her, her life and all she taught me. And all I've been able to come up with is to just be present. Pay attention to detail. Always try to be better. Keep learning. And really put the time in to know my horse. Another kind friend told me that Lissell wasn't going to leave me until she had a worthy successor. So I will just try to do my best by Stilts, and see what the future brings. 

Some of my happiest memories with Lissell were just being with her. And while I will always remember how she felt pinging over that big table on the back of the Loch Moy course, giving me wings. I will miss just sitting with her in the barn. Watching her graze out in the field. Meandering around the woods in a halter and lead rope. Just being a girl with her horse. 

Until we meet again my Pretty Princess Lissell ...  


There have been so many people that have played such a big part in Lissell's life with me, that I wanted to take a moment to thank them.

Dr. Roger Scullin for putting her back together time and time again over the years. For always finding an answer, for thinking outside of the box, and for keeping her sound and healthy for so long. Also for being a quiet, encouraging support system throughout the years. There is no one else that I trusted with her care, and I'm so thankful for everything you have done for us over the years.

Dr. Jim Lewis for continually coming out to do her teeth every six months, even though she was quite possibly the worst dental patient in history. Your patience and kindness with her was so very appreciated.

Dr. Pete Radue for your incredible kindness in these final weeks. For stepping in while Dr. Scullin was out of town and helping Lissell cross over in peace and comfort.

Mike Poe for being the bestest farrier a girl and her old horse could ask for. For being part of the dream team that kept Lissell sound, happy and healthy, whether we were galloping around big courses or going on bareback trail rides. 

Big bad event horse.
Kelley Williams for always seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. For taking an old out-of-shape ex-broodmare and her "kid" and guiding us through the levels. Your patience and sense of humor through all the tantrums (both Lissell's and my own!) and health set backs are so very appreciated, and also inspiring.

Kim Keating for all the fitness plans, management tips, and just general horse advice over the years. For helping make a very high maintenance Lissell manageable. 

Susan Graham White and Jane Seigler for helping "tame the beast" in the little white box. And for making miracles happen … aka a sub-40 dressage score.

Total badass at age 20.
Stephen Bradley for being the "check-in" trainer. For kindly laughing at me when my eyes bugged out of my head over the size of the jumps, and then telling me to go do it anyway.  

The entire A Bit Better Farm family for simply being there for the journey. For knowing when to hand me a tissue and when to hand me a drink. And for laughing at Lissell's antics, instead of getting annoyed.

Sue, Jenn, Suzannah and Scott for being both a sounding board and also part of Lissell's fan club. For finding the humor in all she did, and understanding why I had her. 

And to Nicki, Katherine and Pat for being there in her final moments when I couldn't. For helping her cross over surrounded by love and respect for a life well lived. 

My loves.

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