In 2005, shortly after breaking my collarbone in a riding accident, I spotted a big, hairy bay TB on a killer truck. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t ride for many more weeks, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t shopping for a horse, it didn’t matter that the driver warned me of his unruly disposition. I fell in love. I bought Hopper off the killer truck for a few hundred dollars, against the recommendation of the driver. Hopper reared, bit, struck, kicked, and generally hated all people and all horses. But we loved each other from that first moment.
Hopper was never a “pretty” horse… He was big, stout, and hard-knocking, having raced 36 times. As a young horse he had a propensity to stop and rear, sometimes bucking every stride for thirty strides, and a very flat, unstylish jumping form to begin with. I took great prodding and teasing from those I loved that he was not up to caliber, but it didn’t matter… We loved each other from that first moment. I would smile the entire time and just let him play. He never once attempted to get rid of me… He would play and play till you might be in trouble, but he would never let me come off. He could be angry sometimes and terrified others (plastic bags and wash racks being two of his biggest fears) but if I asked, he would always do it for me.
Hopper, as I said, pretty much hated the world. Except he truly loved me. No one could catch him some days, but if I went to the gate and called his name he would literally come running to me. He had the biggest, softest eyes I’ve ever seen on a horse, the perfect opposite of the ears that were often pinned. He would always snuggle up to me, be happy to see me, and be the sweetest horse on the planet to me. Around the barn, we often had to have rules about who was allowed to handle him as he could be very aggressive, but he was such a puppy dog for me. We loved each other so much—I think it was the first time in Hopper’s life that he was understood, and he was truly happy.
Six years with my best friend was incredibly fleeting. A few years after I bought him he managed to have a stick stuck into his coronet band and into his coffin joint, for which he was predicted to not recover. Myself, the good Dr. Newton, and the amazing folks at Rood and Riddle worked day and night on him for six months. My father poured his life savings into the vet bills to save Hopper’s life. Our goal was simply to make him pasture sound, and I would give him a home forever. True to Hopper’s tenacity, a year later he was 100% sound and x-rays should no sign that the trauma ever happened. Slowly, cautiously, we put him back to work. He was never lame again.
Hopper spent several years at Intermediate. He won Queeny Park Preliminary, and last fall after so many times of playing the bridesmaid he beat a huge, wonderful field of horses to win the Intermediate at KY Classic. 2011 was his year, finishing 1st at KY Classic, 2nd at River Glen, 3rd at Otter Creek, all at OI. He completed Fair Hill twice, always clean on XC. He was Intermediate champion for MSEDA last year, and Reserve Champion Intermediate Horse in Area 8 to his stablemate.
An important person once told me that this horse could get me to Rolex, but he’d never jump clean in SJ at Rolex as he wasn’t a careful show jumper. Perhaps I could go buy myself something in Europe? The world just didn’t understand… This horse was the love of my life. I didn’t care if he pulled every show jump in existence. He loved it and we loved each other. As I told Jan Byyny last fall in my first lesson with her, he and I were an old married couple and knew each other so well.
Hopper was running his first advanced this weekend when, 90% away around the course during a clean XC, an aneurysm blew. He passed away instantly, and I just held him in shock while the vets looked at him. He was my best friend, my soul mate. I would give anything if he could just be retired in the pasture for the rest of his life. My vet often joked with me, “How much would you sell Hopper for?” The answer was always that I would literally not take any amount of money for him. I would have given up anything in my life to keep Hopper around. He was only 12 years old, and I figured I would give him a lifetime of playing in the fields at home when he wanted to retire.
Hopper was looking at an amazing year ahead. He was brilliant at the last Pine Top, jumping clean xc in OI and double clear SJ. We were hoping to do a spring CCI***, and having recently earned our bronze medal in USDF dressage, he was moving up to 4th level this year in dressage.
This horse was so much more than a horse to me, he was my best friend. He was the first face I saw in the morning and the last face I saw at night. He was so intelligent, with a magic gallop and incredible power over his jumps. He was the love of my life, my best friend and soul mate, the one I turned to when I was having a bad day or needed a friend. He loved his work, loved to jump, showed up for work every day, and was the consummate professional about his job. No matter what happened in life, he was always there for me, and always glad to see me. For me, life and the world will never be the same.
A week ago, the world was full of happiness and promise and hope. Now it feels like the world has collapsed, and my best friend has died along with all of my hopes and dreams.
I will love you forever, Grasshopper.