Five Days without Hopper


It’s been five days since Hopper passed away.  Slowly, I’ve picked myself up off the floor and poured myself into work, a great distraction for the overactive mind.  But ever the insomniac, at night I sit awake and simply think about my Hopper.

For the last six years, I’ve had two horses: Nemo, and Hopper.  Nemo has always been the more successful horse, but Hopper has been the love of my life.  Nemo is the athlete—pretty, sweet, friendly, the one with the fancy form over fences, the one that catches the eye.   Hopper was the underdog—dressage was hard for him, his natural bascule was all wrong, he was incredibly strong XC to start (started his career in a gag, ended it in a snaffle), opinionated, hard knocking, and challenging.   Everyone I know teases me… Nemo always beats Hopper, but I always buy Hopper’s photos.

All day Sunday, Nemo screamed for Hopper at home.   There were eight other horses on the farm.  And they don’t get turned out together.  But after six years of traveling together, Nemo knew his big brother was gone.

Hopper was a hard knocking kind of guy. He raced a whopping 33 times, always at distance and always on the lead.  But when the jockey would go to the stick, he’d pin his ears, swish his tail, and fly to the very back of the pack in anger.  Yet he was the fastest horse I’ve ever sat on—he just refused to try on the track for people who hit him with sticks.  Hopper thought dressage was just silly at the beginning, and he jumped show jumping fences like it was a game of bowling as a young horse. Slowly, slowly, we worked to help him in all three phases.  He became such an athlete… He was confirmed 3rd level dressage, and we were looking to show 4th level this summer.

In my last jump school on Hopper before Pine Top, my groom Andrea was setting fences for me.  He jumped around effortlessly at 4’ without any rails.  We were all three gleaming.  On the drive home, I kept exclaiming to Andrea how easily it felt for him, and how incredibly confident he was feeling.  There were big, big things to come in his career.

At Pine Top cross country, he galloped around the course effortlessly.  On three different occasions on course that day, I gave him a pat after combinations, and he just pricked his ears, full of pride and galloped on.    I told him good boy on each occasion, and he was so proud.  He was super fit, full of running, and not fatigued.  At the last complex, the coffin, he was so straight and true through every element, jumping it so effortlessly.  He galloped on ears pricked, pulling me to the next fence.  Unknowingly in the last few minutes of his life, I told him how special he was, and he was so happy.

He had so much promise.  I grieve for the future lost, grieve for the potential not achieved.  I grieve for my best friend, for the very simple act of him looking at me every morning.  My friends all tease me that Hopper is allowed anything he wants at home… If he wants a carrot, he gets it. If he wants to push Andrea around, she kindly lets him.  It is a rite of passage around here to be a pin in Hopper’s working student bowling game.  Hopper is my whole world.

I would give everything in my life, give my sport, give my career, just to have him back here, retired and happily munching the Kentucky bluegrass he loved so much.    Despite my cranky horse who loved to kick and pin his ears, Hop loved me and loved XC more than anything else in the world.  I don’t know why and I surely didn’t deserve Hopper’s love, but that horse looked to me for every comfort and loved me unconditionally.   I learned then and there to pour all of my love into Hopper… At the end of the day, he was always there for me, no matter what.

But now where to go from here?    The only one in the world who could comfort me is gone.   Andrea and I immediately left Aiken after Pine Top, both distraught, giving up our rental property to come home early.  We drove two separate rigs, and both cried the entire 500 miles home.  For now, we pour all of our attention on the farm horses to keep our minds and hands busy.  But my boy is gone.   Where do you go from here?  When all of your hopes and dreams have died with your best friend, all in one moment, what is there to do?


About widespreadpanic

Advanced level event rider and instructor at Team CEO Eventing in Lexington KY.
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2 Responses to Five Days without Hopper

  1. Pingback: Horrible day at Pine Top - Page 2

  2. agullett says:

    There are no words to ease your pain, and a loss like this, the pain will never fully go away. But I want to say, and I think others will agree, you are one of the most natural riders and trainers I have met. On top of that you are a tremendously giving person, not only to your own horses, but your students and their horses alike. Cherish your memories and hang in there, you gave Hopper a wonderful life & taught him how wonderful a rider/horse relationship can be. I know you will continue to teach other horses and students what true horsemanship bonds can be.

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