Farewell Sam

On April 20 my family said goodbye to Sam. Over the last few years he’s developed severe arthritis in his right knee, and  while he was still full of life at age 24, his body just couldn’t keep up, and we were unable to manage his pain.

We’ve never euthanized a horse before, so this was a new and emotional experience, but I’m happy we were able to choose his time. He’s now resting peacefully in his paddock overlooking our farm. He always did like to know everything that was going on in his domain.

Sam was an old-school event horse. A tough Irish Thorougbred by Babamist, he was bred by Bruce Davidson and brought up the levels by Amy Ruth Borun.

I bought him in 2003 to get some experience at prelim, and by that point he’d completed the Bromont CCI** long format twice and competed through advanced.

I remember looking at a bunch of horses in Pennsylvania with my mom. We’d decided to audit a Phillip Dutton adult rider clinic at his farm, and the organizer offered to tell him we were on the hunt for a horse that could go preliminary.

He brought out two for me to try, and to be honest, I had no idea what I was looking for, and I don’t actually remember what made me like Sam better!

Phillip offered to let me ride him in the cross-country portion of the clinic the next day, and we popped over some training level stuff with no problem, so I was hooked!

I think in hindsight we shouldn’t have used their vet to do the pre-purchase, but we did, and he had OCDs in his hocks, but the vet told us they shouldn’t bother him unless he knocked himself badly. I had no idea what an OCD was!

Guess what? A couple of years later he was lame from behind, and we did the surgery to remove them.

Show jumping was never our strongest phase, but he instilled confidence in me on cross-country as I moved up to prelim and gave me and my family so much joy in our lives, whether it was sucking on sugar cubes or neighing for his dinner the same way every night.

With guidance from Nicky Vogel and Lisa Reid we competed at the AEC, the Waredaca Training 3-Day and lots of other bucket list events, even picking up a few wins along the way!

I counted nearly 100 events on his USEA record from prelim and above, beginning in 1999, but he started at novice according to Amy, so I’m sure there were many more. Thirty-five were with me between 2004 and 2009, which seems like a short amount of time looking back, but he was retired from eventing in 2009 after he did both his front check ligaments.

I continued to use him as a schoolmaster at home and at dressage shows up to second level. He was fully retired in 2011 and lived out his days next to our minis and my mom’s horse Lad.

It’s odd, I don’t remember our last ride. I think he just sort of faded into retirement one day when he was just too stiff and uncomfortable to be ridden anymore.

He’s been a constant presence with me from high school, through college and into adulthood, and over the last two years I’ve missed seeing him every day, but made sure to go visit him every week or two.

Looking back at some of our old videos, man, we were not that good at dressage in the beginning! We averaged in the mid-30s to low 40s, with a few low 30s and upper-20s mixed in.

Had I realized how bad his show jumping record was before I bought him I probably wouldn’t have bought him, but I just wanted a horse that could go prelim because I figured that was the next step in eventing after training level. I was so clueless and fearless!

I definitely was not prepared to go prelim on my own without a trainer at the shows, and working with my dressage trainer who used to event wasn’t enough, especially when I had no coach at the shows. When I got to college I met Lisa, and she rightly had us drop back down to training level.

2006 was our best season. We had several clear rounds and wins at training level and finished fourth in a big open training division at Southern Pines among top professionals with a 26.5 in dressage.

We went on to the AECs at the Carolina Horse Park where we were fourth after cross-country, but two rails plummeted us to 21st, and I was SO upset. We’d gone four events in a row with no rails.

We went on to lead the Waredaca Training Three-Day that fall after cross-country, but a rail down bumped us to second place, then we moved back up to prelim at Virginia Horse Trials and won, despite two rails in show jumping!

He was certainly never the easiest horse to show jump, and I developed a lot of anxiety about it, but I probably wasn’t helping our cause since it’s my weakest link!

We had a few blips on cross-country here and there, but I don’t remember specifics on all of them. Probably just my inexperience.

At home he was the biggest spook, and a typical chestnut with sensitive skin. He was quite wild in his younger days, always rearing and running around with Oh So.

DSC_7856
Sam and Oh So, always messing around!

In typical Sam fashion, when we led him to the top of the hill with the vet on his final day, he had a giant spook and almost mowed me down since he hadn’t been up the hill in awhile. I always knew he’d go out that way!

Since I’ve posted about his passing I’ve had a few people on Facebook come forward and say they knew Sam, which is pretty cool. He was of an era before Facebook and ubiquitous photos and video, so I don’t have much to go by of his early years.

In the weeks leading up to “the day,” I felt at peace with our decision, but the night before when I did night check with my dad it just felt surreal, like, is this really going to happen tomorrow when he’s happily munching away on his hay and looking out his window?

When the vet drove up the driveway I started crying. We led him to the top of the hill, gave him some sedation and said our goodbyes. I didn’t really have a lot to say to him in that moment, I just gave him a hug, breathed in his scent and ran my hand over his neck one last time.

After he passed we led Lad up to say his goodbyes then waited for him to be buried. We’re going to pick out a nice blue flower, our cross-country colors, to decorate his grave.

2018-04-20 20.41.40
Sam last month.

It’s frustrating that we couldn’t do anything more to help him with his knee, so it was a sad decision, but one that I’m at peace with now. I haven’t felt very sad this last week, just happy to have had him in my life and happy I was able to choose his time. I’ve been pouring through old photos and videos. It’s weird that I can’t really remember the feel of what he was like to ride, but I’ll certainly remember the feeling I got after a great round or the quiet moments at home.

It’s serendipitous that Oh So came sound that day after being kicked the week before. I was so thankful I could go on a quiet hack with him and reminisce about his “brother” and all that he taught me about eventing and horsemanship.

Here are a few of my favorite photos of him over the years.

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