One week ago, 23 of my best equine friends perished in a terrible fire that leveled Over The Hill Farm in just minutes. Two of the horses who passed away had a special place in my heart: my beloved 17-year old grey Thoroughbred named Weathermark, and my former 25-year old black Morgan pony named Fletcher Indy Winner.
(Left: Samantha competing with Weathermark. Photo courtesy of Samantha Hazen)
After the initial shock of this tragedy set in and I was able to somewhat compose myself, I thought of the USEA as one of the first places I could memorialize my great horses. The USEA has been a part of me for the past 11 years, strengthening the bond among my mother, father, and me as we traveled to different event sites each weekend with my two horses.
I met “Fletcher” when I was 11, and I think of him as “the little pony that could.” He had springs and would jump anything in front of him. Because of Fletcher’s size, people often asked: “You’re going to do this course on that pony?” Though he was only 14.1 hands, I was able to take him Training Level because he had the heart, passion, and legs to do it. He always held his head high and proud, with his ears forward, waiting for his next job that he would happily complete. He was an uncooperative character in the dressage ring because he couldn’t wait to get to cross-country, our favorite phrase. I’ll never forget the one comment a judge wrote on a dressage test: “Snaps teeth like alligator.” I was frustrated at the time, but I look back now and smile because that pony always made up for his dressage in the end.
Seven years ago, my trainer Trudy Race and I went to Bruce Davidson’s beautiful facility in search of my next event horse. Mr. Davidson had taught me a few times on Fletcher, and he knew just the horse to pair me with. I trusted my equestrian hero’s judgment, and Weathermark, a.k.a. “Markie,” became mine in the fall of 2003. Though I was slightly intimidated of his size and power at first, Markie and I became best friends after we figured each other out. He was my precious teammate and I put all my trust in him. He was the epitome of a fierce cross-country machine, and when he opened up his stride, I would glance down at my watch to realize that we needed to slow down to make the optimum time. Whenever he saw those red and white flags, his ears went up and he locked on to the center of the jump. However, something he had in common with his brother Fletcher was his impatience for dressage. I’ll never forget the Area II Training Level Championships because right before I was entering the dressage ring, Markie caught a horse going cross-country out of the corner of his eye. That was it: he kicked over the flower pot entering the ring and I felt like the test was over in a minute. Nevertheless, he went clean in the other two phases and protected me like I knew he would. The more difficult the course, the more he enjoyed it. He loved Fair Hill International Horse Trials, where he could splash through the box water, jump the “log on a lump” and soar through the foundation.
I will miss traveling with Markie and Fletcher. Arriving at event sites, they knew exactly where they were. They would check out their temporary stalls and often roll around in them (especially after I gave them baths!) Instead of pacing around in the stalls, they conserved their energy between phases and prepared for what was to come. They have instilled in me knowledge, bravery, and patience that I will take with me for the rest of my life. If it weren’t for the USEA, I probably would have never searched for and found my two brave Event horses. May their legacy live on in the Eventing world forever…
Just last night, I was told that my first Event pony Burlwood’s Riddle has also passed away. She injured herself at the end of June and sadly had to be put to sleep.
Though she was a cute 13.2 hand gray pony with oversize ears and big, loving eyes, “Riddle” was never to be underestimated. She taught me the essential lessons that young Event riders should learn. One of the most important things is to never take any jump for granted, even if it seems like an inviting “galloping fence.” I learned the hard way a few times when Riddle would pop her shoulder and run out to the side, but I simply think of these as learning experiences. We had a few “learning experiences” at the Novice championships in 2001 at Fair Hill, and although we placed towards the end of the division, I was just so happy that this pony and I made it this far. We received our completion ribbon after Show Jumping, and on the long walk back to stabling, I accidently dropped it in the mud. I quickly hopped off to recover one of my most sentimental ribbons. After all the mini-fights during lessons and the tears of frustration, the moments of success outweighed everything else. Riddle and I placed first at Novice during the Ethel Walker Horse Trials back in 2001, and that victory gallop felt so surreal to me. She was such a proud pony leading the pack, and I’ll never forget that day.
Riddle went on to live with the Jackson family at a beautiful, peaceful farm in Maryland where she taught children how to ride and fall in love with Eventing. I couldn’t have asked for a better home for her. By the age of 20, I have been blessed to own three unique horses who all loved Eventing as much as I did.