Competing in my first four star has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid and I’ve always known that eventually I would get there; however nothing can prepare you for the experience itself and the whirlwind weekend of a lifetime.
The week before Rolex, Danica and I were super busy at HITS Culpeper, with four horses showing and taking care of all 11 horses at home ourselves, so preparing for Rolex was exhausting! Danica’s week went fairly well with Wildcard competing in her 1.30 class and Rascal in 1m, when all the running around came to a halt. Sunday evening I was relaxing outside our camper when I noticed that one of our three year olds (Mahina) that I got Danica for her birthday a few years back wasn’t with the others. When I walked out to see, she nickered to me and came over to say hello; happily she seemed fine so I called it a night and went to bed.
The next morning Rolex chaos commenced as all I had to do in the next 24 hours sunk in… it was going to be a long day and the anticipation of waiting until Tuesday to ship out was killing me. I was doing our morning chores and as usual Danica and I went out to feed the babies. After a few minutes of doing our daily once over on them, we noticed the same one that had been isolated the night before wasn’t eating. Quickly Danica went to the barn and grabbed a thermometer and took her temp and she indeed was out of normal range.
I couldn’t believe that these rugrats have been out here growing up in this field for the last two years and she picks the day before I need to leave for my first four star to have a problem!!! Ah!!
We went with protocol, brought her in to the barn and treated her with some banamine, as we would for any mild fever, and by the end of the day her temp had gone down and she was happily eating and drinking in her stall. At this point I had thought maybe she had coliced mildly and we would keep her in for the night just to be safe and make sure everything was fine before leaving for KY the next morning.
Prior to leaving the next morning, Mahina’s temp had come back up and she seemed uncomfortable so we called the vet right away. We had qualified help looking after the barn for us so, even though it was extremely difficult to leave, we started the drive, praying everything was going to be okay.
The vet arrived that morning to treat Mahina with fluids and IV antibiotics and, after a lengthy phone conversation, concluded the symptoms were consistent with tick fever (Anaplasmosis), and with the antibiotics she should feel better in 24 hours. I was completely relieved and felt as though the situation was resolving and I could now focus on the huge week I had ahead of me.
Like a kid on Christmas morning, about thirty miles out from the horse park I was getting really excited! Once we arrived Token looked great, breezed through in-barn inspection and settled into his stall for the week, almost as relieved as I was to have finally arrived. Once I had picked up my parents and set up the camper, we grabbed dinner and had a quick visit. Afterward I called home to check in on Mahina; the report was that she was the same–the vet had said it would take at least 24 hours for the antibiotics to take a noticeable effect. I made it clear that if anything were to change throughout the night to call me, no matter what time. The following morning I was up early thinking of Mahina and anticipating the day’s events at the show, but I hadn’t received any calls so I assumed no news was good news. It was a half hour later that the phone rang and the uneasy voice of our at home caretaker said, “Bobby the mare is dead.”
I couldn’t speak…. I didn’t believe him… he had to repeat himself, I didn’t say anything, I was in complete shock. He continued to say that he had checked on her several times throughout the night and she had looked good, even wanting more hay, and didn’t know how she went from looking good at 2 am to deceased by 6:30 am.
I still couldn’t speak. I mumbled, OK, and hung up the phone. In tears I had to look over to Danica and tell her that her mare has past away and it was the last thing anybody could have imagined happening. What happened???????? How could this be???????????? In a horrible state I had to call the vet and tell him what had happened and talk about what to do next.
A Necropsy was suggested and we were definitely on board considering everyone was shocked on what happened.
I hung up the phone, gave Danica a hug as I had to go to the rider briefing and then take Token to the Jog and ride. During the day, my attempt to enjoy being apart of this wonderful show was tainted as I couldn’t shake from my mind the huge darkness caused by the death of this sweet little filly. I have never had a horse of mine die before. Death is not uncommon and we know we all will die, but it still feels as if we are shocked by this fact of life.
I did my best to try to cope and put it behind me and focus on what I was doing there, and in the moment I did. We went on to dressage and no, it wasn’t the test I had hoped for. My top hat blew off, hit Token on the butt and landed on the rail, in the way of upcoming movements, all the while, just trying to keep this powerful little horse quiet and steady. And so, at the end of the day, had to be pleased that we didn’t have any explosions, although it felt as though I was sitting on a box of grenades.
On and off the phone all day, trying to deal with the emotional turmoil going on at home, I put my dressage test behind me and was determined to focus on doing what Token does best and going fast and clear xc.
Before I could blink it was Saturday afternoon and it was time to shine. I was pretty pumped, extremely focused, and ready to tackle the course.
It rode how I had imagined and the plan I made to jump a clear round was successful, even though we didn’t quite finish. To be critical, I followed my plan of starting out easy and getting the first few combinations done before I opened up and let Token get going. We got a little to close to the C element of the first water but got away with it. The Coffin rode amazingly, as well as the Hollow, the Head of the lake and the Normandy bank. Hearing the cheers of the crowd we galloped down the hill to the last combination.
I told myself to be careful here–to add a stride and ride this one with extra caution because your horse is tired and horses have fallen here. So I did. I added, jumped in great and got to the out in the 4 strides but then, bang, we were going down. I couldn’t believe it! We could see the finish line!!!!
I thanked my lucky stars, thinking of how bad it could have been and how fortunate I was that both Token and I jumped up and walked away. In his 10 years of Eventing, he has never taken a fall. He is an amazing horse, and I feel grateful to have the relationship I have with him and can’t help but think that Mahina was looking out for us.
Once we got safely back to the barn and both Token and I were checked out by our individual medics, I started to take a look at the video of my ride and I could beat myself up a thousand ways to Sunday, being my own worst critic. But looking back, the only thing I can take away to do better next time is to help him more by giving him the room that he needs in front of the jumps at the end of a big track like that when the horses are tired.
I’m sad that it turned out this way, especially because we didn’t get to show jump, but I am happy that we did what we did and that we are safe and sound to go again.
I have thought long and hard and have decided to take Token to Bromont CCI3* next month. He is fit, sound, and will be ready to do what he does best around a beautiful track.
Since we have gotten home we have learned Mahina’s necropsy didn’t show any signs that would suggest death. Her blood work came back positive for Anaplasmosis, consistent with what our vet diagnosed her with upon arrival on Wednesday. It has been recorded that this sickness causes up to 10 days of fever and rarely death. I’m still having trouble accepting the fact that she’s gone, so deeply saddened for the loss of one of Danica’s up and coming stars. This industry can be so unrewarding at times, especially to those who have fought and worked so hard to get to where they are today. My prayers are with Mahina and I know that both Danica and I will keep kicking on.