Here’s to Skipper … and Ozzy

Monday morning, I received news of the deaths of two wonderful horses the day before. Skipper, a 25-year-old faithful foxhunting veteran, had a heart attack in the hunt field, doing what he loved. Ozzy, an awesome young event horse, broke his neck in a pasture accident.

While the loss of a life always brings some sorrow, it was not hard to philosophically accept Skipper’s death. All life is temporary, and many horses don’t live as long as Skipper. He had lived a good life, in the hands of good people who gave him the attention and appreciation he deserved. His allotted time on Earth was well spent, and his exit was a fitting end to that allotted time.

It’s harder to accept Ozzy’s premature demise. He was much younger, and had not yet spent a fair allottment of time among the living. Like Skipper, he was fortunate to spend his Earth years being owned and loved by someone who deserved a horse of his caliber. He had already brought her more joy than many people experience in a lifetime. But it just wasn’t time for the partnership to end. They seemed to have achieved that level of bonding that some lucky equestrians may achieve once in their life, and they should have had many more years ahead of them to enjoy the fruits of that partnership. It’s really tough to find anything more appropriate to say about his death than “Damn, that really sucks.”

I am much closer to Skipper and his humans than to Ozzy, whom I’ve never met, or his owner, with whom I share laughter and libations once a year. But even though Ozzy is more removed from my personal world, the unfairness of his death stings me. To put things in a personal perspective, Skipper’s death was similar to Little’s death a few years ago, sad but inevitable. Losing Ozzy would be more like me suddenly losing Crossbo, and it hurts to be reminded that such things can and do happen, and it hurts to see them happen to a friend.

Skipper introduced many fortunate humans to the joys of foxhunting, and today one of those humans needed compadres to hunt with her and help toast his memory at special spots in the hunt country. Since Crossbo’s front shoes were loose, I had been planning to hilltop on Arthur. But duty called, so I got out the clinchers and did a half-ass job of tightening the shoes, hung a flask of rocknrye on the saddle and tucked a flask of Bourbon in the coat pocket, and off we went.

Considering the special circumstances, I waived my normal rule of waiting for the first jump or first thirty minutes to open a flask. We very quickly found many special spots that brought back memories of Skipper worthy of toasting. And, each time I raised a flask in Skipper’s memory, I gave a silent tribute to Ozzy.

Skipper, and Ozzy, were well remembered. By the end of the day, there was not a drop left in any of the flasks. And miraculously, despite some serious rock climbing, Crossbo’s shoes were still on, assuring me that I had made the right decision. Having just been reminded that life can not be taken for granted, it would have been a shame to have missed a day like today, not knowing how many more are left.

Here’s to Skipper and Ozzy, in thanks for brightening the lives of some wonderful people as long as they did. And here’s to all the horses, past and present, in my own life, who have brought me similar joy.

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