Scotland’s Free Spirit

I didn’t plan to be writing this for another 10 years... unfortunately here I am suddenly without my friend, unbearably sad and tired. I can’t imagine what I will do without him— in lessons, during shows and fun days, in the turnout herd…Spirit is undoubtedly the best horse I have ever owned. He has been a large part of everything I do for so long. I, and all of Horse Amour will miss him eternally, and be forever changed.

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I first saw Spirit when he came to Horse Amour as a sale horse, brought to the barn by infamous local horse dealer Ken “Beaver” Mitchell in the summer of 1994. I had never seen a horse that looked like him, he was simply magnificent in every way…big, proud, strikingly bright red, and with a captivating physical presence about him. He had a small slim head, atop an incredibly long elegant neck, a long large body and tall legs. He looked like no other horse Id ever seen.

 

Although I desperately wanted to buy him, he was out of my price range at $2000, and in addition he came with the warning that he was untrained, and had broken the back of the previous owner who had attempted to saddle break him. He had a long haired wild look to him, and he was a large fellow that was alert and interested, but highly suspicious and wary of people. I was completely unfamiliar with the breed, American Saddlebred. Beaver was convinced that he had a money maker based on the size and looks of the horse, and asked me to keep him showcased in my barn until he found a sale. He hired someone to shoe the horse—known then as “Buddy”, and this colorful character of a farrier named Charlie Randall came from somewhere up north to do the job. Charlie was built like a little sumu wrestler, and had the reputation of being able to shoe any horse, no matter how crazy. Spirit, “Buddy”, rolled Charlie down my barn aisle like a bowling ball. Although he did manage to shoe the fronts, Spirit lived his entire 26 years never having worn a hind shoe.


To my disappointment, Beaver quickly sold this beautiful horse to a flashy stranger with a very fancy car who came tottering to the barn in high heels, wearing lots of jewelry, with no knowledge whatsoever of horses. Off he went to Massachusetts or Connecticut, seemingly never to be seen again.


But a month or so later— back he came! Proven to be dangerous and unmanageable, “Buddy” was reduced greatly in price and Beaver did not want to keep him even a day. He had his eye on a small manure spreader that I had at the time, and a trade was made. When I got his papers in my hand, and saw his noble name “Scotlands Free Spirit" I could not imagine ever calling him Buddy. From then on it was Spirit. I’ve heard that changing a horse’s name is bad luck; perhaps Spirit knew that he was far greater than a Buddy, and knew that I recognized that.

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Spirit was a great horse for me from that moment on. I’ve said many times over the years that he has been the best horse I have ever owned, probably ever will own. He liked it here, right from the day he returned. He liked the group turnout and generous freedom between lessons. He grew to like the people here, and I know he must have liked me, because he worked tirelesslyfor me for the next 2 decades.

He must have started going to 4-H clinic in the mid 90’s. He has been nearly every year since, and to countless 4-H Shows and Horse Trials everywhere. Everyone knew and recognized Spirit. The Fair every year. He went this year as usual. His first 4-Her was Chad, who did everything with Spirit. That was when the State Show was still up in Essex at the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds. He did English, Western, Club Class, Trail Class, Showmanship, he was a packer over fences. He never had anything but a mild snaffle bit in his mouth. He took to nearly everything I ever asked of him (except clipping and hind shoes, and 2-horse trailers, and water jumps).

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Spirit was about 6 when I met him. I traced him to the breeder, Laurel Jackson of Panton. Eventually she and I became friends and she came here, I went there— me in a quest for another horse like Spirit, which never happened despite numerous tries. When I walked into her barn for the first time, I saw what appeared to be angel horses— the most beautiful horses I had ever seen— she had been breeding for palomino saddlebreds, and had several. Of course to get several palominos you get dozens of chestnuts. She had them! In this dark and crowded old barn they were all rolling the whites of their eyes and I remember chaos when one pulled back from the cow stantion he was tethered to, went over backwards and caused a huge ruckus with all of the other spooky, wild eyed residents some of whom then broke free and I though I would be trampled to death, but she opened an outside door and out they flew... But that’s what she was breeding for, animation. They were all so high strung, Spirit was not. Laurel said “that Buddy, he never was any good for anything”. 


After the first year of Chad showing Spirit, everyone saw that despite his size, age and inexperience, he was completely safe. He loved to jump, and quickly became a very popular event horse for all levels here. He would refuse only if the rider were not with him, which made him an exceptional lesson horse. All of the instructors who have taught here over the years have loved Spirit. For everything.

Spirit was always an easy keep. Never lame, never ill. Never had a problem of any kind. He always looked beautiful, kept his weight and coat year round. During the last hour of his life, my vet commented on what a magnificent specimen he was for his age. The only thing that showed, was a bit of a sway back— he was long anyway, and had a huge wither and shoulder even as a young horse. I could never be satisfied with the padding under his saddles, and eventually tried having a saddle stuffed just to fit him, however that really didn’t work either. He let me know over the years that the saddle fit was never adequate— he was super girthy. He was so girthy that if you didn’t know him you would be afraid to ride him after seeing him being tacked. However, once girthed and mounted he was always happy to work. His ears were always forward under saddle. He did hate to be brushed— really never liked being rubbed, petted or babied in any way. He liked to be admired by eyes and voices, not hands. I tried to respect that, and he knew it.


This past Fall Fun Day I needed Spirit to step in to take the place of several other horses who for some reason or other I did not trust to go through the Haunted Forest. He went several times. He was so incredibly trustworthy for going out of the arena. Anyone could safely take him anywhere. He would pack little children through a dressage test, over and over. If they could steer at all, he would pack them around the cross country course or a stadium course. He was reliable, always, never unpredictable in any way. The older ladies who had ridden in their youth had a special appreciation when put on Spirit; he was a true schoolmaster and someone with a little knowledge could get a most marvelous ride from him. And they always rewarded him with a special treat— which he loved; apples, carrots, commercial horse treats—he was a big fan of anything sweet.

I myself rarely rode Spirit, but occasionally I would to illustrate something, or prove to someone that you could make him go, could stay on the track, could canter, etc. He was the most comfortable, steady mount! I loved to ride him for those brief moments. He never let me down, and always proved to the riders that he could be turned into perfection in seconds of the trainer getting into the saddle. In later years I watched both Betsy and Stephanie have the chance to do this, with the same result. He always behaved in public, never embarrassed me in front of other trainers or judges. He was a schoolhorse to be envied by all other stables. He won countless ribbons for generations of riders, build confidence and self esteem for so many.


There was one time that I took Spirit to a competition myself. My own horse had some last minute issue, and I had already paid my $80 entry to Hitchingpost Farm, so I took Spirit in his place. I had the best dressage score I had ever received. Spirit was a complete gentleman in every way, with his perfect quiet way of going and smooth transitions. However, when I got to the water obstacle it became clear that water was in the same category as clippers and hind shoes. Just plain NO. Even being eliminated at that obstacle, though, could dampen my joy that day. I went on to have the smoothest stadium ride ever. I’ve always had a challenging personal horse, even as a child and that day I did not, for the first time ever. I think that day led to my journey to my next horse- like Spirit he is big, quiet, comfortable and easy going. A good old lady horse.

I spent many years in love with saddlebreds after the aquisition of Spirit. There came Rusty, Largo, Buck, Amistad, Rajah, Kato, Magic, Zorro. I was convinced that they were my breed of choice for eventing and dressage, and was determined to fill my lesson barn with them. They have been much fun, but limited in the long run by their very nature being too complicated for beginners. It’s really only been this week, when I’ve thought so much about Spirit, that I realize that I was not in love with the Saddlebred breed at all, I was just smitten by that one horse. In reality, he was quite out of the ordinary for a Saddlebred, as Laurel Jackson told me years ago.

A great horse is never a bad breed. Spirit was just a GREAT horse, nothing to do with his breed. He found a niche here where he was greatly loved and appreciated for everything about him— his looks, his quiet demeanor, his smooth gaits and his incredible talent. Spirit made his riders feel like royalty.

This past fall Spirit presented several times with what I thought was choke. He appeared to be colicking, but only in relation to hay stretcher which he had been eating since he turned 20. It never bothered him until this fall, but the third time it happened Steph and I figured out that there was a cause and effect. We stopped feeding it to him. He was on senior feed, which he loved, and would come to the gate to ask for fairly regularly. Some days he would stay at the round bales, and I would know he was fine. He was definitely herd leader, keeping everyone else gently in line. But it was he that was always playing, grabbing each others faces, with Bubba and Little Cloud. It was always Spirit. I worry about the herd without him; he managed them quietly and effectively, teaching boundaries and manners without ever hurting anyone. He managed the other lesson horses in the arena too— stopping and giving his signature slow motion ninja kick to anyone whose rider was inept enough to enter his space bubble. He always did it with lots of warning, and as safely as could be done, while making his point very clear to man and beast. I loved having him in my classes. He was not an employee, he was a co-worker, often teaching much more than I could.

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Only a fellow riding instructor can really know the value of a good lesson horse. They cannot be bought, they must be earned somehow— by years of trust, faith, love and care. Spirit knew how I felt about him. His work for me (as any instructor knows) went way beyond the effort a personal horse gives to it’s rider. That rider is generally an experienced horseman, and the rides are pleasant. What the lesson horse does for the instructor usually involves a fair amount of discomfort. An inexperienced rider is hard on the horse… balance, hands and legs that are uneducated, and often no awareness of that. They kick and pull, lean and yank, bounce and poke mercilessly. For a horse as sensitive as Spirit to be as tolerant as he was under saddle speaks volumes about his loyalty to me, and to Horse Amour. 

He knew that I trusted him. He knew that I knew what he was as a soul. And for that he repaid me tenfold. He was honest, kind and exceedingly tolerant and generous under saddle. He represented Horse Amour with pride and dignity. Even when wearing a costume.

Seeing Spirit in pain, with a colon impaction was my worst nightmare. I had been having a bit of worry about him this fall and winter; the choke episodes were frightening and felt like a premonition of his dreaded aging. But they seemed to pass each time with no after effects. I did find myself checking for him first each morning as I left the house, looking for his purple blanket to be standing at the round bales. He always was. It was Stephanie that found him, down, at the gate where he always presented himself if he needed feed or water, at 7:30 Tuesday morning. He was up by the time I got to the barn, but had obviously been in distress for some time, he was covered in ice and snow. He gobbled an apple core, which seemed like a great sign, but then ran into the back barn and went down again, posturing in an upside down position that I have come to know is not good. I gave him banamine, but when it did not relieve his discomfort in 20 minutes I called the vet, and cancelled my lessons.

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Spirit’s temperature was 95, and his heart rate was an alarming 75. He was not greatly dehydrated, but the vet could feel a very large impaction that was way up inside, with no manure whatsoever this side of it. He did not have any opiods for pain, and had to take an hour and a half trip to get them while I walked and waited, distraught with a miserable horse in the frigid cold. My only request of the vet was to not let Spirit suffer unnecessarily. When he returned with the drugs, we also tried to IV fluid him, but in the bitter cold the line kept freezing. We could not keep the IV running, and Spirit was in too much pain to stay up, he got down again and ripped the catheter out. At 2pm the vet gave me the look, and the decision was made. I’ve never cried myself so dry, or felt more anguish at having to make such a decision, so unexpectedly. My only solace was knowing that I had been able to spend that 6 hour period with him, and that I was able to talk to him every second. I hope he heard me when I thanked him, I hope he knew what my words meant when I told him how I’d loved him. He was so gentle, even in his pain, he suffered my hands and kisses and tears without protest. I hope he knew that I did not want to let him go, but that I did it because I could not bear to have my noble friend in such pain, with no hope of recovery. I felt his soft muzzle with my frozen fingers, breathed in his sweet horsey smell and tried to help him close his wise and tired eyes as he left me. I could see that his strong and sturdy feet had a few chips, and that there were a couple of burdocks in his fetlock hairs that had probably been there for weeks. I stayed with him until he was gone, and then I cried for myself.

In the aftermath of this I have realized how much Spirit meant to so many. My students over the years have written some beautiful testimony to this horse. I hope that he is over the Rainbow Bridge, and able to feel the tributes. I’m hoping that a blog style webpage will allow me to share that appreciation with all of you who knew, respected and loved Spirit. Thank you all so much.



I am deeply saddened to find out that an animal I loved dearly for many years has moved on to greener pastures in Heaven. Scotland's Free Spirit was no ordinary horse, but a gentle and patient teacher. He was one of the most trusted lesson horses that my riding instructor, Sue, owned.I haven't been back to the barn enough since I moved away from home, but the memories I made there as a young person are forever clear in my mind. I knew Spirit very well, and I'd like to share one of his stories:
When I was about twelve or thirteen years old, I was excitedly preparing for my first Spring Dressage Show. I had only been riding for a year or so, and I was pretty nervous to compete. Originally, I wanted to ride this horse named "Buck" in the show. He was a fun horse to ride, but it was obvious that I would have a lot of trouble handling him at my age/size/skill level. My riding instructor suggested I swap out Buck for Spirit, so I could have a less stressful first competition. I agreed. 
I turned Buck loose in the pasture and followed him up the steep bank to the rest of the herd. I spotted Spirit and walked his way. He saw me coming, knew his day off was about to end, and casually walked away from me. He would let me get right there to halter him, then trot just a few yards away...over and over! Eventually, Buck saw what was going on and must have thought to himself "Oh no, if that girl doesn't catch him, she's gonna come back for me". He pranced over to Spirit, and it looked like they had a little discussion. I walked over to Spirit again, this time almost making it before he chuckled to himself (he had to be laughing at this point) and stepped to the side. Now Buck was mad--he told this horse to go down to the barn and get ready to be in the show so he didn't have to! Buck went to Spirit again, this time barred his teeth to say that he meant business, and stood next to Spirit so that I could walk right up, put on his halter, and lead him away. Poor old Spirit had to go to work, once again, because he was such a good boy that he was in high demand.
Days later, Spirit and I completed the Spring Dressage Show. He was the perfect gentleman, trotting around the ring for my beginner routine...posing for photos...letting my fans (parents) pet him. What a sport. I can't say enough what a fantastic horse he really was. He allowed me to build my confidence as a rider by knowing that I was safe on his back, and that I could put myself out there in front of a judge, and he would cooperate. Sure, he was notorious for evading capture while he was having free time in the pasture, but that was part of his personality. He put on a big song and dance, but deep down he liked his job and took pride in babysitting young riders like myself. 
I want to send my condolences to Sue, her two daughters, and all of the Horse Amour family of equestrians who knew and loved this beautiful horse, Scotland's Free Spirit. — Megan Clark

I'm so sorry sue. He was a great teacher, and companion, he taught me a lot. I'm am grateful for everything you have done for me. Think about you guys every day. I hope there are no boats were he is, I still remember those adventures! Chad Zsido

Spirit was a gift from God. Notonly has he taught a ton of kids how to ride and be understanding of his girthyness, he taught many adults young and old, able bodied and some just needing a bit of help, adults who were learning to ride and adults who needed a boost of confidence. It seems as though his purpose in life was to teach. He never stopped teaching, even when he was getting up in age, and his joints were probably not feeling the best. He will surely be missed by a lot of Horse Amour family members. My heart is grieving along with yours and your family. — Patty Starer

So sorry to hear of losing Spirit, he was/will be such a strong presence for Horse Amour. He was truly a special horse that touched the hearts of SO MANY!!! Thoughts are with you, you two were friends for many years… —Suzie Kent

Oh Dear Sue, so sad, so soon. Spirit was a Kingly horse and we are all grateful to have known him. Will say a prayer. —Karleen Carlson-Ponto

Sue, I'm so sorry for you.  Spirit was a beautiful horse, and I count myself lucky to have ridden him in lessons when I started riding again as an adult.  Without his good, reliable nature,  I might not have had the confidence to jump, that's for sure.  You and your horses and barn have given me the gift of having riding back in my life, and I'm so thankful for that, and for all the people I've met there.  I came up to see Mystic earlier partly just because I've missed Tuesday lessons so much. Anyway, I know this past week has been awful for you.  When it warms up and we're all together again, we should do a toast to our absent equine friends. Best, Heather

Spirit!! Definitely one of the greatest lesson horses and a dependable, gentle big man. He will be missed dearly by all and all he taught. I'm so sorry for your/our loss. —Deb Danforth

So sorry Sue... All loved him! I bet Dorothy is feeding him lots of carrots and grooming him tonight ... She always spoke fondly of him… Andrea Hathaway-Miglorie

I love you Spirit! You took such good care of Everyone who was ever lucky enough to sit on your back! You were ALWAYS trusted with our little ones lives, and promoted good will to all! Thank you for your life service to us! I know you must have a special place of Honor in Heaven. — Colleen Kennedy

 I've had many loves over the years at Horse Amour, but Spirit was special. He was my 4-H partner for at least 2 years when he was younger (about 7). He was willing to try just about anything. He even taught me how to mount from the ground bareback which must have taken a lot of patience because he's so tall. He had an edge too though. I recall one time I was being lectured sternly by my dad about signing up for more events than I could afford. Spirit walked over and nipped his hand. I was thinking, "thanks for having my back." I'm glad that he was able to teach so many other students over the years. I'm so sorry for your loss, Sue. — Krista Thomas

I am so sorry to hear of this loss. I’m so honored to have known him, he was a delightful being. His legacy and personality is a testament to you and how wonderful Horse Amour is. I am thinking of you. So much love. —Maxine Bleau



Po© Sue Cook 2015