I made one of the hardest decisions of my life yesterday. My own personal Sophie’s Choice. Choosing between two beings that I considered sons, with no real perfect answer. I sold Mak.
I sit here with tears streaming down my face as I write this, and I know that so many who are reading will never truly understand my decision. But let me first begin by saying that although I am sad to not get to see the sweet broad cheeks of my boy every day, or feel his relaxed gallop as he lopes the final three strides to a massive corner, or watch as he playfully romps with his little brother, I know that my decision is the right one. The best one. For me, for Nixon, for Mak, and for his new mom Dani.
Months ago, I had hesitantly started to consider this idea. That maybe Nixon would need to stay with me, at least for a bit more time, if not years. Of course, if Doug Payne or Boyd Martin came up to me tomorrow and asked to try him, I would let them. I still think that he is an upper level horse, and needs an upper level rider. But for the time being, I am OK. I am the OK rider that he love’s, as Nixon has effectively chosen me as his person. He tolerates the rest, but he thinks I am his personal minion. His human. His mom.
Mak is different. I have always said that I love Mak more than Mak loves me, and this still rings true. Mak is happy regardless of who is around him, on him, or near him. He is content in his own little stoned world, and is just about the easiest horse to be around or on. And whereas Nixon screams Upper Level Horse, Mak screams safe.
I approached a plethora of people while making this decision. Some who agreed that I should keep Nixon, some who nearly cried when I mentioned selling Mak. But my friend Hayley said something that really resonated with me. She told me that she knew she had made the right choice for her horse because of what the HORSE could do for that future RIDER. Mak had given me so much confidence, he had gotten me around my first training, my first 3’6 jumper course, so many firsts. But I now had that confidence. Let him pass it onto another young rider, one who might never get that chance at a horse as great as he.
But I never could commit. I never hit enter on any sales ads, or put my keystrokes where my mouth were. I lamented to friends, and inquired to a few select trainers who I respected and knew had a plethora of good students. And then a few weeks ago, I commented on another friends Facebook status. Watching her own personal Sophie’s Choice unravel, I mentioned that I was going through the same thing. With a tough, but ridiculous talented young horse, and a safe, but maxed out at prelim, older horse. One that most likely just wanted to be a hunter.
And then my phone dinged. Within hours of my comment, I was reached out by a fellow local eventer inquiring about him. She asked for pictures and video, adding that she was asking for a relative of hers. A teenager who was looking for an equitation horse. Who was a beautiful rider but without the six figure budget of the elite. And maybe my thoroughbred eventing wonder would fit the bill? I sent the information on Mak, letting them know that he was 8, sound, and beautiful, with tight knees and an automatic change, but I also told him that I had done a whopping TWO hunter shows in our 3 year courtship, and mostly just to be an ass. And instead of scaring her, she simply asked when they could come try him.
I went home that night and told Luke that someone was coming to try Mak. He just stared at me with wide eyes and hesitantly asked if I was OK with that. And I told him that I didn’t care if they tried him. Mak was safe, he was a packer. He at least wouldn’t hurt anyone. And worst comes to worse, if I got a bad gut feeling or saw red flags, I could just refuse to sell. No one ever said you had to sell your horse just because someone offers the money.
But then I met Dani and her mom Cindy. I immediately felt at peace, and opened up a bit more in my sales pitch, having previously just grumbled his age and height, hesitant to even let this happen. Dani was quiet and calm, exactly what Mak needs around him, as that is also his spirit. And Cindy reminded me so much of my own mom, Carole. She had put her own riding on hold to raise a family, and was now watching (behind newspapers) as her daughter did exactly that. And with each fence, each stride down to a big oxer, I watched as Dani’s smile grew, Cindy’s eyes widen, and Mak’s ears come forward.
They left to try a variety of other horses. Mostly warmbloods. All actual hunters. And I drove back to the barn thinking that there was no way that they would choose my little eventing pony. But they did.
I got the text two days ago, asking if they could vet him. They said that with every horse that Dani dismounted, she just kept repeating that they weren’t “as cool as Mak.” She acknowledged that the process wouldn’t be easy. Her parents sat her down and reminded her that this journey might not be what she had had in mind. He might not end up a AA equitation horse, or a national derby horse. But Dani said she didn’t care. He was FUN. He was safe. She felt OK cantering down to a 3’6 oxer on him. And that meant more than any fancy pedigree.
Mak passed his vetting with flying colors, and I got the excited text message a few hours later. And I called my mom and dissolved into tears. I told her that I knew I was doing the right thing, and that I knew this was the perfect home, but that it didn’t make it any easier. But then I started reasoning my way through my own thoughts. And I vocalized these to her.
I am at the same place I was when I was 17. When I quit competing. Because my horse hated eventing, and I was, deep in my heart, an eventer. Levi could have gone on to be a great little hunter, or a fantastic dressage horse, but instead I forced him into eventing. And he burned out, dissolving me to rubble with him.
I won’t do that to Mak. I won’t do that to myself. I want to be an eventer. I don’t know if that means a 1* or a 4*, but I know that it means higher than training level. And Mak would have gotten me a ton of confidence at training, and maybe prelim, and then have been maxed out. And then I would have pushed him for more, and in a best case scenario, he would have just told me he was done. In the worst case scenario, he would have lost his amazing confidence. And I refuse to do that to a horse I love so much.
So it comes with a variety of emotions that I tell all of you that Mak will continue on this journey as a hunter.
The motions are so mixed for me. He will always be the horse that got me through my first training level event, my transition to graduate school, my Uncle’s death. Held my hand and dried my tears through hacks at the end of a bad day. He got my confidence back in eventing, and even more importantly, my confidence back in the thoroughbred. He was my exploring partner. My safe zone. The cause of so many smiles, and so many tears. But at the end of the day, he was my best friend.
And now he will be the same for Dani. As the shoulder to cry on to an amazing young rider. As the escape from fights with parents, first heart breaks, and winding changes in lifes path. As the reassuring figure, safe equine, and solid citizen for Cindy and her husband, letting the newspapers fall below eye level. And that is what is reassuring my broken heart as I load him onto the trailer to head to Middleburg, VA – caressing his wide cheeks as I say good bye.
But I know that it’s not really good bye. It’s just “I’ll see you later.” I will always be a part of this magnificent creatures life – that I can guarantee you. And as he carries Dani around each course, over each fence, or on each hack, I will be right there alongside him. With the 3 years of rides that I have put on him. The massive fences I have schooled him over. The first creek crossing and the first bridge. Dani might be sitting on him, but I will forever be in him, and that makes me so happy. So proud.
I love you Mak, be good.