I knew the news was bad about Philippa hours before it was ever released.  I was doing what I always do on the weekends of the “big ones.”  Scrolling through Eventing Nation, constantly refreshing, trying to see the latest update or the most recent scores.  My trainer Allie was four or five riders away in the 3*, and I just wanted to know if she had gone clean; if she was safe.  But then I saw that there was a fall, and a hold.  Philippa Humphrey’s had come off, which made my stomach sank.

I didn’t know Philippa well.  My only knowledge of her was from sharing a warm up arena a few times at the Kentucky Horse Park.  When the bigger riders come to compete against you at novice or training, you know.  There is an aura around them.  A confidence.  And yet as I passed her left to left, I didn’t see anything cocky.  Instead we exchanged a smile and a head nod. She was laughing at her green horse, and exchanging conversation with the other riders.

And I remember thinking how nice of a rider she was.  Soft and efficient, with a strong seat and gorgeous equitation.  And when she beat me, I chalked it up to the norm. I pencilled her name into my brain, acknowledging that I needed to follow her future endeavors.  But then I read last night that she had passed. And alongside my sunken stomach, my heart broke.

I wasn’t there.  I don’t know how the footing to the fence was.  I don’t know if it was rider error, horse error, course design error, or hell, just absolute bad luck.

But what I do know is that this was a prepared rider, a fit horse, and a galloping fence.  Not a technical question, not a horse that couldn’t read the question.  Not a rider who was just kicking and praying.

I am not making excuses.  I truly believe that eventing needs to change.  I watched Rolex this year and was so thrilled to see that it had become a test of endurance instead of a test of confusion.  And as I watched the leader board get juggled around without any serious falls, I turned to my boyfriend and said “this is how it should be.”  Fitness.  Strength.  Letting not only XC, but the stamina for stadium play a role in the placings.  Frangible pins broke, and riders retired on a tired horse, not a broken horse.  At the end of the day, all of the competitors – equine and human, were tucked into their stalls and hotel rooms.  Ready to fight another day.

And we all need to learn from this – changes are coming.  And I think Rolex was a good example of that. And changes have already come.  We ARE adding frangible pins, we ARE studying heart defects and disease, and we ARE inventing safety equipment – both for ourselves and our mounts, to protect us during a fall.

But even 50 years from now, even if we jump foam fences and wear hazmat suits, we will still be strapped to a 1200 lb animal.  A creature that has its own brain, its own legs, its own opinion.  The risk will never 100% be removed from this sport. That needs to be acknowledged.  If you are not ok with accepting at least a part of this risk, then riding horses is not for you.  In fact, owning horses is probably not for you.

But it is for me.


Four years ago, I watched as my Uncle Bob neared the end.  His battle with prostate cancer had turned into a battle with lung cancer, and the chemo was sucking the life, the soul, the heart, and the brain out of a man that I loved dearly.  It wasn’t my first time watching this grotesque end of life happen.  I had seen the cancer, and the chemotherapy, do the same thing to my Uncle Doug, my grandfathers, and finally my father.

I called my friend Meghan in despair and angrily ranted about these mutant cells that were taking over my life again.  I told her that I truly believed that the cancer doesn’t kill the body, the chemo does.  She agreed, and we began a long discussion about our plans. What would we do if we were diagnosed with terminal cancer?  If you were told you only had a 30% chance.  Would I connect myself to that poison and fight?  Or would I spend as many good hours of my life doing what I loved?  Which risk offered the most reward?  Which route would leave my heart full and a smile on my face?  Is it better to live half alive and scared?  Or with a full soul and galloping into the future?

I chose the latter.  I told her that if I was diagnosed with cancer, I would cash in all of my stocks, sell every article of anything that I owned, and I would buy a 4* horse. If I had a year or two,  I would go the legal route and try to qualify my way to Rolex.  If I had a month, I would sign up as an outrider and then in a blind rage, I would suddenly kick my mount into a gallop and run screaming towards the Head of the Lake, passing Michael Jung with a pageant wave and an Indian call.

Because that is how I want to go.  Happy, free, screaming, and smiling from ear to ear in joy.  One stride, two strides, three strides and up.  Soaring over a massive table, with one leg on either side of a creature I have always loved.

I don’t want to go out as just another victim of one of these horrible diseases that we walk 5K’s for.  I want to go out with greatness.  As one of the best.  With the best.  Or with a story. Something that will be told to every Rolex spectator for the next 50 years.

I will not make an excuse for the fence, I will not make an excuse for the fall.  I will say a prayer for the family and friends that Philippa left behind, including a beautiful child.  And I will give a strong nod to her from the warm up arena of life, acknowledging that we have lost a great woman, a great person, and a fabulous rider. One more warm up fence, and then off to the other side.  She got there doing something she loved, and while that is not enough to bring her back, it is enough to settle just a small amount of the heart break that so many are feeling.

Left to left, this world keeps shuffling us around.  Left to left, we keep going.  Keep galloping.  Keep jumping.  But left to left, we must keep loving.  Keep thinking.  Keep inventing.  Keep changing.  Because left to left, we must keep riding.



31 Comments on “Left to left

  1. Reblogged this on Retired Racehorse and commented:
    Another take on another eventing tragedy… this one from the always eloquent blog A Yankee in Paris. I read this one and just thought “Holy shit, yes.”

    Well done, an outstanding read!

  2. My deepest condolences. Life is not risk free. I admire those who live each day fully, not counting on there being a tomorrow.

  3. As a survivor of Stage 3 Ovarian cancer, I am going to wholeheartedly disagree with you on this. If you have a 30% chance of survival, you take it! You battle with the disease for that 30% chance of being able to live longer and do more. You balance the risks and rewards, because, I promise you…..there are rewards. I am 3 years cancer free with an exciting new chapter in my life to be lived to it’s fullest. It may not past, but there is no way I would give up the past three years. There is a time to say, enough, but at the beginning of a cancer journey, is not that time! Not getting treatment and running hell bent for leather into the abyss, is not living. That is dying with a bigger splash.

  4. I am an equestrian, sitting in a hotel room, far from home at a huge medical complex in Houston, TX. I have an exceedingly rare cancer (only 1,200 people known of World wide that share this malady, one of whom made International news in 2008 because she sparked the conversation on human euthanasia.) On Tues., I need to start chemotherapy if I am going to do it. I have, in the course of this disease, had three surgeries, six weeks of proton radiation (am currently undergoing a second round) and have lost my sense of smell and taste forever. Oddly enough, this has all been pretty easy. I have to confess, chemo scares me. Some of the potential side effects threaten to make me deaf or leave me with kidney failure and lastly, don’t promise a cure. I’ve always thought the same thing this author expresses because I witnessed my mother die so quickly after chemo. Horses have always been my escape from adversity. I want to get on one and ride away from this.

    • I am like you. I have too many first hand accounts of what chemotherapy can do to the body. With that being said, you fight the way you want to fight. I tell people that regardless of the decision–the most important part is MAKING a decision. If you’re going to go forward with chemo-you DO IT. Commit 100%, and fight like hell. If you’re not going to do it-then you go RIDE. And don’t look back. LIVE LIKE HELL. I wish you the absolute best; and will be sending good thoughts regardless of your choice!

    • Hi Susan. You must be at MDA. You are in great hands. 😎 I’ll keep you in my prayers. You will get thru this and be back riding in no time.

    • Susan, I will be thinking of you and pulling for you. Stay determined to beat this. You are in very good hands at MD Anderson.

    • Susan, Your message touched my heart. I’m sending my energy and hoping you make the decision that will bring you the greatest peace.

  5. Well written and expressed. I know how powerful a “connection” with a horse is and how much it “grounds” me. When my husband died, after putting a gun to his head, my mare kept me going and helped me keep my feet on the ground so that I could raise my 12 year old daughter (who is now 19). The horse was my therapist, best friend, confidant, and reason for going out into the world.. As we enter our 11th year of partnership, she still is. I take care of her like she takes care of me. ALWAYS KICKING ON!

  6. Thank you for this. I’ve made a similar decision. Each person will make their own for whichever adversity comes their way. Not many have the guts and the eloquence to state this side of the argument. Hopefully, you never have to face that particular question in *real* life. Gallop on!

  7. Such a sad day for her family and all who knew and loved her. She died doing what she loved and there is something to be said for that. May she rest peacefully.

  8. You are all great people ! Xxxxx much love and admiration !

  9. I emphasize with your post and your reason for making it. However, I am another one who is going to take issue with your comments about whether or not you would pursue treatment in the face of a 30% chance of survival from cancer. I was diagnosed with acute leukemia in 2008. I was given a 25% chance of survival and a 25% chance of remaining in remission by the best folks in the business. And yet, I’m still here and thriving, thank you. Statistics are not the end-all and be-all; they cannot account for luck, tenacity, orneriness or pure damn-your-eyes-cancer attitudes.

    I was written off by many, including my own husband. I actually had a new student who started taking lessons from me after I finished treatment attempt to buy several items of equipment from me because I wasn’t, in her 15-year-old opinion, going to be needing them anymore. (and yes, I still have that breastplate, bit, and saddle).

    I just don’t think you can make a statement like the one you made until you’ve walked a mile in those particular pair of shoes. I’m sorry for the losses you’ve experienced; I do think we can agree that cancer sucks.

    • Peggy,

      First of all–good for you for beating cancer! I don’t think I will ever express how happy that makes me for a complete stranger. My father actually died of AML, only he didn’t die of AML, he died of vancomycin resistant e.coli, which killed him because of how immune suppressed he was due to chemo. My uncle passed from CML. Neither of them found a bone marrow transplant on time. My grandfathers died of cancer as well, not to mention my uncle that is mentioned in this story. To put it briefly, there is no remaining man in my family to walk me down any aisle besides my younger brother-who is now convinced that he is curSed. So while I have never walked in the direct shoes of someone battling cancer, I certainly have witnessed the disease, death, and dying. My decision may very well change if I am ever directly faced with it, but currently, slightly bitter and hating God, I stand by my choice to ride it out.

      Much love, and seriously, I bow down to you for beating the most devilish of villains,

  10. I am not an Eventer, Jumper or Dressage rider. I do not even ride English. I am a Reining horse rider. Even though my sport does involve the level of danger that yours does, it still has it’s perils. I feel as you do. I would much rather spend my time with my horse, dogs and those that love me than spend that time in a hospital or feeling like heck from a treatment that may or may not have any effect on the final outcome. I have the same passion for my sport and feel I would much rather slide into my final resting place doing what I love! Thank you for your blog. It touched my heart!

  11. Fabulous – we do our best try our best train our best and in the end we are doing what we are meant to do – thank you for writing!

  12. Brilliant…simply brilliant. Thank you for saying it perfectly. And if you ever want some input on your road to Rolex, please let me know. I won it on The Gray Goose in 1982, and would be happy to help you. Love your writing.

    • Wow!! I so remember The Gray Goose – exciting! Carleigh – take this lady up on her offer!!!

  13. Wow that was a truly inspirational letter written from the heart and I’m sure the words that so many of us are feeling. I’m going to print it off and place it on our stable wall, for all to read and to think about.

    P.S. I lost my dad to that horrible C word, he didn’t have chemo but still the last 6 months were a silent hell for him.

  14. I am not a rider, however my grand daughter of 12 years has been riding since she was 4. She is now a horse owner and doing eventing. She was born with this passion for horses. At times like this I wish she would decide to stop as I don’t want her to get seriously injured. Then I remember that riding in a car is dangerous also. I don’t know the statistics…
    But I do believe that we can’t really be alive and be afraid, expecting the worst to happen. I am also a retired nurse and have seen illness and suffering. I have gone over the question of what would I do if….. I have learned that until I would be in that place, it is impossible to say. I am grateful I have loving, caring, knowledgeable friends and family who will assist me. Life is a series of jumps all with variables: some we may refuse; some we may stumble; but most we will gather ourselves, guide our horse, and clear. I pray for everyone’s safety. God Speed.

  15. Beautifully said. I have also witnessed cancer up close and while I currently stand in your camp for what I would do if diagnosed, I guess no one really knows until they are in that position. My heart breaks for little Mille and I hope people realize that one day she will be old enough to search the Internet for stories about her mother, and I pray that she will find more like yours here and less like some of the comments I have seen on the press releases. When will people realize that while yes change needs to happen (and already is) that the people left behind need love. People use the #rideforphilippa but I think we also need to remember to #rideformillie. Hopefully someday in the future she will get some comfort from the fact that people carry on her mother’s legacy by loving and galloping and jumping these mythic four legged beasts, that the sport her mother loved didn’t die when she did, that it is carried on and changed for the better and that the people who do it are making the most of every moment they have because we never know when that moment might be our last.

  16. I disagree with your assessment of 30% survival rate. Until that Dr looks at you and says the “c” word you don’t k ow what you’ll do. I had a 2% survival rate w some very radical brain surgery. I did it. It’s been 4 years. You will do what you have to do to survive and cAncer changes everything and I so mean everything. You start looking behind instead of in front and priorities change. So I hope u never have to face that but 30% would have been heaven for me.

  17. Thank you! This struck a deep chord with me and left me feeling positive and hopeful. I think you just summed up my life motto!!

  18. I am the mother of an equestrian,,,it’s her life,,,reading her facebook posts today I came across this post which I very much appreciate as I do the comments that have been made because they are coming from sincere hearts,,,they may not always be in agreement but they seem sincere to me.
    My daughter was born in the chinese year of the horse,,,looking back I can’t believe the risks i let her take when the decision was still mine to make,,,,,yes if it were still my choice today,,,I would choose ‘quality’ over ‘quantity’ for her,,,,what I wouldn’t choose would be ‘disablement’ but,,,,,it is what it is,,,,,since I KNOW she was born to ride,,,,however her life unfolds is in the hands of the ‘good ship Universe’ and my daughter is the ‘Captain’ of that ship,,,,,but as a mother I can’t help but wish her ‘smooth sailing’,,,,and my heart does go out to Philippa’s mom and the rest of her family and her little daughter,

  19. As I re-read this, almost 2 weeks to the day after that tragic fall, I realize this: I am grateful for your blog, I am grateful for our incredible eventing community, I am grateful that Philippa was our trainer, our barn owner and our friend. I am with you – no excuses need to be made. Philly lived and died paying homage to her passions. Damn, we miss her, but we thank the Lord we had her – even for such a very short time. I love you Pip, Kick on. Until we meet again. Lindy

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