Lexington, Ky.—Nov. 8
After competing at a dressage show at Estes Park (Colorado) in August, Carrie Washburn was up early the next day for her job at a Caterpillar dealership.
An hour after arriving, she felt sick with chills. Assuming it was a cold or the flu, she headed home, but things quickly took a drastic turn, and she ended up in the hospital for 10 days.
With her regional dressage championships coming up and the U.S. Dressage Finals a goal for the end of the season, Washburn saw her dreams slipping away as doctors struggled to figure out what was wrong.
Washburn ended up with liver and kidney damage, cellulitis and a weeping rash, and in the end doctors decided it was possibly a staph infection that leaked toxins into her body and caused toxic shock syndrome, but she never got a firm diagnosis.
Weak and unable to do even basic tasks like getting into her truck or showering, Washburn was laid up for 1 ½ months, and her horse, Eros Myth, a 20-year-old Clydesdale-Quarter Horse (Excalibur—Honey Bee), sat in the field.
“I was determined to go [to regionals in September],” said Washburn, 43. “I couldn’t even really do more than walk on my horse. I couldn’t get off of him—well he’s tall, so I was like, I can’t, I had to have help. Getting on was fine, but getting off I couldn’t do that.”
To complicate things, after a dry and dusty summer, “Eros” had picked up a cough while Washburn was in the hospital, so even if she was able to go to regionals, he might not be able to. After making some changes to his routine, the cough subsided, but a day before regionals the gelding had a fat leg. After some poulticing and a consultation with her veterinarian, the leg went down, and Washburn put Eros on the trailer despite not having ridden in five weeks.
Washburn was too weak to compete every day, but she was able to ride her first level freestyle and miraculously picked up her qualification for Finals, where she’d competed once before at training level in 2018.
“We were supposed to show the whole time, but I just couldn’t. I could not muster the strength,” she said. “The only regional class that we could kind of fit into that time frame on the weekend was the freestyle, so we had that one chance. But literally, thrown on the truck. My friends were like, ‘Are you kidding me? You came?’ I wanted to go because I wanted to come here, and I was like, that’s my only way to get here, you know? So I was like, we’re gonna go do it and see what happens.”
Washburn, Carbondale, Colorado, bought Eros as a 4-year-old jumper sales prospect from Flying W Farms, who’d bred him as a dressage prospect. She was riding as a professional hunter/jumper in New York at the time. Since then she’s become an amateur after feeling “burned out,” and she works full time.
She had offers from people to buy him as a gentleman’s foxhunter, but as she played with him over the years, she decided to keep him. The pair started their dressage journey three years ago.
“He’s an angel. He really is,” she said. “He’s got a lot of idiosyncrasies that go along with his perfect side—he’s kind of a handful sometimes. He’s the horse that’ll, when his neighbor leaves, he’ll get upset, and he literally kicks the boards out of the stalls. He pushes on you, and he lets you know his opinions and all that kind of stuff. In the heat of the moment, I don’t necessarily forgive that, but when I look back, I’m like, ‘You know what, if you’re gonna do that, and you’re gonna be this perfect angel everywhere else, I can forgive that.’ Everyone says they have that heart horse; he’s probably my heart horse. I’ve had a couple that are pretty damn special, but he’s just beyond that.”
At home, Washburn, who also has a part-time equine physio business, Performance Equine Integrated Therapies, schools Eros in a hayfield. He lives in her backyard, and she hacks to a neighbor’s indoor when she can. She trains on and off with a few local dressage trainers, including Marian Nilsen.
“I kind of try to take bits and pieces from everybody and work that into the program that I think works best for him,” said Washburn. “He is very much a worrier, and he has a really strong sense of right and wrong—so if all of the sudden you’re just nagging him and nagging him, and he’s trying, and you’re not seeing that and understanding that, he tends to shut down and get very upset. So, somebody that’s very tough and wants it precise and right, right then, we don’t work well with. I’m fine with it, because I know that’s not good for him.”
Washburn also owns Eros’ full brother. Since Eros is 20, she doesn’t have big plans to move up the levels with him, but she still has some goals.
“Honestly, this may kind of sound silly, but I would really like to get my second level bronze medal scores on him,” she said. “That’s my goal. I don’t necessarily have the goal of pushing him beyond that. At 20 years old, I don’t think he needs to learn how to do a lead change or anything like that. But, that’s my goal.”
We‘re on site at the Kentucky Horse Park for the U.S. Dressage Finals! Check back at coth.com all weekend for more news and stories. If you’re at the show with a cool story, let us know by emailing Lindsay at email@example.com. Look out for the Dec. 2 print edition of the Chronicle for more from the show.