I don’t believe in editing my work. Or second drafts. If you’re reading a blog of mine, there’s an overwhelming possibility that it was a one-hit-wonder, something I banged out in one sitting, ran quickly through spell check, and sent off to my editors. Boom, done. But I’ve written and rewritten this blog about five times now. Is it because goodbyes are so hard, and there’s so much I want to say about my amazing friend, Beverley Thomas? Maybe. But mostly it’s because I’m still not ready. I thought we’d have so, so much more time.
In 2013, I received an email from a woman about training for her horse. She said she was older, had bought a young horse, and that her current trainer was doing the lion’s share of the riding, but she wanted to ride the horse more herself. I was braced for disaster, but the horse was a treasure, one of the best-tempered animals I’ve ever encountered. And the lady was perfectly capable of riding him. So into my program came a horse named Fiero, and his owner, Beverley Thomas. It was the beginning of a friendship the likes of which I’ve rarely known, and one I figured would carry on until time stood still.
But two weeks ago, after not hearing from Bev in two days, we drove to her home to check on her and found her unconscious. She passed away last Thursday. It’s just impossible to believe that this bright, ferocious force of a person is gone. But she’s gone.
Bev was one of those amazing owners who saw the whole picture. Fiero was 6 when he came into my life, beautifully educated, about second level. His character and temperament were stellar already, and Bev could have done most of the riding herself. Bev was a lifelong rider, though relatively new to dressage, and she didn’t really need a lot of bells and whistles in her horse. But she wanted them, and she wanted to see her horse rise. Right from the beginning, she made it clear: I don’t want to show myself, but I love watching my horse show. I love seeing him go to clinics. I love seeing him thrive. So whatever you want to do, let’s do it, even if it means pulling me off him for a few weeks before.
He rose up the levels, competing at the U.S. Dressage Finals multiple times through Intermediaire I, all while doing double-duty as Bev’s riding horse. Along the way, I found myself in a spot with a hole in my pipeline of horses. Bev walked into my office one day, with a notebook of questions—Bev always came armed with a notebook of questions—and said, “The journey with Fiero has been so amazing. I want to do it again, only this time, you pick the horse, for you to ride. What could that look like?” It was the first time anyone outside my own family said, “I believe in you. How can I help?”
And so we bought Swagger together, 6 this year, learning his changes, gifted as hell for piaffe, getting big and powerful and cool. I hate that she won’t get to see him go all the way up.
Fiero became a teacher for others, first to my employees—he has a hand in at least one USDF silver medal and two bronzes, not to mention installing a half-halt in probably 10 of my students—and now to his new owners. We went in search of something a little physically easier for Bev to ride and found Fantom, who we thought was just a little normal Lusitano with cool markings, but he has become so much more. With my assistant trainer, Jess Idol, they’re racing Elvis and me to Grand Prix.
Which is cool. Grand Prix is cool. Having a supportive co-owner is cool. But that’s not the moral of this story. Whenever an opportunity arose for Bev to allow one of us to benefit from her horses, she said yes. When the chips were down and we needed help, she was the first to raise her hand. She was the most incredible wingman; she could make any conversation about how great of a rider/trainer/horseman I am or how great Fiero is. (But it was so charming. We joked that, if she ever met the Queen of England, they’d talk about how cool Fiero is). No one was a better cheerleader or bigger fan.
When I started the Sprieser Sporthorse Elite Club, she was its first member. When Nike, my dog, was coming home from cruciate ligament surgery, and, I realized, 20 minutes from home, that I lived in a walk-up and didn’t know how to get him out of the car, Bev was there and waiting for me when I pulled in. When I was so depressed that it was a miracle that I got out of bed every day, Bev was there to chatter away and distract me from my own mind.
She unequivocally and loudly stood up, shouting from the rooftops that she believed in me and in mine, and she was willing to help, every day. She was an extraordinary, incalculable gift.
To add to the sadness, these are COVID times. A proper funeral is an impossibility. A memorial service is a liability. We held one anyway, socially distanced and for barn family only, in our indoor riding arena, at 93 degrees in the worst of a Virginia summer. And we told stories. Stories of making the rounds at the Winter Equestrian Festival or at Global in Florida, where every vendor knew Bev by name. Stories of her immaculate planning of group trips to the FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas, or to Friday Night Lights in Wellington to watch freestyles, where she’d make sure she arrived early to save the best seats for my working students, who would join in after night check. Of hearing her screech with joy for me after my CDI Intermediaire I freestyle debut with Elvis, because I borrowed Fiero’s music; it brought her to tears. Of quietly collecting tips for the working students around holidays (seven years together, and I had no idea she did that). Of making sure we had sufficient snacks at horse shows, including a freshly cut watermelon from the guy at the local grocery store who always took care of her. Of taking us out to dinner after bad rides or bad breakups and just chattering away, like a warm rain, until our problems seemed small and manageable.
Bev remembered every birthday; she knew every name, recalled the craziest minute details from a conversation years ago. She held court over the dogs at the farm every day and made sure they all sat patiently and politely to receive their daily cookie. Whenever I got a new pair of breeches, she told me they made me look svelte. She sang. Her laugh was pure and huge and from the depths of her socks. There was no such thing as a casual friendship with her—five minutes in Bev’s company, and you were family. The light burst out of her like a supernova, and without it, everything just feels terribly dark.
My best friend said something at our little service last night that stuck with me. She said, “I want to live like Bev did. Buy the damn horse. Buy the damn saddle pad. If it brings you joy, just do it.” And that was her, to the end.
Bev brought me joy. She opened doors. She made family, wherever she went. And she believed in me, often so, so much more than I believed in myself. I hope I can live up to it.
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis, Beverley Thomas and her Ellington, and her own Gretzky RV and Ojalá with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Read more about her at SprieserSporthorse.com, or follow Lauren Sprieser on Facebook and Instagram.