Knowing When To Say Goodbye

Sep 30, 2021 - 7:57 AM

When I first bought Callie in February 2019, I didn’t know anything about her past. She was about to turn 10, and she had only been with the folks selling her for a year. That left about eight years unaccounted for in her history. The buyers told me she had been a lesson horse before they purchased her, and they themselves used her for upper-level jumping lessons. She displayed so much talent that they decided to sell her so she could be a one-person horse. 

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Blogger Sophie Coffey and Callie share a moment before parting ways. Photos Courtesy of Sophie Coffey

And talent she had. She could jump the moon and put her knees to her chin every time. She had three very smooth gaits and a lovely big canter that belied her 15.1-hand stature. While things like shoulder-in and collection were never her cup of tea, she learned them proficiently enough that the “get X number of strides between poles” exercise became a breeze.

I always thought to myself, “I’m so lucky to have gotten such an athletic little horse,” and I always imagined that Callie thought of herself in the same way. Even Anne Kursinski said in one of the videos I sent off for critique (which is very easy to do, and you should definitely do it if you haven’t yet), “Wow, that little horse looks like she’s happy and having fun!”

My trainer and I had decided, in the brief period where I was toying with selling her, that she wouldn’t be suitable as a junior horse. She was a bit too spicy, had a bit too much ability; her jump was too big; she was too keen. She would scare a kid unless it was a very good-riding one.

When she broke her left hind splint bone last November, I imagined her recovery would be swift, and we would be back in action before too long. I’m not going to go into all of the very dramatic details of that recovery, because I already have in previous blog posts. Suffice to say, from the very first day I got back on to tack-walk her, Callie was not interested in playing anymore. With me, specifically.

What I couldn’t understand was how a horse who loved to work suddenly made the connection that the person who made her work was the person she didn’t want on her back anymore. She used to have so much joy and enthusiasm for her job, the one that I always imagined was her hidden destiny, like some Saddle Club book where the overlooked lesson horse goes to the big horse show and beats them all. Why did she suddenly not want to play anymore?

(Quick side note: If you haven’t yet, please read my previous blog post where I go into great detail on all of the things we did to try to figure out if anything was physically wrong with Callie.)

Then, out of the blue sometime in August, her old owner reached out to me on Instagram. She was a very enthusiastic and lovely teenager named Cheyanne and was so excited she had found Callie again, and did I want to see any pictures of them together when they were both younger?

Of course, I said yes. And there was Callie, a kid herself at only 5 or 6 years old, being ridden bareback in the ocean. There she was having a blast in a lesson with her little charge on her back. There she was sticking her head into the drive-through window at a McDonalds. There she was wearing a little purple hat and getting a birthday fruit salad. There she was doing short stirrup at a horse show as her rider beamed with joy and gave her a pat.

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Callie as a baby horse with her first owner, Cheyanne.
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Seeing pictures of a younger Callie with her young rider helped me see her in a different light.

Seeing those pictures fundamentally changed the way I viewed my little horse. Maybe she wasn’t some diamond in the rough destined for “greater” things. Maybe she had a taste of that “greater” life and decided that, actually, she would rather go back to a time when being ridden meant wading bareback into the water and getting dressed up for Halloween.

As I kept struggling to flip some mental switch within her, another thought also popped up: Maybe it’s time to let her go do something else. And as soon as I put that thought out into the universe, the universe took care of the rest.

After a hard ride, I posted on Facebook that maybe it was time to find Callie a home where she could teach lessons and play games. A friend who runs an extremely amazing lesson program in Maryland saw it and immediately reached out. She would love to have Callie, she said. So I started the conversation about paperwork and shipping and getting her checked out by the vet one last time.

Things were very nearly decided when the universe put its foot on the gas: A Colorado-based assistant trainer reached out to a friend of mine asking about any horses ready to step down to a lower level. Of course, my friend knew about my struggles and mentioned Callie. The trainer knew her from the local shows, and loved her and didn’t even need to try her, and when could she pick her up?

The night before the papers were signed, I cried and second-guessed the decision. Maybe she just needed another program, one out in Virginia where I was moving. Maybe I was making a huge mistake.

But then the truer thoughts came through: This wasn’t just something that happened overnight; it was something I had been struggling with for months. Callie was clearly saying something to me, and I needed to listen. A lower-level job would only be a good thing for a horse who suffered through a major injury, even one it recovered fully from. She would be going to an amazing home where I had friends who would keep me updated on her new life, a home that my trainer Liz trusted implicitly. Why would I deny her the chance for a change? Don’t we all need a change sometimes? Hadn’t I ever quit a job?

So the next day, I went to the barn, gave her a bath and one last hand graze as my “Wonderhony,” collected her things, and put her on a trailer to her new Colorado home. Only one of us would be moving to the East Coast.

Am I sad right now? Amazingly sad. She was my “Cal Pal.” I loved and still love her immensely. I wish with everything I have in me that things had turned out differently. But I still know that I made a good choice for her and her future happiness and longevity. I know that I will find a new partner someday, one maybe a bit more suited to my goals of showing again in the adult amateurs or maybe even 3’3” amateur-owners.

Not every horse is a forever horse, even if you will forever be changed by them. And so I will look out for picture updates of my Callie Girl, hopefully getting ridden bareback by a kid in a lesson with glitter in her mane and hoof polish on her toes.


Sophie Coffey grew up riding by the seat of her pants in Virginia hunt country, and she took a flying leap into the top levels of the sport through sheer will and luck after a cold call landed her a job at Hunterdon, Inc. She continued freelancing as a jack-of-all-trades through her 20s for some of the top names in the industry, getting the best education possible in horsemanship and larger life lessons. After leaving the sport to pursue a career in marketing, she returned in 2018 as an adult amateur with a little APHA mare named Callie, who has a passionate love of peppermints and jumping with her knees to her eyeballs. She resides with her increasingly horsey husband and three cats in Boulder, Colorado.

 

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