Like many horse owners, I felt the pain of losing my horse. My American Saddlebred Hunter, Gun Shy’s Skywalker passed away May 2, 2013. He suffered from Guttural Pouch Mycosis (GPM). This fungus attached itself to his arteries. Nothing could be done to save him. GPM is a rare diagnosis. The vet told me it was a “1 in 1,000,000 disease.” That didn’t make it easier.
Luke, as everyone knew him, loved to jump and play; it was hard to see him deteriorate, and I still mourn. He was my friend, my show-ring partner, and he kept all secrets.
Luke started life in Georgia at a Saddlebred farm. He was gaited there and didn’t make the show circuit cut for 5-gaited horses. He went to a dressage farm soon after, and I bought him when he was 6 years old. He was 13 when he died.
We learned everything together. He was my first horse, and although my first memories begin on the back of a chrome-splashed chestnut Saddlebred named White Socks, I never owned a horse of my own—well, except a mean Shetland pony named Poncho when I was 5.
My parents met because of White Socks, married, and moved to the wilds of Northwest Indiana with a Saddlebred in show shoes. I met many other riders in my youth and was fascinated with Hot Shot, a Saddlebred that JUMPED! From the first time I saw his owner, Ruth, decked out in breeches, red jacket, and a helmet, and Hot Shot with a braided mane, I was sold.
It wasn’t until after college and securing a job that I could afford, barely, a horse of my own. That is where Luke finds me. He needed a job, and I needed a friend. It was a hard first few years with bumps and broken bones along the way, but we made it to the Saddlebred National Championships for the Country Pleasure Hunt Seat division in 2011 after winning a championship class in Michigan. We took one 7th place there and scored in the top ten with at least one judge in every other class. We had the best jumps. All the other trainers would come and watch Luke and I school with our hunter-jumper trainer.
I wrote this poem to remember the last time Luke and I rode outside. It was October 2012. “Shadow Days” commemorates the last time he was sound enough to make it out of the barn to the outdoor arena. It was one of those autumnal nights that the air felt light, and he was happy. This is how I remember him now.
I like long shadow days
That stretch and distort time.
The double figures remind me
Of the long nights to come.
I listen to your footfall
Through the sand, arid and crumbling.
The sun casts our momentary portrait
Never to be captured on canvas.
Our second selves lead the way
And ride beside the necks of the naked sunflowers
That bow low as the sun dips below
The line that marks day from night.
We round the final corner
Trying to outrun the darkness.
Our shadows fade,
And like the day, we escape.