Yet the story of Pat and her beautiful horse Spurgeon, who she calls affectionately Spur, has nothing to do with romanced scenarios, it is the true simple and beautiful story of my good friend Pat whose empathy for animals has rewritten the definition of having a second chance in life.
16 years ago Pat was living on a small hobby farm near the border of Quebec, an old place she rented to be close to nature, to be near her passion of horseback riding; a passion she holds since a very young age. Pat is far from fitting the stereotype of the wealthy, too often unjustifiably snob élite crowd surrounding the equestrian sports. Quite the contrary, Pat lives under the means of most people I know, working as a part-time technician in a hospital. Most of her working time is about confirming that people are no longer responsive; for lack of better words, she is the one declaring them “brain-dead”. It is hard for me to imagine what it does to someone’s spirit to spend your time looking at people’s last moments. I am simply glad that this tragic moment is spent with her; it just makes the situation a better one. Pat is a beautiful woman with an even more beautiful soul.
One day, Pat heard that a horse in a field was left to die. The poor animal could hardly walk on his legs, his feet had been cut with a hatchet rather than being done by a proper blacksmith, hence he had severe abscesses on 3 of them. Not fed, he had lost 500 pounds and was so skinny that you could see all his ribs and bones. Still today, when Pat tells the story, tears run down her cheeks from the images that resurface.
The horse belonged to one of those rich, so-called “horse lovers”, who compete in shows across the country. The animal was left there to die, because he had become useless to him. A horse trader, who was owed money from this rich man, heard that the Animal Protection was coming the day after to end the poor horse’s misery. He decided to pay himself back and took the horse thinking he might still get a few hundred bucks from someone. That someone was Pat, who that day changed Spur’s destiny forever. She pulled her trailer near the field and helped the wounded animal to slowly climb the ramp of her trailer.
For the next year, Pat spent every penny she earned and each minute of her off time trying to heal her new 6-year-old friend despite the fact that most veterinarians did not give Spur much hope; the horse is damaged and is never going to be good for anything if saved. Luckily for both, Pat had a neighbor, Susan Rothgeb, who was a horse trainer. Susan gave a helping hand and all the advice she could to help save the 650 pound skeleton horse.
Pat’s determination had no limits and she managed to get two old rescue horses just to keep Spur company, to be his friends. If the horse was not going to make it, he will have experienced love and friendship. In her heart, Pat needed to make sure that Spur would know that not all men are created equally cruel.
When I first saw Spur, a few weeks after Pat adopted him, I felt sick to my stomach that someone could have neglected this animal so much. Someone supposedly educated, civilized, and of the higher society; someone who over tea breaks must pretend to love horses.
Just before I moved to Singapore in 2007, I spent some time with Pat at her farm. We went horseback riding, her on Spur and me on another tall jack. Spur was then 13 years old with the traits of a winner, the elegance of his branded Oldenburg background and the heart of a champion. Pat and Spur were collecting ribbons in small dressage competition, but both Pat and Spur were considered unworthy of further evolution from the ones controlling the equestrian scene. Pat did not have the kind of money that can bring her to the proper schools where champions are made. All she would hear is that the horse is too small, too old now and too weak to ever amount to anything.
In 2013, Pat heard that Anky Van Grunsven, triple Olympics winner in 2000-2004-2008 and 8 time world champion was going to come to Canada for a 3 day clinic. Only 15 horses would be carefully selected in Canada. On the Spur of the moment, Pat decided to tempt destiny and apply for the clinic. She would in debt herself for a long time to come, but she would have the best experience of her life, she would realize a dream.
The jury examined her application and initially refused her. It was a too familiar selection that would take priorities; only the inner circle would have such privilege. But Pat’s sister Peggie insisted that she should not accept the verdict and go plea her cause to the entourage of Grunsven, so Pat sent a video. Without knowing anything about the amazing story of Spur and Pat, Van Grunsven selected Pat and Spur to be part of her clinic.
You can imagine the surprise on the faces of the 350 people in the audience when they saw this unknown 21-year-old horse with a rider that they never really included in their circle, proudly walk into the arena. Van Grunsven gave a last piece of recommendation to Pat as she walked-in: Half the people will love you & want to see you succeed & the other half will desperately want & wait for you to fail, at the end it does not matter –What matters is that the ones who you love & who love you want the best for you & how in the end it is what you feel in your heart that really counts –so go out & ride & if you make mistakes–so what?? Just learn & improve for next time.
But no mistakes really happened, Spur was fabulous and did the best performance of his life despite his age, the loud noises and crowded audience. Pat was in heaven, living the experience of a lifetime and was so proud of Spur. What a long way Spur has come–from being so abused & SPCA coming to put him down, a day before Pat grabbed him from a trader— to now working with the best dressage rider/coach the world has ever known.
It still seems to be a bit of a fluke that she got in as so many people who have seen her over the years– from her outside vantage point of the dressage world– who never even acknowledged her, suddenly came to congratulate her, saying how surprised to see her in the clinic and then how surprised they were that she did such a great job. I wished we had known you were so good said some of the selection party members, they claimed it would have made a difference at time to enter. Duh!
One woman with her horse worth hundreds of thousands of dollars approached Pat to say that she was a grandmother and thrilled to be in the clinic at her age (56) with her older horse (14). Pat who is 65 with her beautiful Spur (22) simply smiled and kindly congratulated the old lady.