By Catherine Madera
There’s no denying horses ignite passion and imagination. With the right horse we dream more, feel more, imagine more than we do alone. A horse is not just a horse, after all. It’s an elegant and noble friend, a catalyst for dreams and fantasies.
Finding and partnering with a special horse is the goal of every equestrian. We long to meet “The One”, that elusive horse of a lifetime. That may sound romantic, but if you’re fortunate to know such a horse you understand they usually come around only once. And in every beloved story and horsey social media group, these individuals should be yours forever.
It could be the horse you grew up with, that special foal you bred, the horse you imported, rescued or just loved at first sight. There are as many stories as there are horsemen and women.
Forget the physical, financial and emotional realities a thousand-pound animal is especially good at revealing. It’s all about the forever home, right? Horses engage our emotions so completely, and passionately, it’s especially hard to part with them.
Leslie Spitzer first met her horse of a lifetime, Auli Farwa, in a photograph. A lifelong equestrian and distance rider, Leslie finished her first 50-mile endurance ride in 1977, while still a teenager. After a long hiatus from the sport she decided to buy a serious prospect in 2000 and get involved again.
She purchased “Far” without ever meeting him in person, relying exclusively on photos, his pedigree, and a finely-honed gut instinct. She remembers vividly the night she got home late from an endurance ride and tiptoed out to the paddock to greet the gangly yearling that had just taken the long ride from British Columbia to Auburn, California.
“He was sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake him. I saw his fluffy chestnut coat and bald face and knew I already deeply loved him.”
It didn’t take Leslie long to discover her instincts were right on the money. Far was not only a strong and athletic colt, he was smart and a pleasure to work with. He was a joyful horse, recalls Spitzer, one she describes as very connected and engaged.
An enduring clown, Far loved to entertain Spitzer, and the entire neighborhood, with his antics. These included throwing a muck bucket over his head and running, blind, through a drainage ditch. He relished any opportunity to play. Captivated, Spitzer fell more deeply in love with him, dreaming of the life they would live together.
“I thoroughly enjoyed his youth; I thought he would be my forever, once-in-a-lifetime horse,” recalls Spitzer. “I have never felt so bonded with a horse. He connected deeply with my soul.”
At 4, Far was started under saddle. One day on the trail he got spooked and Spitzer lost control. He bucked her off not once, but twice. She recalls not only her own fear, but Far’s fear as well. After the unceremonious dumping the gelding returned, nervously nickering as if he didn’t know what happened.
While the scenario is common for a green youngster, Spitzer discovered she couldn’t shake the fear it birthed. She sent Far to two different trainers who worked to increase confidence for both horse and rider. Unfortunately, during a training exercise Far again became frightened and bucked her off for the third time. At this point Spitzer considered the unthinkable.
“I couldn’t get over the fear and was so disappointed in myself. I struggled for a while but decided to sell him. Far was too great of a horse to sit without a job; I couldn’t do that to him. It was a very painful time.”
Indeed, Far was too great of a horse to sit without a job. Leslie Spitzer is both an astute and intuitive horsewoman and was capable of doing what many people cannot: release a talented and deeply loved horse—and the dreams that go with it— to new ownership.
That person, in Far’s case, was endurance competitor Kevin Myers. During his first call inquiring about the horse Myers asked, “Is this horse a Tevis prospect?”
Without missing a beat Spitzer replied, “This horse is a Tevis winner.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Today Auli Farwa has racked up 4635 AERC miles. He has fifteen 100-mile completions; eight of those races are Tevis Cup finishes with four of those finishes in the top 10. And in 2017 Far won the Tevis, just as Spitzer predicted. He was never pulled in 76 rides and is still sound at his current home in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Spitzer is unusually insightful and humble in recalling both her journey with this outstanding athlete and the inevitable what-ifs. She believes, had she overcome her fears, that she and Far would have had a great life together, though she doesn’t feel she could have taken him to the pinnacle of endurance achievement — a Western States Trail Ride win. As she puts it, “I don’t know that I have it in me.”
What made selling Far bearable had quite a bit to do with the enduring friendship she developed with Kevin Myers who honored Spitzer by including her in the horse’s life after the sale. He referred to Far as “our son” and even encouraged Spitzer to ride the gelding in a race, something she eventually did recalling the experience as healing and cathartic.
What would Spitzer say to someone struggling with selling a special horse, one not likely to come around again?
“I would say… you have to put the horse first and your emotions second. Not every horse has to be a superstar (they really don’t care), but sitting in a pasture unused is not fair to a busy horse that wants to go places.”
When I think of Leslie and Far’s story it reminds me there is something more important than ownership. It’s called stewardship— “an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of something,” as Wikipedia describes it. Horses are not a piece of art to hang on the wall (or leave out in your pasture because of finances, fear, or lack of time). They are sentient creatures that crave companionship and enjoy having purpose and activity.
Perhaps it’s time to stop idolizing the sentimental concept of owning horses “forever,” even if they are a forever type of horse. What if, instead, we value our part in a horse’s larger story that, while perhaps abbreviated, is no less critical to its ultimate well being? The only certainty in life is change and since horses cannot make decisions for themselves, I believe we owe them nothing less than caring stewardship. As Leslie discovered, releasing a once-in-a-lifetime horse shared him in a profound and lasting way.
“I am thankful another person got to experience the deep soul connection that Far had to offer. Far brought Kevin pure love and joy and maybe, in the end, that was his biggest life accomplishment and purpose.”