How does one make sense out of the senseless? How can one comprehend the incomprehensible? When events turn traumatic and your world tilts on its axis and becomes unrecognizable, how are you supposed to pick up and go on?
The events of the past few days have left the horse world reeling. In the space of a few days, we’ve witnessed the loss of Kellemoi de Pepita, the gallant mare formerly ridden by French show jumping master Michel Robert, to colic, and then three members of the Pollard Eventing team to a tragic trailer accident.
US Pan American Games Gold Medalist Pollard was out of the country when he was informed this past Friday that his trailer had overturned five miles from his home base in Dalton, Georgia. Can anyone imagine the sense of helplessness he felt upon finding out he’d lost his brightest new prospect, the Canadian Warmblood stallion VDL Ulando H. Pollard had only announced his partnership with the horse, who was owned by Ruth Armstrong and had previously been the ride of Canadian eventer Karl Slezak, a few weeks ago.
Now imagine trying to come to grips with that loss, only to be faced with another. The next day Pollard had to make the crushing decision to euthanize Icarus (aka “Fly”), the grey Thoroughbred gelding he co-owned with his wife Nathalie. The 14-year-old gelding with the “heart of gold” had severed the ligament in his right hind fetlock joint, and the extent of the injury was too catastrophic to save him. Icarus had been Nathalie’s ride prior to becoming Michael’s, and losing the personable cribber with the “snappy legs” and aversion for award ceremonies was particularly hard for Nathalie, who recalls loving the big grey the minute she saw him years ago at the Kentucky Horse Park. Michael called his partner a “special soul” and a “family member” and credited the horse with bringing him to the attention of the eventing world.
The grey gelding’s friends at Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event posted this poignant Oscar Wilde quote in tribute to their friend:
“Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light.”
Michael Pollard and Icarus, Rolex 2011
At this point, you can imagine that this man, his wife, and team were reeling. Can any of us imagine the enormity of what they were dealing with?
The miasma of emotions? I certainly can’t. So it was with numb, dumbstruck horror that I read of the Pollard Eventing team’s third tragic loss, that of the up and coming 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse Jude’s Law, who was co-owned by the Pollards and John Bryant.
Jude and Michael cruised to second place in the Jersey Fresh CCI*** earlier this month, and were thought to have a good shot at the US Eventing team for the London Olympics.
On Friday, it had been thought that the easy-going Irish gelding’s injuries were not serious, however on Sunday morning he took a turn for the worse. He was rushed to Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Kentucky where emergency surgery revealed a ruptured cecum (which is part of the large intestine).
Michael Pollard and Jude’s Law at The Fork 2012 CIC***
Certainly no one would blame Michael Pollard for shaking his fists at the sky and demanding “Why?” from any deity that would care to answer. No one would deny him a well deserved pity party and I don’t think anyone would think less of him if he just decided to chuck it all in and say, “This has been enough heartbreak for me, thank you very much, and I’m going to call it a day.”
It’s been said that when one is faced with traumatic events, it’s not uncommon to react with an avalanche of varied emotions and a sense of vulnerability and uncertainty. Well, DUH! Ask Boyd Martin about that. I’m guessing that right about now he’d be one of the only people on the planet who is qualified to say, “Hey, Michael. I get it, mate.”
I’m trying to think if how anyone can summon the resilience to soldier on in the face of such overwhelming tragedy, and that’s the word that gives me the idea. Soldier. It’s Memorial Day here in the US, the holiday where we remember those who died in service to our country. I am by no means equating the Pollard’s tragedy to that faced by those who fought in wars or lost loved ones in battle. What I am saying, albeit rather badly, is that for me, the meaning of this day has always been to remember those who have gone before, and to honor their lives, and to carry forth the lessons we have learned from them.
It’s going to be a long hard slog for Michael, Nathalie, and the rest of his team as they find the resilience to get through this unbelievable difficult time. Somehow, they are going to have dig deep and get up each day and attend to the mundane things that might now seem so trivial. Somehow they will soldier on, and I have no doubt that while they do, while they take care of the horses that are still with them and in need of their care, Team Pollard will honor the memory of those horses that have gone before, and they will honor their lives, and they will carry forth the lessons they learned from those valiant, noble teachers.
RIP Ulando, Fly, and Jude. RIP Pepita. Bless you for the joy you gave, and the lessons you shared. Although your time spent on earth was brief, the impact of it will long be remembered by all you touched.
Michel Robert and Kellemoi de Pepita, 2011 FEI World Cup Geneva