As a writer, it seems only fitting that I write something to honor Philly. After all, many bloggers who have only met her in passing have written articles that have moved me to tears. The #Memories4Millie hashtag stories have moved me to many more tears. Though I don’t know why I say moved me to tears, because since Saturday I have been in tears constantly. The idea that there would be a time where Philly wouldn’t be around never crossed my mind. I turned down spectacular job offers because they were too far from the barn or it would mean leaving her all together. I remember teasing her that she would have to kick me out of the barn and change her phone number to ever get rid of me.
When I came to Philly I was broken in so many ways. I had recently left a working student position that had left me kicked out with no place to go, spent a few months helping a friend out at their farm, had just left a relationship with the person I thought I would marry and I had no idea what I was doing. Oh, and I had a prelim horse who was so damaged that he wouldn’t even jump a cross rail. Philly did what she did best though. She told me I was only the problem because of my mind and that she could fix us. After a few months of hauling in I begged her to be put on the wait list to board at her barn. She told me not to worry about it and a stall would be ready for him the next day. That’s what Philly did. She fixed things, be they people or horses.
My first horse show with the team was something I’ll never forget. I was sitting by my stall cleaning tack. Philly and Courtney walked up to me, handed me a wine cooler and told me to come join the team at the competitors party. We danced, we laughed, I thought all these people are crazy, and I finally felt like maybe I had found a barn family that fit. The rest of the summer I spent training with Philly and growing to love my barn family. Over the fall I grew closer with Philly and everyone. The next summer, we grew even closer. Philly grew from just being a trainer to a mentor, a friend, and a parent.
Months later, I’ll never forget texting her asking her if we could talk. I wanted to drop out of school again, I was having boyfriend problems and I felt like I was drowning. We talked. I cried, she hugged me, and she told me to be fearless, selfish, and to always fulfill my commitments and finish what I started. She told me if I wanted to go pro I was good enough, but I needed to finish my degree. She told me life is too short to be around people who don’t build you up. She only surrounds herself with people who made her feel like she could do anything and I should do the same.
This winter I was blessed to spend a week with her in Aiken then a weekend in Pennsylvania with her. We made memories. We grew even closer. She told me what an idiot I was being in my personal life and that I’m a strong and talented young woman who needed to stop doubting myself and selling myself short in all my pursuits. That’s the thing about Philly. She always built you up but she wasn’t scared to tell you when what you were doing was wrong or stupid. She did it with love and in a way that left you feeling like you had the power to make a change.
Looking back, while it was my desire to go prelim again that prompted me to to make those trips, I can’t feel that life had other plans. Over the last 9 months I’ve never felt closer to Philly, or anyone, than I did then. There was a period of time where Philly would text me motivational quotes and pictures to remind me that I can do it, whatever it was, school, riding, or life in general. Philly put the pieces back together. She fixed my horse, she fixed me, and she became everything to me, my rock, my friend, my mentor, my coach, my parent. The life she built with Pete was my standard for the type of relationship I should want. Her love for Millie and consistent pursuit of her dreams made me realize I did want a family one day and there’s no reason I couldn’t have a family, a career, and become an upper level rider. Philly never had it easy, but she never let the bad luck or hardships get to her. She appreciated every day, gave her heart and soul to her loved ones and was kind to everyone she met. She was the best horseman and most careful rider I have ever met.
It’s easy to pass blame during situations like that. It’s easy to hope that this tragedy will bring change. The thing is, nothing will bring her back and make this pain go away. Nothing will truly change in eventing until riders around the world care less about receiving a qualifying score and “saving” the sport than adding more safety features that may remove a qualifying score but could save a life. Hell, that isn’t even the answer, because at the end of the day, this sport is dangerous and only so much can be done.
Fences can be made safer, but freak accidents happen. Horse sports will never be safe. We all know the inherit risk. There is no blame to be passed around. Philly was one of the best and was having the ride of her life. She was taken too soon from us and her family and no blame or demand for change can make that any different or remove the risk from this sport we love. Her loss is being felt around the world and it will be felt for a lifetime.
For me, I cannot even fathom how to continue without her. I am living moment to moment. What I do know is she lives on in my head. There’s not an hour that goes by where I don’t hear her talking me through this. There’s not an hour where I don’t look at old texts, videos, photos and blogs to remind myself how blessed I was to know her. All I know how to do is kick on. Her colors will become mine and everything I do will be for her, because of her, and with her in my head guiding my way.
Godspeed Philippa, you left the start box and crossed the finish flags in heaven. It was much too soon, but know you, your family, and you’re beautiful daughter are loved more than words could ever do justice for.
Whether you knew her or not, please consider donating to the college fund set up by Joanie Morris for her daughter Millie: Millie’s College Fund.