In just a few short days I will mark four months since the loss of my 27 year old Appaloosa gelding Rusty, and I wanted to take a few moments to explain just why this makes me so grateful that I am a photographer.
I owned Rusty for 13 years, and in that time he taught me everything I know about horses and the various methods by which they can remove or otherwise harm our dignity. He was an ex-police horse, ex-lesson horse, ex-gamer, and we believe he was starved at one point in his life as well due to his outrageous behavior at feeding time. He was also quite possibly one of the most skilled horses in the human-projectile-removal process I have ever dealt with. I cannot even begin to count how many times that horse left me to walk home. He understood every trick in the book as to how to free himself from my presence, and put those tricks to use on an almost weekly basis, if not more often. I recall one incident in which he left me in a field roughly half a mile away, only to be led back down the driveway to me by a fellow boarder with the question, “Is this yours?”
The very first time my dad came to watch me ride, Rusty thought it appropriate to refuse the 3 foot fence we had been working on so laboriously in the weeks prior. It was the first time I saw stars after a fall, despite having a helmet, and he stood quietly in front of my father by the fence while he waited for me to remount and try again. As it stands, we did make it over the jump, but I took it to mean that I had become too arrogant in my riding. I guess it’s forbidden in the horse’s mind to look good in front of people who’ve never seen you ride before until you’ve demonstrated how easy it is to fall off, first. In spite of this, he was our go-to horse for giving “pony rides” to all of my horse crazy friends (as long as I or my mother were holding on to him), and he eventually served my roommate the same lessons he had served me when she began riding him regularly. I can’t recall exactly how many times she walked home, but in at least one of them she did so soaked from head to toe in scuzzy pond water.
Rusty was the first and only horse I have ever felt comfortable enough to stand on, go swimming with, ride bareback in a halter miles from home, cross and ride down the road, and truly let move into a gallop. Although my Thoroughbred Rubix is getting there, there is something about the level of sanity Rusty had that makes it difficult to trust any other horse so completely.
That being said, I am proud to say that I have photos of Rusty from almost every year he was with us. He was even part of my 8th grade science fair project and, despite the fact that he thoroughly debunked the theory I was trying to prove, I have priceless video of him doing so.
In June of this year we learned that he had a sarcoid and would need surgery. Being 27 at the time, the vet informed us that the chances of him actually performing the surgery were slim, and the prognosis was poor. When we brought him to the clinic for an exam, the vets were astounded at his condition and opted to complete the surgery right away. We received word a few hours later that he had pulled through “Like a champ,” and he could come home in a couple of days. We were, of course, ecstatic, and my mom took a video of him upon his first turnout into the pasture following the procedure and the horse looked good as new. I promptly went to visit him and took new photos to upload to Facebook, and Lauren photographed he and I together even though it was pouring rain and we were both soaking wet. These pictures have proven precious, as they are the last photos I have of the two of us together.
The weekend of July 6th, my mother was meeting us in Plattsburgh, NY to help us with our second year photographing the Lake Champlain Appaloosa Club’s regional horse show. We were excited because she was also bringing her Appy gelding Joey to show there. When she arrived, my father called and informed us that Rusty had been struck and killed by a vehicle a half mile away after breaking through the wooden fence. Needless to say, it was a heavy blow, after having received such good news on the surgery. On Easter I lost my bird Cade to a blood clot. I had raised her since she was 2 months old and she passed away at the young age of 9. I was devastated, as she had been, like Rusty, my best friend of many years. To lose Rusty while the loss of Cade was still so fresh in my mind made me angry, but I couldn’t deny being thankful I had taken so many photos and videos of both. We later learned that following surgeries, anesthesia can still affect the brain for up to 90 days. It was the vet’s strong belief that Rusty was, essentially, not in the right mind when he was startled, probably by nearby fireworks, and broke through the fence. It was the only explanation that seemed to fit considering how absolutely bombproof this animal had always been.
A few months after photographing LCAC back in 2012, I learned that the photos I had taken of another horse and the little girl she took such good care of at the show were to become just as important. The horse had passed away from a type of cancer, and from what I recall, these were the last photos they had of the two of them at a show.
We never know how much time we have with the ones we love. That being said, I now make a point to take regular photographs of the people and animals around me. Oftentimes I hear that people’s biggest regret following a loss is that they don’t even have any pictures. Take your photographs now. Plan to take them tomorrow, too, but never go a day or a visit with a loved one without taking a photo. They exist to document and beautify the lives we live. When you are elderly and your mind begins to fail you, those images could be the only connection you have to your memories. And never underestimate the power of video–with sound–as well. Photos can only describe so much.