We had to say our goodbyes to another friend last week, Bergie. It was a planned goodbye which in some ways makes it easier as you have time to prepare and accept, and in other ways makes it harder because you know it is coming.
Bergie was a very lucky horse. He spent 23 of his 29 years being owned by the same family. His family loved him dearly and he loved them too. All three family members, mom, dad and daughter, are professionals and they all rode and competed on Bergie at various times in his long career as a dressage horse.
Bergie as he would want to be remembered. Dirty, ears pricked and a mischievous expression.
He was originally purchased by mom to be her dressage horse. She first saw Bergie at a dressage show where she was scribing for a judge. She remembered watching this big, gray gelding go across the diagonal to do a trot lengthening. As she admired his big, booming trot she watched him power trot his way right out of the arena. Bergie truly believed that you never got a second chance to make a first impression! She saw the memorable gelding with the big trot at a couple more shows and remembered him showing off some unscheduled airs above the ground in addition to showing off his fantastic gaits.
Bergie with his mom
Bergie's owner at the time eventually began taking lessons with her husband so they had the opportunity to get to know Bergie even more. Bergie's owner ended up moving several states away and they didn't see him again for awhile. But then he came back into their lives again as he was sent to them to be sold. Bergie's former owner had to sell him due to personal reasons and he found his way back into their lives.
Bergie showing with his dad
Bergie's big trot made it hard to sit for the typical amateur dressage rider so they didn't get him sold right away. His future mom kept liking him more and more but she could not afford him. Sadly her brother passed away and left her a small insurance policy. Her husband encouraged her to take the insurance money and buy Bergie. The proceeds from the insurance policy were not enough to meet his asking price. She told Bergie's owner that she would love to buy him, that "XX" was what she could afford to pay, and that "if she ever sold him for a bazillion dollars she would share the proceeds of the sale." Bergie's owner responded with "how much is a bazillion dollars?" and Bergie's mom had a new horse.
Bergie with his mom's daughter who also competed him in the Young Riders dressage classes. I love this picture for so many reasons, the biggest one being it shows he was more than just a competition vehicle. Bergie was a family member and a part of so many of their memories.
Bergie with his mom's daughter at a horse show. She gave him a kiss and begged him to stay clean, not something Bergie was known for.
At the time neither Bergie or his mom realized that he was going to be a part of their family for the next 23 years. Bergie continued to move up the levels in dressage with his mom. He also turned into something of a comeback kid. They thought his career was over when he was diagnosed with bi-lateral navicular, and again when he had EPM. At one point Bergie's mom thought he had been permanently retired. Then one day she walked out and saw her husband giving their daughter a lesson on Bergie and they were cantering around doing tempi changes. So much for retirement. Bergie and her daughter went on to compete successfully together.
Bergie and his friend Oskar having a grooming session
At one point Bergie was named to the Developing List but his mom was told that he would probably never learn to Piaffe. Eventually he did learn to Piaffe, however he did it in his own Bergie way. His family was living on a large breeding and training facility and his mom would ride him out in the alleys between the fields where the young horses lived. The young horses would get excited about the new horse outside their pasture and start running around. This would get Bergie energized and excited and his mom channeled all of that energy and the horse that would never learn to Piaffe learned to Piaffe. He went down the centerline of his first Grand Prix dressage test when he was 19 years old, after he had been "retired" more than once.
Bergie caked in mud and happy
A very dirty Bergie grazing with his friend Stormy
A very dirty Bergie with Johnny
Are you seeing a theme in Bergie's pictures? Bergie getting dirty . . .
. . . and making sure he got his face as well. Thoroughness with dirt, mud, manure and grass stains was very important to Bergie.
Eventually Bergie was fully retired. After he had been officially retired for a few years he made his way to our farm two years ago. Although Bergie was 27 years old at the time he acted like he was 7. His mom told us of Bergie's love of mud, dirt, wet grass and manure and his expertise at coating himself in them. We had plenty of opportunities to admire Bergie's artistic talents as he presented himself with a new version of Bergie almost every day. He was like a heat seaking missile when it came to covering himself in any medium that would leave a stain on him.
Bergie and Rocky enjoying some grass together
His mom also warned us that if Bergie didn't want to be caught he wasn't going to be caught. We had plenty of experience with that side of Bergie as well. We finally were able to come to a mutual agreement with Bergie about being caught. As long as we did whatever we needed to do with him in the pasture, be it grooming or bathing, seeing the farrier or the vet, anything at all, as long as we did everything with him in the pasture he would let us catch him any time with no issues.
The only time we ever violated our agreement with Bergie was once a year in the spring. Bergie had Cushings/PPID and he needed to be body clipped each spring. I always did this in the barn as I didn't want one of his pasture mates to decide to grab the clipper cords in the pasture. Bergie made sure we knew we had not kept up our end of the agreement for a couple of weeks after our barn body clipping sessions. I would tell him I was sorry over and over and that I wouldn't do it again (until next year anyway) and eventually, after he felt we had been thoroughly reprimanded and reminded that we had failed to hold up our end of the agreement, he would allow us to catch him anytime again.
Bergie had a lot of presence even when he was walking through his pasture
One thing I am sure Bergie wasn't expecting when he came to our farm was that he would have his very own paparazzi. One of his pasture mates, Stormy, immediately became obsessed with Bergie once he joined their group. Although Stormy wasn't always next to Bergie he always knew where Bergie was and what he was doing. So we jokingly referred to Stormy as Bergie's very own paparazzi.
Bergie and his friend/paparazzi Stormy
Bergie and Stormy
Stormy watching Bergie coat himself in dust
Unfortunately some of Bergie's health issues that had been manageable started catching up with him in the last few months. He started very slowly and subtly declining, but unfortunately all the things that could be done to manage his health were already being done and we were out of options. We made the decision with his family to let Bergie enjoy the beautiful fall weather, and then we would pick a perfect day and let him go peacefully and with dignity.
That day came last week. Jason and I had been going on with our lives and pushing back "that day" as long as possible. Finally the time came when we needed to step up and give Bergie the passing he deserved while the weather was still perfect and he was still happy and not in crisis.
I felt guilty as I walked up to Bergie and caught him with no issues. I wondered if he would have held up his end of the agreement if he knew why I was catching him. But as I thought about it I think Bergie did know. Something had changed in the herd dynamics in the last couple of days before Bergie passed. Stormy was no longer stalking him and accounting for his every move. He was still part of the group but it was different that Stormy was allowing him so much freedom. I think Bergie and the other horses knew it was his time, and he accepted his passing with dignity.
Bergie was of course coated in dirt which was only fitting. I think Bergie would have seen it as a permanent insult to his legacy if he had been groomed and bathed in his final hours. We let him carry on with his business of grazing while the vet sedated and then euthanized him. He passed quietly with a mouthful of grass while his friends grazed nearby. As his mom said there is now a new star in the sky, and that if you want to find Bergie's star just look for the one with the slightly green manure-ish tint to it.
Rest in peace Bergie, may your star be forever bright and slightly green.
grazing with his friends
Bergie and friends making their way across their pasture
Stormy and Bergie
Clayton and Bergie
grooming with Donovan
grooming with Johnny
grazing with Kennedy
napping in the sun
grazing with Clayton and Kennedy
Bergie leading Kennedy and Oskar through the pasture
hanging out with Johnny