Friday, March 1, 2013

Paying Tribute to Greatness

To be lucky enough to ride and own a truly great horse is a blessing that may only come to a person once in a lifetime.  And if you are even luckier still, you might be able to have that horse its whole life, seeing their kind soul through every stage, from rambunctious youngster to eager partner to seasoned pro to kind and benevolent golden years.  I was that lucky and that blessed.  I owned and rode a beautiful black Half-Arabian/National Show Horse gelding named Jazz Festival +/ from the age of 2 until he died last August, 2012,  at the age of 29.  I'd like to pay tribute to his amazing life and share a bit of him with you.

Many of you know me from my efforts in breeding Quarter Horse reining horses, but I grew up showing Arabians and Half-Arabians, in western, English, sidesaddle, costume, driving and in hand.  At the time that I first met Jazz at Clinton Arabians where he had been bred, he was a gangly, long-legged two yr old, and I was an equally gangly and awkward 14 yr old.  Jazz was sired by the great NSH sire Islamorada, a Bask*son, and out of a lovely Saddlebred mare named Festival Music.  He really wasn't much to look at, at that stage, all legs, a long skinny neck and a very narrow body.  But as soon as I rode him, I KNEW.  By that time, I had ridden my share of English horses, and loved the really forward ones, and was mesmerized by flat-saddle type horses that could really move.  Sitting on him the first time, I was in awe of how his neck came straight up out of his shoulder, how he could sit waaaay back on his haunches and collect up.  And even without shoes on, he had a natural lift that hinted at what he was capable of.  He was so much fun!  And wild too!  He was like riding a rubber 2 x 4!  Better have a velcro seat to stick with him!

 Jazz as a foal, with his dam, Festival Music.

My family and I had been looking for a horse to 'move up' on.  My previous English horse was solid as a rock, but more of a babysitter, and we were ready for more shows and competition.  After riding several prospects at different trainer's barns, I knew Jazz was the one.  We just clicked, and we looked right together.  It wasn't an easy sell on my parents though; first of all, we had never purchased a 'Big' horse before, and second, they weren't at all sure that this string bean of a gelding was everything he was purported to be.  After some convincing, my parents relented, and I can confidently say, there were never any regrets.

 Showing Jazz in a Pro/Am class with Vicki Humphrey.

Jazz Festival and I made our debut at the spring shows in 1986, one of which being the prestigious Buckeye Show in Ohio, where we won our first Championship.  For the next four years I showed him all over the US and Canada, earning countless show championships, regional championships, two National Championships and a Reserve National Championship, in English Pleasure, both in Open with my trainer Vicki Humphrey and in Junior with me, and Pleasure Driving.  In the show ring, he was stunning to look at, gloriously black and shiny, long tail streaming behind, ears up, happy in his element.  This was a horse that LOVED his job, loved to go to shows, loved to be fussed over, loved to hear applause.  He loved applause so much that sometimes we would try to recreate the effect at home, assembling a crowd to cheer him on.  He would positively puff up when he heard whoops and hollers!  He stood about 15.3 or 16 hands, but cheer for him and he became a 17 hand giant!

After I went to college, Jazz started a new career as a Five Gaited horse,which he took to very easily and naturally.  Again, he was dazzling to watch - his rack was brilliant.  He ended up earning another National Championship and another Reserve National Championship with Vicki and with my sister Ashley.  At the end of his show career, Jazz had five National titles, a Legion of Supreme Honor (which is denoted by the +/ after his name), was a top all-time money earner, and was inducted into the National Show Horse Hall of Fame.

I got to show him Five Gaited a couple of times too.  FUN!

When I finished college, I missed my sweet horse and brought him to Arizona, where I lived.  While he was retired from the show ring, you can't just stop riding a horse that loves to be ridden that much.  So he became a lesson horse of the highest order, helping me to teach kids and adults to ride.  He was absolutely the favorite in the barn among the students; he was steady, he was patient, he wasn't scared of anything, and he was so affectionate, like a silly puppy.  He would do things like pull your hat off your head or even try to untie your shoes!  And if you really needed a horsey hug, he would let you wrap your arms fully around his head and hold him as long as you needed to.  Every person who walked into the barn got a nicker from Jazz.

 With one of his beloved students.  Photo by M. Burge.

Over the 27 years that I shared with Jazz, we weathered so many changes, so many victories and disappointments, and so many miles!  One of the biggest changes to our family happened in 2005 and 2007, when my two sons were born.  Jazz loved the boys; he would nuzzle them and gently accept treats from their tiny hands, and became their riding horse when they were big enough to sit up on him.  His gentleness and steadiness made the best kind of impression on them - it helped light the fire of horse-love that I hope will burn in their hearts their whole lives, like it has in mine.  His happy expression when he saw them let me know that he was as happy as they were with the arrangement.

Sadly, horses don't live as long as we do.  Or, they don't live as long as we wish they could.  Last August, Jazz colicked, most likely from a fatty tumor strangulating his intestine, and despite our vet's best efforts, there was nothing that could be done.  We chose to end his suffering at home, where he was happy and calm and near his best friends.  It was one of the worst moments of my life.  I could never describe adequately how sad I was, and still am, at his sudden absence, after spending so many years with him.  But as my wise niece reminds me, "Don't be sad it's over, be grateful it happened."  And I am so grateful.  That beautiful horse taught me so much, and elevated my mind as to what was possible for me.  He taught me to never give up, to believe in myself and face life with your ears up and a twinkle in your eye.  He was a once-in-a-lifetime horse, and will never be forgotten.

The last photo of our sweet Jazz, taken just 2 days before he passed.  That is one happy boy up there on his back!