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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Farewell to a Friend

We all have that special horse which touches us.  As a gambler, it may be the one horse you made a killing on betting; a horse that showed incredible guts on the race track.  A horse that you may have owned or had that moment in time where the two of you met and made that special connection; it doesn't even have to be a horse that raced.  I believe horse players are horse lovers; regardless of what may be shouted during a race; deep down you want that horse to be well taken care of, not to suffer.

I knew such a horse.  His name was Clyde.  Those of you who read the article on the USTA website know that Clyde was euthanized on March 2, unable to continue his fight against Melanoma at the age of 29.  Everything that article talked about was true, but I would like to share my story.

In 2009, years of illness and injury finally took its toll and I was confined to a wheelchair whenever I went outside for any length of time.  Needless to say, it was a tough situation to handle; it still is.  However, I love racing at Historic Track so my wife Sheri made a point of making sure I would get to go to Goshen that year, requesting handicapped seats so I could watch the races.

I believe it was July3, 2009 when Clyde was having his retirement ceremony from outriding at Goshen.  Jodi Riedel, Clyde's owner of many years (and standardbred trainer) had decided it was time for Clyde to enjoy life as a pensioner; no more chasing loose horses for him.  After the retirement ceremony, it was announced that Clyde would be available for pictures at the end of the day's races.  So the last race concluded and we were on our way out the exit.  Sheri asked me if I wanted to meet Clyde and realizing a bunch of kids were having their pictures taken with him, I said "No, it is for kids", but that was not going to stop Sheri.  So Sheri walked over to Jody and asked her I could meet Clyde even if I was in a wheelchair.  Jodi said, "Of course" so Sheri pushed me over to meet Clyde.

So Clyde and I met, and without any prompting or treats, Clyde came over to me and we literally were face to face; his face touching mine.  For a brief moment, all was right in the world.  Clyde and I made a connection and the rest of the world was shut out.  What wheelchair?  It was as if I was healed for a brief moment.  So we left the races that day and went home, I was thrilled I got to meet Clyde, such a majestic animal.

Admittedly, after a few days, the aura of meeting Clyde faded and things went back into the typical routine.  Then came the December 2009, edition of Hoof Beats along with the annual feature known as the Golden Hoof Awards. I was reading that particular section and lo and behold I came upon this picture.


Clyde and me sharing a moment.  Photo by Ellen Harvey, Harness Racing Communications.  Used with the permission of the USTA

There was a picture of Clyde and me sharing that special moment.  I then realized how deep that moment with Clyde was.  It was as if Clyde sent me a message saying all will be well and I obviously was hit with a moment of complete bliss and contentment with my situation that day.  Needless to say,  I immediately ordered a couple of prints of this photo for home.  Whenever I feel low, I would just take a look up at a picture of Clyde and me and that moment of peace would return to me once again.

The following year, Sheri and I attended the races at Goshen once again and at the end of day, Jody ran us down; recognizing me from the photo in December's HoofBeats.  She asked if we were coming back during the week and we mentioned we would be back the next day.  Jodi made sure to remind us to stop by and visit with Clyde.  

So the next day we came, carrots in hand, and once again I came to see Clyde while I was in my wheelchair.  But first Clyde was visiting with a group of girls Ellen Harvey brought in to see Clyde in his stall.  The girls had a great time meeting and learning about Clyde.  Once the girls left, we rolled up to see my buddy and it was as if he remembered me.  After a few carrots, we left not knowing this would be the last time we would see Clyde.

So this morning I sit here, shedding a few tears learning of Clyde's passing.  As much as I realize Clyde will no longer be suffering and will be running free, waiting for Jodi on the other side, it feels like I lost a best friend.  Fortunately, I have those pictures of Clyde and me to look at and recall the time an Appaloosa brought a moment of peace and contentment to me when it was most needed.  Visiting Historic Track during their grand circuit meeting this year will be somewhat sad when I see Clyde missing from his stall, but as long as those pictures remain to refresh my memory, Clyde's spirit lives on in me and I can always go back to that summer day in July of 2009.

So long good friend.  May you rest in peace and your memory bring smiles to Jodi, and all the others who had the honor of meeting you.