Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ave Atque Vale

"Hail and Farewell"

March 31st, 2011 we lost Raffie*, Salem's owner and my friend for over twenty years. The past month has been a roller coaster of emotions for all involved, and her death has left us reeling.

So many things have come out about her life that nobody knew anything about. And while we're all shocked by the cloud that hangs over our image of who she was, I choose to look past the darkness that she kept hidden and celebrate the light, the goodness that makes up my memories of her.

Raffie read voraciously, was a Disney fanatic, and possessed a wealth of equine knowledge. She had the charming quirk of always saying flustrated, apparently a combo of flustered and frustrated, something that used to drive me crazy but that I now look at as one of her unique little quirks that made her who she was. She was a hair stylist, a horse-clipper, and eventually a full-time riding instructor. And, even though the woman was 5' on a tall day, she insisted on owning only the most gigantic horses she could possibly find; Gizmo, Pumkin, KC, and Salem were all at least 17 hands and built like tanks. And although Raffie spent over thirty years at hunter/jumper barns, her real equine passion was dressage. I remember watching her up on KC doing shoulders-in, haunches-in, and side-passes and being in absolute awe.

Sometimes, after I had spent a long day at the barn, Raffie and I would nip off to TGI Friday's and share a plate of potato skins. Other days, she would stay and give me some pointers while I rode whichever horse I happened to be working with at the time. I was particularly grateful for her help the summer before my senior year of high school, when my friend Joi and I started Bailey, a 4-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, under saddle. At the end of the summer, Joi and I were just barely trotting Bailey, and Joi had to leave for college; I was left to finish his training myself. There were countless nights when Raffie patiently sat in the ring, schooling us on ten-meter circles, serpentines, spirals, and cavaletties. I still vividly remember one day when it was pouring rain and she stayed outside and watched me put Bailey through his paces; she dragged and set up poles for us and got completely soaked while she watched over us and made sure we were safe.

Another time, we were stuck in the dusty indoor arena and, with Raffie's encouragement, I got Bailey to canter for the first time; it was completely unbalanced, strung-out and all over the place, but I was thrilled. And it wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Raffie's quiet coaching.  All these times, Raff was under no obligation to stay and help me; at that point, she wasn't working at the barn and her only payment was my gratitude. But with her help, I took Bailey from barely-trotting to jumping small fences; to this day, Bailey is a trusted school horse and I could not have done it without Raffie's assistance.

The love of Raffie's life was Stocking Stuffer (barn name "Pumpkin"), a giant bay Cleveland Bay gelding who 98% of the time was a patient packer push-button horse and 2% of the time was a runaway freight train with no breaks or steering who would bulldoze through anything/anyone in his path (me included). With Pumkin, Raffie cliniced with some of the greats like Sally Swift and Bruce Davidson. He was truly her "heart horse," the culmination of her lifelong horsey dreams and the touchstone by which she measured all other horses. When Pumkin developed cancer and had to be put to sleep, I know that a piece of Raffie's heart went with him.

A day after I heard the news, I was talking to my old trainer Ken, someone who has known Raffie for most of her life. I was upset that I wouldn't be able to fly up to Chicago for Raffie's memorial service. Ken answered, "Well, Raffie obviously cared about Salem very much; so, by taking him in and making sure he's cared for, you're honoring her." (While he used to have a bit of a gruff exterior, Ken is definitely softening as he gets older; sometimes he says the sweetest, most touching things!) I hadn't thought of that, but I certainly will do my best to honor her memory.

I only hope that Raffie is finally at peace, reunited with Pumkin and KC. She will be missed.

*Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while might be confused, as I used to refer to Raff as "Ruby." I'm not sure why, but Raffie wanted me to give her a pseudonym. However, I felt that it would be inappropriate to write about my memories of her without using her real name (which is short for Rafaela).


Kristen Eleni Shellenbarger said...

Nice memories to have and YES, by taking Salem and giving him the proper home,love,training he needs is the ultimate 'thank you.'
I can't wait to see Salem's face on your blog again!

Alana said...

I am so sorry for the loss of your friend, but taking care of Salem sounds like exactly what she would want!
Remember the good, never the bad, and I look forward to hearing of the adventures of you and Salem again.

SprinklerBandit said...

I'm sure she'd be glad to have Salem come back to you--you'll take amazing care of him.

RIP Raffie.

smazourek said...


eventer79 said...

A toast to dear departed friends. And I know that she would be as glad as I am that Salem gets to end up safe with you. You know, as an animal lover, the most meaningful thing you can do is make sure someone's beloved critters are safe and well.