2005 was a year that most in the horse world can only dream of for my daughter, Lauren Jump (now Lauren Matthews) and her 15 year old Danish Warmblood, Juri Gagarin. The two had won almost every award imaginable: GoodHorseman Foundation Year End High Score PSG Award (71.5%), Sylvia Miller Memorial Prix St. Georges Award, NADWA Year End Champion Adult Amateur at Prix St. Georges and Intermediare-1, Barbara Silverman FEI Musical Freestyle Award, GAIG Region 1 Champion at Intermediare-1 Freestyle and Intermediare 1 Adult Amateur, USDF Year End Reserve Champion Adult Amateur Prix St. Georges and Intermediare-1. Many of you may remember seeing their I-1 Freestyle….set to “Brown-Eyed Girl”, “Don’t Worry – Be Happy”, and “Macarena”. Coming off such a successful year, 2006 looked promising. Juri just needed to learn the piaffe to move up to Grand Prix. His passage and 1 tempis were solid, but the piaffe was a stumbling block….a part of training that this very willing horse could not seem to master. The work was rigorous and hard and in January of 2006, Juri suffered a slight suspensory strain and ended up on stall rest. On February 26, 2006, Juri was found down in his stall by one of our boarders. An hour later, we were on our way to the vet school – presumably to rehydrate him. By 6PM, he was on his way to surgery. I remember all of us in the waiting room – in total disbelief. Then an hour later, the vet coming out to say, “It’s very grave.” I remember asking what his chances of survival were and not being at all prepared for the answer of 40%. The words swirled in my head: “He’s lost 14 feet of small intestine.” “There’s a chance that his intestines won’t wake back up”. “There are so many endotoxins in his body, he will likely founder.” “We’ll just have to take this day by day”. Patience. Coming out of the recovery area, I remember seeing this once magnificent animal trying to walk to his stall on trembling legs. I had to look away. Lauren was walking behind him, coaxing his every step, but with tears running down her face. We had nothing to do but go home and wait.
The following week was touch and go, but by Saturday, Juri was discharged home. By the next Tuesday, he was back in Raleigh with signs and symptoms of colic. This time – an ulcer – probably the culprit all along, due to the stall rest from the suspensory injury. The banamine that he had previously been discharged on was aggravating it. Two days later, Juri was home again with strict feeding and walking instructions……stall rest for two months….then, out in a small paddock if he could tolerate it with no running. He couldn’t….so another month of stall rest before attempting turnout again. Patience.
By late August, 2006, Lauren was allowed to start riding again. She started Juri back with caution – but within a few weeks…she felt the dreaded irregular steps. Dr. Blackwelder confirmed it – reinjury of the suspensory, or perhaps it had never completely healed or was stressed during transport in and out of surgery. Regardless, due to his history, we opted for no stall rest this time – just a prolonged period of pasture rest. As the months passed, I was amazed at how those in our midst seemed to just look right past him as they would come through our barn. Juri’s relevance in the horse world seemed to fade as quickly as the ribbons that adorned his stall.
December 2006, another episode of colic and a trip back to the vet school. I was assured that this was totally unrelated to his original colic….just a “freak thing”….a nephrosplenic entrapment. Fortunately, Juri responded to medical intervention and no surgery was required. Patience.
Spring of 2007, Dr. Blackwelder declared Juri’s suspensory “as good as its going to get”. Lauren began a slow process of rehabbing her partner. All his muscle tone was gone and she knew they had a long road ahead with an uncertain outcome. I watched with pride as Lauren would spend long periods lovingly grooming and tacking her horse up……for a 5 minute ride at the walk. The walking went on for several months, before our current trainer, Joe Eaton agreed that it was time to start the trot work. This process was equally as slow. Lauren was determined that Juri had one shot at a comeback and she owed him the patience and determination that he had shown her during their successful riding career. Late winter, Joe declared that Juri was ready to canter. Lauren expressed her total fear: “I’m afraid I’ll break him”. But with Joe’s encouragement and his familiar statement, “It is what it is”….Lauren and Juri began to add small bits of canter to their daily routine. Weeks turned into months, but as I watched Juri’s work grow stronger and stronger, I watched the magical bond between he and Lauren flourish again. Once he felt the timing was right, Joe encouraged Lauren to get back in the show ring. Juri made his first trip down center line in over 2 and ½ years at NCDCTA Down East Dressage on June 21, 2008. He was 3rd to Jim Koford and Tammy Batts on Saturday and won his class on Sunday. The following weekend, Juri won both his PSG classes at the Summer Highland Fling Show in Tryon. It is not the scores or the placings that are significant to me…..it is the fact that this horse has fought such adversity and traveled an uphill battle to come back and do the will of his partner. One thing that I have learned in the horse world – success is as fleeting as your last show. These fragile yet beautiful creatures that God has entrusted us with can give us the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Cherish every nicker, every trot up to the gate, every ride down center line: you never know when it might be their last.
I can remember my prayers and tears during the weeks of hand walking Juri after his colic surgery……How I said over and over again, that I just wished that I could see him do his freestyle one more time. If all goes to plan, I’ll get my wish in Asheville in early August. Lauren, however, has set a higher and much loftier goal – that of showing Juri at Grand Prix. The piaffe is there now, but the strength is still some months away. Age and his past medical history are definitely against Juri, but with the bond and determination that I have seen between him and Lauren, I’m placing my odds on them. Patience.
So, if you’re ever at a show and hear the familiar strains of “Brown Eyed Girl” over the P.A. system – you’ll know that we’re there. I’ll be the one standing by the end gate – with tears in my eyes. Lauren will be the beautiful young woman, dropping her reins to give her horse a loving pat after their final salute. And Juri……he’ll be the big brown horse looking a bit bug eyed and perhaps scooting sideways…..wondering what all the applause is about. But you’ll know what it’s all about. Patience.
AWARDS 2001 USDF Silver Medalist 2001,2002 SCDCTA First Fiddler/Right Key Memorial Trophy 2002 Region 1 NAYRC Team 2002 BLM Champion Prix St. George Jr/YR 2003 GAIG Region 1 Res. Champion I-1 AA 2003 SCDCTA HOY at I-1 and FEI Musical Freestyle 2003 SCDCTA Bari von Buedingen FEI High Score Trophy 2003 NCDCTA HOY at I-1 and FEI Musical Freestyle 2004 Barbara Silverman FEI Musical Freestyle Award 2004 BLM Champion at I-1 Musical Freestyle 2004 SCDCTA HOY at I-1 and FEI Musical Freestyle 2004 NCDCTA HOY at I-1 and FEI Muscial Freestyle 2005 GoodHorsemen Foundation Year End High Score Award PSG-71.5% 2005 NCDCTA Sylvia Miller Memorial PSG Award 2005 NADWA Year End Champion Prix St. George AA 2005 NADWA Year End Champion I-1 AA 2005 Barbara Silverman FEI Musical Freestyle Award 2005 GAIG Region 1 Champion I-1 Musical Freestyle 2005 GAIG Region 1 Champion I-1 AA 2005 USDF Year End Reserve Champion PSG AA 2005 USDF Year End Reserve Champion I-1 AA