Story by Libby Keenan
When my husband and I returned from training in Europe , like any young couple we were nearly broke. Brian was busy career building and in short order I was raising our son Patrick.
Dreams of riding to the top were put on hold for the most part , since funds were sparse and time was short. We moved about a fair bit with ebb and flow of Brian’s job as a Chemical engineer sales rep whose main job was returning water to a usable state after industrial applications. When my cousin called from Midland Ontario saying she had found a horse she thought we might like I barely knew what to say. At last we agreed to take a weekend and make the trip up to see him.He was stabled at the same barn where my cousin boarded her mare. At$1,000.00 6 year old gelding , Belgian /Tb cross who could it was said “jump to the moon”, all I could think was so what’s wrong with him ? I soon found out!!!
He would not load.
His feet could not be picked out without being kicked halfway down the barn.
It was said the last blacksmith quit after a concussion.
Hmmm, well at least the price was right!
We drove home in virtual silence… lost each in our own thoughts , the cost of board , the chances we could win him over. We went to pick him up 3 weeks later barely having even spoken to each other about it . It was almost as though speaking openly about him might jinx our hopes.
In early dec. 1986 ,on a freezing day ,with a borrowed trailer and icy roads we bought a gigantic beast of a horse who took 4 hours to load and then proceeded to lean into the feed bin of the trailer and push our truck down every hill between Toronto and Windsor. His canon bones measured a ridiculous 13 1/2 inches around , 9 being considered solid. He was close to a metre wide and with full winter coat looked more like a mammoth than a horse.
There were some pretty obvious plusses. His movement was huge and as regular as a metronome, boom ,boom , boom,boom. He did not seem to be mean but when challenged in any way he struck. Picking his feet was suffice to say , not for the timid….but he seemed friendly enough until one tried mounting. Then he was gone in a flash , unbelievable something that bulky could move that fast.What have we done??was the unspoken undertow of every dinner conversation.
“What’s done is done” Brian said one Saturday morning as we headed to the stable, now lets get our money’s worth! I spent the day getting half way on , feeding “Clyde” a cherry lifesaver e every time and then dismounting , by noon I could get my leg across him and by three was riding around the arena in a rising trot that sent a wind rushing by my ears and a thrill through my whole body. Thus began my 23 year love affair with a horse who looked more like a hippo in a tutu than a Dressage Horse.
For several years I evented him from AnnArbor Michigan to Toronto and back. We did not have the funds for any team trials but made it to preliminary and often placed. Interestingly we came in 1st more often than not in the Dressage phase. At almost every event we were in at least one horse was permanently maimed or killed and I began to worry this could happen to Clyde now renamed “Georgian Bay”, it seemed fitting for such a ruggedly built and vast expanse of horse. I started taking more and more Dressage clinics and finally decided to show him at 1st level in the Detroit Horse show.
Incredibly he came in 2nd in a class of 26 , most of those expensive warmbloods who had arrived in 40 ft. chrome trailers ,not the rebuilt model we were towing. That sealed the deal. We stuck with dressage and showed all the way to 3rd level on a horse whose 10 metre circles had to be 9 because with me up we were a metre wide!
At 21 the massive joints began to stiffen and I decided not to push him through fourth level. Until 28 he taught countless girls how to ride ,steered them to their first trophies and was known far and wide as the “Friendly Giant”. He loved nothing better than to drag girls around show grounds on the lead like tether balls while he checked people’s pockets for treats often nudging them from behind , scaring the wits out of them and sending us into fits of laughter.
At 28 he had a few episodes of knuckling in the fetlocks and I knew it was time for him to retire. He became Sunhall’s barn mascot, general treat hound and squiggly nose. No one came to ride without a treat for old Clydie.
One moring last Dec. I went out to feed . It was frigid out . Despite the cold Clyde was soaked wih sweat and exhausted. He clearly had been cast for several hours. With longe lines and leads , three of us pulling and Clyde giving his best efforts , we could not budge him. He had braced his feet on the door , not the wall as per usual ,the door had given way to his weight and there he lay. I could not stand it, running for the phone to get the vet to end it , I ran into the neighbour coming to plough. It was a miracle. With 3 lines around him and several people pushing, while some stood on the front of the tractor bucket to keep the wheels from going up in the air we managed to get his legs under him. With a mighty heave he was up , shaking and soaked but other than scrapes and bruises , apparently all right . I wrapped him in several blankets and fed him bran mashes every 2 hours till night. Slowly he seemed to come around.
I could not face putting him back in the stall , I didn’t trust he could get up and down there. He spent the winter in the arena and the paddocks. Outside during lessons and in for the night and afternoon break. He was healthy and seemed happy but his strength was gone. His teeth were so long there was nothing left to float. Before the mud and bugs came with the Spring and before his weight started slipping….in early March , I held him sobbing as the vet laid him to rest.
I cannot begin to express the gratitude I have for the privilege of being his person. I have posted three photos , one in his show prime , one this past February at 31 and the view from my living room in march to the row of trees where he is buried.
His picture on my profile keeps him going in my heart always as my envoy , bold , kind and noble. Libby