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From The In Gate -- W H Y ? ? ? ?

It’s been a tough year for our close-knit show horse community. While we may be highly competitive, sometimes to the point where our emotions tip the scales against logic, we usually do find a way to pull together through adversity. Like most families going through tragic times it is that unexpected outpour of love and support that softens the blows and then picks us back up, many times stronger than when we fell.

The most recent series of events have left us all dumbfounded. Susan Phillips who lost a son at a very early age is now also gone from our family not having reached her 50th birthday. A year ago Lawrence Carss was enjoying the greatest time of his life putting his young children, Rebecca and Dylan, in the Fancy Turnout class at Lawrenceburg. Not only was he seeing his children participate with Hackney ponies, he was also doing his part to preserve a piece of history within the breed by keeping the class alive. He did not see another Fancy Turnout class as he unexpectedly passed away a few weeks ago.


At the same time we learn of the attacks on five horses stabled at the Double D Ranch, among them World’s Grand Champion CH Wild Eyed and Wicked. In the two weeks since the incident which veterinarians concluded to be injections of a lethal substance, three of the horses have been put down. It is sick, cruel, and sinister that any human being could induce that type of torture on a defenseless animal. The senseless loss of these three horses not only inflicted great pain on their owners, trainer, and caretakers, but also on the Saddlebred community. Wild Eyed and Wicked was well on his way to being one of the greats of the breed and those kind are so few and far between that it hurts everyone for him to be taken in such an unimaginable way.


Just last year a longtime caretaker and friend to many, Leon Morris, lost his second leg. He had adjusted to life after loosing his foot and part of his leg resulting from a freak accident that involved falling off a ladder while changing a light bulb. Fitted with a prosthesis he found he could get around again and it was his extended family at Golden Creek Farms that “convinced” Leon he should be back at the barn. Soon Hackney ponies put a spark back in his life where for quite a while there was only pain.

He was a new man, bragging about his stock, taking great pride in the sparkling harness that went on each champion. Then the unthinkable happened again. More pain. The loss of a second limb and more importantly the zest for life.


Again, with the support of his extended equine family Leon is determined to be back at the horse shows. It will be a challenge, but his heart is as big as any great horse or pony so my money’s on Leon.

Patty Milligan would be the first to tell you she has done a few crazy things in her life. Outgrowing most of those sidebars to life she has been such a driving force to so many junior exhibitor and amateur riders from her Milligan Stables over the last several years. She’s also done more than her share to keep the Saddlebred alive in the Southwest. Patty’s one love away from the horses, horse shows and horse people is motorcycling. Famous for her bike trips with fellow horsemen, Patty had a brush with death last year on one of those trips and was quite lucky to only lose part of a leg.


She too took advantage of today’s medical technology which allows people who have lost limbs to return to pretty much normal lives. With bravery unmatched she was at all the early shows this year showing everyone her "new foot" and kicking their butts with the other one.

A few months ago perhaps the most horrific of all of the past year’s tragedies took place. A young girl buckled in the backseat of a car alongside her younger sister was shot in the head while returning home from a movie with their grandfather. You read about it in the newspapers. See it on television. But you never imagine it could happen to someone in your family. Seven-year-old Rachel Sanchez was that little girl.


Rachel’s mom, Stefanie Lackey Sanchez has been part of our Saddlebred family for most of her life. It is her passion and that passion is greatly supported by her mother Sharyn Lackey. Along with Stefanie's husband, Michael, and Rachel's grandparents the family's faith in everything had to be shaken. This time, however, Rachel’s story turned out to be that of a miracle child. With overwhelming support from her biological and extended families as well as her own strong will Rachel is among us and even attended the Roanoke Valley Horse Show in June, there to give support to her mother who was going back into the ring for the first time since that harrowing evening in April. It would have been so easy to close up and be mad at the world, in fact, they have every right to do so, however, being among their many friends and being around the horses that they so deeply love gave the Sanchez/Lackey families peace and an even greater appreciation for life.

"It wasn't good. The doctors were saying, 'if she makes it.' If she did live, they didn't give her much hope for a normal life," recalled Stefanie.

Through this time Stefanie and her family received, cards, letters and prayers from people all across the spectrum. Some of their closest horse friends were solid rocks for them, but the thing that most amazed the family was the concern from people they didn't know personally.

"For some of the people who took the time to write letters, these were people I very much admired in the ring and wouldn't think they would even know who we were," said Stefanie. "They were very kind and I know everyone's prayers are what pulled Rachel through."

It was the support of many friends and fellow exhibitors that also helped Stefanie get through. She returned to the ring at the Roanoke Valley Show and it marked the return of some kind of normalcy.

"I could finally breath. It was a big relief for me," remembered Stefanie. "Rachel was much more at ease also. She was a little confused because she wanted to cheer but really couldn't see what was going on. She did pick right back up where she left off with many things at the show, however."

The seven-year-old has a long way to go as she is still undergoing physical, occupational and speech therapy. Her vision is still a big question and the doctors say physically there's no reason it shouldn't return but so far it just comes and goes.

"I know how Dena and her family feel right now," added Stefanie. "We couldn't believe something like this could happen to our little girl strapped in her seat belt innocent and defenseless. It's the same with those horses, innocent and defenseless in their stalls."

Sadly life’s lessons usually come hard and unexpected. They know no boundaries - black, white, rich, poor, young or old it just doesn’t matter. And no matter what your religious preference or faith may be, these events rock your world and leave you with many questions.

In the stories above the people who have come back determined that they are going to continue life in a positive manner got there with a great deal of help from the show horse community. It’s going to take that same kind of positive energy and caring to bring these recent victims through the storm.

These situations put many things in perspective. Petty differences, judging decisions that didn’t go our way and canceled flights don’t seem to be so big after all. Instead of ranting and raving at the horse show office because our stalls are 50 yards further than they were last year, we should just be thankful that we are here to enjoy our horses and friends. We’ve turned into such a fast paced society that we unfortunately don’t hang on to these views long enough. It takes another tragic event to put us back in place.

Before you go to bed at night or walk out that door in the morning look your spouse or significant other in the eye and say I love you. Give your horse an extra peppermint and pat it on the head before you leave the barn. Hang up those chaps or walk away from that computer and leave the office (what ever form that might be) early enough to spend some time with your children and read them a bedtime story. Those hugs and longing looks in their eyes will overcome the worst life has to throw at you. And most of all, show some compassion to your fellow man. If we could only stamp out the intentional ill will because there is more than enough hurt that is unexplainable.

After all, you never know what today will bring and as long as we are on this earth we will never know the answer to Why?

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