By Leah Brandon:
As I was on a plane last night coming back from a glorious trip to see the Santa Anita Derby, Atticus Son was fighting for his life.
His loving owner, Joe, had followed all of the vet instructions to the letter. Joe sent me photos of Atticus eating nice green grass while being hand-walked. He had mentioned that he was not looking as well as he should’ve but I believe he didn’t want to worry me on my trip. Behind the scenes, Joe was worried sick and on the phone with vet, Judd Easterwood, Kerry Couch (one of Atticus’ original rescuers in our Piccolos group) and contemplating how to get a horse who was choking so badly, onto the trailer to rush him to Auburn University. He never would’ve made it. Atticus valiantly tried to get better and never fought any of the procedures that were forced on him, but this was just too much.
Atticus was euthanized at the home he had come to love after 5 of his best months of his life. He was surrounded by people who loved him until the very end. Joe and his wife loved him harder in those few short months than he had ever known in his anonymous, buggy-pulling life.
Atticus Son only ran one race that I can find. I saw a second start somewhere when we first rescued him from that kill pen in PA, but it seems to have disappeared, just as he did. Disappeared from the people who were responsible for protecting him. Responsible for giving him the love and care that he deserved. Atticus Son went on to pull Amish buggies for years. This is a horse with a grandsire of Nureyev and his great grand damsire was Secretariat. How in the HELL did this horse get so lost? More importantly, lets not just look at pedigree….let’s look at the horse. He was real, he was willing, he was beautiful, he was delicate, he was just absolutely perfect. And he spoke English.
I am so blessed to be able to look back at the 16 hour day Joe and I spent together riding to Lexington to finally pick up Atticus after quarantine. He had been forgotten by Brookledge and Joe borrowed a stock trailer and away we went. I have photos of their first meeting, I have video of Atticus arriving home for the first time. when Joe is ready, I will pass these along. It’s just too painful right now.
Anyone who has ever loaded a Thoroughbred onto a horse trailer knows there can be all sorts of issues. Not with Atticus. He never even looked around or paused as he walked onto the little trailer without breaking his gait. We were so careful with him as we didn’t want him to be scared all by himself in the back on a long ride home. At first, we had him tied, but then I thought better of it and let him have free movement in the little stall in the front. He was so hungry….he ate most of his haynet before we left Kentucky. Every stop, I would toss another flake of the most beautiful Alfalfa to him and he would gobble it up.
I wanted to stop at Kentucky Downs and blanket him. I remember Joe was hesitant, but it was getting cold. I finally asked him….what was he worried about? “Getting him back in the trailer”. LOL. When you have a new horse, you never know. I remembered that “Old Friends” has a satellite sanctuary right next to Kentucky Downs and should something go awry, I thought we could always enlist help.
We arrived too late and no one was there. I told Joe, no worries, I can handle this. ( I really couldn’t had something gone wrong, but I needed to say that so he would pull over.) All that worry for nothing. He walked off without turning a hair, we put his blanket on, he walked right back on like he’d done it a thousand times. He was solid, he was not the slightest bit spooky, he was perfect.
When we arrived home, Joes other horses were very excited to see this new addition. Atticus Son couldn’t have cared less. He walked off the trailer in the dark, following Joe like he’d done it a thousand times. I remember thinking to myself as I followed them….filming all the way….this was meant to be. Atticus stopped at the water trough, drank heavily and then was led into his stall packed with fresh bedding. He was home. He was happy, he was right where he should’ve been. This was December 2nd. The eve of the year anniversary where I had said goodbye to my beloved horse, Chief. I remember thinking that this weekend was going to be a terrible weekend that I was going to spend mourning the loss that I still hadn’t come to grips with. Atticus Son turned it into a celebration instead.
On December 8th, a guy lost control in the snow and slammed head-on into my car, totaling both vehicles and sending me to months of rehab. I wasn’t able to drive up to Joes again and see Atticus Son. Time I will never get back. Instead, the only other precious moments I spent time with him were in the hospital thinking he was recovering, watching my vet do all he could. It was not to be, even though it appeared that he would once again run with his friends and his girlfriend at his home that he came to adore.
If we are lucky in this life, we are blessed with that one special horse. If I came to love this big, sweet boy in just the short time that I got to spend with him, I can’t imagine how hard this loss is for Joe. He knew how special Atticus was and treated him like a king every day, all day. Please keep Joe and Sherrie in your prayers as this is the ultimate injustice to have to suffer.
I want to express my heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped Atticus be free from the kill pen and experience the kind of life that he deserved….even though the final chapter was brief. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to his vet bills and you can rest assured that if he could’ve been saved, he would’ve been. This is the time when we question everything while deep down knowing we did everything we could. Why wasn’t he given a better life from the start? Why was he abandoned by people who should’ve stood by him? Why was he taken so soon after his better life started? Why? Why? Why?
We will never know the answers to the questions that stab us in the heart, just as we will never know why a beautiful newborn foal is taken, even with the best of care and unlimited monies to save them. This is the awful price we pay for rescuing. The terrible payment for loving. The balance due that co-exists simultaneously with the gift of horses. We can never have one without the other.
#RIP Atticus Son and run free with all the greats that came before you. You are as great as the best of them. We will remember you always…as perfect.
Leah Brandon (@Leahbrandon)