In loving memory of Lasting Impression “Jae” May 23, 1983-January 20, 20014
In the spring of 1989, I started my search for a new star. At the age of 13, I was hoping for a horse to go out and compete with my peers who were making the jump up the levels of eventing. My Manny just couldn’t quite do the dressage to get us up there. A family friend told my parents about a stunning chestnut thoroughbred stallion who had just come off the track and was in desperate need of a home. I was reluctant to go look but I did. He was stunning. I took him out and rode him that day and even went for a walk in the woods. He had that “look at me” attitude and amazing presence. I figured I would train him and then resell him to get my star event horse. His price was right and after a quick vet check (mind you the vet was not thrilled about a 13 yr old kid getting a 6 yr old stallion off the track). On June 13, 1989, JJ came home (I was told his racing name was “Northern Star” and I already had a Starman so he needed his name changed! I later found out that his registered name was Northern God!) His nick name at first was JJ (after Bruce Davidson’s famous event horse JJ Babu). I shortened it to Jae years later. I quickly learned life with an OTTB was going to be a challenge. He was gelded with in 2 weeks of coming home (that was an eye opening experience for a 13 yr old and I remember it clearly!!!)
Our journey together progressed quite nicely and he started his eventing career in September of that year at our local ABC event. He was not too keen on jumping everything, esp. horse eating panels but he tried! I remember my instructor at the time Sara Contois was getting married that fall so I was on my own for the first few months. Looking back, I now understand why Sara never really liked Jae and why she was quite upset with my folks for buying me this horse. As a trainer, I would NEVER support a teenager getting an OTTB! As my mom likes to say, I could handle the challenge! Although he was called “crazy and dangerous”, he never scared me + rarely did I hit the ground!
Jae and I traveled through time together with a few bumps in the road. There were times, I got very frustrated and angry with him as I watched my friends off competing with their more experienced horses. A lot of times I hated the question “oh how is little Jae doing”? But persistence, time and a lot of hard work, we pushed through the bucking (he earned the “airs above ground” award at GMHA camp his first year there!), spooking, refusing and all other types of resistances to win at beginner novice at King Oak in 1991 (the first of many USEA ribbons that would follow). That was probably one of my most proud moments with him. He was all mine, my success, no one elses. It was around this time that I realized that no matter what, this horse was mine forever and I could never sell him. We became soulmates.
We had one bad crash over the years when I was 16 getting ready for my B rating. We were playing at our local show to practice courses. It was an awful hot day with incredibly dry hard footing in our favorite field. I made a slight steering mistake and turned too quickly, Jae lost his footing and slipped. Both of us went over backward and the next thing I remember was laying on my back w/ Jae laying on my left leg and somehow I was looking at the bottom of his hoof. I think we were both stunned + scared but I remember pleading with him not to move! I was incredibly fortunate that my Dad turned into a super hero and got between both of us as Jae scrambled to get up without crushing me. It was an awful few hours I’m sure for him as it was for me as I got carted off in an ambulance for the first time in my history. I was fortunate that I walked away with only a bone bruise but my heroic Dad broke 3 ribs. Jae had to go home without me but seemed happy to see me when I got home that night.
Jae saw me through teenage angst, boyfriend troubles, and high school frustrations. He’d tolerate some crying on his shoulders but other times he’d just bite me + tell me to get over it! I chose my college on proximity and the quality of the barn situation for him. Smith College had it all, a friendly barn with in walking distance to campus, close enough to come home on all breaks, and of course a good education for me. I still remember that before I left for orientation, he had been horrible + I threatened to sell him. I left for 3 days and it was the only time my parents ever loaded him in the trailer without me. I met them at the barn and saw a very sad, rejected Jae standing in the corner with his back to my parents with his head down, tail tucked under. When I called to him, he perked up and went galloping head high, tail in the air whinnying to me saying “ oh thank goodness mom, you didn’t sell me!!” That was another very defining moment! We made it through all four years through some very tough times esp seeing my dad battling cancer. Jae was always there for me and as we grew up, we grew closer. I remember the day my first pet Buttons passed away and we were burying him, I went out for some loves + Jae decided to chase Manny kicking out at him and got me right in elbow. Well, that’s one way to get your mind off of sadness…. physical pain! I missed my first A rating attempt because of that kick but we rallied the following year. Jae would appear to be an easy ride but unfortunately the riders who drew him for our switch rides could not figure him out. I felt badly but also proud. We had that connection that no one else could replicate. We did pass and earn our Pony Club A.
We had many fun experiences out competing. He was never consistent in dressage - either we were in the top 4 or the bottom 4. I apologized to him recently for had I been the rider I am now, I’m sure I would have been much more clear on my aides and he would have been more accepting of them. Once we got over the fear of panels in show jumping, he would almost always jump clean. I don’t remember him ever hitting rails! He never got over his water jump issue though. I had an animal communicator ask him why and his reason “If I can’t see the bottom, I don’t know how deep it is + I don’t want you to get hurt” hmm…. well considering the only places he would do water was at GMHA where he could see the bottom, I believed him. He did ⅔ of a preliminary at GMHA and was going into xc in 3rd place but unfortunately he had a close nail in his hoof and was just slightly off so I scratched him before xc. We never did return to that level.
Being at Smith exposed me to the hunter jumper world and after graduating from college, the following winter we were able to go to Florida with the barn I was working for at the time. It was a different world for sure and my first time being so far away from home for 4 months. Jae and I started to figure out the jumper ring and by the time we left for home, we had found our niche! He LOVED to show off especially if he could run and jump. He could turn on a dime and as long as I didn’t get in his way, he wouldn’t touch rails no matter how high the fence. I think we topped off close to four feet in competition. After we returned from Florida, I took a job back in an event barn and it was harder to show him in the jumpers in New England (I was w/o a jumper trainer at the time). Life changed a bit over the next few years when I gave up working in barns and went back to school to teach high school science. Jae started teaching around this time and had a few little kids that I would trust him with. If they weren’t paying attention though, he’d catch them! Ryan also came into my life around this time. He had a slight “in” with the ponies ahead of time since Pete had become my adopted brother riding Manny. Jae took to Ryan right away. He tested him a few times in the saddle and each time Ryan would meet his challenge. Ryan loved to jump him around cross-country and was probably the only other person to do so. Since they both loved to go fast + jump high, they got along very well. I knew there was something special about Ryan just by Jae’s reaction (not to mention my own heart!) Ryan also loved it when he’d buck!
When Jae was 18, he had a puncture wound that needed treatment. My vet decided to listen to his heart before giving him a tranquilizer to clean the wound and discovered his heart murmor. He had NO indication that anything was deteriorating in there as he had just gone to the beach with Ryan on board and galloped at race horse speed for a good mile! He still looked and acted as though he was 10. He went to Tufts to have an ultrasound and they couldn’t believe that he was 18 nor that he had shown no sign of fatigue or exercise intolerance with a grade 5 murmor (basically his aortic valve was flapping in the breeze). They warned me of pending heart failure and he could suffer a heart attack at any time. That hit very hard but I decided to “retire” him from the beach and major field trips (wanted to make sure if he ever did have a heart attack that he could be at home and buried on the farm!) I remember for years after having nightmares that I would wake up to find him down in the paddock. Every morning for the rest of his life, I would cautiously scan the paddock to make sure he was up!
When we moved to NH in 2003, Jae, Manny and Fieval were all in heaven. I had always promised them that I would someday have a big field for them to graze in… well it lasted a few years anyway! Jae always hated to be alone and as the farm grew, I’d whisper “see, now you’ll never be alone + you’ll always have friends with you!” I remember first riding in a rubber footed ring + Jae felt like heaven….. someday I’d tell him… I’ll have a ring with good footing for you to dance in Jae…. another gift I was able to give him.
He became a tremendous asset to my growing teaching program. I knew him so well that I could predict just about every “mis-step or lapse of judgement”. He knew the sound of my voice and if it got stern… I’d see his expression change “ oops Mom.. ok I won’t do that!” He became the barn favorite to ride and his canter was to die for. The most comfortable canter but you had to ask correctly or he wouldn’t do it! He loved to show off his flying changes too! I remember the day that all of a sudden he stopped at a cross rail and he looked so sad.. I said, its ok Jae, those joints had raced, evented, show jumped and all the fun in between.. we never jumped again.
Over the last few years, I’ve watched him change from the “boss” of the paddock to lower man on the totem pole. His eye sight was starting to go and his reaction time had slowed down. I told him it was a bit of karma coming back to get him for all the times he chased Manny as he got older. In the fall of 2013, I brought him in for dinner and noticed his stifle did not look right. He had somehow dislocated it. He did not appear to be in pain (in his past he had always let me know!). He refused to show any discomfort, getting up and down without a problem, galloping and playing with his buddies without any problems. Our beloved vet, Annemarie, told me to prepare for winter and what might come. Jae was determined to stay with me as long as possible. He was officially retired from riding at that point and seemed content to just play in the paddock and nap as often as he’d like. He completely enjoyed his grooming sessions with his friends.
Two weeks before he passed, he took a nap on the ice and couldn’t get up. It was horrifying and I thought the end was near. Baloo helped coach him up with a gentle pat on his back with his hoof. Jae rallied and got his feet under. He was back running and bucking, playing with his new friend Optimus within a day. But I was dreading what was coming. Unfortunately, my worst nightmare came true .. he went down again during a snowstorm on January 18 and I sat with him with his head in my lap for 2 hours. We had a good talk and I prepared to let him go. With the vet on standby, 5 of us got him up on his feet. He was very unsteady but managed to walk into his stall. With 5 blankets on, a dose of banamine and some dinner, he seemed happy and comfortable. I contemplated what was to come and was preparing. I don’t think he was ready to leave this world. On Monday morning, as he went to roll in his fresh bedding, he couldn’t get back on his feet. He stopped trying and lay still. The decision was made. We were able to get him to his feet but I knew he was hiding the pain. Ryan took him out a few times during the day so he could enjoy walking the property and saying his goodbyes to family and friends. He passed peacefully with the same smile on his face that Manny had when his body left me.
Jae was so strong and I didn’t stop to realize how happy he had been the last few years until I was reflecting back. His heart and spirit was just too powerful to slow down. I’m so grateful for the almost 25 years together and for all the memories and tremendous life lessons that he taught me. Jae taught me dedication, persistence, and undying love. He will be forever with me. I do hope that he has reconnected with his best buddy Manny and the love of his life Birdie and is enjoying the sunshine in never-ending grassy fields. Until we meet again Mr. Jae…. keep your head up and watch for your friends. I’ll see you again someday my friend.