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to methodically try different training techniques and evaluate the results. I learned, Wendel learned and daily we both walked back to the barn smiling.


AN UNEXPECTED TURN This wonderful time of learning and training came to a crashing halt in June of 2004 when Wendel was only 14 years old. Literally overnight Wendel began to lose his balance and appeared to be suffering neurological changes. The sudden onset of this condition was almost unbelievable. Wendel had been seen by a veterinarian only once for an injury in the eleven years I had owned him. He was the soundest, most physically reliable horse I ever owned. Yet here I was trying to load him in a trailer and fearing for everyone’s safety since he could barely walk! I drove two hours to a veterinary hospital and told them to do whatever was necessary to treat his condition. Wendel looked terrified in the stall and I could see in his eye that he didn’t understand what was happening to his body and mind. He was diagnosed with EPM, put on the latest treatments, given the best possible care and kept under supervision 24 hours a day. I returned to the hospital


a few days later and was utterly heartbroken when I walked towards Wendel’s stall. He was clearly exhausted and confused. The veterinarian said they were treating the condition as aggressively as possible but that his prognosis wasn’t good. A constant stream of thoughts and memories raced through my mind as I tried to process the idea that I might lose Wendel. Through a wash of tears I wrapped my arms around his big, strong neck and told him how sorry I was for not giving him the credit he deserved. Over the years I had described Wendel as an “average” horse. Now, with a lifetime of his experiences coming to a tragic end I told him the same thing I tell everyone now. Wendel was not an average horse; he was an extraordinary horse. During the tearful drive home I realized that I might not ever see Wendel again. Over the next few days the news from the hospital became progressively less hopeful. Wendel kept going down in the stall and then fighting to get back up. Sedation was required to keep him from hurting himself. On Saturday I was scheduled to judge a show and the


© Susan Sexton


organizers couldn’t find a replacement. Returning home, I took one look at my husband Scott’s face and said, “He is gone.” Scott nodded, knowing he was gone. When Wendel left, a piece of me left too.


FOND MEMORIES Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Wendel. Looking for something to ease my pain, Scott had Wendel cremated and brought back home to the farm where he belongs. That gesture did my heart good. I try to be positive and remember how wonderful it was to be able to have a horse that long and build a partnership that took us to Grand Prix. I don’t think many trainers have that opportunity. Still, I miss him so much it hurts. Looking back, Wendel


taught me that a horse’s willingness can overcome some lack of innate ability. Since nothing came easy for him, he taught me patience in my training. After we won the USDF Region 3 championship at Grand Prix, I spent a year riding him for fun, just schooling him without the pressure of competition. It was the most rewarding time I’ve ever had riding dressage. I enjoyed the work at Grand Prix studying with Karl Mikolka and Walter Zettl. Both trainers (especially Mikolka) employed every


training method in the book to help me bring him along. That enhanced my understanding of training which in turn also benefited my students. I brought Wendel along slowly. He never took a lame step. This confirmed my belief that training should be conducted at a pace the horse can support. Since we didn’t rush, he stayed sound. Wendel didn’t love being in the show ring. He did a


lot of what he did for me out of love and trust. We had an extraordinary relationship. In that regard, he showed me how deep a connection could be between horse and rider. My mentor, Karl Mikolka, is fond of one of the old


riding masters’ sayings, “The book for this horse hasn’t been written yet, the only person who can write it is you.” Wendel’s book is finished now and the story is a positive one filled with much success and happiness. One possible title for his book would be “Green to Grand Prix” since that was his training progress while we were together. But I prefer something more accurate and descriptive of Wendel’s journey: “Average to Extraordinary!”


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