On June 12th, renowned horse trainer Mark Russell suffered a catastrophic neck injury while hosting a clinic in Massachusetts. The accident occurred as Russell was working a young horse. He was airlifted to a Boston hospital but succumbed to his injuries two days later. He was 64.
I find myself surprised at just how deeply I have been affected by the news of Mark’s death. I never met Mark, never attended one of his clinics, and never even read his work or watched his videos prior to his death. So why do I feel like I lost a brother? My only conclusion is that, in a sense, I did lose a brother.
By all accounts, Mark was everything I aspire to be as a horseman. He was thoughtful, well read, knowledgeable and technically skilled. He was also sensitive to the nature of the horse and foremost concerned for the well-being of the horse standing in front of him. Respected for his skills as a trainer in the way the best horseman are, he was an inspiration to those he touched and opened up a new world of understanding to so many people. The comments on his Facebook page alone speak volumes as to the impact he had on those who met and worked with him. I don’t know if I will ever reach the level he attained as a horseman, but it is what I strive for each time I step into the stirrup.
There are far too few horsemen like Mark Russell left in the world and his departure is a tremendous loss on many levels. My heart goes out to his wife Hela, and to his many friends and students. I also feel for the horses who will never know his gentle touch. I take comfort in the hope his teaching will live on in the work of those to whom he imparted his wisdom. He leaves behind a legacy to be proud of, and after all, what is a better measure of a man?
Mark’s passing serves as a reminder to us all that, as equestrians, we have chosen a lifestyle that is ever perilous. Each time we interact with our horses we run the risk of injury, or death, and we should never forget that. We have opted to interact with a fabulous, awe-inspiring product of millions of years of evolution balanced by thousands of years of domestication and selective breeding, that nevertheless can react suddenly and instinctively, inadvertently destroying us in an ill-fated moment. If a horseman as skilled and experienced as Mark can fall victim to such an accident, so too can any of us.
Part of why I am writing this now is to serve as a reminder to myself to always be in the moment and aware any time I am around horses; to remind myself of the great honor it is that horses allow us to ride them and the responsibility that goes along with it.
So today I say goodbye to a fellow horseman; a kindred spirit; a rare equestrian; a friend I never knew; a bother, not in blood but in spirit. Mark lives on in those he touched.