I made one of the hardest decisions of my life last week. My own personal “Sophie’s Choice”—choosing between two beings that I considered sons—with no real perfect answer.

I sold my dear horse Mak.

I know that so many who are reading will never truly understand my decision, but let me begin by saying while I am sad I will no longer get to see the sweet broad cheeks of my boy everyday, or feel his relaxed gallop as he lopes the final three strides to a massive corner, or watch as he playfully romps with his little brother, I know my decision is the right one…the best one. For me, for Nixon, for Mak, and for his new mom Dani.

Months ago I hesitantly started to consider this idea that maybe Nixon would need to stay with me, at least for a bit more time, if not years. Of course, if Doug Payne or Boyd Martin came up to me tomorrow and asked to try him, I would let them. I still think that he is an upper level horse and needs an upper level rider. But for the time being, I am ok. I am the ok rider that he loves, as Nixon has effectively chosen me as his person. He tolerates the rest, but he thinks I am his personal minion. His human. His mom.

Mak is different. I have always said that I love Mak more than Mak loves me, and this still rings true. Mak is happy regardless of who is around him, on him or near him. He is content in his own little stoned world and is just about the easiest horse to be around and on. Whereas Nixon screams “upper level horse”, Mak screams “safe”.

I approached a plethora of people while making this decision. Some agreed I should keep Nixon, some nearly cried when I mentioned selling Mak. But my friend Hayley said something that really resonated with me. She told me she knew she had made the right choice for her horse because of what the horse could do for that future rider. Mak has given me so much confidence; he got me around my first Training, my first 3’6″ jumper course and many other firsts. But now, I have that confidence. Let him pass it onto another young rider, one who might not otherwise get that chance at a horse as great as he.


Mak therapy


But I never could commit. I never hit enter on any sales ads, or put my keystrokes where my mouth was. I lamented to friends and inquired to a few select trainers who I respected and knew had a plenty of good students. Then, a few weeks ago, I commented on another friend’s facebook status. Watching her own personal Sophie’s Choice unravel, I mentioned I was going through the same thing with a tough, but ridiculous talented young horse, and a safe, but maxed-out-at-prelim older horse. One that most likely just wanted to be a hunter.

And then my phone dinged. Within hours of my comment I was contacted by a fellow local eventer inquiring about him. She asked for pictures and video, adding she was asking for a relative of hers—a teenager looking for an equitation horse. She was a beautiful rider, she explained, but did not have the six figure budget of the elite, and maybe my thoroughbred eventing wonder would fit the bill. I sent the information over on Mak, letting them know that he was 8, sound and beautiful, with tight knees and an automatic change. But I also told him that I had done a whopping two hunter shows in our three year courtship, and mostly just to be an ass. Instead of scaring her off, she simply asked when they could come try him.

I went home that night and told Luke that someone was coming to try Mak. He just stared at me with wide eyes and hesitantly asked if I was ok with that. I didn’t care if they tried him. Mak was safe; he was a packer. He at least wouldn’t hurt anyone. And worst case, if I got a bad gut feeling or saw red flags, I could just refuse to sell. No one ever said you have to sell your horse just because someone offers the money.

Then I met Dani and her mom Cindy. I immediately felt at peace, and opened up a bit more in my sales pitch, having previously just grumbled his age and height, hesitant to even let this happen. Dani was quiet and calm, exactly what Mak needs as that is also his spirit. Cindy reminded me so much of my own mom, Carole. She had put her own riding on hold to raise a family and was now watching (behind newspapers) as her daughter did exactly that. And with each fence, each stride down to a big oxer, I watched as Dani’s smile grew, Cindy’s eyes widen and Mak’s ears come forward.


Dani and “MakAttack”. He is in good hands. And so is she.


They left to try a few other horses, mostly warmbloods. All actual hunters. I drove back to the barn thinking there was no way that they would choose my little eventing pony.

But they did.

I got the text a few days ago, asking if they could vet him. They said that with every horse Dani dismounted, she just kept repeating how they weren’t “as cool as Mak.” She acknowledged the process wouldn’t be easy. Her parents sat her down and reminded her that this journey might not be what she had had in mind. He might not end up a AA equitation horse, or a national derby horse. But Dani said she didn’t care. He was FUN. He was safe. She felt ok cantering down to a 3’6″ oxer on him, and that meant more than any fancy pedigree.


Our first Training run. Photo by JJ Sillman


Mak passed his vetting with flying colors and I got the excited text message a few hours later. I called my mom and dissolved into tears. I told her how I knew I was doing the right thing, and that this was the perfect home, but that it didn’t make it any easier. Then I started reasoning my way through my own thoughts.

I am at the same place I was when I was 17, when I quit competing. My horse at the time hated eventing, and I was, at heart, an eventer. Levi could have gone on to be a great little hunter, or a fantastic dressage horse, but instead I forced him into eventing. And he burned out, dissolving me to rubble with him.

I won’t do that to Mak. I won’t do that to myself. I want to be an eventer. I don’t know if that means a 1* or a 4*, but I know that it means higher than Training level. And Mak would have given me a ton of confidence at Training, and maybe Prelim, and then he would have been maxed out. I would have pushed him for more, and in a best case scenario, he would have just told me he was done. In the worst case scenario, he would have lost his amazing confidence. I refuse to do that to a horse I love so much.


Our first day.


So it comes with mixed emotions that I tell all of you Mak will continue on this journey as a hunter.

He will always be the horse who got me through my first Training level event, my transition to graduate school, my uncle’s death. The horse who held my hand and dried my tears through hacks at the end of a bad day. He got my confidence back in eventing, and even more importantly, my confidence back in the thoroughbred. He was my exploring partner. My safe zone. The cause of so many smiles and so many tears. But at the end of the day, he was my best friend.


And now he will be the same for Dani. A shoulder to cry on for an amazing young rider. An escape from fights with parents, heartbreaks and the winding changes in life’s path. As the reassuring safe equine figure, and a solid citizen for Cindy and her husband, allowing the newspapers fall below eye level. That is what is reassuring my broken heart as I load him onto the trailer to head to Middleburg, VA, caressing his wide cheeks as I say goodbye.

But I know that it’s not really goodbye. It’s just “I’ll see you later.” I will always be a part of this magnificent creatures life. As he carries Dani around each course, over each fence, or on each hack, I will be right there alongside him with the three years of rides I have put on him. The massive fences I have schooled him over. The first creek crossing and the first bridge.

I love you Mak. Be good.


Update: Mak is back! Check out the latest chapter from Carleigh and Mak, and read more at A Yankee In Paris.