Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Midnight Handoff

In my years of working at the festival, I've met only one horse who seemed truly born to be a joust horse, seemed not only to understand his work but to thrive on it. That made him completely unique in my estimation. Rather than performing as a half-resigned automaton grinding through a changeless routine, K was a showman who knew how to reach the crowd every bit as dramatically as his dashing, theatrical rider did. He loved his work.

He turned 24 earlier this year. Over the horizon came the glimmer of retirement, perhaps at summer's end. At least a slowdown to smaller shows and school gigs. K's owner began searching for a second horse, a successor of sorts, who, with time, might learn to fill the shoes of big K. He found that horse yesterday, a seven-year-old Appendix gelding bright with potential, and trailered him to the fair. Turned loose in the big north pasture where K had been knee deep in grass, solitary and relaxing, the new horse set out across the hill to meet him. It seems they hit it off instantly, running, snorting, playing through dusk, their hoofbeats echoing long after dark.

Somewhere in the night, big K decided he'd found the heir it seems he'd been searching for, too, and handed off the gig. His family went out to the pasture this morning to feed the two and found him dead, fallen mid-stride, the new horse standing watch over him. Some of us thought instantly of the wisdom of horses, to know when it is time to go, to know they can lay down without the bonds of society tethering them to life when they are tired. Heartbroken, K's family faced their new horse in the intimacy of grief. He touched their shoulders and stayed close as they circled around K, curling low in the grass where he lay, the one in a million who made it look like anything but work. He was a star, a magician who breathed dynamic life into the myth of the warhorse, show after show after show. That was K, and he will be sorely missed.