for Pat Mulligan...
Even as a very young rider, I knew that I wanted to work with horses for the rest of my life. I always had a deep desire to be a part of the process of developing horses into something great and for years, I was blessed with the ability to do just that.
This all changed a few years ago, when my husband joined the United States Marine Corps. We knew that we could be stationed anywhere in the world, so while he was away in training, I campaigned and sold the horses that I owned and made arrangements for my clients. Soon, we were sent far from home and my life was instantly changed. Our early circumstances made it impossible for me to ride, but after my equine interlude, I was approached for lessons in our new area. I had given lessons for years and had nice group of clients up north, but I was primarily a rider. Most of my passion had been geared towards riding, training and competing horses, but this was all about to change.
I soon began giving lessons to the most wonderful group of horsemen and horsewomen near our new home. Up until this time, I had always thought that I preferred to working with horses over humans. There was no good reasoning behind this belief, I think it was just the fact that I had more experience in training horses over humans. For the most part, your training relationship with a horse is simple, you are either making progress or you are not, but the relationships that I have developed with my human clients are much more complex than this.
The forty five minutes that I spend with my clients in the arena is only one element of our partnership. When two unique individuals partner together for the purpose of accomplishing goals, both short term and long, reasonable and lofty, small and large, with a living, breathing animal, you are bound to get close to each other. Just how close, depends on the people involved and I believe (unbiasedly, of course) that I have been blessed with some very special people.
I have always strived to be the best that I can be. I believe that conducting myself in a professional manner is very important. My clients look to me for direction, guidance and counsel in regards to many aspects of riding, training and care for their horses. It is paramount that I give them advice that not only helps them to feel accomplished today, but will continue to make them successful down the road. I want them to be able to trust me with the small decisions and the big ones, when they are in the saddle or when I am and with their personal goals and dreams for the future.
A relationship like this typically does not remain in the arena. For my personal clients, I prefer that we warm-up together, so the first ten or fifteen minutes of every lesson is done walking and talking. Sometimes, we talk about yesterdays ride or todays goals, but other times, we talk about our lives, families, politics… whatever we need to hash out before we begin the ride. I have really gotten to know so much about everyone during this time. We have become more than friends... we are family. We meet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, celebrate each others birthdays, holidays, accomplishments and awards, cheer each other on at horse shows, encourage each other when we struggle and praise each others triumphs. I have been at my clients barns at 5am and at midnight, for the purchase of a new partner, for the birth of a precious foal and for the passing of a dear friend. We have cried together over everything from a first flying change to a pulled shoe and I have been entrusted with more secrets than I can count. I act as a surrogate mother, sister, agent, middleman, psychiatrist and consultant and I would have it any other way. I truly love every minute of it.
Last year, when my husband was told that we were being sent to Japan for several years, a wrench was dropped into our well oiled machine, but after the frustration and tears subsided, we pressed on and figured out a way to make the worlds most complex long distance relationship thrive. I have processed through several “seasons” while being separated from my circle. The weeks leading up to and immediately following a clinic visit are the best. I have something to look forward to and then am left on a high after spending time with such dear friends. We do a good job of staying in close contact between visits, but I am often frustrated by the 8100 miles between us. I find myself day dreaming about riding one of “my” horses or about one of my clients rides after we discuss training options via email. This frustration is always eased by hearing that little notification on my cell phone and seeing one of their names pop up in my inbox. It makes me know that I am still involved in their plans and progress and this warms my heart. I need this partnership just as much as they do. We are friends, family, partners and I love them all. When you care for someone deeply, you feel their joy and you share in their pain. I thought I understood this fully until a about six weeks ago.
My dear friend and client Pat Mulligan had been fighting off a lung infection for quite some time. We would talk back and forth about how she was feeling, what the doctors were saying and how she could not wait to get back into the saddle. We laughed about how her mares were enjoying their “vacation” and how sore Pat was going to be once she was allowed to start riding again. Looking back now, it feels like one day we were laughing about how sluggish her mares were going to be and the next day, I was being told that she had cancer. Now I know that there were a few weeks in between, but not nearly enough time to process this information.
I have been called on to help my clients through a variety of hardships since I left. There have been some unfortunate accidents, a few injuries, surgery and regrettably, the loss of two wonderful horses. In my experience, this has been a tough year, but this all pales in comparison to receiving the news that one of your dear friends is suffering in the way that she was. I didn’t have the tools to help with this information and felt useless because of it. For years, Pat had been bringing her training concerns to me and I had always been able to set things right for her, but this time, there was nothing I could do for her.
On August 17th, my dear friend Pat passed away. I know that she is in a better place and that she is no longer suffering, but right now, it doesn’t make losing her any easier. Pat was special. She was so full of personality and brought fun with her wherever she went. She felt like my sister, because she was just a little too naughty to feel like a mom. Her’s was the first name out of anyones mouth when it came to getting everyone together. When the weather got too hot to ride in the Summer time, we would all head over to Pat’s pool for a party. She always brought her famous bbq chicken dip to our get-togethers and seemed to always have the ingredients for a White Russian on hand.
I will never forget the first time I “met” Pat Mulligan. I was headed home from Wilmington exhausted from a really tough ride, so when I saw an unknown number pop up on my phone, I sent it to voicemail. A few seconds later, she called again, so I answered. She sounded surprised that I had answered and told me that she was calling again just to leave me a voicemail. Then she started giggling and asked if I wanted to hear what the voicemail would have been about. This was the first of many times that Pat made me laugh out loud.
She told me that she was in charge of finding potential clinicians for the EDCTSA and saw that I had moved to the area online. She was very clear that she was only calling me to ask some questions and that I would have to be approved before we would proceed any further. She warned me that she was going to be very direct about what the club was looking… “You are not one of those trainers that kicks and pulls on your horses, are you?”, she asked. As soon as I said no, she asked, “Well, do you tell your students to do it?”. It was a great question, but the answer was the same. Her last question was, “Do you yell a lot during your lessons?”. I chuckled, as I had never been asked this before, and told her “not usually”. She said that she liked my answers and wanted to have me come to her farm for a “trial” day, so she could meet me and watch me teach before she would schedule a clinic. I had no idea what I was in for, as we settled on a date.
A few days later, I was greeted by a bubbly little woman wearing shorts and carrying one of those extra large drink mugs. She introduced herself and I immediately asked her, “Aren’t you supposed to be riding in 5 minutes?”. She laughed and told me that she wasn’t going to ride with me until she knew what I was all about, so she brought in a guinea pig to ride her horse for the lesson. This guinea pig was Rachel Edwards and I believe she rode three out of four of the horses that were scheduled for that day. I must have passed muster though, because Pat called me that evening to schedule our first clinic.
A few weeks later, I arrived at Jasmine Meadows for our clinic. Pat greeted me in the driveway and gave me a little background on the riders. She told me that her friend Wanda had just gotten “one of those fancy dressage horses that does all of those upper level thingys”, that I would have to yell at Davo because he can’t hear anything and that her mare was going to shake her head during the whole ride, but she didn’t really care. I was intrigued by watching her sweet smile and crackly little voice cutting straight to the point, but that was Pat. Although she did a great job of introducing me to almost everyone, she failed miserably in warning me about Davo. Yes, she told me that I would need to speak up, but she did not tell me that he was…. Davo. He came busting out to the dressage arena a few minutes late and asked me if I was “knocked up” in an accent that I thought someone would have mentioned. I just stood there thinking about the fact that I did eat a lot of Chinese food last night and how these breeches are not really the most flattering ones that I own…. when Pat stood up and said, “Whoa, whoa Davo! She doesn’t know what you mean!” (my face must have given that away). She explained to me that “knocked up” means worn out in Aussie talk and then she explained to Davo that “knocked up” meant pregnant to Americans. Davo blushed a little and we all had a good laugh. Pat promised me that she would translate Davo’s sayings for me from then on and she always did…
Before every lesson, Pat used to tell me that her money was hidden under her cell phone just incase she didn’t make it through her ride. I always joked back and told her that if this happened, the ride would be no charge. Pat would also shower and shave her legs before every lesson, so she would look good just incase she had to go to the hospital at some point during her ride.
When I think about how Pat would only ride Miss Ty on a twenty meter circle at A, in her safety vest and if nothing terrible happened within the first twenty minutes, she would be done, I am so proud of how much she accomplished with her.
I remember the first time she cantered full arena. As I was explaining what a huge step this was for her, she began to tear up and I knew that Pat had bigger dreams for Miss Ty than she had verbalized. She had every reason to be cautious when working with Miss Ty, but that fire inside of Pat kept her going through the tough times. One of those times was at Jasmine Meadows on a cold, windy day. Pat was the first ride after the lunch break and when I walked into the indoor, she was lunging Miss Ty and things did not look good. I told Pat that this was not something that could be lunged out of her, so she pulled her up and we walked to the top of the arena together. Pat asked me what I thought she should do and I told her that it was not going to be an easy ride, but she had two options. She could devote the rest of her lesson to ground work in preparation for tomorrows ride OR she could find her “inner balls” and ride like I knew she was capable of. We all laughed a bit, but I told her that she would only have a successful ride if she was riding at 100% today. This look of determination came over her face, she flipped the reins over Miss Ty’s neck and walked to the mounting block. After she did her usual “post mounting ritual”, she looked down at me and whispered, “Are you sure I can do this?” and I told her that she was already in the saddle, so she better start riding! She rode like a pro that day and if I only had a dollar for every time Pat mentioned how big her balls where after that ride, I’d be rich….
Pat always let her opinions be known. We always had a lively discussion on what was and wasn’t a lengthening, she shocked everyone by saying that she didn’t care for Valegro and she was notoriously cheap when it came to buying tack. I almost had to sit down on the day that she told me she wanted help ordering a new dressage saddle. There are so many things worth mentioning about Pat, but words could never fully do her justice.
I am so blessed to have been there as Pat and Miss Ty developed together. Pat was always quick to let go of a difficult ride, but would never let us forget her great ones. I have text messages, emails, FaceBook messages and comments from Pat with her classic, “Did you see my ride??” line. Pat wasn’t only this excited about her own rides though. There were many times that I would get a phone call on my drive home, because Pat wanted to talk about how good someones ride was that day. She was the first one to clap after everyones test and I remember dreading taking her to a recognized show, as I knew that she wouldn’t have been one notch quieter with her post ride celebrations. She was everyones cheer leader and her uninhibited boisterous encouragement will leave something missing from every lesson, clinic and horse show.
I love you Pat Mulligan…