Two lives joined by one rein, until one can no longer

Two lives joined by one rein, until one can no longer

Exclusive to Infobae New York Times.

WINDSOR, Connecticut – Pausing in the stable, Bridget Eukers paused at thoughts that seemed far away and fingered her horse’s bridle like a talisman. Outside his empty booth, a supportive friend had sprinkled yellow chrysanthemums on the floor.

Eukers explained that he didn’t use the halter much on horseback. He and Rush had a deal.

“Actually, he only wore it for exercise because he could get in and out of the barn without it,” he said, his fingers on a leash. “I would put my hand on his mane and we would go in and out.”

It had only been a week since Rush had died on the concrete floor a few feet from where he stood. Eukers was still grieving but also celebrating Rush’s extraordinary legacy. He was 39 years 188 days old when he died, perhaps the longest-lived Thoroughbred in American history.

It is difficult to mark the record accurately. The Jockey Club, the industry’s breed registry, does not keep longevity statistics, so word of mouth is passed on in the horse racing world. The horse, thought to hold the US record, was 38 years and 203 days old when he died in 2016, according to racing publication BloodHorse, which first reported Rush’s death. An Australian purebred lived to be 42 years old, according to the Guinness Records. A typical purebred lives into his late twenties.

Whatever Rush’s place among the older horses, his death marked the end of a 30-year partnership, in Eukers’ words, in which horse and owner displayed an extraordinary level of dedication to any pair of beings, whether horse or human.

“He was fighting for me and I was fighting for him,” Eukers said. “Whether you relate to your horse, your friends or your partner, everything depends on it. You fight for me and I fight for you.”

They strengthened their relationship by competing in equestrian events. For six years, six days a week, separated by only one saddle, they honed the skills to move fluidly together and fly over obstacles, first 36 inches, then 42 feet. For Eukers, being with his horse was a way of life.

To stay away from Rush, Eukers went to college close to home, turned down jobs that would reduce her time with him, didn’t socialize much, and never took a vacation. The most time he spent away from Rush was a week for a school field trip.

In return, she brought her joy by carrying it on her back, around the show ovals and on the quilt of farms in Windsor, often on a thunderous racetrack. “Feeling the thoroughbred racing under you at full speed is a really special thrill. It’s just magical,” he said.

The horse known as Rush was born on May 4, 1983 in Kentucky. One year old sold for $60,000 ($170,000 today) and was recorded as Dead Solid Perfect. According to horse racing statistics site Equibase, she raced the Meadowlands 16 times in 1986 and won one, with Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone at the top. He was sold to a new owner after his race and was trained in dressage.

Eukers’ family bought the horse for him when he was in his early teens. According to Eukers, the horse, already named Rush, was a handsome athlete with enormous shoulders that swayed like a lion’s as he walked. He was also a coward who was sometimes nervous about flowers, squirrels, and a mosquito lamp.

“His mission in life at that point was to worry about something, and he was very good at it,” Eukers said.

They came to understand each other. She fed him, groomed him, and protected him from ordinary objects. And when he asked her to jump a fence, she did it even though she was scared.

“If I asked him to try it, he would always do it over and over again,” she said. Eukers still holds the prizes he won in equestrian competitions.

Eukers stopped riding Rush when he was 35. According to Eukers, she could still carry it, but she had a different priority: her father had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Rush’s care had to be balanced with investigative treatment for his father and Eukers’ time spent with him. Eukers noted that when his father died in 2019, the Rush could no longer be boarded.

The once brown horse was now almost entirely gray. Rush spent his days under an apple tree at the Windsor Hunt Stables, in contact with dogs Wilson and Lola, red-winged blackbirds, wrens, a yellow barn cat, and a quarter horse named Cowboy who was going to steal his hay.

Last summer, Rush somehow bumped his head while he was alone. Eukers noticed inflammation and behavior. It took a long time to heal. He also had an abscess on his left front hoof and constant breathing difficulties. In the midst of all this, his partner of 14 years, Cowboy, died at the age of 26, and Rush was heartbroken.

Around this time, Eukers, who worked in management at an aerospace company, began receiving text messages at work frequently warning Rush that he was in bed and needed to go out to help him.

Rush’s vet, Stewart, said in an interview that it’s okay for horses to lie down, but due to the way their digestive systems work, they must lie down to survive. Eukers has always been able to get Rush on his feet, often with his help, but as time went on, Rush felt more and more comfortable leaving him alone. He began to spend his nights in the barn, sitting in a saddle outside Rush’s barn and hugging horse blankets, listening to his breathing.

“We’re so lucky to have someone to take care of us the way you did him,” Stewart said.

On the night of November 7, Eukers stayed up late with Rush, then went home to sleep in his bed for a few hours. When he returned at 5:30 in the morning, Rush was lying on the cold floor of the barn, propped up in his shed. Eukers called his mother, then Stewart. They spent four hours lifting it, but the tight space and slope of the floor worked against them.

According to Eukers, in recent years people have often told him that they can sense animals dying. He’ll tell you when the time comes they told him. But Eukers said Rush didn’t do that. Even after rubbing his forehead and telling him he’d tried hard enough, not to try anymore, Rush was still struggling to lift his head and struggling to lift his paws.

Finally, Eukers asked Stewart if the end had come, and when he said yes, he made up his mind. He fought as hard as he could for Rush. He knew that even if they could, he would soon fall again and Rush would suffer and try again for him.

#lives #joined #rein #longer

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