Trainer Love: In Memory of Seri

Seri died this week. She was never my horse, but she is part of the trainer I’ve become. Seri was a horse to reckon with. This photo of her and Edgar Rice Burro was taken during a fire evacuation. It’s a testament to who Edgar is that she allowed his company. Geldings were never up to her standard.

Seri was a mare that was hard to please, in that way really good mares are. She expected us to be her equal in the arena, but also be quick with her lunch. When my client found her on Dreamhorse, she was well above almost anyone’s budget. A pinto Warmblood, tall, with big bones and beautiful gaits, and only five years old. Soon, the ad for the young mare was gone. Two years later, the ad was back, and the price had dropped dramatically. My client hooked up her trailer and drove out of state to pick her up.

I’d say Seri wasn’t an amateur’s horse. A little complicated, overconfident, and unwilling to pander to humans. My client had a taste for strong-willed mares and was up to the task; brave and smart and a great rider. Seri was a horse who would have been easy for an owner to fail. In the wrong hands, she would have gotten into trouble. We thought she had already. Those two years had been spent turned out with broodmares. What had she done? Seri would say she was fair.

We quickly realized that the usual rules did not apply. At each lesson, I pushed myself to my limits, actively listened to her calming signals, and stayed on my tip-toes. Sometimes I felt out of my depths. I’d use my intuition and extrapolate what I knew to fit what I saw. We had to be artists, and some days there was brilliance. At other times, my ideas failed, but we kept trying. I learned more from Seri than she ever learned from me. She took all I had and asked for more. Her oversized impact made me a better trainer. It was a privilege to work with her. Part of Seri is in every lesson I give.

Once I started traveling as a clinician, I was gone so often that I had to discontinue our lessons. I got messages and cards from Seri, letting me know my client had been foolish. Clever jokes that always made me smile. We all stayed in touch, but I hadn’t seen her in the last few years. My client became a friend, but Seri wasn’t a horse you’d forget even if you met her once.

Two weeks ago, my client called to say she and Seri were at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Seri had a serious colic, but her signs were good, and they did surgery. As I listened, I knew no other horse would have survived the two-hour drive to Ft. Collins. She kept me posted and even with an infection, Seri rallied. I’d promised to bring a blanket liner over when they got home. Seri had lost so much weight we knew she’d be cold.

Then a sudden turn and you know the rest. She was gone, leaving all of us, including the staff at the hospital, in tears. Death is a small puny thing, not worthy of remark. Better to remember this remarkable mare in her glory.

I’ve thought of Seri all week. She was brilliant and complicated. Impossible to not love, but like so many horses I work with, she didn’t like people much at first. As a horse trainer, I pick sides. I work for the horse. This bold mare deserves a eulogy, but how to do her justice?

Seri was fearless. Once during a lesson, a herd of deer bolted across the middle of the arena, and she didn’t blink. She was energetic and brilliant, and she didn’t have separation anxiety. She was all that. And she was terrified of plastic bags. Lots of horses don’t like them, but Seri went full into a flight response. It wasn’t a little fear, it was dangerously primal. When they came to my farm for lessons, I quickly learned that if I didn’t check the fence line for bags, there would be no lesson. Even part of a bag was enough to set her off and she didn’t regulate back quickly. My client worked her through it over the years, but the fear was memorable because it was so out of context, not who Seri was.

After a good bit of online sleuthing, my client found the farm where Seri was bred. There were videos of young horses getting whacked in the face with bags on sticks. They were running in a small pen, frantic. Each time one got near, the youngster got hit in the face with a whip, a white bag doubling the impact, right between their eyes. It was a sale video meant to show movement, but the babies were terrified with no escape. I understand the theory behind this tactic, but it’s barbaric and has been debunked longer than the twenty years Seri lived.

The trainer who later started her under saddle was just as harsh. In our first lessons, I watched Seri’s ribs tense, waiting for the spur to rake her vulnerable flank. She waited for months, but we had no spurs, we refused to fight her. I can still see the lump in her flank, hard as an inverted bowl just under the skin. Once trust is broken, a mare like Seri won’t be quick to let down her guard. More of the same training would never be the solution.

Some people didn’t deserve a mare like Seri. But my client is a horsewoman. She and Seri had respect. They found peace but never dull complacency. A proud mare that always brought a smile to her owner’s face. My client took a chance on an online blind date and got the horse of a lifetime. Seri would say she knew all along.

In Seri’s memory, a donkey-like rant she might approve of:

HEY YOU! HUMAN! Where is the challenge in beating youngsters? Does it make you feel important to attack babies coming to you for help? What makes you so mean? Do young horses scare you so badly that you need a weapon? Is a whip not enough, so you tie a grocery bag on it? Get over yourself. Maybe you think you won that fight, but you never got the best of Seri.

She saved that for us.

Available Now! Undomesticated Women, Anectdotal Evidence from the Road, is my new travel memoir. Ride along with us on a clinic tour through 30 states, 2 oceans, and 14k miles with me and my dog, Mister. It is an unapologetic celebration of sunsets, horses, RV parks, roadkill, diverse landscapes, and undomesticated women. Available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and signed copies from me.

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12 thoughts on “Trainer Love: In Memory of Seri”

  1. Another example of the cruelty that humans do to “others”. I really do not understand the whole “dominance or showing who is the boss” – I doubt its a “theory” (sorry for all the parenthesis) its humans fear of “others” – it appears any kind of others currently!
    And we in all our glory are supposed to save this planet from climate change?
    Sorry, Anna – some days it really makes me question – anything!!
    I am so sorry for your friend and your loss – and more so for Seri & what was done to her before.

  2. This one touches me like no other and reminds me of how lucky I’ve been. Beautiful eulogy for every mare who was all that and more, and they all are, once we recognize it. Thank you, Anna and thank you Seri, but mostly, for me, thank you, Rocky la Roca.

  3. This, just as I’ve finished a chapter on Addie Mae, the filly you said would one day be the jewel of our barn. (She is.) What a wonderful eulogy. Seri was magnificent.

  4. Mares, all would be lost without them. I wish that I could have met Seri in all her strength and glory, and your eulogy nearly got me there Anna. Thank you.

  5. People of the Jewish faith have a saying on the passing of a loved one. I offer it to you and her human partner:
    Seri, may her memory be a blessing.


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