Losing A Best Friend -Sutter’s Story

Most of you know my daughter’s pony Sutter died unexpectedly on Friday afternoon. I am devastated. That pony meant the world to me. It wasn’t just any pony… This was my daughter’s best friend. Maybe telling his story will relieve some of the grief. So here it is….

Sutter- The World’s Best Pony (totally true-go ahead Google it)

When Kelsey was 10 years old, I decided to get her a horse. I wanted it to be an all-around horse-something she could try multiple disciplines on and see what she liked.

I wasn’t having very good luck. I had just returned a pony that failed vet check when  I found Sutter’s ad on Craigslist. I really was in no mood to look at another horse that  weekend, but something in the ad gave me hope. It certainly wasn’t the picture -mouth cranked closed, inverted frame, spurs. It wasn’t the price either because this pony was not in my price range. But, I went to see him anyway.

Sutter’s Sale Ad Picture – Not Great

The pony was cute enough, but when I saw the trainer ride him, I knew he wasn’t for me. A whip AND spurs were needed to get him moving. It took at least 4 tries to pick up the right lead, and he held it for a whopping three strides. Great. This was a big waste of time.

When it was my turn to ride him, I could add gate sour to the list of issues along with a complete lack of any fundamental training. I asked him to back. He started to rear. How long do you actually have to test ride a horse before you can hop off and say, “No thanks?”

Everything gets a little blurry after this. Somehow I went from “this is definitely not going to work” to “I should bring my daughter to meet him.”  Sometimes things just don’t make sense.

So I brought Kelsey out the next day. When she saw him, she announced, “He’s gorgeous!”  She rode him and jogged him around the arena, his mouth gaping open. He kept getting “sticky” at the gate too. It wasn’t a very pretty picture.

Test Ride
But when she walked him back to the pasture during feeding time, I noticed he seemed not to care about the food.  He was really happy to be just walking with Kelsey. Hmmm. maybe there is more to this pony.

Walking Back
The owner took him from Kelsey and released him into the pasture. All the horses were huddled around the feeders devouring dinner. But this little pony didn’t go straight to his hay. Instead, he came straight to Kelsey! He stretched his nose through the fence and breathed deeply, taking in her scent. Kelsey got a quick kiss on his nose and then he took off bucking and galloping around the pasture like he was the happiest little horse in the world. It was so sweet. I was sold.

First Kiss
Thankfully his price was negotiable. His owner had been praying that a 10 year old girl would buy him, and they could grow up together.  She just knew he needed to be with kids. It also turns out we had friends in common that could give us a “good horse owner” reference. So that helps.

Kelsey named her new pony Sutter after Sutter’s Mill-where gold was first found in California. He was, after all, a golden palomino.

Sutter turned out to be everything we expected- a solid citizen with almost no training. He wouldn’t pick up his feet, couldn’t lunge, couldn’t canter, could barely steer and had absolutely no idea about trailers. Yep, he was perfect for a ten year old. What the heck was I thinking???

Time passed. I spent a day or two a week sneaking in training rides. Kelsey handled the bulk of his work. I made mistakes. Never training a horse for a kid, I put a big stop on this little guy (no parent wants to see their kid on a runaway horse right?). Well evidently big stops, little kids, and english saddles are not a great combo. Did you know kids can fly right over a pony’s shoulder when he stops big? Oops. That may have been the reason Kelsey unexpectedly decided to switch to western for awhile. My mistake.

It wasn’t long before Kelsey and Sutter were ready for their first show. I had no clue how he would respond. I had never trailered him out. At the show grounds, I snuck him into the show arena before the show started. I had the kids make noise, jump on the bleachers, and of course, feed him carrots for positive association. I needed to know how this pony would respond! When the show manager finally kicked me out of the arena, I handed Sutter to Kelsey and let her warm up. I stood back and chewed my fingernails down to the nubs. They called her class. I could barely watch. The ring was filled with 14 kids on various types of uncontrollable horses. You just can’t train for this stuff.

Sutter was a saint. When they called the ribbons for their very first class, at their very first show together, they pulled a first! At that moment I realized the true value of this pony. He was rock solid. It is exactly what every parent wants for their kid. You just can’t put a price tag on that.

First Blue!
Sutter graduated to bigger shows. He showed western and hunter under saddle. He amassed a sizable collection of mostly blue and red ribbons. Kelsey and Sutter won the year end championship for 12 and under.  They even tried their hand at the trail class. They came in second to a horse that had a world  top ten ranking in that class- missing the win by only a few points.  The judge was amazed and couldn’t believe they had never done trail. That was Sutter though. Give him a challenge and he was right on it, but don’t bore him with endless circles.

Trail Class
Speaking of endless circles, Sutter tried his hand at dressage. I can’t say he loved it, but he was successful. He attended 2 dressage shows. He pulled firsts in both classes his first time out, receiving the highest score of the day out of any class with that judge. His second show,  he pulled a first and a second- he was only beat by a warmblood that specialized in dressage. Not bad for a quarter pony.

Kelsey went on to jump Sutter. His first hunter class he pulled a 5th out of 19 – and it was an OPEN class-Kelsey was up against much older teens, adults, even trainers were allowed.

Sutter’s next hunter show, he pulled Show Champion. Sutter seemed unstoppable.

Hunter Champion
Sutter didn’t just show, he was game for anything. He went on an annual trip to the beach. He loved to play in the water! He loved trail riding too! He especially loved to play in the creek, digging little holes in the rocky edge with his lip and watching them fill with water. He was like a little kid. So much fun.

Beach Pony
Nothing was off limits for Sutter. I even brought him home to have lunch in our kitchen. He also strolled the neighborhood like a big yellow lab puppy. He was a blast.

Last summer, Kelsey took Sutter camping. He was a true gentlemen (except for his 5am whinny for a wake up call… Thanks a lot Sutter….and yes, breakfast is on its way).

Recently, Kelsey and Sutter were practicing to try their first cross country event. They had schooled coffins, banks, water, logs, triple in and outs. They scheduled their first cross country clinic for next weekend. If all went well, they were going to enter their first real event. Exciting times.

X Country
Friday afternoon was going to be a turnout followed by a light ride. Everything started out perfectly. Kelsey and her brother got Sutter out of his stall, fed him his favorite peppermint and took him to the turnout. I was turning my horse out in the adjacent arena. Both  horses were hot. It was the first time in weeks that the footing was dry enough for turnouts. The horses were having  a fine time kicking up their heels, feeding off one another like horse do.

Then it happened. Sutter was galloping down the long stretch when it hit him mid-stride. He went down. He couldn’t get up. His legs twitched in the air-completely useless. He started screaming. A panic whinny. He needed Kelsey! By the time I reached him, I knew he was dying. I had Kelsey come to say her goodbyes. He calmed when she arrived. He died in her arms.
From the time it hit him to the time he was gone took less that two minutes. Aortic aneurysm. The only way you know they have one is when they drop dead. There are no symptoms. No tests. Sutter never took a sick day or a lame step the entire time we had him (except a bad reaction to a tetanus shot…but those things can really hurt!). He was only 8. Life totally stinks sometimes.

Sutter was in our lives for only 4 years, but he gave us enough memories to last a lifetime. I really loved that little guy, and probably cried the hardest when he died. I know I need to suck it up and move on, help find my daughter another horse. But how do you top “The World’s Best Pony?” I have no clue where to start…

21 thoughts on “Losing A Best Friend -Sutter’s Story

Add yours

  1. I am so sorry for the family’s lose. So glad you and Kelsey had the privledge to have 4 wonderful years with Sutter.

  2. What a beautiful love story. I wish we could rewrite the ending and add a lot more chapters. Hugs to you and Kelsey.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry for your loss, and know how special these horse’s are. I have a horse that is my family too, and cherish every moment with him. He chose me in his life, just like Sutter chose your daughter to be his companion, and best friend. My only advice is that there will be a horse, or pony that will choose you, and your daughter again. You will know when it’s the one. I pray that this very sad, and painful time for you both will be over soon, and you will have another special horse in your lives.

  4. I am speechless. Having done nearly the same things with my daughter and her beloved Dahmono, I can’t even imagine the pain you both are suffering now. I am crying as I write this. You will love him and remember him forever.
    Only time will soften the pain. My heart goes out to you both. I am so so sorry.
    My deepest sympathy to you both.

  5. Your story touched me to tears, but also smiles on behalf of your daughter. She knows how lucky she is to have that kind of connection with such a special equine friend. They were meant to take that journey together, though it was tragically cut short. I am so sorry for you and your family. Sutter lives on in cherished memories for you all. Keep writing!

  6. So sorry for Kelsey and you and the family. Such a shock and what an unexpected loss.
    Beautifully written Kim, you made me cry, but I know you will find the right “next” one. Message me with your specs (height, etc.) and I will put the word out to my circle of horsey friends. Bless you all…

  7. That was the perfect tribute for the worlds best pony. I look for him and miss him every day. Sierra is “that” horse for me. She picked me and I am blessed as you and Kelsey were with Sutter. Kelsey will find her new best friend wether you are ready or not. She is an amazing young woman. Wise and courageous beyond her years. My heart breaks for you both.

  8. The pain never goes away. You just learn how to deal with it. I lost my mare in 2009. I was angry at God because He took her. Every day I prayed, “I need to know where she’s at”. A few months later, I got my answer. I had a patient who was dying. He saw Jesus and his mother. He kept looking strangely passed the two people he knew then would look at me. He couldn’t speak but could write. On a piece of paper, he wrote “Horse. Belle”. He provided the answer i needed. My patient passed away later that night but not without assuring peace that God cared enough about me to let me know she was ok. Sutter is ok too. I promise.

  9. Hi Kim,
    Ashlie sent me the story. I am heart broken too. My one consolation is that he had such a wonderful life and he was loved deeply & truly from the beginning of his life, to the end and that is something to feel really good about .

    Both Ashlie & I knew how special he was and that his potential was boundless., although Ashlie spotted it first. The first time she saw him she yelled stop the car! She jumped out of the car before I even stopped completely , ran out into this field full of horses & somehow managed to get close to him, because he was only four or five months old and threw her arms around him and said this is the one.

    I was rather dubious because he was small and I wasn’t sure if he would be a good long term fit for her but , she was determined & once I got to know him he had my heart.

    He was the first colt for me & Ashlie both. We always did what we felt was best for him. We learned a lot along the way. We both would beath in his nose on greetings & goodbyes. I did ithat the day you picked him up too. Sometimes we were the teacher ‘s & he was the student and othertimes it was visa-versa.

    He did know how to lung, trailer & canter though. In fact he walked right into the trailer when you came to pick him up , so I felt a little badly about that. He was a bit rusty because Ashlie hadn’t been able to get out as often due to school & a boyfriend., He was one of those ponies that looked at you like ” just tell me what to do & I’ll do it gladly. He had the best personality I have ever seen in a pony. So curious , I swear he had a sense of humor.
    I was so happy that you saw it too .

    That day with Kelsey I remember like yesterday. I clearly recall the look in Kelsey’s eyes and the (then Cuervo) coming back to the pasture fence when he was released for the first kiss between those two, That was the moment I thought, OK, if I have to let him go this is the home I want him to go to.

    The reason why I lost contact was because I loved him so much it was painful for me, like giving up a beloved child because you couldn’t afford to take care of him as he needed & deserved to be taken care of.

    If you can imagine that heartache , you will understand why I chose not to stay in contact.

    I was so very proud and happy of the pony he was becoming when he won his first blue ribbon & I knew he was in the best of loving hands and that not only Kelsey loved him but that you loved him too.

    My heart goes out to you both, there are tears in my eyes & a pain in my heart, but also a smile on my face knowing that I was a part of this very special little ponies sojourn on earth💔

    1. I am so glad to be in touch with you. I had found your linkedin account and tried to send you a message. I knew you would want to know.

      Sutter was an absolute dream. I have been riding and training horses for 40 years and have never been so touched by a horse. I could tell he had been loved and had deeply bonded with you/your grandaughter.

      Sutter was so different from other horses. It was like he knew your thoughts. I had to laugh about your trainer/trainee comment. Kelsey and I used to say that sometimestoo. Sutter had a lesson plan of his own!

      As far as the training… He loaded in the trailer like a dream….but he was scared to death of it when it moved. I still remember him huddling in the back of the trailer when I got him home. He was so very scared. Didn’t want to unload. But he would always load again….just like you said, he did it because we asked him. Not because he liked it. Longing and hoof picking, etc I was referring to the vet check when we never did get him to canter on the line, and the vet couldn’t hoof test him because he wouldn’t allow it. Honestly, I didn’t care. I was already on love with him. Not sure what the vet could have said that would have changed my mind.

      I think Ashlie did a wonderful job allowing Sutter to bond with people. That is the most important thing. The mouth open and all that turned out to be because the dressage trainer had a bit his mouth and cranked it closed. Poor little guy still had his wolf teeth. It was very painful for him.

      Anyway, I am forever grateful that you sold us this little guy. He was the best thing I could have ever hoped for. I have tons of stories if you are interested. Kelsey even blogged about him a bit. Send me an email for more.

      Thanks again. I am really heartbroken over this. I still haven’t cleaned out his stall or anything. I just can’t even think of it.


  10. I’ve read this several times and each time get goosebumps and tears – both happy and sad. I lost my first pony to colic when I was young (not even 10 I believe). I shared this with Kelsey shortly after the loss of Pony and I still remember the intense heartbreak. He was a Shetland named Lucifer (lol) and we kept the name. He too was a wonder pony and my best friend, neither living up to the stereotype of his breed or name. Your story is beautiful and I come back and read it often. Thank you for sharing.

    I already miss seeing that gorgeous golden boy around the barn but will always smile when I think of my last memory of him. I was in the big arena during the day the weekend before (if I remember correctly) just cruising along the rail on Mia at a walk and light trot. You, Dino, Kelsey and Pony were the only other ones there. Kelsey and Pony were riding in the opposite direction, of course always polite and passing in accordance with proper arena etiquette (thank you!). I could hear slight frustration in Kelsey’s voice but was only half hearing what she said as I was focusing on my silly mare. It sounded like she was working on some kind of transition that he had done fine before but wasn’t immediately picking up this day. My details could be off but from the small amount I heard thats my story. Her words indicated she was clearly frustrated, as all riders can’t relate, but she remained calm and patient and rode over to you mentioning what was up. I heard you suggest that she get off and do something on the ground that they hoth could be successful with and feel good about and end on a good note (I was quietly applauding your advice btw). A few moments later, Kelsey passed by again on Pony and suddenly squealed with delight and praise, saying “You did it!” I looked over and she was bent over forward in the saddle hugging that kid around the neck and they both looked so happy and proud. In Pony’s mind he was probably thinking, “You did it kid!” and was proud of his bet friend. It was such a simple moment, not anything out of the norm when you’ve been around horses and riding as long as we have. Yet it made my day and stuck in my mind and was such a genuinely happy moment I’ll now never forget and in light of what happened shortly thereafter, I’m grateful for the memory. He was one of a kind for sure – pure California gold.

    1. Sorry to hear about your pony too. The bond between aa girl and her pony is such an amazing thing. That is all I ever wanted for Kelsey to have. I am thankful that she was able to bond so strongly with Sutter….of course that makes his loss even more painful. I would do it all over again though-just to see that relationship 🙂

      1. I agree. Such an amazing gift for a young girl. Or any girl. And sorry for the typos, I was typing that from my phone. ☺️

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