When asked about Gus’ passing, Julie had this to say:
“Such an amazing animal deserves a tribute. But it wasn’t until just recently I could even think of him or utter his name without reliving that immense loss and subsequently slipping back into a devastating depression. How can I fathom what to say that could even begin to harness the words that describe the pure joy he brought me, the lessons he taught me, the experiences only he could carry me through. How too would I be able to express the gratitude I had or the pride I felt? How could I ever try to express the intensity of my love for him – or the power of that love? How do I explain to people how captivating and awe inspiring this boy was? I can’t.
I can tell you he was kind – every essence of his being was kind. He was patient and understanding, and took care of anyone you put in his charge. From toddlers sitting between his immense feet, to well know dressage trainers driving him into greatness. He never refused or threw a fit. He humored me regularly by traversing the most ridiculous of terrain, performing insane maneuvers at shows and competitions and allowing me to dress him in all sorts of elaborate nonsense. I’m sure if he could have talked he would have said “seriously?” while rolling his eyes. There wasn’t a time he did not draw a crowd of admirers and he loved them all.
To say I struggled with the decision I had to make would be a gross understatement. I knew that day was inevitable. But at the same time, I didn’t believe his life essence was mine to take. All the second guessing, all the what-ifs and maybes. If we could only see a bit beyond and know for sure we are making the right one. Because I have to be honest, I didn’t want to let go. I don’t think I ever will. In the end, though, I had to make that decision – for him – he deserved that.
During his last days at the hospital, I wanted to hope for improvement but each passing blood test shattered any hope. The news was never good. His liver was failing and they couldn’t figure out why. What was clear was my boy was miserable. Near the end, he couldn’t get comfortable anymore. He wasn’t even shaking off the flies anymore. He wasn’t eating anymore. Food was always his greatest passion in life – grain, cookies, grass – whatever he could get his lips on. The realization was setting in like heavy dark matter. I talked to him. I was careful with my words because chances were he was not coming home. I promised him he would feel better soon. No matter what, he would feel better one way or another. I think maybe he believed me. I hope he did. I brushed him and hugged him and tried not to get too emotional because he didn’t need to be worrying about me. I slept in the straw next to him. But he was restless and would shoo me away.
When the final hours drew near, the doctors suggested I walk him out by the grass, mostly so I could have one last walk with him. It was horribly surreal. Why is this happening to this gorgeous gentle kind boy? His most favorite thing in the world was eating. Why can’t he at least enjoy that in his last moments on earth? It seemed cruel to me. He was weak. He could barely walk but we made our way over to the grass. He looked at it with longing but just wouldn’t eat. It broke my heart even more than it already was. I didn’t think that much hurt was possible. But the worst was still to come. He deserved better than this no matter how difficult or hurtful it was to me – he deserved relief.
It was peaceful, as peaceful as it could be anyway. The liver toxins hadn’t fully taken is sweet beautiful mind yet. He cooperated as he always did even though this must have been terrifying for him. He was sedated and assisted to lay down. He did just as he was told. They helped him sleep then. I held his head, that big gorgeous head of his and felt his warm breath come from those soft nostrils.
In my head I was screaming at the top of my lungs to stop! Stop the procedure! I can’t do this! He will get better! He has to get better because I don’t think I’ll be able to let go of his warm soft face. I don’t think I have the strength to utter the word “goodbye.” I don’t think I can survive his absence. How can I possibly survive this?? I want to be with him riding through a green field one last time, my boy and me, doing what we do best. I want to feel his mane kiss my tear soaked cheeks as his long black hair flies back at each of his powerful strides. I want to hug him and watch him eat his grain with carrots and apples and see him make a big sloppy disgusting mess out of it. I want to stand in a grassy field and touch him and hold him while he picks out only the most lush greens. I want to show him off as a proud momma does when their child wins an award or comes home with a stellar report card. I want to hear that low baritone nicker he makes when he’s hungry. Most of all, I want him with me . . . always.
So when it came time for that final injection, I gathered all the guts I could and every ounce of strength and while holding that sweet sweet boy’s beautiful face and stroking his warm soft nostril, I turned to the vet and motioned to proceed. Then I quickly looked away from that direction and held onto my boy with all my might. I couldn’t breath. My heart nearly leapt from my body. How can this be happening? This can’t be real. It just can’t. I whispered to him he can finally eat again and he would be able to run and play free from the pain. I proclaimed my undying love and devotion to him. I asked him to wait for me at the bridge as I planned on meeting him again soon.
His soft nostrils went still. The warmth that was there just moments before was starting to chill. I stroked his gorgeous gorgeous face. Those kind soulful eyes were now distant. He was gone. Did I just say that? Gone. How can this be true? He was just here.
I am still in shock that he is gone and every time I allow myself to think about him, I’m startled to realize the surreal truth, I still don’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. But I don’t see him when I look in the pasture. And there’s no other place he would be. So it must be true. My friend, my partner, my caretaker, my soul mate, my beacon, my one-in-a-million, my everything. I was lucky enough to be his person and we were given so many wonderful years together. I want more – I will always want more of him.
He stole my heart. All that remains are cherished memories and a deep bottomless hole. You are free now my big beautiful boy. Thank you for all you gave me! Forever would not have been enough. 3-23-95 to 9-7-15.”
Julie wrote the following as a tribute to her beloved Gus. It reads like a fairy-tale because she believes her journey with Gus was just that.
“He is a strong and noble stead who embodies royalty. Solid muscle and the size of an elephant but able to practically float over the earth. He is black as night with a glass like mirror shine on his dirtiest day. He has warm dark eyes and if you looked into them you would see a wise old soul – so kind, so gentle, there would be no doubt in your mind but to give him your complete trust and your entire heart. You would know from the first day you gazed into those big brown kind eyes that you would be taken care of and that you would experience once-in-a-lifetime experiences to cherish for all of eternity. You could literally feel the energy radiate from him but at the same time you felt secure, safe in the knowledge he would protect you. Once he took you under his wing, you would witness true greatness in its purest form.
The charisma and essence of this boy shines so bright and far, it can be seen from beyond the horizons. He possesses stunning beauty the likes of which is not matched by any other beast, hooved or otherwise. Not just physical beauty (which he is not lacking), but inner beauty as well. Every passerby that gazes upon him is captivated at his magnificence and stature. They are awestruck by his talent and seemingly endless capabilities. He could rule the world – but he doesn’t. No, he is only there for you. He stands in your shadow. He is at your mercy and happily so. And he accepts whatever challenges you give him with grace and without question. He is brave and confident and takes anything on as long as you tell him it’s OK because this sublime creature has put his faith in you.
He will carry you on a whirlwind of magical journeys, each one more spectacular than the last. He performs at his very best every time and all he asks for in return is a delicious morsel and maybe a scratch or two. He will have you adorned in ribbons regularly and bring you joy so pure and so intense that colors become more vibrant and music more angelic. He is a gentleman and a scholar.
He doesn’t complain or argue and always obliges your requests with respect. And when there is pain, you will not know. He will not tell you. Only your heart knows something is wrong. And you will go to the ends of the earth to bring him relief. And after nearly 2 decades together, you and he are almost as one. Words need not be spoken, yet there is complete understanding between you. Your hearts are intertwined. The time they could have been separated is long past. If one goes, the other loses a part of their soul forever. A permanent hole as black and vast as space itself is all that remains.
As is the case with everything, all good things come to an end. The journey has concluded. But he would not want you to mourn. He does not want you to linger in dismay. He will wait for you at the bridge where you can continue your story again someday. Until that day, farewell my big beautiful boy. I love you so.”
Julie refers to him as her “big beautiful boy.”
Gus is a 1995 registered Percheron gelding standing at 17.2 hands. Julie had the good fortune of crossing paths with him in 1999. They’ve been together ever since. A lot of people ask why she would have a draft as a riding horse. His will to please and list of accomplishments can attest to the seemingly limitless talents and abilities draft horses have if given the chance.
There have been so many achievements Julie and Gus have shared over their years together. They began their first of many parades just about a year after they first met – the Cinco de Mayo parade in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 2000. Since then, their list of parade appearances spans nearly 2 decades and over 4 states.
They won many awards throughout the years. Their appearance in the 2000 Cheyenne Christmas parade gave them an appearance on the local CBS news. They won 2nd place at the Woodchoppers Jamboree & Rodeo Parade in Encampment, Wyoming, a 1st place in the Fairfield Swim Days with a subsequent newspaper appearance in the Choteau Acantha publication, they received the Silver Spur Award (Best in Parade) at the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Grand Parade, and they hold the 2012 title of “Outstanding Mounted Riding Group” in the Cheyenne Frontier Days Parade which has been a national annual rodeo event for more than 100 years. Most recently is their title of Most Unique Parade Entry 2 years running at the Monument Hill Kiwanis 4th of July Parade.
Gus and Julie joined drill teams with the Ghost Riders and the Cheyenne Saddle Tramps and for many years performed at several events including the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo during which they also participated in Grand Entries for the Frontier Days Rodeo. Some of their drill performances were at fund raisers, one of which was the Conrad Wegele Esophagus Cancer Fund Raiser Rodeo.
They competed in countless shows all over Wyoming, Montana and Colorado taking home many blue ribbons. Some of the classes they competed in include English pleasure, English equitation, huntseat pleasure, western pleasure, extended English equitation, halter, draft under saddle and hunter under saddle.
They participated in many fun shows that included treasure hunts, telephone book races, keyhole, Simon says, open country pleasure and even an egg race. In that particular event they had to carry an egg in a spoon and travel at various random gates. Whoever kept their egg the longest without dropping it won. The class was mostly gated horses but Gus and Julie still managed a 2nd place. He may be big but he has a smooth ride.
Gus was mentioned in a newspaper article in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle after another fun show they entered. The article entitled Ghost Riders Have Fun Horsing Around by Ilene Olson described the tennis ball race that involved riding to the end of the arena with a tennis ball on a racket, dropping the tennis ball into a small bucket on the ground, and riding back to the start. Despite his height disadvantage in such a race, Gus placed ahead of a shetland pony.
As could be expected, there were many costume contests. Some of the contests they’ve entered include the Prairie Springs Farm Horse Rescue Benefit & Show where they placed 1st for their medieval attire.
They trained in dressage for a short time just to become more flexible and better in tuned with each other. The trainer always complimented that “this horse makes you look good”. Julie agrees. They were able to complete Test B & Training Test 1 with very nice comments. They were given the opportunity to take a private lesson with renowned horse trainer Manuel Trijo in the June of 2007 (http://www.trigomanuel.com). This lesson subsequently led to Gus’ images being featured in The Horse Trader in September 2007 in an article by Crista Vesel entitled “Creating Lightness”.
In addition to that, Gus appeared in the global Percheron News Magazine in the September 2001 issue.
In order to check something off her bucket list, Julie and Gus took a few jumping lessons. They tried their new found skills in 2 shows shortly after the lessons and entered novice jumping classes and won blue ribbons.
Julie and Gus always looked for a chance to help a good cause. In the beginning they had several opportunities to contribute to the Annual Saddle Up for St. Jude benefit trail ride. It is a 10 mile ride through the Terry Bison Ranch in Wyoming. Gus brought in the highest amount of sponsor donations year after year. He was mentioned in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle article Horse Folk Mount Up for St. Jude Trail Ride by Ilene Olson.
More recently Gus and Julie performed their freestyle dressage routine at various shows and charity events. Rhythm of the Rockies Benefit for Rocky Mountain Reining Horse Association Crisis Fund (Larimer County 4H Program, Ranch Way Arena), Continental Divide Horse Show (Loveland, CO), and the Exhibition Extravaganza Benefit Show for Renee’s Friends Fund for Breast Cancer Research (Norris Penrose Event Center, Co. Sp. Dressage Association) are among the list.
They dabbled in a bit of jousting as well as lance rings, saber heads and quintain in 2007 while attending medieval gaming clinics. He was Pet of the Month in June 2006 for Skyline Vet Clinic. And they were part of the El Paso County Ross Utt Memorial Wagon Train in 2011.
One of their most memorable achievements was being cast as a dark rider in a national promotional commercial for Lamplighter Theatre in 2009 which you can see at Defy the Darkness. Even though it was more than 12 hours of 14 degree temperatures in the woods at night, they wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was a once in a lifetime experience for sure.
Gus is a sturdy mount for tiny kids in leadline classes, he serves as the local babysitter, he is a calm supportive companion for nervous horses during parade clinics, and he represented the Percheron breed at the Westernnaires Breed Show for several years at Jeffco Fairgrounds. He is a seasoned pleasure trail horse with rides in everything from mountains to plains, including Vedawoo Recreation Park, Petsch Ranch, Ft. Robinson State Park, Lewis & Clark National Forest, Sodergreen Ranch and even has the Garden of the Gods Park under his belt.
On a last minute whim and because Julie knew she could rely on Gus to handle anything, they entered the GFAB 5th Annual Judged Trail Ride. They were faced with a gamete of obstacles including creek crossings, patterns, gates, and surprise trail hikers. Although they did not previously prepare for it, Gus received scores like a pro and they even ended up placing 3rd out of dozens of seasoned trained trail course entries.
Gus also drives, he can move cattle, rope, barrel race, keyhole race and participated in a mounted patrol testing session where he handled flares, smoke, fireworks and a teeter totter among many other things. Gus is a brother and trusted friend to his pasture mates, Velvet and Latte.
And we can’t forget his striking good looks.
Gus is trustworthy, accommodating, gentle, patient and gives you everything he can. All you have to do is ask. He never ceases to astound Julie. He defines athleticism and grace and she would have never had all the once in a lifetime opportunities without him. He is her partner, her friend, her soul mate and she doesn’t know what she did to deserve such a gift. She is honored to be his person.
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