Ep4. Lisa Colfer's story of tragic loss and journeying equestrian grief with your child
I'll never forget the puzzled expression across Isabella's face as she sat at the dining room table, looking at the two small black cases tied with silver satin ribbon placed in front of her.
Her Mum was filming the moment while her Dad was sitting close. Isabella cautiously yet curiously, untied the gift wrap bow of the case closest to her, and lifted the lid. There was a long pause, and a blank look on her face. As she surveyed what the case had revealed.
You could see the questions running through her mind. And as the answers started coming to her that he is started flowing, she quickly reached for the second case.
Bella had had a difficult two years, and they surprise gifts from her parents were a way of letting her know who horses were loved. I wasn't there in the room. But Bella's mom Lisa was kind enough to share the video footage with me.
I had played a small role in the story, and she wanted to share the moment with me. I felt so privileged Footage made my heart swell with emotion in my eyes well with tears.
Today as the horseshoe storyteller. I'm bringing you the story that lead to these special guests. Before I introduce you to my special guests Lisa Cofer from Western Australia.
I'm going to warn you that I've got a box of tissues at my side. I cannot guarantee that I'll be able to get through today's episode with that shedding a few tears. So if you're an empathetic equestrian type, you might like to have some to choose at the really to today's story is one of tragic loss and the journey of grief.
It's Lisa's hope that by sharing her story, you'll feel less alone and facing the loss of your horse and will also find freedom to grieve and make decisions at a pace that feels right to you.
Welcome to the horseshoe storyteller podcast where I believe every horseshoe holds a story.
I'm Kate Bolton, horse rider, creative and accidental storyteller. You see storytelling isn't something I set out to do, but over the last few years since starting my business Horseshoe Mementoes I've had the privilege of clients sharing with me the inspiring, deeply moving and entertaining stories behind the horseshoes I have transformed into personalized lasting memories.
Incredible tales of partnership, beating the odds loss and success. Stories that speak of the love we share for our noble friends. Stories that are too good to keep to myself. And so, I've become the horseshoe storyteller to share them with you.
If you love a good horse story, you're in the right place. Let's get started.
Hi, Lisa, thanks so much for joining us today. I'd also like to thank Bella who isn't joining us today but she's bravely reflected back on her story and shared her thoughts with you.
Before we get started with your story. I thought we'd start by just if you could share with us your first memories of being introduced to horses or horse riding and how you got into it.
I was lucky I had a grandmother who bred palominos she had had a daughter that followed on and did horse riding. My dad had nothing to do with horses, he hated horses. certainly didn't want his daughters having anything to do with horses. But I was very fortunate that my grandmother bred me a horse and gave me a horse and I had somewhere to keep it on her property. So that was my first sort of introduction to horses and having a horse.
I had parents obviously, that didn't really want to be involved with it. And as I got older, and they separated, I had to give up my horses or horse and left it at probably around the age of 15. And had to give it up because I live with my mom and my mom is definitely not allowing me to have a horse. So I sort of just it just stopped. It just stopped and then I went on with life.
And then Isabella came along and I said to my husband, you know, it was a fond memory. I had having horses and loved it. I wouldn't mind Isabella to, you know, to get a chance to at least ride a horse and be involved. So we hired her a pony when she was four, for half an hour, and I used to take her and just walk around and trot around and she bounced along and she just had so much fun with it.
And I sort of spoke to my husband and said about getting a pony and we would just agist it somewhere. And, and to this day, my husband says you always said it was just going to be a pony. That's all it was ever going to be. So it turned into something much bigger than that, which we didn't expect.
And yeah, it took us on a big journey.
I remember it was in about May 2018 that you got in touch with me to commission two very meaningful Horseshoe Mementoes for Bella.
Can you share some of the story that led up to that point?
Bella had just, you know, gone through having ponies and you know, we had Twinkle who was our first pony that we got for her. She did Pony Club and all those little things and then she moved, moved through she loved showjumping, we had a lovely little mare that she used to show jumping, she was very, very successful with Jazzy.
So she was getting to the point where it was starting to become a little bit more serious. She was thinking about serious competition and riding and she dabbled a little bit in eventing. She had mainly done showjumping on Jazz because Jazz just wasn't a dressage horse. She was only a show jumper.
And so we're moving from a pony to a horse, and we said to Isabella that she needed to make a decision about where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. And she said she'd really love to do eventing and that's when we found Mikey. Mikey was her first horse (and I was trying not to cry).
So Mikey was her first horse and Mikey was, it was just, everything really just clicked with him straight away. From the moment we met him. It was just instant. It just, we just knew, we just knew he was it. He was the one. He was.
We were told when we went and rode him that he bucked a lot. He was only young, he was only five. So I sort of said, that's fine. That's something we can we can probably work with. It's probably he's just young, he's green. And everyone that had ridden him he'd bucked.
But he never bucked Isobella. He just, there was just a calmness between the two of them. It was just unexplainable. It was like they'd known each other forever. They just clicked instantly. Everything flowed, you know, purchasing him, everything. It just all flowed so quickly.
We'd only had him for months when he broke his knee in the paddock and just we don't know to this day what he did. We just found him in the paddock with a broken knee in that four months, Isobella, he was sort of the start of, I suppose her real thought that she could make something out of this. She could go far with this. She could do well with this. She thought she wanted to compete at Adelaide International. That was her goal with him.
Unfortunately, you know she did two events on him. She placed second in her first two events and was ready to move up to 95cm. When we purchased him, he had been competing in a metre five. But we asked her to drop back to 80 centimetres because it was a new combination. And we said, Look, when you've had two successful clear rounds, you can move up a grade and she did it straightaway. It was instant.
And so unfortunately, she didn't get to do 95cm so that was our first that was Mikey. So that was one of the shoes that we sent to you with tail hair.
The second one was Obbie and Obbie came along after Mikey. Obbie was a bit of healing for Isabella. He was different to Mikey. He was very, very green. He was a similar age, he was five or six when we got him, hadn't done anything. Had been sitting in a paddock for 12 months, the lady had pulled him out and done some work on him for three months.
He was the ugliest thing I've ever seen in my life. He just, I just cringed when I first met him. But Bella just shone, Bella just saw something in him that just, I hadn't seen her smile for a long time. And they, they took a while to click, not like Mikey, they clicked straight away, it took a little bit longer and it was a little bit more difficult, but he was very intelligent, and Bella achieved huge things on him for coming from nothing.
He was another off the tracker. And she did really, really well with him and had some good results with him. But it was a rough road because we had some initial issues with saddle fitting in the beginning. And he was bucking because of that. So we resolved that issue.
And then she competed at Woolooroo, and one of our big events here and she actually came first in the 80 centimetres, but he got bitten on the back by white tailed spider, at the event and that started necrotizing and eating away on his back. So he struggled with that for quite a while and getting that right. And we ended up having to have it actually surgically removed to help it heal properly because it just, it just wouldn't heal.
So she had some ups and downs there with that. And then she sort of got back into things again and things were running along again. And then yeah, we noticed a lump on his leg, just a very small pea sized lump that you probably wouldn't think much of, but it was just something that didn't seem right. And it turned out to be a rare tumor.
And yeah, we we had it biopsied out, but it just got very aggressive. It ended up pretty much like an avocado on the side of his leg that was just raw. And we watched him. We watched his personality change. We watched his physical appearance change, his demeanor changed. So we knew that it probably spread. Yeah. So we made the decision to let him go. Because it was just horrible watching him suffer.
So he was our second horseshoe that came to you. So yeah, we had two horses pass away within three years. Yeah, Mikey, he passed away in 2015 and Obbie in 2018.
Poor Bella, what a terrible thing to have to go through, you know, losing her first real exciting horse and then shortly after losing her second horse.
Yeah, it was hard. It was hard for her. And it was hard for us because we couldn't do anything. We couldn't change it, we couldn't fix it. We, we couldn't do anything.
No, it was completely out of your hands. There's common reactions to the loss of a horse like guilt or shame, loneliness, obviously, yearning because not only have you lost your horse, but you've lost, lost a sense of the dream that you had for that horse and what the two of you were going to achieve together.
How did Bella cope with it?
At first she was, in her words, she says she felt that she was very casual about it. I probably wouldn't call it casual. She was very robotic about it. I think she was sort of, I don't know she was putting her emotions down or just you know, even after we sort of put them down and that she was there with Mikey when put Mikey down.
She couldn't be there for Obbie she just, she didn't felt she could do it. And I vividly remember we were, you know, we were driving home and she said Mum, I'll call your work and I'll let them know that you can't come in and what's happened and, and then she posted something on Facebook.
She was obviously upset, there were obviously tears and that, but I think she was trying to suppress a lot of what she was feeling whether to protect herself I don't know, but I think there was a lot more pain that didn't get shown that she just held within herself and tried to deal with herself.
You know, we did what we could, you know, tried to talk to her and there's just not much you can say really, because you can't change it. You can't fix it. There's no words really, there's just no words. And I know, like you said, it's the loss of that dream, those hopes, that vision in your head, it's and the loss of them and their personality.
And, you know, the fact that you couldn't do anything. You had done everything you could. To keep them safe, to keep them happy, to keep them well. And at the end of the day, it didn't matter what you did, it was completely out of your control. Yeah, you couldn't save them.
What would be your best piece of advice for parents in a similar situation?
Oh, that's really hard. You'd know you're own child. So you just got to gauge what you feel they need at that point. It's really hard because it's, I don't think there's anything you can say. You've just got to be there for them. Encourage them to talk so that you can know what they're feeling and how they're feeling. Just gauge where they want to go. Don't think that buying them another horse might solve it. They might not want to do it anymore and allow them to make that decision as to what they want to do.
Bella was happy to keep going. She's got to the point in her life now that she doesn't want to anymore or at least at the moment at this point in time, she doesn't want to, because it's all been too painful. And there's been other losses which we'll go into.
But I think as a parent, you've just got to know your child and just gauge it. By talking to them. It's hard, because there's nothing you can say to them. There's nothing that you can say to make it any better to make it, you know, the situation different. It is what it is, and it's happened and you've just got to help them work through it.
Bella did end up getting some counseling, she found someone that she could connect to and she felt comfortable to talk to. And she says that's helped, but each kid's going to be individual with what they need.
And then was it roughly a year later that your world was turned upside down?
Yay. So yeah, my world was turned upside down and I lost my horse.
Yeah, so that was, that was probably that was tough. You know, we loved all our horses but Mini was sort of, he was, I suppose, like the matriarch. He was always there and he was never going to go anywhere.
You know, we always knew that there was a chance that we would sell them or they would move on because she would out-skill them in what she wanted to do, they wouldn't go to that level. So we always knew there was a that would happen with her horses, but Mini, he was just always going to be there. He was going to grow old.
He was he was always there for the ones that came and left and, and I did used to sometimes wonder what went through his head. He was always the one that just never went anywhere. He was never the boss. He was always at the bottom of the pecking order. He just had such a kind of gentle soul and everyone loved him.
Everyone that met him just loved him. He was he was very majestic and beautiful and he just, he just was beautiful. People say about horses, 'the one in a million' but he just really was. He was just very special. He was a Clydesdale cross. So he was a big boy. You could do anything with him, you could trust him completely.
I suppose that was the hardest thing is I didn't get to say goodbye to him, because we still are not 100% certain what happened to him, but the vets seem to think he had an aortic rupture during the night.
The night it happened. My husband heard something over at the stables. The other horse that was there was calling out and he thought it was a bit odd that they were calling at night time because that doesn't normally happen. And he said he walked outside and he said the minute he walked outside he saw this shooting star fly straight across the sky in front of him. And he walked over to the day yards where they both were and Mini wasn't in his yard.
The gate was shut, but he wasn't in there. He thought it was very, very strange. So he came running over to the house and said, Mini's not in his yard. He says I heard a sound and the other horse is quite distressed. But he's not in his yard.
So I thought ooh he must've jumped out. He just wasn't that type of horse to get frightened or have a fright or panic or anything like that. So we got out, it was dark. We got over to the yard and everything, the latch was shut, but where the latch was attached, the pole was cracked.
And where our day yards are they back on to our dam, so the back wall backs onto our dam and that wall has got three layers of fencing over it. It's got horse rail, it's got four rungs of horse rail, then it's got a like a mesh over the top of it. And then it's got shade cloth at the top of it, so it's super strong.
And we could see a small hole in the fence and it was about midway down the fence and there was a hole through the the shade cloth. And I just said to my husband, I said, he's in the dam and I don't know why but he's in the dam.
We couldn't say anything, it was very dark and it was quite a deep dam. And we just waited, we had to wait an hour until it got light. And when we went back out, he was, he was in the dam. He was floating in the dam.
We couldn't figure out how we got in there. And why, and it was such a weird spot. It was almost like he he nose dived through the fence and he went through all those layers. There was not a mark on the side of the dam. There was not a mark on him.
When we got him out of the dam, he did not have a mark on him. He hadn't, you know, struggled to get out or anything. The vet said that he would have been dead before even got to the dam, that when they have an aortic rupture, it can be quite, they go down pretty hard. So obviously just he's, he's obviously something happened and he's dropped, and that's just the angle he's taken.
And he's just, unfortunately, I think that was, I just had horrible thoughts of him suffering and being stuck in that dam, but there was no evidence that he struggled to get out or he tried to get out. And he was obviously dead when he got into the dam,.But yeah, it was pretty hard because of the circumstances, and I didn't get to say goodbye. And I just expected him to always be there for me.
How long had you had him?
I had, had him nine years. Yep. It was Yeah, it was It was hard. I still to this day, I suppose. Don't feel like he's gone. I don't know. It's a really odd feeling. I just, he just doesn't feel dead to me. I don't know if it's just not wanting to accept it.
It's like yeah, a special part of your life. He's still there alive. You know with you.
Yeah, he was. Yeah you try so hard because you try and do everything you can to make them happy make their lives wonderful. We spent the money on making sure we had really good quality fencing all their gear was good quality, their food, everything we did, and then one after the end. You just think why why? We've done everything right. We've done everything properly. But unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn't matter. It still just happened.
And how did that impact on Bella after having had the loss of her two horses and then to then watch you go through this
yeah I think that probably was almost like the straw breaking the camel's back. Yeah she just sort of went you know what what's the point anymore because Bella did ride Mini for a while when we lost Mikey until we got Obbie. She started riding Mini so that she had something to ride and she competed him a bit.
So she developed a special bond with him as well and, and he was sort of, he was all of ours, he was special to all of us. So I suppose her making the final decision that it really was something that she needed to step away from.
And we did you know, after Obbie we bought another horse for her we got Orange and she went back to showjumping. She gave up eventing, she felt she couldn't do that anymore. So she went back to her show jumping, and we bought her in a show jumper.
But unfortunately, Orange had quite a serious injury at an event. And he completely ruptured the lateral collateral ligament in his leg in his hock, which meant he couldn't do any big events. So I suppose that was another loss in a way for Bella.
We had to retire him though even though it wasn't a death in the sense, it was still a physical, it was a loss. It was, you know, another loss to her. It was another setback to her, which, you know, you can't explain you know, we had we had surgery down on him so that we could hopefully repair the damage but it was just it was completely ruptured, it couldn't be repaired.
And then we got her final horse Khan, which was another show jumper, who we've just recently made the decision to sell and he's going to a wonderful home.
But she felt that it was just, she sort of after Mini, and she's also working away at the moment. And we were quite happy to keep him for her when she came back. But she just felt that it was something at this point-in-time in her life, she needs to step away from, she needs to completely just step away from it, and decide herself when she wants to come back to it. And if she does come back to it, and that's up to her.
We've left all the decisions up to her with what she wants to do. We're happy to support her, no matter what she wanted to do, and didn't make her, I suppose, feel obliged because of everything we'd put into it that she owed us to keep going.
Yeah, so there was no pressure.
There was there was no pressure, it was all up to her and for her to make the decision for what was best for her. And her well being and where she wanted to be. She said she'll probably come back to it one day.
That's probably the the beauty of horse riding. It's something that it's not time restrictive or age restrictive or you can come back to it whenever you like, we'll always have this beautiful property here for her. Should she want to do it again. And if she doesn't, she doesn't, then that's that's her choice in life.
But, you know, there has been there's been a lot of enjoyable things about it as well. It's a lot of tragedy but we have been very blessed to have those lives and to like my Mum said, she said 'while those horses were there, they were loved. They were cared for. And they shared your life.'
We just look at we gave them the best life they could while they're with us, and love, plenty of love. So I'm sure we'll meet them again one day.
Yeah, that's right. Thinking back. Can you recall any expressions of sympathy or support that you and Bella received that really stood out and made a difference?
It's hard because there's nothing that, there's not much, there's nothing that really anyone can say or do that really makes you feel any better. It's lovely getting all those, you know people's words and sympathy and things like that. And it's lovely to know that so many people, I suppose, think of you and care of you.
But there's nothing that I think anyone can actually say that makes it feel better. It's hard, it's a hard one. I think just probably the things that probably stand out more are the things that people said and even though are not weren't intentional, they were words that probably weren't the right words to say, and I can understand where they're coming from and what they'll probably trying to
was the heart was behind it.
Yeah, it's just they didn't come across, you know, they probably could have chosen their words a little bit better. I suppose what I'm trying to say is just be careful what you say, don't try and compare either your situation with someone else's situation as to what's going on with someone.
Like I would never, if someone lost their horse, I would never compare or bring in what's happened to us and say, Oh, well, we've lost three horses. So you know, you've only lost one. I would, I would never do that. I would just probably say, look, I understand what you're going through. I'm here for you. And just keep it simple and just let them know that you're okay.
Yeah, don't try and justify maybe what's happened, like someone said about oh at least you didn't have the big vet bill as well. You know, they just had to be put down. Okay. Well, it was never about the money.
So just keep it simple, and just let people know that you're there for them.
It's often said finding ways to memorialize your horse can be helpful in processing grief. Can you share what you did with your special boys?
Unfortunately we didn't cremate Obbie, we were just financially strapped at that point. And it just unfortunately, we just we didn't have the money to do it. Mikey and Mini have both been cremated.
I highly, highly recommend if you can't bury them on your own property that you cremate them, Having that physical part of them there is a huge thing for us. Well it was for us and they've both got their special boxes that have their ashes in and other little bits of pieces, their mane, their tail.
My daughter just recently got engaged. So yeah, so she's planning on having Mikey's ashes turned into a diamond that can be added to her engagement ring. Things like keeping their horseshoes and their horse hair.
And then I came across you on the internet and when I saw what you did, I just thought that's perfect. That's exactly what I'm looking for. And it was combining their tail hair and their horseshoes.
I know they are very, very dear to Isabella. We've got them framed and a photo of each of the boys in there and I have mine framed. Bella has them in her room. And I know they are extremely special to her. And she's so grateful for them. We did those for her.
And I know I love it's just something that you can walk in, you can see every day and you know, sometimes you have a cry over it, but most times, it's just there. There you can see them. It's special. It's a part of them. It's a physical part of them, but anything that you can do.
We set up a piece of granite near the dam that we're going to put the other horseshoes on and a little plaque on for each of them. But I think anything that you can hold on of them, personal things of them, it helps. It helps a lot. Yeah.
I'm interested in you. So are you going to get another horse, how are you feeling about the whole equestrian situation?
Well I thought I could. I did think about keeping my daughter's last horse Khan for myself. And I did try, I hopped on him and but I just couldn't feel it. I couldn't make that connection. I couldn't. I don't know if it's not bringing myself to love him, but because I do love him, but I just thought no, Mini was, that was my one. And I just want to leave it at that.
I love having them around. It's always, I've always loved looking after them. It's not necessarily for me been about riding them. It's just been about looking after them. So for me just being in the stables listening to them at their smells, changing their rugs even picking up their poo,
You are the dream mother
The things that warm my soul, and warm my heart and I certainly take a lot more time doing those things now. And just I think it's more about not getting caught up in the competitive side of it, the trying to do well side of it.
It's about all those little things, those smells, listening to them eat those things that the things that I pay a lot more attention to now, and just the physicality of them, just spending time with them.
I think there's a little motto that I love and it's 'Love the horse, then the sport'.
Yeah, that's really good.
And I just strongly believe that because I think too often we get caught up in trying to be better than the next person or having to achieve those ribbons or whatever.
And at the end of the day, it's not that important.
It's our relationship with them.
And it's the gift they give to us, isn't it? And so you if you were to sum up the one gift that Mini gave to you. What do you think that would be?
That's a hard one. I think I just feel blessed that I got to share that time with him. Because he really just made me feel safe and happy. And loved.
Oh, that's beautiful.
I was lucky to have you. And I I even remember the night he past and before, you know, I went to say goodnight to him, and just looking at him, and just being in love.
Yeah, well, he was a gorgeous boy.
He was. It's a journey. When it happens. You've just, you've just got to go with how you're feeling. And don't let anyone else dictate how you should be feeling or what you should be feeling or what you should be doing, and or how long it should be taking.
Because I think it's something that you never get over. It's never not sad, you just learn to accept that they're not here. It's something that happened. And you've just got to deal with it in your own way, in your own time, and do what's best for you. And don't be afraid of giving up.
Don't be afraid of going, you know what I want to do this anymore, or this is not, you know, I don't want to have a horse anymore, or. I think it's easier to just go and get another horse and keep going. I think that's the easy option.
The hard option is to walk away and go you know what, this isn't for me anymore. Don't be afraid to do that. If that's what you feel.
And same with your child. Don't be afraid if your child says you know what, I don't want to do it. You got to not think about how much time you've put into it or how much investment you've put into it or. It's just, you just got to do whatever I suppose your journey dictates.
And if if you've got to stop, then just stop. It's okay. It doesn't mean that you didn't, you're not committed or you didn't love the sport enough. It's just you've got to do what's right for yourself and your own well being. Yep, and at the moment we're having a break.
And if we go back to it, e go back to it. And if we don't, we don't.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I think you've been so courageous and brave in what you've gone through and in sharing it. And also in the decisions that you and Bella both made that actually you know what, we're just going to take a break for a while and that's totally okay.
In saying that it took us a while to to feel that that was okay to do. You know, we didn't owe anyone anything. We just needed to do what was right for us. But we will always love horses and they'll always have a special place in our heart, always.
I'll always love seeing them and having them around. Khan will be staying here. The girl who's buying him is going to keep him on the property. It would be probably be hard not to have a horse on the property. So it'll be nice to have him around and still be able to do things for him and pick up his poo and smell him and listen to him eat.
Whoa, how did you find that? I'm pretty sure I had tears in my eyes the whole way through. Losing horses is an emotionally difficult topic. But what I loved about today's interview with Lisa was her honesty. And the way as parents they were incredibly understanding and empathetic in allowing Bella the space and time to grieve as she needed and supported her 100% in the equestrian decisions she's made along the way.
If this story has touched you, or if you have a friend or family member that you think might find listening to Bella and Lisa story helpful. Then I would encourage you to share it with them.
There's great comfort knowing that you're not alone in the face of tragedy and it often helps to hear from others who have walked your journey.
I've included a link in the show notes to photos of Lisa and Bella with Mikey, Obbie and Minnie, as well as their Horseshoe Mementoes go check them out. You will also find a link to a video of this interview. Lisa was sitting in the shade of a beautiful tree in a paddock during our chat. It was just lovely.
If you want to keep hearing more personal stories like these, and I promise they won't all be sad. Please subscribe, it would mean a lot to me.
Thanks as always for listening to the horseshoe storyteller podcast where I believe every horseshoe holds a story.