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March 9, 2021: The Passing of my good Friend and Horse Mentor, Susan Harris

I had just finished lunch and was sitting on the kitchen stairs, checking my email before I headed back outside. I saw a header, In Memoriam: Susan Harris, and my heart momentarily stopped. I don’t like getting bad news via email, but in this case it was unavoidable. Susan had a LOT of friends and was a well known and respected member of the horse community.

She was my mentor and friend. I was just one of many who today, like me, are grief stricken. I ought not have been surprised – she was seriously overweight, and her health was declining. I suspected that at the last clinic I attended with her, this was back last February, in Washington

Susan at 2015 clinic at Saddle Up Arena

state, that she was no longer at the top of her game. She was such an astute clinician that this was of little consequence.

I met Susan at a clinic in Sacramento, California. She was warm, friendly, and welcomed talking to me. I was so impressed that I invited her to come to Alaska. A month and a half later, she did a clinic here. This was in 2015. And in 2017, she and her best friend and fellow instructor Peggy Brown came here and did two, one week back-to-back clinics.

I did other Centered Riding clinics with Susan, and met up with her in Europe, at a Centered Riding Symposium. I twice visited her at her place in Cortland, New York. We talked horses both times, into the wee hours of the morning. I always likened our conversations to playing tennis. She was Wimbledon caliber, and I was backyard caliber. I never was able to rise to the occasion – I just contented myself knowing that I understood what she was talking about.

Susan, unlike many instructors, had a strong interest in Icelandic horses and their gaits. She was also able to assess a horse’s personality fairly quickly. She said of Raudi that she was “opinionated,” and gosh she was right.

I was also impressed with the fact that during group lessons, she gave everyone equal time. So often, instructors focus on one or two riders to the exclusion of others, but not Susan. Because of this, I was able to put theory to practice back at home.

The last time I spoke to her, I mentioned that we’d had a hard time getting Tyra’s saddle to fit. I added that we’d added a crupper, were using a roping girth, had gone to three-point rigging, and invested in a non-slip pad. Susan then suggested that when out on the trail, we focus on having Tyra walk slowly downhill, that this would build up her withers.

This is what we’d been doing. Yesterday, Pete remarked that he thought the saddle was slipping less, and that this was because she had indeed, built up those all important muscles. I then made an all important mental note, which was to call Susan and tell her about this.

I of course wish that I’d talked with Susan even more, not just because she was so horse savvy, but because she was a most amazing individual. It also helped that her political views were always right on.

I already miss her something awful. I now feel, horse wise, that I’m adrift in a lifeboat, with no one to give me any advice as to how to man the oars.

Next: 69. 3/10/21: Up, Up, and Away

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