My mom, Martha Gantsoudes, reflects on Grace and Cali, on birth and passing.
July 11th: 28 years ago my daughter Sarah Mansfield Gantsoudes was born and then just three years ago, again on July 11th, my spectacular mare Cali gave birth to the filly we call Mansfield’s Grace. I remember both occasions well, as one would imagine, given the significance of both events. Sarah was born in a hurry. Luckily she waited long enough to spare me the indignity of giving birth on hands and knees on Fifth Avenue in NYC. She was feisty and charming and altogether delightful from the start. Despite her insistence for the first few years of her life to resist all assigned rest periods, she was independent, curious, bright, bold and beautiful. Watching her grow up these past 28 years has been joyful.
And so three years ago, as we waited anxiously for Cali, a maiden mare bred to a young Dutch stallion Ampere, to give birth, the days were thick with nervous anticipation. Sarah came to help for two weeks, certain that the grand event would happen during her stay. But nature is tricky, and Sarah returned to Colorado the day before her own birthday, and the day before Cali would give birth. We had a webcam set up in the stall, and eyes across the country assigned hours of watch. As it came to be my hour, 1 a.m., I received a message from the well-seasoned breeder Holly Zech (mom to my inimitable Xanto) telling me I needed to go up to the barn. She sensed the birth and she also was intuitive enough to suggest that Cali was waiting for my arrival. We dashed to the barn, whereupon Cali, with great appreciation and relief, let us know that the show was to begin. Cali lay down, licked us continually until the birth began. I cried in relief when I saw those feet heading out in the right direction, and cursed the endless hours of fretting over the possible horrors that I had studied too frequently on the internet. She was on her way. We captured the whole event on film and laugh in retrospect at our conversations and reactions to this extraordinary event. Admission, I was not sure filly or foal for a bit, there are too many protrusions in odd places, but when we confirmed filly, born on Sarah’s birthday, the name came easily: Mansfield’s Grace.
Grace has been a sassy, bright star since her first moments. She stood up, nursed and her tiny body next to her mother’s huge and majestic presence gave no one the impression that she would not be equally grand. Living with Grace, watching her learn and explore and grow, has been an awe-inspiring lesson in patience and kindness. While clearly her mother’s daughter, like my own Sarah, she has the spark of a unique and entirely confident new being, the best of Cali, perhaps some of her dad--a snip and white right hind, all Ampere--but so clearly her own wonderful and unpredictable self. It is hard to think that any horse could again match Cali in spirit, passion, courage, superior athleticism, blended so well with a tenderness and kindness, yet I see Grace developing in ways that suggest otherwise. It does not matter really; she will be the horse who was born here, who challenges me to take all that I have experimented with in my long life with horses, and to finally do it better.
Cali passed away in November 2012. The day was agonizing. She was both tender, courageous, stunning, devoted, and eventually, in the final hour, when choices began to be forced upon me with increasingly greater pressure, she was strong and loving. I still cannot write about that time, remember her eyes and her touch, without tears and a deeply injured heart.
I have not written the letter to friends and family to tribute her and to acknowledge my loss. I think that is because I have not at all comes to terms with the enormity and significance of losing her and how it redefines me. Cali was a masterpiece, still very much in the works, but one that I knew was my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. With all her baggage and challenges, she was, and I suspect will remain, the greatest horse I will ever know or ride. I do not say this lightly, but I believe that our recent and more consistent daily breakthroughs were monumental, and I think that I somehow believed we were months away from a remarkable presentation. I sensed something big was in the works, and Cali and I were ready to make a mark, prove a point, dance our dance, draw our masterpiece and hang it for the world to see. At her passing, I felt disoriented, a bit adrift, and really missed her. She was almost 18, but somehow seemed finally at her prime, at her best.
Today, July 11th, the day Sarah and Grace were born, we finally spread Cali’s ashes in the fields where she played, where she ran with Grace. She brought so much to my life, and she gave me Grace, a new hope, a new canvas. I feel today as though memories of her can soothe rather than make me ache. I imagine she will make sure that I know she is not really gone, not totally laid to rest, but rather waiting for the right time and opportunity to make me see brightness in her empty space.
Love your charges.
Happy Birthday, Sarah and Grace. Peace to you sweet Cali.