By Sue M. Brander
Poor Mona Sansoucy. She never had an equitation horse. Her mother had a half-Morgan mare by Canfield, and like thousands of other children, Mona learned to ride on the family mare. She competed in leadline on a horse borrowed from Bea Newhall at the National Morgan Show in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1962. The next year she rode another borrowed horse, this time Marcia Henry's Ebony Girl. In 1964, the little show girl got her first blue ribbon at the National, riding Bill Gibson's Townshend Astronaut. Mona was hooked on the Morgan but she always rode borrowed equitation horses.
In 1966, Esther Bird had a great idea. "I've got a horse who would be just great for Mona," she confided in Mona's mother, Kay Sansoucy. "You could have him gelded and he could be her equitation horse." Kay and Armand Sansoucy talked it over and decided to buy Green Mt Doc Bird, a handsome colt by Orcland Vigildon and out of Green Mt Darling. Although Mona would finally have her equitation horse, she would have to keep riding borrowed horses until the colt grew up.
By the time 'Doc Bird' was three years old, 12-year-old Mona had trained him to saddle. She could hardly wait to show her stallion in the Junior English Pleasure class at the Eastern National in Northampton. "There were mares in front of him, and he never said a word about it," she recalled. In 1969 a pleasure class was a pleasure, and horses were expected to do simple obstacles. There were cavaletti in the ring, but Mona could barely make them out. "I am practically blind without my glasses," she explained. "And I wouldn't wear them to ride." Since contact lenses were not yet in fashion, Mona had to rely on a pair of eyes she could always trust. She turned to her father and asked what kind of obstacles were in the ring. When Armand told her they were cavaletti, she knew Doc Bird would do fine when she got close enough to see them. There were more than 30 horses in the class, and Doc Bird was second.
Armand and Kay had found a wonderful horse for their daughter, but they had not solved the equitation horse problem. Doc Bird was so good-tempered and kind they never bothered to geld him. They competed in English, western, driving, and low-level dressage classes. "I had no idea what I was doing back then," Mona remarked dryly. "But I thought I was doing dressage at the time." For these first dressage classes, Mona relied upon the same resourcefulness that had served her so well in equitation-borrowing. She borrowed the saddle from Lee Ferguson. And since stallions are not allowed in equitation classes, Mona was still riding borrowed equitation horses.
Doc Bird and Mona had fun on the trails at home during the week, and on weekends the Sansoucy's would pack up the stallion, go to shows, and win. This was no small accomplishment, since the little girl with the stallion had to compete against adults.
Doc Bird was a dark chestnut with a blaze and four white socks, and you could see him coming. He was round, big, very athletic, and totally versatile. In 1972 a groom names Joe Lopez was working for Connie Barton's Big Bend Farm, and absolutely fell in love with Doc Bird at the Connecticut Morgan Show. He insisted the stallion was the perfect match for Mrs. Barton's mare, Big Bend Connie F (Windcrest Ben Davis x Seneta). Kay still remembers the groom who persistently believed in this stallion. "I think he came back ten times to see him," she said. Eventually Joe prevailed, and Mrs. Barton bred Connie F to Doc Bird. The following spring she called the Sansoucys. The mare had delivered the finest foal she had ever seen. It was a colt, and Mrs. Barton, being a breeder, did not want to keep him so she offered him to the Sansoucys. They drove up to see him, and immediately decided to take him.
A few weeks later Mrs. Barton called again, this time very distraught. Connie F had stepped on her foal and broken his leg, and he had to be put down. It was too late to breed the mare back to Doc Bird that year, so they had to wait until the spring of 1974. Connie F was bred again to Doc Bird, and in the spring of 1975 delivered another colt. Once again, Mrs. Barton called the Sansoucys to offer them first refusal on the colt. "We bought him sight unseen," Kay said. "That first one we lost was so nice."
The second one was no disappointment. He was every bit as fine as the unfortunate foal they had lost, and a perfect image of his sire-a dark chestnut with a blaze and four white socks. Mona still remembers the first time she saw him. "He was floating across the pasture," she said. "I remember thinking he'd make a great dressage horse." Then she laughed, remembering her naivete about dressage. "What did I know back then?" she asked.
They named the colt Big Bend Doc Davis, and when he was weaned they brought him home to the family farm in Thompson, Connecticut. They put the colt in the paddock, and figured they had him settled for the afternoon. No sooner had they turned their backs than he jumped the four-foot fence. "He was an athlete right from the beginning," Mona remembered. "He never had a bad day. He never took an awkward step. He was always balanced, always pretty."
Mrs. Barton bred Connie F to another stallion that year, and the results were not all she hoped. The following year, she sent Connie F again to Doc Bird. However, problems ensued and the veterinarian declared her unbreedable. There would never be another Big Bend Doc Davis.
Mona was a show girl through and through, and could hardly wait to show off her new stallion. 'Davey' spent his first year playing and learning basic manners. When he was two years old it was time to get serious, and Mona sent her young stallion to a neighboring farm that employed a young man just beginning to be noticed in the Morgan show world. John Bennett broke Davey to harness in the spring of 1977, and in the following fall Mona started to ride him. However, that fall Mona also went to college and Davey stayed home on the farm, his education temporarily interrupted.
In the spring, Mona couldn't wait any longer. She made arrangements to have Davey stabled near her college, so she could easily prepare him for the Massachusetts Morgan Show. She had six weeks to do it. In those days, Massachusetts Morgan was one of the first shows of the season, and one would think the impatient young woman could have waited for a later show. However, Mona wanted to show off her new colt on Esther Bird's turf, and Massachusetts Morgan was down home to Esther Bird. Davey was Esther's baby's baby and Mona was determined his debut would be at Esther's favorite show. Esther must have been very proud of Doc Bird's baby, for Davey swept the junior divisions at Massachusetts Morgan that year. John Bennett drove him and Mona rode him and together they showed him in-hand. He was a Grand Champion Stallion, Junior English Pleasure Champion and Junior Pleasure Driving Champion. When the show was over, John's career was launched and Davey's career was just beginning.
Mona had a chance to sell Davey at the New England Show in 1978 to a couple from Europe who offered a fabulous sum of money. It was more than the family could earn in a long time-even working together-and it must have been very tempting for the 21-year-old owner who could not sell her young stallion. "I just knew there was something special about this horse," she said. Unable to buy Davey the couple made an offer on his sire, Doc Bird, but Kay and Armand would not part with the stallion who had done so much to raise their daughter. Mona kept her stallions, but found she was drifting slowly away from the show world she had loved so much as a child.
By the end of the season, Mona was finding the show scene a bit tedious. She entered the classes, but did not think the best horses were being pinned. She was also beginning to question the weight put on the feet of pleasure horses. The young college student began to ponder these things, and they troubled her through the winter months. Still, the show world was what she knew, and in 1979 she was competing again. She graduated from college that spring and made it through the show season, but the 1979 New England Morgan Horse Show was her last show with Davey. She came home from that show and knew it was over. Her stallion was four years old, and she had no idea what future she could have with him.
Lee Ferguson jumped into the void. Mona had asked her to come and see Davey at New England, and Lee was sure he was a great dressage prospect. Perhaps Mona already had an inkling her life with Davey was about to take a new turn. As it happened, Lee was going to show some of her many reels of film of European Grand Prix dressage horses at a Rhode Island Dressage Association meeting and invited Mona to come and see the film. Kay and Armand accompanied their daughter to the meeting which was held at the Kelly Stables, now the site of Johnson and Wales College in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. By the end of the evening, Mona knew what she was going to do with Davey. "That's it!" she exclaimed. "That's what I want to do." In the dark on the way home, the family talked excitedly about Davey's new future.
Mona sold her show cart and bought a dressage saddle. She sold her saddle suits and cutback to buy more equipment. By fall, she had visited Lee a few times and had ridden Broadwall Jazztime, Lee's dressage horse, to get some idea of what dressage was supposed to feel like. "I remember being very embarrassed I couldn't sit the trot," Mona said. "I was flying out of the saddle."
Mona remembered how much Lee gave to her in those first wobbling dressage days. "Lee really picked up the ball. 'Oh, he's wonderful!' she'd say about Davey. She'd invite me to come and see films. To come and do this and come and do that. She pushed me along, and she always said Davey was going to be a great horse.""
In December 1979, Mona rode Davey in her first clinic with Dr. H. L. M. Van Shaik. The master would say something, and Kay would stand on the sidelines wondering what it meant. It was all so new. "It was humiliating," Mona recalled. "I thought I was a hot little rider. You go in the show ring, you win, and you get to thinking you're pretty good. I knew nothing. It was a shock. Davey usually won."
If Mona struggled to master the new techniques, Dr. Van Shaik was also challenged. He would tell his new pupil to do something, and when she made an attempt, he would shout, "No! Not like that!" His clinics usually concluded with his classic encouraging remark, "Mona, you exhaust me!" Still, she persisted, and Davey tried to do what she asked though he wasn't always clear on what it was she was asking.
One day the master told her something much more prophetic than his usual observations. "You will never again have a horse as good as this," he told her. "He is once-in-a-lifetime horse." She was 22 years old and the very weight of what he told her must have been amazing to a young woman. He quickly added, "But you certainly have to learn how to ride him."
In 1980, Mona thought Davey was ready to officially enter the dressage world and put him in his first show. Never one to start at the bottom rung, Mona chose a USET competition in Hamilton, Massachusetts. Although this show wasn't offering Training level tests, Mona was undaunted. "I'll just ride him First level," she thought, and pre-entered him in two First level tests. At First level, the horse must lengthen the stride at the trot and the canter. Davey was accomplished at the trot and Mona believed his natural intelligence and athletic ability would help him figure out the canter.
For all the reasons known to horsemen, they could not get off the farm that morning. Davey's test was at 9:32, and they arrived on the show grounds-breathlessly at 9:00. Mona got on Davey and together they tore around the warm-up arena. At 9:32, Mona rode Davey to his first dressage test, a level above where he should have started.
He got a score of 63 percent-a very respectable score, enough to place him second in the test. The other competitors were stunned. How could this unknown rider with her unknown little horse come in and ride to second place? "They whipped around and said, 'Who's she?'" Mona said. "They should have been asking, 'Who's he?'" If they'd only known he'd never performed a Training level test.
It was not easy to penetrate the dressage world. Armand and Kay were especially sensitive to the aloof manner of the dressage people. "They all talked in hushed tones," Armand remembered. "It took a while to break the ice with those folks." These people were a far cry from the foot stomping, hooting, hollering crowds they had enjoyed so much at Morgan shows.
\To make matters worse Mona was riding a Morgan, and it was obvious her horse was little and different. "In those days, nobody had Morgans," Mona explained. "You just didn't see them at dressage shows. Everybody had Thoroughbreds. There were a few warmbloods. Morgans? Unheard of." Lee was like a one-woman public address system, announcing Davey's breed. "Lee told everybody he was a Morgan. She was as excited as my own parents. Everybody would say 'No way! He couldn't be a Morgan.'" Davey rode two tests that day, and Mona no longer remembers where he placed in the second test. "I think maybe a fifth," she said. Davey was five years old, and he'd had a productive first outing. He certainly had everyone's attention.
If the dressage world was a bit stiff and formal compared with the Morgan show world they knew, it also afforded some stellar opportunities. In 1980 there were precious few dressage masters in the United States. If you were serious about dressage, you simply had to go to Europe. So, Mona simply had to go. As always, Lee was the instigator. She was forever heading off to England or Germany to learn more about dressage and to attend clinics. In 1981, she insisted Mona go to England with her to study dressage. Davey stayed home while Miss Mona stayed in a castle.
Lee was teaching clinics at the Hedley Dents' stable. They had Morgans, and crossed their Morgan stallion with Thoroughbred mares to get the size everyone thought was imperative for dressage horses. Lee wasted no time finding a suitable occupation for her young American pupil. If there was a horse having trouble with his manners, she put Mona on him. "Okay Mona, straighten him out," Lee would say. The tough little show rider could oblige pretty well.
She took what she learned from Lee, and the knowledge she acquired from Dr. Van Shaik, and rode Davey up through Second level. However, Mona was becoming acutely aware there were huge gaps in her knowledge. At the time she didn't understand why, but time has revealed the reason. She now understands Davey had them all fooled. "Davey was such a natural and he always went correctly," she explained "Dr Van Shaik assumed I knew more than I knew. To this day I am still learning basic things he never told me. I simply did not understand the cause and effect relationship between the aids and the results."
Nevertheless they groped along, relying mostly on Davey's talent and doing their best with what Mona learned in quarterly clinics with Dr. Van Shaik and from endless hours of watching Lee's movies. In 1982 they were ready for Third level, and Mona took him to Stoneleigh Burnham for a competition. By this time Mona had a few friends in the dressage community, and one of them was the scribe that day.
It was 105 degrees in the sun, and the judge leaned over and said to the scribe, "Thank God it's the last ride. I can't wait to go home." As he gazed absentmindedly at the last horse warming up he added as an afterthought, "That's a cute little horse." Mona was blissfully unaware of the judge's mood as she rode Davey to the test. The scribe faithfully recorded his comments, and between official comments the judge would mutter, "Gee this is a nice looking little horse." A few moments later it would pop out again. "Gee, this is kind of a cute little horse." Throughout the test he punctured his comments with the "cute little horse" refrain, as though he could not quite believe this smaller horse was delivering such a great performance.
When the test was over, the scribe took it upon herself to tell the judge the horse was a Morgan. "No!" he exclaimed. "He couldn't be."
"Yes," she insisted. "He is a Morgan."
"Talk about blood out of a turnip!" he exclaimed.
That was 11 years ago, and even today Mona smiles gleefully when she says, "The turnip won the class."
At about this time, the cute little horse-or turnip-had also acquired an annoying little habit. In the warm up ring he would rear up and clap his front feet together. The ring would clear in a flash, and Davey would have it all to himself. He had learned about the wonderful world of mares, and the habit transferred. This persisted for about one season, and Mona stopped using him for breeding. For this reason, he had very few mature offspring on the ground until recently.
In 1982 Davey had his first opportunity to do an exhibition performance at the Connecticut Morgan Show. Shortly after, they exhibited at the New England Morgan Show. Bill Gibson, a next-town neighbor, was the driving force behind the idea. Bill was one of the first to loan Mona an equitation horse, nearly two decades earlier. He had ample opportunity to watch her grow in dressage, and certainly knew Esther Bird and the horses behind Davey. A fair-minded man he loved all horses (as long as they were Morgans), and all disciplines. He was a strong supporter and leader in the New England region for many years, so it was fitting Bill kicked open the door for the Morgan dressage horse and hand-picked the horse. Lee and Mona performed a Pas de Deux at the Connecticut and New England Morgan Shows that year. It was the beginning of a great romance between Davey and New England spectators. As the years passed, Davey would draw crowds to the New England Morgan Horse Show-crowds who came solely to see him.
There was also a second-hand invitation. Lee was supposed to do an exhibition ride at a fundraiser at the USET headquarters. Three weeks before the performance she had a bad fall, and severely injured her back. She called the organizers and explained she could not perform, but Mona and Davey could. "Who?" they asked. "Oh, the little Morgan." The "little Morgan" performed creditably, and Mona can still quote lines the Horseman's Yankee Peddler reporter wrote in praise of their performance and their meteoric rise in dressage. It was Davey's first media coverage, but far from his last.
Throughout 1982, Mona and Davey performed at Third level. They were still working on Third level in 1983. For the first time in their soaring career together, Mona and Davey ran up against a brick wall. Davey was having trouble learning to do flying lead changes, and they could not move on to Fourth level until he mastered the changes.
One day, Mona was watching one of Lee's movies, and noticed the aids for flying lead changes were blatant. She could see the sequence and timing for the signal. She was sure Davey's trouble came from her inability to ask for the changes correctly. She hurried out to try what she learned in the movie to no avail. Davey could not do it.
She now knows it was because she was asking him to do the flying changes before he was ready. He had two years of dressage training behind him, and was not collected enough to do the changes. "He'd do them late," she said, recalling her frustration. "He'd change in front first, then change late behind. I gave no thought to what it would take to get to that point. Lucky for me I had Davey."
It took Davey a whole year to learn single flying lead changes correctly. The season of 1982 melted away, and Davey was still struggling to do the changes in 1983. Mona now knows this is not at all unusual. Many horses take a year or more to confirm the flying lead change. However, Davey never took a year to learn anything-he was the horse who knew how to extend the trot before he was taught. Now, it seemed, they were stuck. They could not get to Fourth level until Davey could do the flying lead changes.
In 1983, Lee went to Germany for a month and insisted Mona go with her. Mona was working as a microbiologist at a local hospital, and the family scraped together enough money for her to have yet another humbling experience. The whole purpose of their journey was to help Mona improve her skills, and once again Mona learned how much she didn't know. Davey is 15.2 hands, but the German horses were 16.3. "I could walk right under them," Mona laughed. "And there was no mounting block." She could not sit the trots, either, because their gaits were so different.
She spent three hours a day on the lunge line, without reins or stirrups. By the end of the week she was sitting on a pillow or standing at every opportunity. She learned to make the horse move and stop by using her seat and legs, not her hands. "I realized the great strength it took to ride quietly and correctly and appear relaxed. I confirmed what I knew, and as the weeks went on I began riding upper level horses. They did series changes and pirouettes." The German horses were so schooled they would collect, collect, and collect. When the rider gave the aids correctly, they would produce the movement. "You do A, B, and C, and you get D," Mona said, still amazed at the perfect cause-effect relationship.
She came home in the fall of 1983, and finally moved Davey up to Fourth level. "I don't think I had any appreciation for what I had accomplished," she said. "He made it so easy. After all, when we rode that first test in 1980, we showed up late and he got a second. Wow! That was easy!" It was also after the trip to Germany she taught Davey to perfect his forte, the pirouette.
At about this time Mona looked around her, and to her great surprise realized there were not many Morgans competing at the lower levels in dressage. Phil and Jennifer DuBois were among the Morgan dressage enthusiasts, and they were most welcome for Mona who had known them for years. In her college days, she often went up to Otter Brook Farm in New Hampshire and rode their horses. "Most of the horses were park horses," she said. "They'd sit me on all of them. Voyager, Brenda Ash, every one of them. I had the best time. I never rode park horses before. Then it all changed. The weight came of the feet, and they were wearing snaffle bridles. It all happened so fast!" To this day, whenever Mona goes to Otter Brook, she has to ride a few horses. And those horses travel differently today.
In the early 1980s it was rare to see a Morgan doing dressage. Indeed, it was rare to see an F.E.I. level horse in America, and if one showed up at a competition, the whole grounds would buzz with the news. Now it is common to see Grand Prix horses at most competitions. "There are better horses now, and better riders," Mona observed. "And they speak English!" Davey was part of that change process, and he led Morgans into dressage competition.
Through the season of 1984, the pair competed at Fourth level.
In 1985, Mona went again to Germany. As always, Lee was looking toward the future, and wrote to AMHI urging them to help the horse and rider who were doing so much to promote the Morgan as a dressage horse. AMHI awarded Mona a $500 scholarship to help pay her expenses for the trip to Europe.
Mona rode a horse who was very good at piaffe and passage, and when she came home she and Davey perfected his piaffe. Then she taught him the passage. He learned to do the three-tempe changes and the two-tempe changes, too. Only the one-tempe change was left, a movement he couldn't seem to master. But Davey was collecting and collecting, gathering steam for the one-tempe change that could catapult him to Grand Prix level.
"The jump to Grand Prix is tough," Mona explained. "There is so much more collection. You have to piaffe and passage, and the horse has to do 17 one-tempe changes." Davey knew piaffe and he had just learned passage, but still could not do the one-tempe changes. It would take two years to get through Intermediare I and Prix St. George.
In 1986 Mona Sansoucy married Dr. Michael Gaudet. Michael went to competitions and videotaped their performances. Davey's career hardly missed a beat as he progressed through the Prix St. George and Intermediare I levels.
The couple was living in Maine at the time, and one day Mona was riding Davey in a big field. She decided to try again for the one-tempe change. Davey popped 13 one-tempe changes in a row. She immediately got off the stallion, praised him lavishly, and led him back to the barn. He got a whole bag of carrots that day. From that time on, Davey had no problem with one-tempe changes.
Mona and Davey continued to charm the audiences of the New England Morgan Horse Show, usually with outdoor performances on Friday and Saturday evenings. People who never went to horse shows and never owned a horse came to see the great stallion dance under the lights. The musical kur was their forte, because the rider had a show girl in her heart, and Davey had a show horse in his.
The 1988 New England Morgan Horse Show performance of Davey and Mona is widely declared to be the greatest of their career. The show horse inside Davey loved the crowd, the adulation, and the applause. Most dressage horses are not accustomed to crowds and do not have that show horse spirit; Davey had both. He just lit up and gave more when the crowd roared. And they did roar. Morgan people had none of the reticence and hushed demeanor of the dressage crowd. They screamed, stomped, and banged on the rail. They clapped and the great stallion came on, rewarding their enthusiasm with breathtaking athletic beauty. When Mona gave the final salute of the ride, the crowd would not let them leave. She always had an encore ready. The crowd insisted upon it.
That summer of 1988, Davey also went to his first Grand Prix competitions. They did not ride a Grand Prix test, but instead performed a Grand Prix musical kur. The kur was their long suit, because it was more like dance than school figures. The kur had music-the art of spirit of the dance-and Davey and Mona were performing artists. There were at least ten horses in each of those kurs, but Davey was unique. As she rode to the gate for each of these performances, Mona heard the announcer saying Big Bend Doc Davis was the only American-bred horse on the grounds that day-the only horse actually foaled in the United States. Davey placed second in one kur and fourth in the other, defeating several horses long-listed for USET.
At the second show, Davey stepped into a depression in the warm up area, and his career ended. He tore a suspensory ligament. "He is such a stoic horse," Mona recalled. "I did not realize what had happened at the time. I knew something was wrong, but he never really went lame." Later that week the vet came to ultrasound Davey, and the news was not good. He was laid off from August to April. That winter Mona and Davey also lost their greatest mentor. Lee Ferguson died in November of 1988.
By April of 1989 Davey was ready to work again, but Mona was not. She was pregnant with her first child, Emily, who was born in December of 1989.
Although he had rolled back the prejudice against the Morgan, Davey could not roll back time. He was 15 years old in 1990, and Mona began to wonder if his legs would hold up for a comeback. She decided it was not worth the risk. He meant more to her than all the accolades and applause, and she made up her mind to retire him from competition.
On October 28, 1990, Davey met the greatest challenge of his life. They went out for a routine hack, and when they returned, Mona turned him out to pasture. Davey got down and rolled. Then he came running to the gate with a panic-stricken expression that screamed, "Help me! Help Me!" Mona soon realized he was colicking, and as the day wore on he got worse. Mona called Davey's veterinarian, Dr. Tom Butera, who came at once.
At 2:00 in the morning Dr. Butera was still with them in the barn. Mona called her husband, who was working a 24-hour shift at a hospital in Gardner, Massachusetts. "What if he needs surgery?" she asked, knowing the cost would be astronomical. Michael did not have to think about his answer. "You'll never forgive yourself if you don't give him a chance," he said.
At 5:00 a.m. Dr. Butera told Mona she would either have to put Davey down or take him to Tufts Veterinary School's Equine Clinic immediately. Mona called her husband again, but could hardly talk. She put Dr. Butera on the line, and he explained his diagnosis to Dr. Gaudet. Michael hadn't changed his mind. He still believed they had to give Davey a chance.
By 6:00 that morning Davey was on the trailer with Armand at the wheel, heading for Tufts Equine Clinic. There, Dr. Patricia Provost knew she could not diagnose the problem until she had him opened up. She made it clear if it was very grave she would put him down on the table. Michael drove to Tufts to join his wife, and they waited while Davey's life lay in the capable hands of Dr. Provost.
A fatty tumor had wrapped around his intestines like a free-swinging icicle, shutting off circulation and killing a large section of the intestine. Davey came out of surgery and bounced back the next day, picking at the hay in his stall. Dr. Provost was amazed. She called Mona and said, "I just can't believe how well this horse is doing. I'm very pleased, but we still have a long way to go." Mona went to visit Davey, and she took the videotape of their performance at the 1988 New England Morgan Horse Show. "I want you to see this," she said. "I want you to understand why this horse has to walk out of here." Students and veterinarians gathered to watch Davey's finest performance. And they understood.
Davey progressed well for two days, but the battle had only begun. By mid-week, his condition deteriorated dramatically. Once again, Mona called on her husband for the rational decision-making emergency room skills he could bring to the crisis. Together, Dr. Provost and Dr. Gaudet decided to try one more time to save the great stallion. Dr. Provost removed a section of the mesentery that had been damaged, but had not yet turned death blue in the earlier surgery. Davey came back with his characteristic resilience. He spent the winter of 1990-1991 recovering in the leisure of his sugar-maple kingdom on the family farm.
Publicity chairman Rodney Gould wanted New England to see Davey one more time, and in February of 1991 asked Mona to retire Davey at the New England Morgan Horse Show. It was a bit premature. Mona did not know if Davey could ever perform again. Rodney already knew what Mona had not yet conceived. Davey did not have to perform. All they had to do was show up and walk into the ring, and the people would be happy. Rodney was like a bulldog persisting and hanging onto his vision of Davey-one more time-in the ring at Northampton.
When the New England weather softened, Mona began to ride Davey lightly and was surprised at how willing he was to reach into the inner greatness and bring it forth again. She decided to go for it. Maybe they couldn't do the intricate athletic dance they did in 1988, but surely they could to something to evoke the memories for the thousands who loved her stallion.
"I couldn't warm him up on the track, because it was too muddy," Mona said. "I remember trying to warm him up on the road, and the cars kept coming and coming. I remember thinking 'Stop parking here! I can't warm up the horse!'" They didn't stop coming, and Davey never did get warmed up. By the time he came to the gate, there was not even standing room in the arena jammed with a crowd estimated at 3,000 people.
For the first time in her life, Mona was overwhelmed by the crowd. "I don't think they could have squeezed another person in there," she said. "It was an emotional high, especially after the year that led up to that night. Outside at Northampton, you can't see the crowd. The boxes are dark. You feel alone. Everything indoors at Northampton is much closer. You can see the crowd. As I was standing in the doorway, that crowd was overwhelming." Armand and Mona's brother, Michael, rubbed the rain off Davey as Mona stared at the crowd realizing, perhaps for the first time, how much their performances had meant to the people. Davey was eager to go, as always. The music began, and the performing artist in Mona took over.
As always, the crowd roared and banged on the rails. They rocked the stands with their stomping feet. If his performance was not what it was in 1988, Mona need not have worried. No one noticed. "He was on autopilot for the first half," Mona declared. "That was his warmup." When they halted and Mona saluted the people, they would not stop cheering until the announcer said, "Mona Sansoucy-Gaudet and Big Bend Doc Davis will perform an encore."
Davey piaffed as the opening bars of "Stars and Stripes Forever" filled the arena. The people began to clap in time as they moved forward into a passage, and the clapping continued in time for a full minute. As the encore became more intricate, there was occasional silence and tears streamed down people's faces. These silences were punctuated with bursts of applause for the series changes, the extended trot, and the pirouette-all the movements that had captured the hearts of New England. Mona had choreographed a perfectly symmetrical performance, closing with the same music and the same movements with which they began. As the familiar theme returned, the crowd began to clap in time again. He closed with a brilliant passage down the rail and in to the center line, for a final powerful piaffe.
"His finest performance," Phil DuBois declared, when he was able to speak.
As soon as Mona dismounted, her eternal grooms ran to the horse. Armand and Mona's brother, Michael, removed the saddle and toweled off every fleck, as the announcer began to tell the story of Big Bend Doc Davis. One by one, his people came to the stallion: Kay Sansoucy, Michael's wife and son, John Bennett, farrier Dennis Daubney, and veterinarian Tom Butera. When Dr. Patricia Provost and Dr. Michael Gaudet entered the arena together, there was a swell of applause for the two doctors who had saved his life.
The ceremony was not without comedy, offered by the principal himself. When the announcer referred to the "cute little horse" syndrome they endured, Davey stretched his neck, raised his head, smiled broadly, and whinnied. The crowd burst out laughing, and applauded his wisdom. He found several such opportunities to have the last laugh on those who thought a Morgan couldn't do it.
Finally, AMHA President Phil DuBois went to Davey, carrying the blanket of flowers donated by one of Davey's admirers. When he laid the laurels across the stallion, a whole historic passage came to honor. Davey was the first Morgan stallion in the United States to reach Grand Prix level in dressage. Although we all have an opportunity to be first every day we go out to meet the competition, few have the opportunity to break new ground, be first on the frontier, or lead the way. There is only one who opens new territory, and Davey did more than any other horse to bring dressage to the Morgan world. His contribution to promoting the Morgan stands with the greatest horses of the centuries: Hales Green Mountain, Ethan Allen, Kennebec Count, and Kennebec Russell.
Mona led Davey around the arena as the music of "Memories" played. Davey was enjoying the adulation, one step ahead of his lady most of the time. He was absolutely basking in his glory. One pass was not enough for the audience and she gave them one more. Then she led Davey to the gate, and turned so the crowd could see him. She raised her hand and waved a final farewell for him, as the historic stallion looked into the crowd. As they turned to leave, Armand stepped up on Davey's right side, almost invisible to the crowd. He folded the towel meticulously, as though he would need it again, and they disappeared into the night as the applause faded behind them.
Dr. H. L. M. Van Shaik did not attend that performance, and Mona did not hear from him. She did not quite understand why until she read the news weeks later. He died two weeks after Davey's final performance. While Mona rode the "once-in-a-lifetime-horse" in his final exhibition performance, Dr. Van Shaik was struggling with his final illness.
As she watched the Morgan Horse Video Review of that 1991 exhibition performance, Mona remembered most her mentors and how much they had given in the short time they had to make a difference. "I saw a friend of Lee's that night," she recalled. She told her friend how much Lee was in her thoughts as she led Davey around the ring, with the blanket of flowers on his back, to the music of "Memories." "It was too bad Lee couldn't be here to see this," she said to her friend, that summer night in Northampton.
"Oh," the woman answered with conviction. "She was here. Yes, she was." Mona nodded, acknowledging the truth in her heart.
As she reflected on their shooting-star careers, Mona had only one regret. "My only regret of Davey's entire career is that I wish I had been more educated, a better rider. I wish I knew then what I know now. I don't think I was able to develop him to his highest potential, because I had so much to learn. As well as he did, I think he could have done better. If I had only known . . . ," she murmured, as her voice drifted off into her thoughts.
"His limbs were smooth, clean, free from any swelling . . . Those persons who saw him in 1819 and 1820 describe his appearance as remarkably fresh and youthful. Age had not quenched his spirit nor damped the ardor of his temper, . . . his eye was still bright, his step firm and elastic."
Writing in 1857, D. C. Linsley reported eyewitness accounts of Figure at the age of 32. The same could be written of Figure's descendant, now nearly two centuries later. The only hint of his age is the roaning of his blaze. His eye has not sunken, nor has his back. Now 18 years old, Davey is devoted to siring those few special individuals who will carry his blood into the next century as Bullrush, Woodbury, and Sherman carried forward the blood of their sire, Figure.
He also enjoys regular exercise on the trail. "I've done my best to keep him slim and fit. I have a friend who comes and rides him," Mona said. He is teaching this novice rider what riding is supposed to feel like, when it's done correctly.
"Half halt. Pull on the rein. Do this with your leg," Mona tells her friend.
"Omigosh!" the novice exclaims.
"What's he doing? Is this a pirouette?" Yes, and it is one of the best pirouettes she will ever ride.
"Think that you want to trot, but don't let him go," Mona says. Davey piaffes, perfectly correct. Just to know the aids and what they should feel like is a privilege few novice riders could have had in this country, only a decade ago.
There are two young stallions in the 18th century barn at the Sansoucy farm-one is a son of Big Bend Doc Davis. But Davey knows his place. "There'll never be another horse with the combination of talent, athleticism, temperament, and charisma Davey has," Mona said with intensity. "He was a trail blazer dressage horse. He'll be remembered for that and he'll be remembered because he was the first Morgan who had all these qualities.
"I have two other horses in the barn. Will they be as good?" she asked. Then she answered her own question.
"There will never be another Big Bend Doc Davis."
A big thank you to Mona Gaudet, and to Sue Brander for letting us reprint her wonderful article on Davey.
July 30, 1999
On July 19, 1999 Big Ben Doc Davis left us for greener pastures. We will all miss him greatly and treasure the special memories of his time on this earth.
First of all, I would like to thank each and every one of you who expressed their sympathy publicly and by private email. I am truly moved by such a response and all of you have helped to comfort me. I know that many of you are wondering what happened. Since he was so much of a "public" horse, I feel compelled to tell you.
Let me start by saying that I had (and still have) a special connection to Davey. I always knew what he was thinking and could always sense when something wasn't right with him. I have known for months, at some level, that he was not going to be around much longer. But I refused to speak it and I chose to ignore it. He has been in excellent health and honestly, has never looked better - so shiny and bright. This past Sunday evening I had the strong feeling that he was going to get sick. So strong was this feeling that I checked on him several times throughout the evening and night. But he was always happily munching on his hay. Monday morning I went out to the barn at 5:30am as is my custom in the hot months. There he was, laying down with his breathing very labored. I knew that this was the day I had long dreaded. I gave him some banamine and Milk of Magnesia. He got better after about 30 minutes and started picking at some grass. So, I let him graze on the lawn, knowing that we were not done yet. I always kept him in sight as I went about my chores. I didn't tell my husband or my children anything as they were off to camp and work for the day. I brought him back in around 11am because it was getting hot and gave him a little hay and put his fan on.
Around noon I noticed he stopped eating and I knew something had changed again. He began to appear uncomfortable so I gave him more banamine. This time it did not work. I called my veterinarian, Liz Maloney, who is also my good friend and one of the most compassionate people on the face of the earth. She came within 45 minutes. In the meantime, I tried calling all of my friends and family but I could reach no one. Davey and I spent our time out in the grass. He laid down most of the time and I just kept talking to him and telling him how much our life together had meant to me. I described all of my favorite times with him - there were so many. Whenever I had a problem to work out, Davey and I would go off for a hack. Once or twice I thought he was going to pass away right then, but he would come back and put his head in my lap. I then told him how much I loved him and that it was okay for him to go. I did not want him to suffer needlessly. Liz arrived and gave him some pain medication so that she could examine him. She discovered that part of his large intestine was displaced and was beginning to impact and choke itself off. Over the course of about 45 minutes his condition deteriorated rapidly. During this time, my children - Emily, 9 and Ben, 5 came home. Ben came into the barn and said, " I think this is Davey's last day of life". Emily was very upset and I suggested that she take Ben into the house and put a video on for him. I took Davey back outside where he could lay down in the grass. I asked about administering fluids .She told me that short of surgery, there was nothing to be done - fluids would buy a little time but would only prolong the inevitable. But I already knew this.
I knew that he was ready to go. Since he had already had colic surgery 9 years previous, I would not even consider putting him through that again. She prepared the injections and the two of us took Davey on one last walk back to his pasture. We stopped in his favorite grazing spot. He looked so beautiful and proud. I told him again how much I loved him and how I would miss him but that it was okay to leave now. When he went down, I held his head and stroked him as he took his last breath. I stayed with him for quite awhile and continued to talk to him although I knew he wasn't there any more. I then realized that these last hours were as they were supposed to be - just Davey and myself, alone, as was our custom. That was why I couldn't reach anyone. Few would understand this bond.
My daughter Emily came out after awhile and we cried together for a long time. I then went in and called our neighbor who came quickly and prepared a burial spot. We carefully covered Davey with coolers that he had won. I cut a lock of hair from his tail. The heavens opened and it poured.
A sort of cleansing if you will. New beginnings.
I didn't sleep that night. The next morning I was sobbing as I prepared breakfast for my children. Ben said, "Mommy, why are you still so sad? Don't you know that Davey is still out in his stall even though we can't see him? He is all around us, can't you feel it?". I could. But such wisdom out of the mouths of babes.
I feel as if I am dreaming a terrible dream and I wish I would wake up. I imagine it will be a long time before this wound heals over. I have many wonderful memories to sustain me and I thank all of you who wrote me with your memories and impressions. Again I thank all of you who watched, supported, encouraged us over the years. If I have gained any respect in the horse world it is because of this wonderful animal.
Two of my dear friends have had a headstone made to commemorate my dear friend. The inscription reads:
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