Happy Birthday, Claudia P.

Today, Claudia Pezzino would have been 25 years old.  She graced our lives for 18 years and, oh, how lucky we all were to be her friend.  Our thoughts are with her parents, Pauline and John, and in Claudia’s honor, we wanted to share a piece I wrote soon after her passing.  Happy birthday, dear Claudia. 

This Rider’s Life
Claudia Pezzino, 18, has slipped away from us – succumbing to a six-month battle with leukemia.  She fought the disease as she lived…with grace, courage, a sense of humor and peace. 
I met Claudia when she was all of 11 years old. I was 33, had just had my second child, and was trying to start my life with horses again. Anxious and unsure of myself, this captivating child took me in her care, showing me the ropes around the barn and the horses, so proud to teach me all she knew. This was the beginning of our friendship.
I remember some weeks later coming to the barn on a beautiful sunny day and looking down over the hill only to see “little Claudia” in the ring astride a beautiful dapple grey Holsteiner gelding she named “Shimmer.” He was her first horse. And she beamed with pride.
We spent several years together after that, riding, showing, talking about life, the horses and this sport we loved. Claudia’s wisdom belied her age, as I learned as much from this spiritual, soulful girl as any adult.  Despite a 22-year age difference, she had become a good friend – around which horses formed a framework.
Claudia worked hard for the privilege to ride, taking care of other people’s horses, schooling them, grooming them, setting up at shows, and helping her trainer any way she could to offset the cost of lessons. Her parents, Pauline and John, made many sacrifices to enable her to pursue her dream. She was a talented children’s hunter rider, choosing from an early age a life with horses. Her ultimate goal was to become a trainer. She was, at 18, already a horseman. I think in some way we riders have all suffered a loss with her passing because Claudia would have been an exceptional, kind and wise teacher.
Today, I think about her horse, Shimmer, now retired and grazing in the pasture of her grandparents’ North Carolina farm. And beside him stands Claudia – healthy, strong and happy – smiling that peaceful, knowing smile so many of us came to know and love.
January 2004

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