January 2019 - Slow Recovery
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Friday, 14 December 2018 22:33

news & features

Grand Prix rider shares the slow struggle to recover from a sudden loss.

by Kim F. Miller

Francie Nilforushan looks forward to the moment when gratitude outweighs grief over losing her Grand Prix jumping partner Clarinius.

She’s not there yet.

At press time, it was two-and-a-half weeks since the 11-year old Holsteiner collapsed right after a four-fault round in the FEI Longines World Cup™ Jumping Las Vegas. “I try really hard to focus on the great memories I had with him and all the good things he did for me, but right now it’s hard. I still cry all the time.”

The Clearway son was completely his normal self while soaring over the World Cup course. “He jumped everything so easy, and even as we walked out of the ring, everything felt completely normal. There were definitely no warning signs.”

As they left the arena and headed just a few steps into the tunnel, everything changed in an instant when Clarinius went down. It was immediately thought and later confirmed to be a heart failure. “They described it to me as like having the electricity go off all the sudden,” Francie explains.

She’s grateful to the first responders in the terrifying moment and its aftermath. FEI steward Don Reed reacted quickly enough to grab Francie and pull her off before Clarinius fell on top of her. FEI veterinarian Dr. Emily Sandler Burtness, Philippe Benoit, DVM, and the entire Blenheim EquiSports staff “handled everything the best they could given what happened,” Francie says. Most of all, “I know that he kept me safe until the very end and I am so thankful for that.”

She and her husband Ali Nilforushan had Clarinius for two years. Ali, a veteran international show jumper, found him in Europe, initially thinking he’d campaign the horse himself.

“Clar” was a nervous horse who had inspired that reaction in those who cared for him when Ali first saw him. “Ali was looking at other horses, but when he asked one of the stable hands to hop on Clarinius, the girl looked at him and her face turned white,” Francie relays. So, Ali got on, but not easily…

Photo: Osteen

At the try-out and for a while afterward, it often took a team of four to get one rider into the saddle. Once on board and after a few jumping rounds, Ali concluded that nervous ground behaviors were a small price to pay for Clarinius’ athletic abilities and game attitude on course.

“Bambi on ice” is the way Francie remembers Clarinius when he first arrived at their home stable in San Diego. “The first day he got here, it was raining and we went to look at him in his stall. He was super nervous: standing there with his legs far apart and just shaking.” Under the patient, kind care of their head groom Emelio Garcia, Clarinius’ nerves gradually began to settle.

Getting on him remained a challenge. About six weeks before Las Vegas, Francie had a breakthrough with that. It was the staff’s day off, and Ali was not nearby to help, so she gave it a go on her own. “It was the most amazing thing that I could get on him without help,” she reflects. “I never in a million years thought that would happen.”

Although Ali had purchased Clarinius to continue his own Grand Prix career, he soon began to consider the big, yet sensitive horse a better fit for his wife. “The second he was here and Ali began riding him, he said, ‘I know this is a girl’s horse.’” Francie admits she thought her husband “was crazy at first.” Yet, she rode him occasionally at home and agreed to compete him in April, when the couple’s Nilforushan Equisport Events staged the inaugural Temecula Valley National Horse Show Series. Francie recalls not being too keen on that idea and accepting on condition that Ali resume the ride once their show series as over.

“From the first week’s class, we clicked and I thought, ‘OK, I’m not sure I want to give him back.’” With Ali fully in support of Francie’s riding career, she didn’t have to and the pair went on to a year full of great results.

At the Del Mar National Grand Prix in May and at the Del Mar World Cup class in the fall, the promising pair had clear rounds with only one time fault. Both are indelible memories for Francie as she works through these difficult times. Moments at the barn linger, too. “He was the kindest, sweetest, gentle giant,” Francie says. At the European sales barn where he came from, Clarinius was one of many. But for the Nilforushans, “He was our everything. Everyone loved him so much.”

She laughs fondly remembering his terror over any small stream of water and the automatic waterer in his stall (he got a water bucket instead). “He was scared of stupid little things, but he was the bravest horse on course. I always knew what to expect from him on course.”

Francie hopes no other horsemen have to undergo what she and Ali are dealing with. She’s working on her own coping skills. “When you have a horse like that, you really have to appreciate it because you never know when something can happen.”

She’s grateful for Ali’s dedication to furthering her international career. “He immediately began trying to find a new horse for me,” she says. “It’s really hard to find horses at that level, and for us, all the stars had to align for him to end up in our stable.” As with Clarinius, the goal is finding a talented horse whose quirks might deter another buyer but could be overcome with patient horsemanship, as Clarinius’ were.

“I am so grateful that Ali is looking.” Francie shares. “But right now it’s hard. I feel like there’s nothing than can compare to him.”