Not Dead Yet, Part One

by Scot Tolman

Scot Tolman Thoughts on Breeding

This is not my first attempt at an introduction for this piece. I’d written what I thought was a funny, self-deprecating beginning treatise demonstrating my mental stability and general awareness of reality. It ended with a statement of verification: “Just ask Karen, my wife, or any of my three children.” Well, evidently, my attempt at humor was unsuccessful. Carol, the love of my life, read my previous introduction, and said, 

“My name’s not Karen.” Pause. “And, you have two children.” 

Of course, now, I find this much funnier than my original assertion of sanity, so it’s my new introduction. 

I bought a horse. 

Yes, that’s reason enough to question anyone’s sanity. There are not many things more insane than subjecting yourself to the life of expenses and frustrations that come along with horse ownership, especially when you know what you’re getting into. “You buy horses all the time,” you might say. This is true. I bought this horse to ride, however. As Hamlet says in perhaps Shakespeare’s most well-known soliloquy, “Ay, therein lies the rub.” “To be, or not to be” may very well have been the question at hand in this decision. 

You see, when I was in my late 20s, I had my life mapped out. Not that I’m an obsessive planner nor compulsive control freak, because I’m really not—it just looks that way. Nonetheless, I had a plan for my life. It wasn’t specific, more of a general progression that made sense to me: Career, then family, then horses. Well, as most of you well know, life/the fates/God, if you’re not an atheist as I am, has a way of “directing/guiding” your choices. In January of 1989, my last year of graduate school, my younger and only full brother, Gary, was killed in a snowmobile accident. Although I was deeply grieving, what I saw my parents and Gary’s wife going through was much more profound than what I was experiencing, so I didn’t really count my grief in comparison. I returned to school, took what little money I had as a graduate student, and went out and bought a horse. Her name was Pretty Mares. She was lovely. She was an older Thoroughbred who had been primarily an eventer and lower level dressage horse. I started riding again. She was my therapy. My grief counselor. Of course, my friends from graduate school all thought I had lost my ever-loving mind, but they didn’t know me as a horse person. Had they known me as a horse person, as most of you know me, they would have understood buying a horse was the sanest thing I could have done at that time.

Fast forward to about 12 years ago. My good friend, KC Dunn, Dr. KC Dunn, called me on my 50th birthday and told me my birthday present to myself was going to be a colonoscopy. I resisted for a bit, but, eventually, relented. I had stage four Colon Cancer and didn’t know it. In the subsequent couple of years of surgeries and chemotherapy, I reached a point where I was OK if I died. Not to be histrionic, but I remember lying in a hospital bed at Mass General, in more pain than I had ever experienced, not knowing if I’d ever be able to take a shit again, let alone face the treatments and more surgeries ahead of me, and clearly answering the “to be, or not to be” question by selecting the latter. It was a moment of great peace for me. It was also a moment of clarity in my understanding of the impermanence of a human being, in particular, this human being. As this life/these fates/this God I don’t believe in would have it, I went on to a colon resection and six months of chemo, a subsequent cancer and a cardiac arrhythmia most likely a result of said chemo, two more surgeries, too many CT scans to count, multiple upper and lower endoscopies, and more check ups and blood draws than I care to remember—each time, part of me certain that the other proverbial shoe was going to drop. Well, this week, on Tuesday, April 12th, at 1:30 pm, after almost 12 years, I was finally discharged from the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer monitoring protocol. 

I sobbed. I could barely get out a thank you to Dr. Takvorian, whom I have come to adore. I couldn’t seem to stop. I kept intermittently sobbing. The people on the elevator down from the ninth floor of the Yawkey Center probably thought I had just received much different news than “No need to make your next six-month appointment.” I paid for my parking in the lobby, and got on another elevator to the parking garage with people who were probably wondering how much longer I had to live. I’m not normally afraid to cry in public—just ask anyone who goes to a movie with me—but heaving sobs and snot pouring out of my nose is a little much, even for me. It took me the hour-plus drive from MGH to my chocolate mint oreo ice cream at Kimball Farms in Littleton, MA, to get myself under control. Come to find out, I’ve been in a 12-year’s long period of grief to which I have become so accustomed that I didn’t even recognize that I’ve been on auto-pilot for more than a decade, just waiting for my Shakespearean ending. 

OK. That was histrionic. You’re going to have to cut me some slack. 

About a month ago, Michaela, my daughter, handed me a cocktail and sat me down for a conversation after she put her kiddos to bed. No one knows me or identifies with me quite like Michaela. She has always been my harshest critic and my most devout supporter. I think it’s a genetic thing; she has a piece of me, realizes it, and knows how to either twist the knife or kick me in the ass when I most need it. The gist of this conversation was, “You’re not dead yet. It’s time for you to live again.” 

Well, this conversation really struck me. I will count it as one of the biggest turning points in my life. So, when Dr. Takvorian said, “I see a strong, well man sitting in front of me,” I was finally ready to hear it. And, because of my conversation with Michaela, I had already begun to take actions to move on with the living of my life. 

I bought a horse.

And, I started painting again. I printed out the 285 pages of my novel I’ve not touched in three years so I can reread it, edit, and finish it. I came up with a smaller version of our riding complex that has been on hold since Covid hit and I am about to commit to a contractor. And, I bought a horse. To ride. 

The point of this piece is not a pity party for me. Although, admittedly, a little self indulgent, it’s a horse story. I, like many of you, have always found my peace and my sanity through horses. Horses, more than people, have buoyed me in the worst times of my life, and brought me great joy in some of the best times of my life. Although my riding aspirations have certainly changed now that I’m 62 and haven’t even ridden a horse in a few years, I’m not dead yet. There is a connection a human establishes with a horse when they are working together that is like no other I have experienced. I think I am finally in a place to hold my own in that partnership. Today, I choose “to be.”

Editor’s note: We are very proud to host Scot Tolman’s “Thoughts on Breeding” series – with its musings and insights and humor – on This one especially made its way to my heart, and I look forward to Part Two.

Scot’s June column, “Not Dead Yet, Part Two”, will recount his experiences horse shopping in Europe and reexamine some of his previously-held beliefs about breeding for the amateur market, especially given that he was the “amateur” in question in this situation.

An announcement will be sent in our June e-newsletter when the article goes live. If you don’t already receive it, you can sign up here.

To learn more about the three stallions Scot stands at stud, click below:

Gaudi SSF

The most popular dressage stallion in North America!

Jaleet SSF

World-class expression and athleticism!

Floris SSF

Top Character and New Pedigree for North America

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11 Replies to “Not Dead Yet, Part One”

  1. Doreen Kulcsar

    Scott, You’ve been through more than your share of pain and suffering and are a living example of this saying :
    Isn’t having the strength to go on
    It’s going on when you don’t have the strength.
    All the best in your many good years to come
    Doreen Kulcsar
    Key Warmbloods
    Alberta Canada

  2. Jan Marquardt

    Scott: You’ve handled this challenging life issue with humility and courage. Well done. May the rest of your life be filled with much more “Not dead yet” attitude.

  3. Jan Marquardt

    Scott: You have handled this complication in your life with humility and courage. Well done! Now we hope to read much more of you enjoying being “not dead yet!”

  4. Karin

    Love this Scot, but so sorry you’ve been suffering my friend!
    What an inspiration you are! I need to to become more positive in the face of adversity like you have! Getting older is not for the faint of heart!
    Sending (((((Hugs))))) and Admiration. ❤

  5. Suzan Saylor

    Like you I had a health issue and was going to give away my horses. My Grand Prix horse who I earned my gold medal on went blind and I had this health issue which really scared me. I worked with the right people to get my nutrition straight and thought if I scaled down and just had the blind horse and a companion for him that would be better. In taking a class on intuition –the teacher one day said –I could never see Suzan without a horse in her life –well that did it. I stopped giving away the two younger horses. Stopped looking for someone else to ride them and got on myself with my hubbies help. It has been the best medicine for me. It has healed my soul. We are meant to enjoy life not survive not suffer but to find joy. Horses bring joy to so many of us. It is not like I had to go out and buy horses they were right here in my life –I just had to allow myself to enjoy them. Your story is inspiring and parallel to mind. Thank you for sharing. Happy trails

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