In the first years of the 21st century, Templado became one of the most famous horses in the world: The white Lusitano stallion tossed his now famous knee-length mane on the covers of magazines, in television commercials, on stage and in films, first in France, then throughout Europe, and finally in Canada and the United States.
Americans first came to know and love Templado as one of the star equine performers in the hit show Cavalia, where his leading role in the astounding liberty acts with trainer Frédéric Pignon awed sold-out audiences from coast to coast.
The story of Templado is familiar but compelling: He was the young rebel brought round by a patient friend and the discovery of a “purpose.” His relationship with Frédéric ultimately superseded his early fear of losing his independence, and the joyous energy he exhibited before the camera and spectators seemed to indicate a genuine pleasure in performing. While at first Templado ceaselessly tested Frédéric’s abilities to evolve as a trainer, to seek another route to making a true connection with the horse that seemed to hold so much potential behind lock and key, there came a day when he, as Frédéric says, “gave an inch.” Templado opened himself to the possibility of working with—rather than at odds with—a human friend and partner, and that was the moment that changed history.
Without a doubt, Templado was the most important horse in Frédéric Pignon’s life. “Since Templado, I value each horse, every moment I spend with him, and every new level that we reach,” says Frédéric. The trainer was with Templado the day he died, at home in France, after a long illness. This is his goodbye.
It was the evening we got back from Spain after two months of Cavalia shows. As always, you were waiting for us, and I spent an hour with you, telling you how great it was that you were still holding on even though your health had been deteriorating steadily.
But on that evening, you did not appear to be too bad, and you were clearly glad to see us. I felt anxious despite your good humor so I followed my instincts as always and went back after dinner to spend more time with you.
The next morning I gave you a good wash down; I don’t know why but I felt you had to be clean. You let me do it with patience even though you had long since gotten bored with showers. I called [my wife and partner] Magali to come and see how long your mane was now: It touched the ground. I let you out into the garden to graze and then visit your friends whom you enjoyed irritating a little.
It made me smile, but underneath I knew…. The sun was climbing into the sky: It was going to be a hot July day.
At midday a friend came to see me. It was as if I were waiting for a bus: Was it coming or not? Doubtless my friend could feel my anxiety.
Sipping coffee in the house I had one eye on you as you grazed in the garden. Suddenly, you lay down. I knew the bus had come. I ran outside to get you up. It was not good for you to be lying down in that merciless sun. You obliged and followed me to your stall where you lay down again. A sense of panic continued to rise in my throat. I knew the moment I dreaded had arrived.
I admit that, for a second or two, I wished I were miles away, but your calm restored my reason and I knew you needed me to be there. We had to live this moment together: you to leave, and me to accept your going.
I came near you. I felt your warmth as you began to breathe deeply. I laid my hand on your head as a mother would on her child’s. You were perspiring and growing frailer by the minute. You tried to get up a few times, perhaps to look out at the meadow where we had run and played together so often. You seemed to accept that it was time to leave and that there would be no returning.
At the end you looked like a foal who had just been born and I was trying to tell myself that this was but life’s cycle: the coming and the going. Your strength was failing. You made a little movement of your head and then you lay still.
A poem that [my father-in-law] Pierrot wrote at your birth came into my mind and it calmed me. I understood at a profound level that life goes on. This last page had turned and the great book of your life had shut. I felt that nothing would be the same again for me. We had drunk the nectar of life from the same cup. You taught me so much and now being with you at your death has helped me to understand life at its most intense.
Templado, I feel your energy around me; it radiates from the walls, the ground, and the longeing ring where we lived so many intimate moments together. I think of how sometimes a little white butterfly would circle about our heads. Chiefly, I think of you, my beautiful white horse, I picture your mane flying in the wind, and I smile.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #446, November 2014.