Bentley (Semper Fidelis)
by Ann Jamieson
“Bentley is a gift,” says his owner Nicole Buzaccelli.
For years Nicole had bugged her father, Joe, to let her have a horse. Finally, he relented. “Here’s $2000,” he said. “This is all you’re going to get. Go find yourself something.”
As we all know only too well, finding a horse for $2000 isn’t easy. Not one that you can train and take to shows, which was Nicole’s dream.
So she and her mother Karen searched for a horse. Trying various online sites, including BigEq, they looked for months. But nothing was coming up for $2000. Nada. Nicole wondered if she would ever find a horse.
At school one day Nicole received a text from her mom. “OMG! We found something in Pennsylvania on Big Eq in our budget! We have to go see him!”
Actually, he was under their budget, at $1500.
The owners of the farm, in Dauphin, Pennsylvania, knew some local Thoroughbred breeders, and had purchased the five-year-old gelding named Spybuster from one of them. His name had been changed to “Drive My Bentley.” As he had grown too big, at 17 hands, for their purposes, they no longer wanted to keep him.
Nicole and Karen made the trip to Pennsylvania. The trip took too long, they couldn’t wait to get there!
It was immediately apparent that Nicole’s dream was about to come true. When the handsome bay gelding was brought out, it was love at first sight. There was no doubt in her mind that this was her horse.
“He had great flat work, and was the quietest Thoroughbred I’ve ever been on. Right away, he had that hunter, on the buckle, quiet attitude.”
Nicole popped him over a small cross-rail and realized he had a lot of potential. “He didn’t say no then, and he has never said no since. He never looks at anything. He was so brave, and not at all spooky. I knew he was the horse for me.”
They bought him on the spot.
The deal, in order for Nicole to have a horse, was that while Dad had paid for the purchase, Nicole would have to work to support him. To this end she found a farm where she could keep him and work off the board.
Nicole’s boyfriend is a Marine, and Nicole had always admired the Marine motto “Semper Fidelis,” which means “always faithful.” Bentley acquired a new show name.
Nicole and Bentley bonded immediately, and with his great attitude they made rapid progress. Soon they were showing, competing in two-foot divisions.
They had been a team for six months when life threw a terrifying curve ball their way.
On a summer morning, Nicole was working alone at the barn, as she often did. Taking Bentley and his pal Jester from the barn, Nicole headed into their field to turn them out. But as she did so, she became aware of an altercation. The horses were arguing. Either Bentley had tried to bite Jester, or Jester had tried to bite Bentley.
Putting her hand on Jester’s shoulder, Nicole tried to fend off the quarrel. Instead, he spun, kicking out and catching her in the jaw. Crashing to the ground, she lost consciousness.
Sometimes we are lucky, and people or things show up in just the right place at just the right time. Nicole was blessed with that luck. A woman whose daughter rode at the farm happened by a moment later with carrots to give to the horses.
What she encountered horrified her. Nicole lay convulsing on the ground, blood pouring from her face.
But Bentley was there, too. He was standing over Nicole, protecting her. He kept any other horse from approaching his injured friend.
The woman immediately called 911, and the barn’s trainer, who notified Karen at work.
“Has anyone contacted you?” the trainer asked.
“No,” Karen replied.
“Nicole was kicked.”
Karen was blasé about the information. So Nicole got kicked. When you worked around horses, things like that happened. No big deal.
But it was a big deal. The trainer clarifed, “No! This is serious! You have to get to the barn now!”
Intense fear swept through Karen’s body. She flew out to her car and jumped on the gas.
On the way to the barn she got another call. “It’s really bad,” the trainer said. “She was kicked in the head.”
Nicole was already on her way in an ambulance to St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie. As Karen did not know where St. Francis was, she drove to the barn and was driven by the trainer’s husband to the hospital. Meanwhile, she had called Joe, who was now on his way to St. Francis.
At the hospital, Karen and her husband heard what no parent wants to hear. The doctor sat them down. “We won’t know for sure until we get the results of the CAT Scan,” he began, “but this kind of injury usually doesn’t end well. She is on life support. If you believe in prayer, pray.”
Nicole, who had been flailing and screaming in the ambulance, had had to be put in a medically induced coma. The doctors didn’t know if, or how much her brain had been damaged and had to protect her from further injury.
News of the accident spread to Nicole’s family and friends, and impassioned prayers were soon being said throughout the area.
The prayers worked. When the doctors reconvened they had good news to share. Although Nicole would have to remain on life support for another 48 hours, there was no brain damage. She had lost teeth, her eyes were bruised and her face was bloody and battered. But these were all temporary injuries; no permanent damage had been done.
Nicole spent five days in an intensive care unit before graduating to a standard hospital room for two days.
When she came off of life support, her parents were there, calling her name. Confused, Nicole initially didn’t know where she was, why she was there, or what had happened.
“You were kicked,” Karen explained.
Nicole shocked, asked, “Not my horse?”
“No,” Karen reassured her.
“Bentley stood over you, his head over your head, keeping all of the other horses away from you. He wouldn’t even let the EMTs near you; he had to be led away!”
Nicole and her parents looked at each other. “Well this is it,” said Karen. “This is our horse for life.”
No one dared say what might have happened had Bentley not come to Nicole’s rescue and protected her against further injury. Would she even be alive?
Nicole was not allowed to ride for two months, but it didn’t matter. She and Bentley spent time on groundwork together. When she could ride again (okay, so she started just a little earlier than two months) she and Bentley went on trail rides, and rode bareback. Soon they were able to return to lessons and showing.
They capped off their return by winning a Hunter Derby in beautiful style.
“He just wants to be good,” states Nicole. “He tries so hard.”
Then she adds, “That was the best $1500 my Dad ever gave me.”
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