On the day that Justice died, the bells stopped ringing.
The small, inexpensive chimes, which had once tinkled reassuringly and guided the 31-year-old T’bred through darkness after his vision failed, were now silent and still.
And a great horse departed a world made better by his presence.
Jingling from the halter of Arabian mare Blue Jeans before Justice died, the tinkling led him from one spot to the next, as he enjoyed his last days of a full life that began with a racing career, crested as a quintessential hunter schoolmaster and unbeatable show horse, and ended with the loving hands of children, who would spend hours brushing his bay coat.
But at the end of April, neither Blue Jeans and her bells, nor the children, could guide him further.
Race name: Justice for Barbi
Barn name: Justice
Sire: Mr. Justice
Dam: Barbizon Beauty
Foal date: Feb. 17, 1984He suffered a stroke on the Lesley Chapel, Fla. farm that had become his home, the sound of bells jingling next to him as his pasture pal put her head beneath his drooping face and tried in vain to lift it. The mare was led away, and the children sent home early so that the great horse die away from their sight.
And afterwards, a piece of his tail was cut and saved by his closest friends, and those silly bells were removed from Blue Jeans’ halter to be tucked away, forgotten in the barn where Justice was once so revered.
“I had him for 25 years,” says owner Dr. Susie Beck Davis. “The first time I saw him, I remember saying that I didn’t know what it was, but there was something special about this horse.”
And he proved her hunch time and again.
“Fast forward a few years, and he became the quintessential school master. He took care of everyone in his lessons. And he had so much talent as a hunter that he was unbeatable at his level in the Southwestern Florida circuit. He was a class act.”
Beyond winning ribbons, he put a fledgling riding facility on the map by winning droves of admirers and riders. The riders learned to ride properly or face a mild rebuke. And admirers marveled that a 3-year-old toddler could crawl under the horse and sit playing beneath his belly as he stood like a statue.
“I personally witnessed a young girl riding him in a lesson who wouldn’t stop yanking on his mouth. She was told to stop pulling his mouth, and trust him to do his job, but she didn’t listen,” Davis says. “So when she asked him for a lead change, he popped his hip so high while he changed leads that he popped her right out of the tack. He didn’t hurt her. It was nothing bad. But she was humbled when she got back in the saddle” and rode him correctly—lesson learned.
When it was time to retire the old gentleman, Davis found a place for him at Healing Horses, One Child at a Time. The small nonprofit charity pairs older horses, some abused, some unwanted, with children in need of equine therapy.
For three years, Justice enjoyed the affection of children of all ages, and the unstinting care of Beverly Levitt, the charity’s founder. In Levitt’s hands, Justice maintained such good health he looked far younger than 31. And on the day he died, Levitt was one of the last to put a reassuring hand on his white muzzle and tell him goodbye.
Later that day he was buried in his paddock, which he had shared with Blue Jeans. The bells are now silent. But a life was lived and the memories ring on.
—Author’s note: Around the time of Justice’s death, the certified nonprofit charity Healing Horses One Child at a Time lost a major funding channel. Founder Beverly Levitt announced earlier this month that her 14-horse charity would soon close its doors.