In Memoriam: Centelleo

Centelleo
July 2, 1999—February 15, 2021
© Mimi Matthews

As some of you know, my Andalusian gelding, Centelleo, recently passed away from complications due to colic. It’s been nearly a month now, and though the grief is still fresh, I thought I’d write a bit about our life together to honor his passing.

I’ve had horses since I was six, and have been riding dressage since I was in my teens. Eventually, it was time to think about getting a competition horse. Back then, I had the good fortune to be in training with the legendary high school dressage exhibition rider David Jay. Some of you might be familiar with David from the opening number of the movie Hair (1979) where he performs high school (haute école) movements on a big gray Andalusian. David was also known for being the head trainer at Medieval Times.

I was so lucky to know David during the years he had a farm in Northern California, and even luckier that—when it came time to buy my own Andalusian—David was there to choose the right horse for me. When David first saw the video of a two-year-old Centelleo, he said “if you don’t buy him, I will.” It was all the encouragement I needed.

Centelleo as a yearling.
© Mimi Matthews

Centelleo (pronounced sin-TAY-o) arrived in 2001, not long after being gelded. He was huge for his age, with a thickly arched neck and lush mane and tail. Gray Andalusians are born dark and usually lighten every year until they’re completely white (around nine or ten-years-old). During the nineteen years I had him, Centelleo went from charcoal gray to dappled silver to flea-bitten and then to pure white.

Centelleo, 2 ½ years old.
© Mimi Matthews

At only two-years-old, Centelleo was still very much a baby. I bonded with him for the first year, and then, when he turned three, he began his training under saddle. By the next year, I was showing him.

Mimi and Centelleo (4 years old) at his first dressage show.
© Mimi Matthews

For me, these were some of the most precious years. It was before all of my cervical spine surgeries, when I was still young and felt (relatively) invincible. 

Centelleo, first place (and a good score!) in his first dressage show.
© Mimi Matthews

Centelleo always whinnied when he saw my car pulling up the drive of the stables. He was a loving horse, but a proud one. If I missed a day of riding, he could be a brat. But when I hugged him or played tag with him in his paddock, he was always sweet and affectionate. He loved apples, carrots, hot bran mashes, pears, and even watermelons on occasion (with which he would make a big sticky mess).

Mimi and Centelleo after a ride.
© Mimi Matthews

Centelleo and I had many adventures together, both in the ring and out of it. In addition to his dressage talent, he was an amazing trail horse. We spent countless hours together riding in the foothills of Mt. Diablo. We also trailered out for lessons with some amazing trainers, including USDF Gold Medalists Carolyn Adams and Christiane Noelting.

Mimi and Centelleo with USDF Gold medalist Carolyn Adams.
© Mimi Matthews

By that point, David had sold his place in California and moved to be closer to the Medieval Times farm. I worked with a local trainer for a while, but when I started law school, I knew it was time for Centelleo to begin his dressage training in earnest.

Centelleo in his winter blanket.
© Mimi Matthews

That winter, I moved him to the Christiane Noelting Dressage Center (CNDC). Under Christiane’s guidance, Centelleo fulfilled all of his dressage potential. After my first cervical spine surgery, I was no longer able to compete Centelleo myself. Instead, he was shown by various assistant trainers—brilliant riders with loads of experience. He was even shown by Christiane herself (quite an honor!)

Centelleo and USDF Gold medalist Christiane Noelting at Golden State CDI.
© Mimi Matthews

Centelleo quickly ascended through the levels, eventually reaching all the way to Prix St. Georges. I continued riding him myself, too. While studying for the bar exam, I would go out to the barn several times a week. Somedays Centelleo and I had a lesson with Christiane or with assistant trainer, Kristin Mills. Other days we rode out on the gallop trail with friends. There’s nothing better for your spirit than being at the barn with your horse.

Centelleo showing Prix St. Georges, ridden by USDF Gold medalist Kristin Mills.
© Mimi Matthews

Years later, after my cervical fusion broke, I initially believed there was still a chance I might ride again. When it became clear that this wouldn’t be possible, I made the decision to retire Centelleo from competition and training. He was in his teens by that point and had more than earned a life of leisure. He spent the next few years enjoying a happy retirement in a modified herd environment with an open barn.

Centelleo happily retired at CNDC.
© Mimi Matthews

This last year, Centelleo developed some health issues, so we moved him back to a private stall inside, with monitored exercise. Despite his various old-age related ailments, I had every reason to believe he would live to be thirty. But that wasn’t meant to be.

Centelleo started to colic the morning of February 15th. He was taken to UC Davis almost immediately. By that same evening, he was gone.

Centelleo, age twenty-one. 
© Mimi Matthews

Centelleo was more than a horse to me. He was my friend, my partner, and a continual inspiration to me in my writing. The day he passed, I was working on edits for my next book, The Siren of Sussex (coming in 2022 from Berkley/Penguin Random House), a novel that features an equestrienne heroine and her beautiful Andalusian dressage horse. Finishing that story has been bittersweet. I only hope that, in describing the relationship between the heroine and her horse, I do justice to the wonderful relationship I had with my own.

Yesterday, Centelleo’s ashes arrived home in a pine box. It really feels like the end of an era. But it’s not the end of my life with Andalusian horses. I’ll write more about that soon. In the meanwhile, thank you all for your kind emails and social media messages. I can’t express how much your condolences have meant to me during this difficult time.


Subscribe
Notify of
guest
Privacy Policy Consent
40 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
30 days ago

deepest sympathy for your loss

Diana Birchall
Diana Birchall
30 days ago

A beautiful tribute to your beautiful horse companion, as well as an interesting visit to a horsewoman’s life.

Sharon
Sharon
30 days ago

It’s such a lovely story. I understand how much animals can mean to us, especially horses. I bought my Friesian colt six years ago, and he is my dream horse and my best friend. I can’t imagine the pain of losing him, and so I appreciate your willingness to share your story. I was happy to read that your life wit horses is not over! You have lots of love to share with them. I look forward to reading The Siren of Sussex next year.

Carole in Canada
Carole in Canada
30 days ago

So sorry for your loss, Mimi. Horses have been a huge part of my daughter’s life since she was six and they still are. She will be 40 this year. They are such noble creatures and loving friends. I can certainly appreciate the depth of your love for him. Thank you for sharing your life and his with us. Your love for each other certainly shines through.

BettyO
BettyO
30 days ago

My Deepest sympathies on your loss. I had a grade quarter horse, Ringo, whom I raised from a 4 month old foal. He lived for 32 years only to also die of colic during the ice storms of the Winter of 1999. Ringo was a natural born jumper and would go over any fence you put him at. I’ve had 7 horses in my life, but Ringo was the best.

Laurel Ann Nattress
Laurel Ann Nattress
30 days ago

I am so sorry for your loss, Mimi. Thank you for sharing your story. I look forward to reading your news about your next horse adventures.

ellen
ellen
30 days ago

What a beautiful horse. I am so sorry for your loss. Much love to you.

Julie Heckert
Julie Heckert
30 days ago

Thank you for sharing your memories of Centelleo. My condolences on your loss. May your sweet memories bring you peace.

Carol Leigh
Carol Leigh
30 days ago

Thank you for your lovely tribute to Centelleo. You had a beautiful bond with him that will remain.

Anne
Anne
30 days ago

The love made me cry. Sorry for your loss. God, he was beautiful.

Laurel Busch
Laurel Busch
30 days ago

A relevant quote attributed to Jamie Anderson is ““Grief is just love with no place to go,” so I’m glad to see you have plans to do more with these horses (which I knew nothing about before). I love all your books, and the next one will have special meaning now.

Kellie Dickes
Kellie Dickes
30 days ago

Wow, you’re even more my hero. Not only do I absolutely love your books but my entire life growing up I wanted to work in the equestrian industry. I loved riding and my dad had horses growing up but living in a small town in Nevada everybody rode western. Don’t get me wrong I love to ride Western but I really really wanted to ride English and do dressage. I had my school of choice picked out to equestrian studies. But unfortunately my parents weren’t thrilled about it and I didn’t have the money to go so I settled for… Read more »

Lauren Gilbert
Lauren Gilbert
30 days ago

I’m so sorry, Mimi.

Pam Shropshire
Pam Shropshire
30 days ago

I’m so sorry for your loss.

Sarah Perchikoff
Sarah Perchikoff
28 days ago

Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Mimi. The loss of an animal, a friend can hurt so much. Sending so much love your way!

Sue
Sue
27 days ago

How lucky you are Mimi that you can write. And you write beautfuly; you will be able to pour all your love into your next book and one after that and one after ans so on and re-live the years with Centelleo

Nuala Eld
Nuala Eld
26 days ago

A beautiful tribute to a beautiful horse. How many wonderful memories of him you have to cherish! Thank you for sharing some of them with us. I wish I had any words to offer that would ease your grief.

Joan
Joan
25 days ago

I’m so very sorry. We cried like babies when we lost our horse.

Jayne
Jayne
17 days ago

So sorry for your loss. What a beautiful horse! You were both lucky to have enjoyed such a special friendship.

Amy Ward
Amy Ward
15 days ago

Mimi, so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. As a child I always begged for horses, but it wasn’t in the cards. Stories that featured horses, especially that indescribable bond between a girl and her horse were favorites. I look forward to The Siren of Sussex even more. Best wishes to you in all of your endeavors, and I hope you take some time to grieve. Thank you for sharing about your years with your beautiful horse.

Our website uses cookies which may collect information about your visit to improve our website (anonymous analytics), to show you media (video and audio), targeted advertising, and social media feeds. Please see our Cookie Policy page for further details or agree by clicking the 'Accept' button.

Cookie settings

Below you can choose which kind of cookies you allow on this website. Click on the "Save cookie settings" button to apply your choice.

FunctionalOur website uses functional cookies. These cookies are necessary to let our website work.

AnalyticalOur website uses analytical cookies to make it possible to analyze our website and optimize for the purpose of a.o. the usability.

Social mediaOur website places social media cookies to show you 3rd party content like YouTube and FaceBook. These cookies may track your personal data.

AdvertisingOur website places advertising cookies to show you 3rd party advertisements based on your interests. These cookies may track your personal data.

OtherOur website places 3rd party cookies from other 3rd party services which aren't Analytical, Social media or Advertising.