• Cara Van Leuven

The Tulip Years

Tulip’s life began with love, and despite myself, ended with love. Too much happened to fill in the gaps of my life without horses during the Tulip Years. It would be a page-turner, but there simply isn’t time for all that. For now let’s just focus on the border collie my first husband gave to me as my wedding gift.

Similar to that first Thoroughbred, my heart was set on one of those fluffy, floppy-eared border collies. Into my bedroom walked an underweight, filthy and smooth-coated border collie with huge ears standing straight on end. I was disappointed until she wiggled her entire body into my arms. My ex-husband may not have had a knack for choosing the right woman, but he could pick a good dog.

My life without horses wasn’t horrible. I landed a scholarship that allowed me to live and take pictures in London. I lived all across the US too - from Harrisburg, PA to Duluth, MN and Albuquerque, NM. I photographed the Kentucky Derby and rubbed shoulders with the big trainers. And so so much more.

My life without horses was also riddled with pain — a true sadness and darkness I hope few people ever have an intimate dance with. If it wasn’t for that damn dog I don’t know if I would have pulled through. She made getting out of bed possible for I cared for nothing more than she, and I could do enough to ensure she had a meal.

Tulip had countless brushes with death. One time she got caught up in shards swimming in an arroyo while chasing geese. Another time, when I first moved to St. Louis, we went “floating” (see canoeing) and an undercurrent pinned her under a log. She made it out every time. Sometimes with stitches, sometimes without.

I always dreamt of Tulip, June Bug (her brother) and I living on a farm. It seemed like the least I could do. In reality, that dog would have been fine in a studio apartment, so long as she got her frisbee chases in. She was what trainers coin a “velcro dog.” Living in the desert for six months with a pack of stray dogs made her loyalty to me unlike that of most dogs.

By the time Tom and I were dating Tulip was an old dog. I never was able to offer her a farm, but when she closed her eyes for the last time, she ultimately got what wanted and was seeking for over a decade - me at peace. She left this world on the bed of a truck in my arms and Tom by my side. She knew I was back in the saddle and finally, Tulip could sleep soundly.