In Memoriam: My horse Key West

In Memoriam: My horse Key West

“I have lost my best friend”

Key West and Lonneke Engel in 2012
Key West and Lonneke Engel in 2012

Sunday morning the 21st of February 2016, my horse Key West passed away at the respectable age of 24 years old. He died unexpectedly in his sleep in his stable which he shared with my other horse U2.  His death was very sudden. But it went in such a peaceful way, that I can only be happy for him that he did not suffer. It looked like was taking a nap, like he used to. He laid on his clean bedding, which was still intact. This is an indication that he did not struggle.  He just thought to leave Earth when no one was watching. Probably his heart stopped in his sleep. There is no better way to die in my opinion. If I had the choice all those years ago when our life together started, how he would die in the future, I would have signed up for this.

But still, it is hard to say goodbye to such an amazing friend.

Smiley face after riding Key West in 2015
Smiley face after riding Key West in 2015

Key West has been in my life for more than 18 years. Together we made many wonderful memories. We rode a lot in the woods, but also went to many competitions, and quite successfully too. In the 90’s I was a 16-year old girl who wanted a real dressage horse. I bought Key West with the money I made with modeling. At the time he was a 5 year old successful dressage gelding. We started in the lowest class in dressage competitions, and went on all the way to the highest class for amateurs, the Z2. We won a lot of prices along the way. Many times I would go to competitions with Key West alone, just me and him. He was such a reliable and sweet horse. I could just tie him up to the trailer for a minute while I was getting him saddled and ready to compete. Afterwards I would get myself ready, lock up the car and trailer, and we would just ride a dressage test by ourselves, while other competitors had brought people to help and to cheer on them. My modeling career was going great, but that doesn’t count on an early Sunday morning going to a competition, not everyone is up for that! So I had to do it all by myself if I wanted to go to a competition. Drive the car and trailer, and get my horse ready. So we made it an adventure each time. After the test was over, we would go do a cooling down while exploring the surroundings and woods around the competition site. We were a team, and could read each others minds. Most important to us was that we had fun in everything we did together.

Very proud of Key West when winning a competition in M2 class in 2001
Very proud of Key West when winning a competition in M2 class in 2001

All these memories that come to mind now… Key West, who always had a trembling lower lip from being very excited when we were about to go on an adventure… Key West, who always wanted to be the front horse when on a ride with others…. Key West, who could be in a meadow with any horse, because he got along with them all…. Key West, who never had a bad mood, and who was always up for a ride anytime of the day, even into his old age.

A big part of his life he was stabled at my home, and I would care for him myself all day. This was one of the happiest times of my life. If I had a modeling job in a foreign country, my family would care for him. But at one point my career became so busy that I spent most of my time in the USA. When Key West was 15 years old, I found a young rider named Elles, who had a meadow next to her house. He could stay there, and she started competing him as well, starting at the lowest B class, all the way up to Z1 level. But best of all were the long nice rides outside in the woods she took him on. Later on Hannah joined the “Key West gang” and she started riding him bitless at one point, and doing Natural Horsemanship training with him. He was the perfect School Master. My 2 young nephews Navy and Milo had their first riding lessons on him.

Teaching my 6 year old nephew Navy to ride Key West
Teaching my 6 year old nephew Navy to ride Key West


Key West and Lonneke in 2015 on his last ride in the woods, with nephew Milo on top of Key West, and Navy walking beside him.
Key West in 2015 on his last ride in the woods, with nephew Milo on top of Key West, and Navy walking beside him.

We rode Key West until he was 22 years old, when we discovered a malignant tumor on his penis, and to save his life it needed to be amputated. He was treated at the University of Utrecht, with the greatest care. I just couldn’t let him suffer, and wanted to give him a chance of a pain free retirement instead of euthanizing him. The result? All tumor cells were removed, it was a success!


With his newly designed urinary tract he was pain free the 2 years afterwards. He enjoyed his retirement with his buddy dressage horse U2 at the stables where I had stabled him before.  They spent 24 hours a day together in the field, or in the stable. The past few months my other horse Cooper joined them.

They really were “The Three Amigos”.

U2 Cooper Key West in the field 2015
U2 , Cooper & Key West in the field Summer 2015

 The afternoon before his passing, despite his senior age, Key West played wildly with U2 and Cooper outside. When he was brought in with the other horses for dinner, he was a bit naughty. He was always allowed to walk inside by himself, off the lead, but this time he decided he wanted to sneak into a stable of another horse, to see if there was any feed he could take. 

At 12.30am, he was fed the last round of the day. He ate his hay and feed, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The next morning at 7.30 am the stable owners found that he had just died. Everyone was a bit shocked, as Key West seemed so fit the past days and weeks! I went to visit him when I heard the bad news. He looked peaceful. I was at peace with it as well. U2 knew something sad was going on. He was in their stable when Key West passed, and they were best friends.

U2 and Key West went everywhere together
U2 and Key West went everywhere together

I had to make arrangements.  I did not want a destructor truck to come pick him up, so I arranged for him to be picked up and cremated. We took a bit of his gorgeous manes and tail as a keepsake. Thankfully I had visited him just the week before and cuddled with him. I was supposed to come back to give him a big clean up to get ready for Spring as his Winter coat was shedding. It wasn’t meant to be. But he did look good, was well-fed and had a young and happy spirit when he died.

I want to thank Wil and Isabel van Gisbergen, because they took great care of Key West all those years,  and still take great care of U2 and Cooper.

Wil van Gisbergen holding Key West and Cooper in the background
Wil van Gisbergen holding Key West, and Cooper in the background

I also want to thank Elles and Hannah for the many cuddles they gave him, and all the  attention he received from them.

Elles on a horse, and Hannah on Key West having fun
Elles, and Hannah on Key West having fun

Everything good must come to an end. Thankfully for Key West everything fell into place for him, and he couldn’t have had a better life.

Key West and Lonneke in 2011 in the field
Key West and I in the field in 2011

My dear Key West: This is the end of an era. Thank you for being my best friend. Thank you for all the love, and for carrying me around on all those many rides, all those thousands of miles. Thank you for all the great moments we enjoyed together. You were such an important part of my life. Your pictures can be found all over my house, and in my mind, so you will not be ever forgotten. I hope that you are with my father Rob in Heaven. He also thought you were a great horse. I hope the two of you together, will have as much fun, as we had together.  ♥

Key West and Lonneke Engel 2012

Love, Lonneke