A Good Life Interrupted: Colin Davidson's Spirit Lives On
The temperature in Charlottesville, Va., took a drastic drop at nightfall on Dec. 5. Not a fit night out for man or beast, as W.C. Fields famously said.
But W.C. Fields didn’t know Colin Davidson. And Colin Davidson was determined to get a Christmas tree.
The year 2010 had been a good one for Davidson, 29, an advanced event rider who hailed from South Conway, N.H. He was named to the USEF Developing Rider List, and competed at Rolex for the first time with his stunning thoroughbred gelding, Draco.
He was training with respected German dressage coach Gerd Reuter; his flat work with Draco had improved dramatically and played no small part in their third-place finish at the Jersey Fresh CCI * * * in May.
Davidson also had a new girlfriend, upper level eventer Mackenzie Booth, who was helping him bring along his young Hanoverian gelding, Romantic Gesture, or “Romy.” This was to be their first Christmas together.
We admire event riders for their guts, their grit, their ability to make snap decisions in often harrowing circumstances. When an eventer says he or she is going to do something, sometimes all you can do is get out of their way.
Colin Davidson had to have that Christmas tree, and nothing was going to stop him. And now, the widespread eventing community is mourning the loss of, by all accounts, a truly good guy.
Davidson was just minutes from his home on Stony Point Road when his truck slid off the roadside and hit a tree, then rolled down an embankment. According to police reports, he was not wearing a seat belt. Medics transported Davidson to the University of Virginia’s Neurological Intensive Care Unit; his condition declined overnight and he did not respond to neurological tests the next morning.
Davidson was an organ donor, and his family gave consent for him to be taken off life support as soon as suitable matches could be found. At around noon on Dec. 6, Colin Davidson died, surrounded by his two families: one biological; the other adopted, but no less cherished.
A Standout, By Any Standard
The cruel irony of a young man who engages in a death-defying sport every day suddenly being taken down this way is almost too much to bear for those who knew and loved Davidson.
Lainey Ashker, a friend for 10 years, took turns with other members of Davidson’s eventing family, holding his hand throughout the night.
“I looked down at him, and there was not one scratch on his body,” Ashker said. “It was surreal.”
Ashker, 26, thinks black ice may have played a part in the crash. “Where he was, the road is very twisty and turn-y,” she said. “Sunday was the first day the temperature really dropped. There could have been black ice, and he overcorrected.”
I didn’t know Colin Davidson. My loss. By every account, he was warm, funny, generous — everything one could hope for in a friend. It didn’t hurt that he was walk-into-a-fencepost handsome, with a magnetic smile that could make ladies of a certain age almost forget they were ladies of a certain age.
At Rolex this year, I watched Davidson in the dressage warm-up before his test. He and Draco, a ginger heartbreaker, were sheer perfection: elegant, fluid, regal. If Captain von Trapp had evented, this is how he’d ride a dressage test.
Yes, I thought to myself. More like this one, please.
Ashker and her mother, Valerie, were walking the cross-country course during Davidson’s warm-up. “We were looking at the combination that’s near the dressage warm-up,” she recalled. “When we saw him we just stopped in our tracks. It was just so beautiful. Later, we said, ‘God, Colin, you’ve come such a long way.’ He was so happy to hear that.”
Looking back, Ashker says, Davidson was always attentive to the horse he was riding. “He was a very kind rider,” she said. “I never saw him rip a horse’s face off. His horses never looked worried. He was really good at riding the horse he was on, if that makes sense.”
Denny Emerson, who is based in Stafford, Vt., during the summer, knew Davidson as a young rider competing on the Area I circuit.
“I’m 40 years older than him, and I was always so impressed by how friendly he was,” said Emerson, back in Southern Pines for his 22nd winter at Tamarack Hill Farm. “A lot of times these kids don’t give you the time of day. Colin always made time to come over and chat … he was one of those kids everybody liked, and I don’t know anybody who didn’t think he brightened their day.”
A Source of Support, Encouragement
In 2008, Ashker was critically injured at Rolex after a cross-country fall from her beloved Frodo Baggins, who was ultimately euthanized because of his injuries. Ashker was hospitalized for three weeks with a broken collarbone, crushed jaw and broken ribs.
Davidson, she says, was firmly in her corner during her recovery, and during the aftermath where she was criticized (unfairly, it must be said) by some who questioned her riding skills.
“I knew he had my back,” she said. “Sometimes the eventing community can be closer than family because they understand what it’s like when something like that happens.”
Davidson, Ashker says, was not one for formality. “This is a guy Mackenzie and Coren (Morgan) dragged to see ‘Eclipse’ (‘The Twilight Saga’),” Ashker said, laughing. “This is a guy secure enough in his own manhood to not only go see it, but to let himself enjoy it. Afterward, he wanted to have these talks about why Edward wanted to marry Bella, or should she be with Jacob … Colin was a person who could really extract the fun out of life.”
Emerson thinks Davidson would want to be remembered as “a good friend. Someone who cared about you.”
“He was going to be a leader in the horse world, I think,” Emerson said. “He had a sense of responsibility. And he was great with people.”
A sense of responsibility that failed him when he needed it most. It’s another sad irony that lives will be made whole because Davidson, so careful to ensure his donor card was filled out, could have been more careful when he got into his truck that night.
“I haven’t had a Christmas tree since I was a little kid,” Ashker said. “But I’m getting one this year … for Colin.”
A lovely tribute, but here’s how I’ll choose to honor Colin Davidson, a man I wish I’d known: I’m going to make sure my seat belt is fastened. Then, I’m going to make sure yours is, too.
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