When the worst comes, it often comes relentlessly, seemingly with no end, no light at the end of the tunnel. It is then when we must rely on our faith, friends, and family to pull through, to regain hope and normalcy when it seems like the world is falling apart around us.
An unthinkable double tragedy struck one of our families in the horse industry last week. Longtime APHA members, the Eagles family, lost their beloved patriarch, Preston Paul Eagles, following a trucking accident that took place on Tuesday, June 5th. Preston was a truck driver for Quality Transports and Sasco Paving Company. After spending a lovely Monday at home with his family, he headed off for work early Tuesday morning. En route, his semi-truck was cut off, and he was forced to veer off the side of the road, which caused the semi to go airborne and flip over before crashing into the ditch.
The accident was horrific, but Preston was quickly transported to a local hospital where treatment began immediately. Sadly, complications due to a badly broken left leg were too much to overcome, and Preston passed away on Friday, June 7th at 11:59 pm.
Unknown to the family at the time, their beloved horse was facing an emergency of his own.
The youngest Eagles daughter, 17-year-old Olivia, is well-known in APHA circles for her kind heart, sweet personality, and fierce competitive spirit in the show pen alongside her partner, a 15-year-old APHA gelding named Chipped in Roses, aka “Brett.” From 2011 to 2017, Olivia and Brett won seven World Championship titles and three Reserve World Championship titles in numerous events, most often in their favorite discipline of Equitation.
They were a match made in heaven, but Olivia wasn’t convinced the first time she saw a video of Brett back in 2011. “I remember that my trainer, Sara Simons, had to convince us to come look at him. During that first time I rode him, I fell in love. Sara said it was going to be a perfect match, and it was absolutely amazing.”
“We had the same personality. We always wanted to get along. Neither of us wanted to cause any problems. He always tried to do his best for me. I always joked that he gave me 100 percent, except in Trail. He didn’t really like Trail, but neither did I!”
Olivia fondly remembers the first World title she won with Brett at her very first APHA Youth World Show. “Equitation and Horsemanship were our favorite classes, especially Equitation,” she says. “That was the first class we ever won a title in. It was my first class at my first World Show. From then on, we always pushed hardest in that class. I could tell it was his favorite too.”
“That was back when the World Show had Novice Youth 18 and Under, and I won Equitation. Then, I went in 13 and Under Equitation and won that, back to back. I think the Chronicle interviewed me too!”
Brett typically spent half of the year at home with his family in Mt. Vernon, Missouri, and half of the year in training at Simons Show Horses in Texas. Recently, the time had come for Brett and Olivia to part ways, and he had been transported to Texas to prepare for a vet check for his soon-to-be new owner. Sadly, Brett had an accident in his stall and was found with a badly broken left leg early Wednesday morning. Considering her father’s accident, the day prior, the decision was made not to tell Olivia about Brett’s passing until later in the week.
“My dad passed away at 11:59 pm on Thursday night, and I found out about Brett on Friday morning. I just keep trying to tell myself that they’re in heaven, together.”
“We believe… It’s just been very hard. We’re going to be ok. It’s just going to take a little while to get through everything.”
A child of faith, Olivia feels blessed and grateful that she was able to spend 17 years with her father and 7 years with her horse. She has special memories of the time she spent with the two most important men in her life.
“All horses have little quirks, but Brett had to get a certain number of treats before he would come out of his stall. At the World Show, I always gave him three treats, and I even got my trainer to start participating! They were little, four-leaf clover treats, and he wouldn’t move out of his stall until he got three of them. He was kind of a diva sometimes.”
“My dad had only been on a horse maybe two or three times in his life, but he loved to watch my sister and I ride, and he loved Brett. I think he really liked that I loved Brett. When Brett was at home, Dad would come out when I was riding him and pet him. He tried to help me at shows and, even though he didn’t know what he was talking about, he tried to give me some pointers. He told me I should do Reining!”
“One of his friends came to visit us, and he said that my dad always told him how proud he was of me.”
Not only was Preston a loving father to Olivia, he had two other children, 28-year-old Lauren and 26-year-old Taylor, as well as his granddaughter Elee. He also leaves behind his wife, Kimberly. On Wednesday, June 13th, a Celebration of Life will be held for Preston at The MARC at 3:00 pm with a funeral to take place at the Summit Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that memorial donations be made payable to the Fossett-Mosher Funeral Home in order to plant trees and flowers in local parks, in Preston’s name. Olivia says that several of Preston’s friends will be driving their semi-trucks to the ceremony in a sign of solidarity for their fallen friend.
A GoFundMe page has been set up in order to assist the Eagles Family with Preston’s funeral expenses. Click here to view. Click here to view Preston’s obituary and funeral arrangements.
As Olivia is nearing the end of her youth career, her father very much wanted her to compete at the World Show this year. While the horse community can’t do much to help alleviate the pain and heartache that has been caused by the passing of Olivia’s father and her horse, that request is something they can do something about. The Simons Show Horses family and APHA amateur competitor, Jennifer Merchant, have come together to allow Olivia to show Jennifer’s 5-year-old gelding, Skyfall Sensation, at the World Show this year.
“I had no clue this was happening,” Olivia says. “Dad always loved when I went to the World Show, and he really wanted me to go this year. I’m so grateful that Jennifer offered to let me ride her horse, for my dad and for Brett.”
“I’ve never ridden him before, and I’ve never really been around him before. The last time I was around him, he was still a baby, and he’s never been entered in pattern classes before. Sara has been working so hard to get him ready and to put this together. Jennifer lost her father at a young age, too, and Sara lost her dad, as well. So, we all have that in common now…”
Fittingly, the horse that will bond these three ladies together as exhibitor, trainer, and owner is called “Bond.”
“I’m so grateful for the whole Simons Show Horses barn and for Jennifer for working to make this possible. I don’t think I can ever thank them enough. I’m so grateful.”
Jennifer found out about the tragedy on Friday when fellow Simons barn mate, Ali Eidson, called to deliver the sad news. “I can’t even imagine going through such tragedies so close together,” Jennifer says. “My first thought was, ‘What can we do to help?’ My second thought was, ‘She has to show Bond!’ The horse community has always been great about banding together in times of tragedy, and I thought this was something I could do to help. Sara literally called me the same day and was thinking the exact same thing. It happened that quickly.”
Because Jennifer is pregnant and due in August of this year, she wasn’t planning on showing Bond this summer. Although the Youth World does fall close to her due date, she’s hoping her doctor will allow her to travel to the World Show to watch Olivia and Bond compete. For her, this act of kindness has special meaning that goes beyond just helping out a friend and fellow competitor.
“I lost my dad right before Christmas during my senior year in high school,” Jennifer says. “It was my last youth year, and I remember how amazing the horse community was. I remember, at the Holiday Classic, when Maggie Griffin came up to me and presented me with an outfit of hers that I had always admired. She told me that I simply had to show in it. People kept doing wonderful things like that. So, if there is anything I can do to help someone else who is going through a similar situation, I will. For me, horses were my life, and the thought of losing my dad and my horse at the same time, and not being able to do the thing that I’d dedicated my life to, just broke my heart.”
We send our sincerest condolences and prayers to the Eagles family during this tragic time, and we will look forward to watching Olivia compete at the Youth World this year, in honor of Preston and Brett. We know they will both be watching.