On December 31, 2011, I was hoisted by my own petard so to speak and given a dose of my own medicine. I was always telling older people that they should learn to ride. It was on that day just 16 days short of my 52nd birthday that I took my first formal riding lesson. That day and the following events are a story unto itself and a blog will probably come along about my adventures at some future time. In this blog entry, the reason I mention how old I was when I took my first lesson is to make the point that you are never too old to start riding and somewhere out there a special horse is waiting for you to get started.
The rider featured in this entry is named Susan and her horse was Dynamite, aka Town Skirt. I first saw this team at a show in Hillsborough, North Carolina. I see many horses through the lens of a camera and as I looked at Dyna in profile I was 99% sure that I was seeing a Saddlebred. They are a very distinct breed with their long tapering torsos and arching necks. This identification was confirmed after the show when I went to Susan and started to talk to her about her horse.
It turns out that Susan had been taking her daughter to the barn for lessons and when she did this she would stay there. This led to her getting a bit bored so she decided to take lessons. Susan was nowhere near the age I would be when I took my first lesson, but she was still older than what many of us may think of as the “age” that one starts to ride.
Learning to ride led to Susan getting a horse and that horse was a rescue named Town Skirt, an over-the-hill “washed up” Saddlebred who it turned out still had a lot of miles left in her. Susan is one of my heroes, a person who took a so called useless horse and brought it back to the ring to be ridden. I sympathize with Susan more now than I did then as the horse I care for, Duke, is a Hanovarian that came to me by way of a rescue and a friend. When I think of horses like these two I can only shake my head in disbelief that horses like Town Skirt would be discarded as useless. I hate to think of how many wonderful so called useless horses are out there. Every show I take photos at is filled with Thoroughbreds, many who came off the race track and have now found a new life competing in the ring, and many of them excel at what they do. It is almost as if breeding a Thoroughbred is like flipping a coin. You will get either a runner or a jumper and those that fail at running for money seem to love jumping. I was talking with an old trainer who when he was young had a horse that was sired by Seabiscuit. The horse did not do well running but was, he said, a great jumper.
Dynamite had some issues about being touched on the face, something that came from her time before she was rescued and I can not fault her for being a bit nippy. She had been through a lot and had every right to be a bit distrusting of people. That being the case I could not help but admire her. She was a survivor and she seemed to like being in the ring. She and Susan even won some blue ribbons, not too bad for a washed up horse.
Old age finally caught up with Dynamite a few short years ago. She was found dead from an apparent heart attack. While this is sad, I look at her situation in the last years of her life as being a good one. Most importantly she was loved and she was able to compete. She had what many horses want and that is a job to do. She left this world the way every horse should, with her pride and dignity intact.
Photo by Mark Calvo