There is a great deal of discussion in the world of hunters and jumpers right now (USHJA and USEF specifically) about how to define “amateurs” in the sport. Lots of talk about being a sponsored rider or a social media influencer or doing various barn activities for pay and whether those things prevent someone from being an amateur. And quite frankly, I think it’s all dumb.
Lets back up a little bit and I’ll share a bit about my and my family’s background in horses. I grew up in a very horsey family in Montana. My Dad grew up on big ranches and rodeoed in his younger days and when I came around he was active in showing Snaffle Bit horses (basically NRCHA now) and cutting. My Mom’s family raised and showed a LOT of Quarter Horses when she was a kid and she showed as well as rodeoed. She even went to college on a rodeo scholarship. When I was young she was doing mostly barrel racing, but she switched back to showing stock breed horses after I went to college. Before I was born my parents had race horses. Mostly Quarter Horses, but I think they had a couple thoroughbreds. Some of the mares they ran were broodmares that produced horses I rode as a kid.
Mom showing her homebred gelding, Casey a few years ago.
A few of my aunts and cousins are also still pretty involved in rodeo. One was Miss Rodeo North Dakota before I was born. One broke multiple arena records in barrel racing a couple years ago. One won the Goat Tying at the College National Finals while on a rodeo scholarship at Montana State University. Both sets of my grandparents raised horses in some form or fashion. My great grandfather was one of the founders of the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma. My Dad was on the Montana Board of Horse Racing in the 90’s.
Dad cutting in Idaho on Athena Beau. Probably in the late 80’s or early 90’s.
My first few horses were more rodeo types. They ran the barrel pattern and did pole bending, albeit pretty slowly. We went to lots and lots of nearby playdays and rodeos. I also participated in 4-H, which was when I got exposed to showing Quarter Horses and was hooked from age about 10 to well past college. I also showed a reiner the last few years of my Youth career in AQHA and NRHA events. Quite a lot when I was 16-18 (it was the only thing I was into that my Dad actually liked, so he was more on board with letting me show more, LOL!) Fast forward to adulting and I’ve been showing hunters in local, regional and A rated shows in Texas since about 2013 as well as foxhunting since 2010.
Coco and me at a local show during the summer of 2020
I say all this because I think I have a pretty unique perspective in that I or my family have participated in a LOT of various equestrian organizations and events. And I think defining divisions based on amateur versus professional status is a huge waste of time and resources for all organizations that do.
Jaguar and me reining in Montana in the late 90’s
A person’s ability to ride well has absolutely nothing to do with how they earn an income. It has to do with natural ability, time spent in the saddle, good instruction and getting out there and doing the thing. If we want our sport to be attainable for the “average” person to participate we have to make it more affordable. And one of the best ways to make it affordable is for participants to find ways to cut costs. That may be exercising horses for their trainer, repping brands that give them tack/apparel/feed/etc, giving riding lessons, and other similar activities that would currently prohibit them from being an “amateur” in USHJA/USEF competition.
How do you “fix” this? While I don’t have a slam dunk answer, the basic idea to start from would be to separate divisions by Rider achievement OR Rider age OR Horse achievement OR Horse age OR any combination those things. I’m not going to spell out a rulebook in a blog post but the premise would be similar to what eventing does now, but with more separation. The AQHA has a Leveling program that is also a good starting point (but they also separate amateurs and pros, so throw that part out).
For Rider Achievement separation, riders would be required to win a certain number of blue ribbons or points or something to participate in classes with fences higher than 2’9″ and on up for fence height (I don’t do jumpers so I don’t recall the fence heights, but something like the .9m). Require those ribbons/points to move to the next fence height. If someone doesn’t show in their achieved division, say 3′, for 3 years, they have to “requalify” to jump that height again, but you could let them do it within the show season and then move up as soon as they get it. There would also be different Levels at each rated jump height. This would separate the rider showing 3′ at 4 or 5 shows a year from the rider showing 3′ 25 weekends a year. Depending how the levels were differentiated (points would make this easier than ribbons), it could also keep the Rider who only shows at a few of the big shows (Devon, Indoors, WEF etc.) but wins those big classes from being eligible to compete against the infrequent weekend warrior.
There could also be age separated classes at each height division if Riders generally felt like that was needed. I know in some of the stock breed associations there is a whole division for riders over 50. I don’t know that that would work and/or be necessary with divisions separated by achievement, though. However, if all the governing body had to do was keep track of show results to separate divisions, it would make the separation of divisions a whole lot more objective, which to me would be a lot more fair.
Photo by Jerry Mohme. Showing my first thoroughbred in the hunters.
The Horse Achievement division could really remain similar to what is in existence with the Green and age divisions. It would be great if horses imported from Europe with show records could come with their record and not “get” to start over in divisions for which they are overqualified, but I don’t really have a dog in that fight so I’d leave that to the US based breeders to influence because they are the ones who really get the shaft there.
At the end of the day, the hypothetical advantage that professionals have is that they show often and on many horses. If divisions are separated by achievement, riders who don’t show much won’t compete against those pros or amateurs who show a lot. And it might even encourage trainers who have clients with limited resources to take them to a rated show here and there because they would actually have a shot at a ribbon when competing against those who show as infrequently as they do. And that trainer could even show and not have to go up against a Liza Boyd or a Nick Haness just because they give beginner riding lessons.
Hit me in the comments. I’m sure this will be fruitful for discussion.
I am an incredibly fortunate equestrienne. I have two very lovely horses to ride (as well as a superb retiree and a couple ponies). I get to keep these creatures at home in the lovely barn we built for them and on grassy pastures on a few acres that are incredibly close to the downtown of one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Yet I find myself constantly “shoulding”. What do I mean by “shoulding”? I should ride more. I should show more. I should go to more clinics. I should put on more fly spray. I should body clip. I should, I should, I should, I should. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with shoulding and just don’t. At all.
Jaguar enjoying some winter sunshine. His days of my shoulding are mostly behind him, other than the occasional questioning of some kind of geriatric horse maintenance.
Having a full-time job. Taking care of dogs/horses/cats/goats/chickens/ponies/donkey. Keeping up a small acreage. Curating relationships with friends and family. It all takes resources, all of which are finite. The biggest one being time. The second biggest one being cash. And those two things drive a lot of what shoulds happen and which ones don’t. The part that I struggle with the most with my shoulding is the why.
I’ve lived far too much of my life doing things because (I thought) other people thought that I should. Buying clothes I didn’t really like because someone else said they were cute. Overextending myself socially because I didn’t want to say no and hurt someone’s feelings. Going on trips that may have not been in the best interest of our budget because I didn’t want to miss out on anything. It’s only taken about 4 decades, but my self-awareness is finally maturing.
One of my biggest “should” struggles in a photo.
My greatest should struggle right now is Coco. What should I do with Coco?! ??????? !!!!!!!!!!!! She’s nine this year. I’ve had her at home for 8.5 of those nine years. If you had asked me when Coco was four what I thought she’d be doing when she was nine, I’d have told you showing in the Adult or Amateur/Owner hunters. The reality is that she’s only been to a couple rated horse shows and I’ve still never jumped a 3′ course of jumps on any horse, much less her. There are myriad reasons why we aren’t further along, but I find myself questioning my path forward with this horse ALL THE TIME.
My greatest mistake with Coco 5 years ago was not putting her in more precarious situations sooner. I should have taken her on trail rides, gone to more local shows, and just gotten her out and about. She is the “fanciest” horse I’ve ever had so I was nervous about “ruining” her, which is dumb. I’m a good rider and I don’t ask my horses to do stupid things. I was never going to ruin her by riding her like I rode all the baby horses that came before her, all of which have gone on to wonderful careers under saddle in various jobs. I’m getting her out and about now and it’s going really well. Her first few trail rides were comical (she was NOT getting her pretty hooves WET, OMG. But she will cross water just fine now) but she’s gained a ton of confidence.
I should show her at rated shows, but I just don’t feel it yet. My two primary resource challenges make me question biting the bullet and entering a show every time I get serious about doing an entry. I want her to foxhunt and hopefully will get her out this fall with hounds to see what she thinks. But there is always a little voice in my head that tells me I’m wasting a really nice horse so I should sell her to someone who will tap that potential. My dream of all dreams would be for her to be equally good at showing AND fox hunting. Serious shoulding going on here.
This horse has pretty much found his calling in the hunt field. And he loves him a photographer to cheese for!
Simon is a much easier should. His shoulds are more about body clipping (ugh). Fly sheets. Pulling his mane. And other banal shoulds that won’t remarkably change his future, just his day-to-day existence. Sometimes I think I should show him, but it would also be dumb to show him when I SHOULD be showing Coco. This past hunt season went really well for Simon. He was fit. He stayed sound. He got better and better all season. It’s easy to forget that he’s only 7 and (hopefully) has many years ahead of him to hunt and trail ride and maybe even go to some horse shows. I don’t feel the pressure that I should be doing anything different with Simon, and that makes him more fun for me to ride. Which is dumb.
At the end of the day, all a horse wants to do is eat grass and be safe. They don’t care about their potential. They don’t care if they win or lose. They don’t care if they have a show record or not. They don’t care how big are the jumps. They don’t care about any of it, unless they are hungry or scared.
I continue to struggle with my shoulding, but am getting better at prioritising things for myself, my family and my animals. No one can make these choices for me and at the end of the day, no one other than Boot City really cares in the long run. I regularly remind myself of this when I start shoulding and it helps me make better choices.
What a weather week! We went from a nice 60’s temps on Monday to LOTS of rain on Tuesday which turned to ice on Wednesday and Thursday. The horses are so tired of being in the barn!
Murtagh likes to help me with hay chores. He especially likes to ride on the hay in the wheelbarrow. He’s the best tack room kitty!
I can’t get enough of these two. Dickens is so sweet and let’s Patches chew on his ear for as long as she wants. Who needs a super sweet chihuahua?!
Jaguar lives in his own paddock now. He will be 25 this year and the baby horse shenanigans can be too much for his old bones. He likes opening the barn door for some self serve hay. He’s always been a master at opening doors and gates.
The ice accumulation has been hard on the trees in our area. I’m hoping these crape myrtles don’t break from the weight of all that ice, but they sure are pretty!
Happy Fri-YAY! Texas keeps teasing us with fall-like weather, then slaps us across the face with temps in the 90’s. I need to just enjoy the nice weather and appreciate sunlight to ride after work and not having to blanket horses. My least favorite thing about winter is the short days that make it nearly impossible to get rides in after work.
This week has been moderately eventful at the farm. We finally got a handyman/contractor out to give us a bid on doing some outside repairs on the house. Boot City had started some of the repairs, then quickly realized a carpenter he is not! Now we have brown spots on the ceiling in the kitchen from rain getting into the attic where the repairs were started. Oops! Fingers crossed that next year is THE year for a total renovation inside the house.
This isn’t the best photograph, but I had to memorialize Jaguar’s molting chicken friend. This chicken has commandeered Jaguar’s water buckets as her nightly perch for over a week. She is molting (shedding old and growing new feathers) so she looks ridiculous. Every night Jaguar munches on his hay while she poops in his water.
Don’t worry. He has a second water bucket (with water in it) that she doesn’t perch on and poop in.
Jaguar and his molting chicken bestie.
Now that Sterling is back in action Coco isn’t getting as many rides during the week, but she is still progressing nicely. She has an appointment with an equine acupuncturist next week that I’m looking forward to getting some answers about her back soreness. When I brush her back from her left side she kicks at me with her left hind foot. She may be just being sassy, but I think it is only fair to her to see if there is an actual issue. The acupuncturist is also a veterinarian and chiropractor so is highly qualified for the task. Sterling does a similar thing so I will probably have him looked at, too.
Coco being Coco
Dickens had a BIG day this week. He had brain surgery! Not actual brain surgery, he got neutered. Up until about 2 weeks ago he was the easiest puppy in the whole wide world. Then, for no apparent reason, he started marking spots in the house and going wandering to the neighbors’ properties. We figured this was the universe telling us that it was time for his family jewels to be removed. The breeder recommended waiting until he was at least a year old to have him neutered because the hormones help them grow stronger bones and be overall healthier. He turned 1 in early September so the timing was right. He is still sore and I think he generally hates us right now, but he’ll be back in action with his beerhound besties in just a couple weeks.
Dickens the goober Whippet.
I had a really sappy moment earlier in the week reminiscing about some of the fun things Jaguar and I have done together over the years and got mad at myself for taking him for granted now that he’s an old man. I went out to his stall super late (like 1a, which is crazy late for me) to just give him a hug. He looked at me like I was nuts and was absolutely insulted that I hadn’t brought any treats for him. Reason number 4,086 that I love him!
“Hi Mom. I will bite your noggin because I LOVE you!”
I got the news yesterday that Casey has officially moved to his new home in Montana! It was bittersweet for him to return to Montana, but I’m SO EXCITED for him and his new family.
Horsey Glamour Shots – with the saddle
My goal with every horse I “have” (technically Casey belonged to my Mom, but he was “mine” for a year) is for them to be a better horse that what I started with and therefore have value as a good riding horse. To my mind this is the best prevention from a bad situation. A kind, talented, well trained and rideable horse is far less likely to end up in an abusive home, at a kill-pen or just not cared for.
Horsey Glamour Shots – passenger side view
When Casey arrived in Texas he was very nicely trained, but still young and didn’t have a lot of hours outside an arena. He would inherently get more time outside from fox hunting, but I also wanted him to be a nice trail riding horse. He has an AMAZING brain. He’s generally unflappable and has that fabulous Quarter Horse smarts, so I had a great animal from the start. Mom also wanted me to work with his flying lead changes in case she wanted to try more reining or even western riding with him later. I am pleased to have accomplished all of these goals. We went on quite a few trail rides, which he took to very well. His lead changes aren’t quite automatic, but they are definitely there and just need some polish. I haven’t shown a finished western riding horse, so I don’t know if he has the talent for that event, but I do think he would make a nice reining horse with more training. He stops nicely, turns nicely and doesn’t have trouble doing lead changes. He looks at cattle so might even be able to do working cow horse!
Horsey Glamour Shots – driver side
About three quarters of the way through hunt season Mom made the decision that she wanted to sell Casey. We agreed that he had a better chance of going to a nice show home if he stayed in Texas so I marketed him here. Only by word of mouth until early August, then I posted a Dreamhorse ad. It is somewhat ironic that he sold to a family in Montana, but the best part is that he now belongs to a family I’ve known most of my life. Casey will get to do some ranch work, he will continue to do some showing and he will be loved by a little girl. There is a quote/meme you often see on social media about how every horse deserves to be loved by a little girl at least once in it’s life.
I completely agree and am THRILLED for Casey and his little girl!
The ponies and I had a very productive and fun weekend!
We kicked off Saturday morning by heading to a lesson at the barn where I bought Coco when she was only a few months old. Her flat work has been going really well and I know she’s ready to jump, but I also know that I need some eyes on the ground to give me feedback to bring along a youngster. Being that this barn raised and trained her dam (as well as multiple half siblings), stood her sire, and two grandsires I value their input both as professionals in the hunter/jumper world, but also their knowledge of her bloodlines. They hadn’t seen her in person since she was a baby baby, so it was fun for them to see her grown up.
Coco handled the “new” place quite well. She looked pretty hard at some jump standards in the corners of the ring, but she didn’t say “no” to anything. She also handled the traffic in the arena much better than I would have anticipated. One of the down sides to keeping horses at home is that they don’t get much time in an arena with other horses. It took Sterling a year or two of showing before he stopped panicking about horses coming up behind him on the rail. I could feel Coco’s energy when horses would jump nearby, but she was never naughty.
We did lots of flat work, walked and trotted through some ground poles and ended the lesson by trotting and even cantering over a crossrail. The trainer’s feedback was that she jumps cute, even over such a tiny fence. She also really uses her hind-end into the canter transitions. Coco will definitely be a talented jumping horse, so hopefully we will get a solid base and get to start showing over fences next spring!
Pretty (and very sweaty!) Coco after our lesson.
The norm lately has been a lot of rain and random storms. Saturday night brought over 1.5″ of rain at our house! My horsey besties and I had planned a trail ride at the Trinity Trails in Fort Worth and we didn’t let the rain deter us! It was misting a bit when we set off, but it cleared up and turned out to be the perfect weather for a Sunday morning ride on the Trinity Trails. Plus the weather seemed to deter others from heading out so we didn’t see more than maybe 15 cyclists and that was it.
All of our horses thought the stripes in the parking lot were walkovers. It was funny.
It is delightful to live in (near) a city that is so welcoming to trail users. The Trinity Trails system has many miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails that allow you to ride right up to downtown Fort Worth. We got some pretty amazing photos!
This is Casey’s “but I want to eat all the grass not take a picture” pose! Downtown Fort Worth is in the backdrop.
Casey behaved really well. He looked at lots of things, but never spooked. There was a donkey on the other side of the river from us and he really talked to us when we rode by him! Thankfully we have Pablo at home because donkeys often scare the pants off of horses when they bray.
It’s so nice to have this much green grass in August. You wont hear me complain about the rain, that’s for sure!
Does your town have trails for riding, running or biking? Do you ever take your horse out?
I grew up riding western. I had a brief foray into rodeo events. I won my first belt buckle when I was 9 in pole bending at the Bill Pauley Memorial Rodeo. I won All Around for my age division at the same rodeo. I had a few nice, but safe, rodeo event horses before I was 12. Casey ran some barrels (not to be confused with the current Casey!). Chant Town was an OTTB or OTQH and he was a master of pole bending. Both horses were VERY old when I had them and went on to teach other kids the ropes in rodeo events.
My Dad was a cutter most of my life. I know he did some team roping and snaffle bit futurities, but all I remember him doing was cutting and helping friends and family move cattle whenever needed.
Dad cutting in Idaho on Athena Beau. Probably in the late 80’s or early 90’s.
As I got older my interest in rodeo waned and I got into showing Quarter Horses. I did mostly all around events including showmanship at halter, hunter under saddle, hunt seat equitation, western horsemanship, western pleasure and trail with a couple horses my parents had raised. When Jaguar was born he was first my 4-H project, but when we took him to a couple Quarter Horse shows when he was 2 some trainers made comments to my parents that he had the looks of a reiner. Dad was always ambivalent about the “horse show” events and more or less thought they were a waste of time. ESPECIALLY the English events. Therefore he was never particularly supportive of horse showing. Until I got bitten by the reining bug. Reining is an event that is derived from working cattle. You ride in figure eights going slow and fast, do sliding stops, and spins. Basically you are showing off how “broke” your horse is to do the maneuvers necessary to work cattle. The next step is working cow horse then cutting.
Jaguar becomes a reiner!
Jaguar was an awesome reining horse. He is extremely athletic and would stop SO hard. He could be frustrating in that he would stop hardest in bad ground (ground not good for sliding) and then not make much effort in really good ground. He could easily do 20 foot long slides. I showed him in reining from the time I was 15 until I was about 20. He developed a large bump on one of his knees that made spins in that direction uncomfortable. I also was finishing college so didn’t really have time to show. Dad let me go all over the western U.S. to show in reining events. I had a BLAST! The culmination was showing the AQHYA World Championship show. We didn’t do all that well, but it was really fun.
After college and into adulthood living in Texas all I really wanted to do was jump. I got Jaguar back when he was 13 and I was in my late 20’s. In my head he was ready to retire so he hung out in the pasture until I met the fox hunt and he entered his third career (his second was doing all around stuff with my Mom in Montana). All the horses I’ve bought myself have been English horses for jumping and/or fox hunting.
Last fall my Mom let me borrow her horse, Casey (again) to use for fox hunting since Jaguar is no longer sound for riding. He was the perfect fit for a fill in. He was a great sport and did everything I asked of him, but he just is not an English horse. I much prefer riding him western. Mom wants to sell him now so I am legging him up to make some western videos and market him to the western crowd. He is a super easy and fun ride.
My parents got me a custom made reining saddle made by Earl Twist when I was 17 and it is the most beautiful and comfortable saddle on the planet. Riding Casey brings back fantastic memories and then I find myself thinking I should get back into reining….. just what I need is another horse hobby! Especially after all the time, effort, energy and MONEY I’ve invested over the past 10 years to get into the hunter/jumper game. I’m sure Boot City would be ecstatic. Nonetheless, I’m definitely going to enjoy the time I have left with Casey and getting to dip my toes back into the western world for a little while.
Lovely day on Casey the QH.
My plan is to get back into reining later on in life when perhaps jumping isn’t safe or if I get burned out or I have the resources to do both. I didn’t keep a lot of my western tack other than my reining saddle and a handful of bridles. My parents had also gotten me a fancy show saddle made by Broken Horn in California that my Mom now uses to show her mare Foxy. It kind of entertains me because that saddle has a silver horn cap with my initials on it.
He looks so cute in his western duds! He still hasn’t fully shed out and it is HOT here so I keep his mane braided and off his neck.
I’m blessed to have and have had some really lovely horses!
My name is Tara and I love horses. Supposedly that is the first step to recovery, right?! I can’t imagine my life without these divine creatures playing a major role and am so grateful I have the means and the support of Boot City to have them. People often compare the hobby of horseback riding to playing sports or golfing or other “similar” activities, but there is one glaring difference. If you own or lease a horse you are responsible for the care and well being of an 800+ pound animal 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 52 weeks per year. It is kind of like marriage; you take a vow to care for them in sickness and in health.
So far 2017 has had it’s fair share of “sickness”, mostly in the form of injuries. Right, Sterling?
We like to selfie while on stall rest. Again.
Simon tried to pull his hoof off of his leg this spring, but miraculously was never lame. The injury looked really bad and made me kind of nervous so I haven’t been riding him. I want to let the hoof grow out more and he is really just a baby so the time off is fine.
Simon trying on a hunt bridle to prepare for what we hope will be his future career!
Jaguar is kicking it retirement-style. His hurt leg is noticeably off, but he’s happy as a clam out in his pasture with his buddies. He even trots and canters sometimes! I thought he’d be annoyed at being retired, but he’s taken to it pretty well. He still bosses everyone around, including the neighbor horses.
The handsomest 24 year old, grandson of Doc Bar, past AQHYA World Championship qualifying reiner, retired fox hunter, there ever was!
Coco (so far) is one of my “in health” horses currently. She has had PLENTY of “in sickness” over the past few years so she deserves it! We will make our way to a few more horse shows this summer as Sterling convalesces. Miles, miles and more miles are my goals for Coco this year.
Hanging out in her giant stall at the horse show. My favorite thing about Texas Rose Horse Park are the huge permanent stalls. It is so nice for the bigger hunter/jumper horses to not be stuck is some tiny 10×10 or even 12×12.
Last, but certainly not least, Casey has been the VERY best step-in hunt/whipper-in horse I could have asked for! He was a perfect gentleman all hunt season, enjoyed a few trail rides and now is FOR SALE! The plan had been to take him back to Montana, but Mom thinks it would be best for him to stay in Texas and have a busier job with someone who will appreciate him. Casey is one of those horses that you can truly grab out of the pasture, jump on and go and there is no drama. I know because we did just that 2 weekends ago. He hadn’t been ridden since March and I hopped on (with no lunge) and he trotted and cantered around like he was ridden yesterday. And he’s only FIVE! He’s got SO MANY great years ahead of him! So, you should buy him, or at least tell your friends to buy him. For reals.
Poor Casey’s biological clock stayed on Montana seasons so he didn’t start shedding his winter coat until JUNE! When he would get hot and it was wet, well, he would roll in the mud to cool off.
No, horses are not just a “hobby”. I can’t put them in a closet and forget about them until the next time I want to “play”. They are my lifestyle and I love every second!
Last Sunday was an eventful day for me, one with a LOT of happiness. I rode Coco for the first time and she was a dream! I also rode Sterling that morning, after a failed attempt at a trail ride the day before, and I rode Jaguar that evening. Since Sterling was now 100% a failed trail rider I would need to get Jaguar legged up for the remaining trail rides with my hunt friends for the summer. Riding an old horse cold turkey on long trail rides is not nice. They need many more rides to be fit enough to work on an ongoing basis. When I rode Jaguar something was off. He wasn’t lame, but there was a hitch in his gitalong that didn’t feel right. We only walked and trotted and I took him over a few low cavallettis, but I could feel something weird with his hind end movement. The right side had a bigger jerk to the movement and the left side was much softer. Had I been a betting person I would have guessed he was off on his right leg.
Fast forward to Tuesday. Sterling needed a shot so I thought I would have my vet look over Jaguar while he was there. I made an appointment for Tuesday afternoon when I was returning from a work trip. My thought was that Jaguar was going to start needing some kind of joint injections, a pain management regimen for arthritis, or something similar to one of those options. He’s no spring chicken being 23 years young. He definitely is showing his age more than he had a year or two ago, but he had a fantastic hunt season and I love riding him on trail rides because he’ll do most anything I ask of him. My vet called early in the afternoon that he was already near my house so I told him to just go ahead and stop over even though I wouldn’t be home. He’d call me when he was finishing up.
This phone call has affected me far more than I would have dreamed it would. There isn’t really a name for what is wrong with Jaguar’s left hind leg, but there is something decidedly wrong with it. My vet thought for sure I would be able to tell him of a very specific event in which Jaguar had injured his left hind gaskin a few years ago and it was just now showing the full symptoms of what age and injuries combined will do to an animal’s mobility. The thing is, Jaguar has never ever been lame. Ever. Never had a hoof abcess. Never a pulled shoe that caused an issue. And never an acute injury requiring him to come out of work at all. Until now. My vet has diagnosed Jaguar with an injury to his left hind gaskin where it meets his hamstring and his stifle that will most likely not respond to any type of treatment and will require him to be in full retirement. No more riding Jaguar.
Jaguar and I at the Summer Slide in Denver in July of 1998. Just before we showed at the AQHYA World Championships in Reining
We are going to try a bute regimen for a few days to see if that might cut the pain a little bit. It will be promising if it does, but my vet sounded pretty skeptical of it working. The reality of it is that I will probably never be able to ride Jaguar again. He will now get his 100% deserved retirement.
Showing in reining at the MetraPark in Billings, Montana sometime between 1996 and 1998
I always thought that I’d know when I had my last ride on Jaguar. There would be some episode. Some illness. Some tangible reason when I would know that this was it. Not some vague nondescript injury that really isn’t that bad, but bad enough that it can’t be fixed and he can’t be ridden. I’m grateful that he’s otherwise healthy and I still have him, but I’m absolutely heartbroken that our partnership under saddle is done. No more fox hunts. No more trail rides. No more torturing him while I post without irons. As much of a mess as I am about this news I can’t even imagine how bad I’ll be when he dies. Until then, I’m going to enjoy every second we have together. He’s going to embark on his retirement with a weight loss program and focus on being the best damn pasture ornament there ever was.
Riding at a family reunion with my youngest cousin (who is in college now, this photo makes me feel really old).
There are some things that happen in your life and for no apparent reason they are burned into your memory. I remember taking Daughty to Colorado with my Dad in the spring of 1992 almost like it was yesterday. I remember how the barn where Juniper lived smelled. I remember that it rained. I remember meeting the Wolfs, who owned the farm where Doc’s Juniper stood at the time. And, I remember when, eleven months later, Jaguar was born. I was 13 years old. Yah, I know, I just gave away my age.
We had had foals before, but from the moment Mom and Dad planned to breed Daughty to Juniper I knew this one would be mine. They wouldn’t let me have a 2 year old in 4-H until I was 15 and when this foal turned 2, I would be 15. I was beyond excited. As a foal Jaguar was mischievous. He would run up behind me and put his feet over my shoulders. I thought it was adorable until Dad reminded me how not adorable that would be when he weighed over 1,000 pounds so we put a stop to the silliness. He bit. He bullied. He acted like a normal foal and I absolutely loved him.
Showing as a yearling. We were Grand Champions at the county fair!
The 4-H colt program started when the horse was a yearling. You had to show them in hand to exhibit their training and cooperativeness. Much to my delight Jaguar was brilliant. He learned new things faster than I could teach him. We won nearly every class we showed in that year. He could do Showmanship with the very best. He never put a foot wrong and would square his feet in about 3 steps. It was so much fun to show such a smart horse. His smarts would also lead to many of his greatest difficulties. Our first such experience was taking him to the Montana State 4-H horse show in a one-horse trailer. He was fine getting in to head to Great Falls for the five hour drive. Coming home was a different story, and I can’t say I blamed him those trailers are terrifying! We nearly had to beat him to get him in that trailer. He learned a valuable lesson, though and he’s gotten into every trailer since without a moments hesitation.
Showing in bareback as a 2 year old.
His two year old year just continued to show his brilliance. He never ever took a step wrong when I broke him to ride. I was terrified of him bucking so I did all kinds of crazy things to him before I even acted like I was going to get on the saddle. I put tires on the saddle. I concocted crazy contraptions with whips and raincoats to simulate a person. I’m sure that by the time I actually rode him he was relieved to be done with the shenanigans! We worked very hard all year and he was a very broke 2 year old by the time we got to the fair. The judge, however, was horrible. She decided that there was no way I could have possibly trained him so well on my own so wouldn’t give us higher than a blue ribbon (Grand and Reserve Champion were the winners, everyone else got a blue, red or white ribbon depending on how they did) in any of our classes. I was furious and so frustrated. Jaguar was starting to show a lot of promise as a reining horse so my parents and I made the decision to quit 4-H and move on to only show in the American Quarter Horse Association and National Reining Horse Association shows. I learned young that people like to punish others for being better than them at something, even if it was legitimately earned. Nice lesson for a 15 year old kid, right?!
Sadly I don’t have any photos of Jaguar reining. They are all in Montana, still. He was a fabulous reining horse, but the same troubles would always bubble up. As soon as Jaguar figures something out, he makes it more interesting for himself. Like spooking at chairs by the arena that have been in the same spot for 3 days, but he just now noticed them. Or anticipating parts of reining patterns and doing them before he’s supposed to. After three or four years as a reiner he had to move onto a new career because he knew all of the patterns and there was no way you could trick him to wait for cues.
Trail riding selfie
My Dad used him to rope on at brandings and to sort cattle. My Mom showed him in some local shows and basically won everything they could possibly win. They finally told me in 2006 that I needed to take him to Texas. I couldn’t really believe my Dad had actually given me the option to keep him. He always sold my horses and never gave me any input on the decision. It was bittersweet when they brought him down because about a month after they visited Texas my Dad died from a blood clot that was a result of an injury from an accident he was in while riding a horse he had. For that and a myriad of other reasons Jaguar is one of the strongest living reminders of my relationship with my Dad.
And how many 34 year olds have pets (if you can call a horse a pet) that they had when they were 13 years old? Jaguar has seen me through ALL of major life events. Think about it; prom, my first boyfriend, starting high school, graduating from high school, going off to college, graduating from college, moving away from home, my first job, my wedding. He’s been in my life for every single thing. I can remember getting mad at friends or parents in different times in my life and going out to the barn and spewing my frustrations to Jaguar and the other horses I had at the time.
Jaguar the fox hunter!
Jaguar turned 21 last Saturday. I don’t know why this birthday seems like such a milestone, but it really does. I love that horse to pieces! My parents bought and sold so many of my horses while I was growing up that I learned quickly to never get attached to them. I still don’t really get attached to them (or at least I think I don’t, we’ll see when I actually need to sell one!) like I feel attached to Jaguar. He bucks on most every fox hunt and acts like an idiot for the first 45 minutes of every trail ride, but when push comes to shove he’ll always step up. I can put any inexperienced rider on him and he’ll be absolutely perfect. I was trail riding with hunt friends last weekend and we had an episode that caused Jaguar to spin around faster than I could stay on and I remember falling on the ground and him stepping over me so the other horse running by wouldn’t step on me.
So, cheers to Jaguar! Easily the best horse I will ever have the pleasure of riding! And he earns extra credit points for being the absolute best baby sitter of baby horses you could ever ask for. Just ask Coco.