The Hoof Print
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The Christian Equestrian's Literary "Stamp" in Type
The Mini Adventures of Bek Hur?
Such a title could project epic imagery in Cinemascope with robust sinew and muscular brawn grasping the reins of four majestic white Arabs galloping perilously while harnessed to a chariot.
Reality diminishes glitter and dilutes cinematic splendor. The lights fade. The wallpaper on the props peel.
After all, folks...this is only a true story!
Setting: a hot East Texas day. Sun parched pastures edged with Black Locust, scrubby Cedars and the rugged Bois D’arc (pronounced in these parts as “Bowed Ark”) bordering the banks of a 60 acre pond with shimmering brown, murky water. Maybe one turtle floating across the watery muck on a drifting Bois D’ arc branch. One skeleton of a formerly in the flesh bovine.
Cast: a melting, frizzy haired, wild eyed woman at times sitting in a cart and one diminutive Miniature horse pulling or at times lunging in the cart.
Screenplay: Opening scene. Peaceful. Building energy. Next scene, Trainer frantically standing in a cart, pulling the reins while the muscle and sinew of tiny harnessed horse races full throttle to potential disaster…from perilous heights…perhaps to a watery grave…
Script: Throbbing Speechlessness.
Mood: Unabridged Panic.
Ending: The storying will unfurl itself...you just have to read to the end...of the series, that is!
Introducing the “Her” of Hur
The opening scene of any true epic always provides some insight to the past. No great leading lady of any drama, no matter how trite, just "happens" on the screen without some preamble to her virtues of worthiness to such a showcase of distinction and preference in the storyline. “I am the noblest lady in France, second only to the Queen…” is a direct quote from Singing in the Rain.
Even Shirley Temple, we were soon to learn after her first appearance on screen, had her misfortunes in the storyline to either be an orphan, or a penniless child, or to be overlooked for her obvious and blatant talent or just to be the unliked child that made everyone love her eventually by the end of the film (who could resist?).
Then there was Gene Autry’s leading lady in an exciting Saturday afternoon musical western. She was typically "Joan" or "Jane" or "Helen" and the heiress to a worthless uranium mine (so she was led to believe by someone in a black hat). All the odds were against her but she soon met Gene.
It was through Gene’s winning, sincere smile...
-his dedication to her from the very beginning (though at first she didn't like him typically)…
-his plaintive, signature nasal rendition of a song of the west accompanied by his trusty guitar that was as readily available as his six gun sung to a stunned audience always present and available…
-a fist fight or two with his wonder shirts that were never torn in battle though the adversary scratched and bit it…
-a wild chase on horseback…
-and lastly, a few 12 to 20 rounds with his 6-shot Revolver he didn’t have time to reload while balancing for dear life on a wildly galloping Champion...
...we soon came to know that lady was actually a wealthy woman that had refused any number of marriage proposals from men in black or white hats, had actually an active uranium mine that also struck a vein of gold and was madly in love with Gene Autry who didn’t seem to mind or be shocked at the realization.
Bek-Hur was such a character that could never measure up to the aforementioned heroines. I’m afraid the heroine of this story is rather boring in comparison to most leading ladies when taking the stage (no pun intended). She had no great slight or misfortune. Instead, she (that being me) grew in a wonderful home, and was well loved, well fed, well clothed, well-educated and was not slighted by the malignity of a near relative nor was she known to ever be capable of retaining an audience when attempting to sing as Gene Autry.
Simplicity at its best encapsulates the whole of Bek-Hur. No singing cowboys on the horizon nor uranium mines. Just the west at its best with all the real trimmings -- entailing a hoof pick, rasp and a pair of knippers. Horses of any breed were her passion. Yet, a special preference for a horse of a short stature and a drive to train them to drive was soon the center of her whole youthful existence. No, in comparison to most star studded “B” rated westerns—The Mini Adventures of Bek-Hur might have made the C-label –- not a tiered or even peer-reviewed grade in itself, but a “Condemned” rating.
The Mini Adventure Begins
My fascination with Miniature Horses began when I met Stormy, a Black Tobiano stallion about 32” tall. He was suited up in a patent leather harness and pulled a tiny sulky just big enough to seat an adult. With choppy precision, Stormy trotted around a “miniature” sized race track and won the roses. Once I sat in the sulky—I was hooked forever to harness, horse and cart.
I already had made plans to “grow up” to be a horse trainer but training cart horses was a fresh dream! At the age of 12 my first opportunity to train a Mini to a cart presented itself in the form of “Brookside”. He was only four years old, 31” tall and a dark chocolate brown with a tiny star on his forehead. Despite being a half-brother to the mannerly Stormy, Brookside was a frustrated stallion arriving to our home with the ego of a vertically challenged Goliath. Within the 24 hour period of his arrival to our home and the vet performing “brain surgery” (a.k.a castration), this little studly package had bit me and kicked at another family member! Poor prospect for a cart! I was ignorant enough not to worry. Brookside soon became a very contented, happy, lovable gelding and the model of all childrens’ horses. Never again did he use his teeth or hooves for evil. They were instead the empowerment enabling him to indulge in his favorite hobby—traveling to sample each available blade of grass that came within his realm.
We certainly had the horse before the cart and harness. I learned some principles of training from a Miniature Horse breeder, a video, books, my Dad and hands-on. While waiting to find the right cart and harness, I could no longer restrain the desire to get Brookside started. Making a “make shift” harness out of hay twine, feed sacks and duck tape—Brookside tolerated my youthful endeavors toward teaching him to ground drive. Soon, my Dad and I drove 2 hours crossing statelines to purchase a very affordable cart and harness... and the fun began!
Looking back, Brookside was a treasure that the Lord gifted our family with. He accepted the training of an adolescent trainer that took her job seriously and despite all that, he “somehow” survived and still became an ideal family horse. He started seven of my younger siblings in the principles of horsemanship. He was the little horse that taught me more about training. Later as an adult, I used him in my horsemanship lessons.
Stay tuned for the next episode of "The Mini Adventures of Bek-Hur"
The best adventures have yet to be told! :)
Rebekah L. Holt a.k.a "Bek- Hur" - In conjuction with the "God Used a Horse Series"
Tales from my Full Time Days Training Miniature and Shetland Ponies to Carts!
Goliath--the most enormous black Perceron I've ever stood beside--just died July 3rd.
According to the article:
Goliath, the 2005 Guinness Book of World Record holder for Tallest Living Horse, passed away peacefully July 3, 2014 on the Priefert Ranch in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. Goliath was an awe striking black Percheron gelding who stood 19.1 hands high and weighed over 2500lbs. He was superstar and legend in his own right.
Bill Priefert purchased Goliath, along with five other Percherons, that made up Priefert’s “Texas Thunder” Hitch. Goliath and the team traveled 40,000- 60,000 miles a year, exhibiting at over 100 rodeos, parades, fairs, and equine events each year. After becoming a Gunniess World Record title holder, Goliath traveled solo, making countless stops at Priefert Dealers and Priefert-sponsored events across the country.
Not too often do we meet horses that make the "big time!"
Goliath was just one of many remarkable draft horses owned by the Prieferts. When teaching riding lessons, I had called and asked if I could bring a group of students on a field trip to meet Radar and Goliath. Priefert at that time, owned the World's Tallest Living Horses--Radar and Goliath. Radar had beat Goliath's height of 19.1 h.h. by 2 inches (19.3 h.h.), claiming the Tallest Living Horse title until 2010 when another horse, named Big Jake won the title with a remarkable 20.2 h.h.
Thinking back, Goliath was decidedly handsome--but I marveled how short his neck was! He looked so comical as he reached down to nibble grass, having to spread his front legs to get his head low enough to reach for the grass! Docile and mannerly, Goliath entertained my students and I as we clamored to pet him. His handler spent so much time with us, sharing tidbits about Goliath and Radar's diets, habits and daily routine. They were very well cared for, with roomy paddocks and custom made stalls (made by Priefert products, of course!). They even had a remarkable walker suited just for their enormous size!
Great memories! And a great horse!
Of course, I took an abundance of pictures. Here's a few from that memorable day:
Our field trip group back in 2006! WOW! That was 8 years ago! I'm kneeling down in the front. It will always be a favorite memory!
Greenwich Park, 2012. The horse strides down the side of the arena, hooves sinking deep into the golden sand, ears flickering gently from one side to the other as he takes in the murmur of a crowd thousands strong. One ear remains always tipped backwards towards his rider, who sits so tall and deep that the line between her movements and his is blurred. She guides him carefully, with subtle movements. A touch of her legs stirs him into a trot; he glides, white socks flashing, bay coat burnished in the sun, into the Olympic arena. He doesn’t move like an animal. He moves like music.
They come to a halt; the collection of the movement is in itself a salute to years of training. The rider makes her salute and then puts both hands on the reins, gathering him. The music begins, and the horse comes to life. He floats, perfectly in time with the music, through movements so difficult as to be impossible for most horses; yet he piaffes, pirouettes and passages as though it all comes naturally to him, as though he has been doing it since he was born. His rider appears to sit motionless as she guides him through the movements they both know so well. Extending, his trot seems ready to lift off; collecting, he barely seems to touch the ground.
The music rings with the peals of Big Ben and fanfares with the high wisdom of I Vow to Thee, My Country. The sound fills the hearts of the spectators, twines around the horse until it seems that horse and song become one, until it is uncertain whether the horse dances to the song or the song dances to the horse. Horse, human and music become one glorious spectacle.
One moment, they lengthen the canter to fly across the arena with impossibly long strides. The next, they piaffe, trotting on the spot, all the horse’s energy contained and yet exuberant. The next, they walk, the reins loose, the horse’s head stretched out, yet even that simple movement is regal, controlled, magnificent.
At last, with the whole stadium ringing to the last notes, the great horse comes to a halt and his great rider lowers her head and stretches out her right arm. The routine is finished. The stadium erupts into a mighty applauding.
Later that day it is announced that Charlotte Dujardin, the British dressage rider, and the KWPN gelding known as Valegro have won the individual gold medal for dressage at the London 2012 Olympics, and broken the Olympic record with 88.022%. Before long the pair will hold three world records, too, including the spectacular freestyle score of 93.975%. For now, they stand, revelling in a job well done, and the people of London applaud their majestic display of power, grace, and willingness.
And while they set their records, in a dingy corner of Gloucestershire, hidden and forgotten, a young pony colt is starving slowly.
Semi-abandoned stableyard in Gloucestershire, 2014. So weak that he can barely stand, the colt huddles in a corner of the field, his shivers making his long, dull coat ripple over his ribs. His neck looks too thin to support his pathetically bony head; his eyes are sunken deep into their sockets, and have no sparkle. Breathing laboured, neck stretched out, belly low-slung and grotesquely large for his spindly legs, the colt is days from death.
Stableyard caring for horses from charity, Gloucestershire, 2014. Charlotte Dujardin chats with her friend, walking past the row of stables from which sleek and well-groomed heads look out, the great eyes and wide brows speaking of breeding and quality. The double winner of the FEI World Cup and double Olympic gold medallist, among many other accolades, runs her eye down the row of beautiful horses. She is used to them; huge, shining, well-trained, unbelievably valuable, deeply treasured.
Then, she reaches a stable door with no head looking over it. Curious, she stops and peers inside. Two huge, sad eyes, half hidden in a head that is little more than a skull with skin, look back. They belong to a tiny black colt that was found by the RSPCA. He was starving, riddled with parasites and sick with a lung infection. In the words of an Inspector, the colt was a week from dying.
Now, he is safe, but his ribs still protrude, his belly still dangles, long hair hanging off it like moss dripping from an old tree trunk. His disproportionate body, half hidden underneath a dog blanket stretched across his thin frame, looks much too ugly for the prettiness of his fine-boned little head.
He is a far cry from Valegro, and Dujardin has no illusions that he will ever be Valegro. But she falls for him instantly. Straight away, she contacts her sponsors to custom-make him a proper rug instead of the old dog blanket. And not long after, the little colt, christened Santa, moves into the possession of Charlotte Dujardin OBE.
We all have days when we feel like Santa compared to Valegro. We feel like a raggedy little pony, scrawny, weak and on the brink of starvation, a scruffy mongrel in comparison to that man in the church, that girl in the youth group, that preacher at the pulpit – those Valegros. We compare ourselves to those around us, and cast ourselves in a dim light: I’ll never be brave like her. I’ll never be wise like him. I’ll never be virtuous like her. I’ll never be patient like him.
This is not humility. Our God never intended for us to compare ourselves to each other, for in the end, we are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). Jesus alone is the example to strive for, the leader to follow (Phil. 2:5). We are to shine with His light, reflected in us; not to stand in the shadows, ashamed to shine because of the light of others (Eph. 5:8). Jesus loves all His children, and He alone can make us everything we want to be (Matt. 19:24-26).
If Charlotte Dujardin, a human being, can love both a little black rescue pony and the top dressage horse in the world, how much better can our Lord and God love each one of us? But our God will go one better. Our God will take every Santa and turn them into a Valegro. The God who designed horse, man and the entire world so perfectly will make all those who trust in His name into new creations, and we will live forever in the glory of His light.
Glory to the King.
Every year at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, a group of trail blazing men, women, boys and girls gather in the John Justin Arena to compete at the Chisholm Challenge. The Chisholm Challenge competitors are similar to other people you’ll see at horse shows. Young and old—they love horses. Horse and human—they work all year fine tuning an arena presence and horsemanship skills. Visionary and resolute—they dream of the moment when handed the blue ribbon. Though resembling the spirit that embodies true horsemen and women, these Equestrians With Disabilities have to work long and hard to achieve goals by striding beyond the difficulties they face.
The unofficial start of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, the Chisholm Challenge is annually hosted the Monday through Wednesday before the event grounds swarm with maddening activity. While this exhibition offers many typical horse show classes, the Chisholm Challenge is more than your average horse show. It is a venue for riders that wake up every morning with physical, cognitive, and/or emotional challenges. Riders are judged according to their skill, not their disabilities. It is a chance for each rider to set personal goals in working with their horse and achieve them in a safe environment. The show is an opportunity for comradely and fellowship between the EWD riders, friends and family. Above all—the Chisholm Challenge is a real horse show that gives special North Texas exhibitors a place to make history in the world of Equestrians With Disabilities eventing.
A Privileged Encounter
A Christian friend and fellow riding instructor, Amanda Berry and I traveled to watch the 11th annual Chisholm Challenge (January 13-15, 2014). Having attended in 2012, I watched as it was evident riders had improved in their skills and the show was more competitive. While there, I was privileged to meet the Trail Course's judge, Michael Richardson. Having interviewed Mr. Richardson over the phone in 2012, meeting him was no disappointment. Back in 2012, I had asked Mr. Richardson about how this show is judged. “When I’m judging the trail course, I look at the whole picture. I watch the rider’s eyes and see how much they are assisting their horse through the pattern. Are they completing the required movements of the course? I judge for improvement—the way I would want to be judged."
Michael Richardson considers judging for the Chisholm Challenge an honor. January 2014 made it Michael’s 9th year to be a judge for the show. An active horse trainer, clinician and speaker, Mr. Richardson offers a unique perspective when it comes to judging. In 1986, Michael survived a traumatic vehicle accident that nearly ended his life. Though injuries left him paralyzed waist down, this horseman has risen beyond calamity. “My chair doesn’t define who I am. My perspective has created more ability. These Chisholm Challenge riders are no different. They can and do understand that at this show they’re showcasing their abilities to work with a horse. It is important as a judge to take our job and role seriously and remember that this is not a disabled horse show—it is a horse show.”
Michael believes that the Chisholm Challenge will be a template for other EWD shows. “It has already helped create opportunities for these horse people. Even the American Quarter Horse Association started began their first EWD horse show at the Chisholm Challenge.”
Michael Richardson - Video Clip
Meet One of the Competitors: Fort Worth Police Officer
Watching Fort Worth Police Officer Lisa Ramsey ride her horse Cody is a miracle in motion. “I shouldn’t be able to ride like I do. When I ride most people don’t realize that my physical disability is often worse than most of the riders at the show.”
Several years ago, Lisa was shot in the line of duty. The bullet pierced her lung, removing inches of her spine and leaving her paralyzed chest down. Overcoming tragedy, Lisa’s positive outlook has stood the test of time, “People in chairs usually inspire fear in others. They’re so angry about life and unhappy. Who wants to be around people like that? I’m the same person before I was put in this chair—I just move slower. I want people to be happy to see me. Life goes on.” Today, Lisa rides with All Star Equestrian Foundation. Her instructor, Cynthia Amodai co-founded the Chisholm Challenge at its conception. Though severely handicapped, Lisa’s ability to ride without adaptive equipment is astounding! “My muscles just lock into place when I get on a horse—like an able bodied rider. I guess it’s just muscle memory since I used to ride as a young girl.”
For Lisa, the costume drill team is the highlight of the entire horse show. “It is so much fun. When our drill team walked out into the arena—it was a show stopper. One year we dressed the horses like dinosaurs. Everybody was laughing and having a good time. I wait all year for that show. It’s over before I’m ready. I’d really love for there to be more shows like the Chisholm Challenge.”
Indeed--this year, the Costume Drill Classes were the show stopper. Lisa and Cody were part of Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes as Humpty Dumpty and the wall (Cody's part!). Eight Drill teams performed in costume to choreographed drills set to music.
Showcasing that Disabilities Give Opportunity to Possibilities
Horse shows like the Chisholm Challenge fill a need in our society. In the words of one mother of a rider, "As a parent of a special needs, non-verbal son, there are not too many places for my child to shine. At the Chisholm Challenge, I get to watch my son be thrilled over riding in the John Justin arena. It really is a special moment."
EWD shows help showcase the abilities of people that have been born or later in life found themselves with a disability. They help remind our society that people with special needs are people. As the competitors of the Chisholm Challenge illustrate, disabilities give opportunity to possibilities.
As Michael Richardson shared, "The reality is that these riders are just out there to maximize their abilities—not their inabilities. That’s true for all of all horse show competitors. The difference with most people is that we so often dwell on the negative—we don’t look for the positive. But when you see the smiles of the Chisholm Challenge competitors, you’re uplifted. After every Chisholm Challenge, I leave better. I wish more people could experience this.”