There are little girls that love horses, and then,
there are little girls that LOVE horses. I was the
latter. I was also one of the blessed few whose mother
shared that love. My mother did not waste her money on
Easy Bake ovens, Barbie Corvettes, or pink bicycles -
instead, she wasted it on a Shetland pony whom I
immediately named "Black Beauty."
Now, to say the money was wasted is not really a fair
statement. In fact, Beauty taught me some valuable
lessons. It was Beauty who taught me the "tuck and
roll" method of involuntary dismount, as well as
the art of getting 500 pounds of pony hoof off my foot.
However, faced with the threat of child abuse charges,
my mother decided Beauty had to go.
Enter Bobby. Bobby was the pony every child dreams
of. He was fat, he was fuzzy, and he was mine. He was
also the kindest, most tolerant pony that God ever
created. Bobby and I were destined for the Olympics.
Sadly, he was sold before we had a chance to qualify for
After Bobby came Winterhawk, a leopard Appaloosa who
proved that a good heart is more important than good
looks. Winterhawk suffered from navicular disease but,
in spite of his lameness, carried me tirelessly along
the trails of Rocky Mountain National Park. He was also
an accomplished broom polo mount who could outrun,
outturn, and outplay the soundest of horses.
Unfortunately, the time came when I had to say goodbye
to yet another friend.
Then came puberty, followed by work, marriage, and
the mundane existence known as adulthood. Until finally,
then came Tia…
The day was innocent enough, or so it seemed at the
time. Little did I (or my checkbook) suspect the
enormity of what I was about to embark on. Although my
life had become that of a "city girl," I still
thought of myself as a horseperson and was looking
forward to watching the 4-H show at the Frederick County
Fair. But when I started critiquing those on the wrong
diagonals or wrong leads, I knew something was amiss. I
knew I had to ride again. I got home and announced, much
to my husband's dismay, that I was buying a horse.
Never one to procrastinate, I bought the first horse
I looked at. Fortunately, that horse was Tia. When I saw
her, she was shaggy, wet, muddy, and scrawny - she was
the most beautiful horse I'd ever seen.
Tia and I got off to a slow start. She was a green
horse, I was a green rider - not typically the best
combination, but she forgave my mistakes and I forgave
hers. Our first few years were spent trail riding on
Sugarloaf Mountain but before long, I got the itch. The
itch that drains your bank account, the itch that makes
you ride in ten degree weather…the itch to compete.
Our first endeavor was a 15-mile Competitive Trail
Ride. The naysayers claimed that Tia, a Quarter Horse,
couldn't compete against the Arabians so known for their
endurance - they were wrong. We finished 3rd out of
forty-odd horses. It was fun, but I still had the itch.
So, we tried jousting. Tia was everything a jousting
horse should be - straight, fast, and smooth. I, on the
other hand, could not seem to master the art of hanging
off the side of my galloping steed while wielding a
giant spear aimed at a "Life Savor" sized
ring. It was then that I decided to become a "real
equestrian" and start showing her as a hunter.
There was just one problem - we'd never jumped anything
but small logs on the trail.
Teaching Tia to jump was like teaching a fish to
swim. In no time, she was leading experienced horses
over fallen trees that we'd once cut paths around. Tia
loved to jump and it showed in the hunter ring. We
finished our first show season as Reserve Champion for
the year. It seemed we'd found our calling. At least,
that is, until the second season got underway.
By the middle of our second season, I began to notice
a change in her - she was just not as bright or
energetic approaching fences. Tia was bored. The more I
thought about it, the more I realized that I was, too.
And that is when the fun really began. One word, three
phases - Eventing.
Preparing for our first event was a true test of my
love for riding. While Tia would jump the moon, she was
not so fond of the new foofy stuff (translation:
dressage). "What do you mean I'm supposed to
stretch my head down while I walk - there's no grass in
this ring!" "Make up your mind! Do you want me
to stop or go? This leg / hand nonsense is getting on my
nerves!" And so it went for the month preceding the
event. I resigned myself to the fact that we would
probably be last in dressage, but hoped to move up
during the jumping phases. I was close - we were 10th
out of 12 after dressage, but with clean cross-country
and stadium rounds, finished our 1st event in 3rd place.
I was hooked. As it turned out, so was Tia.
I have always said that Tia is the exception to the
chestnut mare syndrome (aka dumb blond) stereotype. You
see, all by herself, she figured out that all she had to
do was put up with the foofy stuff and she'd get to do
her two favorite things - run and jump, jump and run.
All of a sudden, I had an event horse!
The next year we began training with Mike Hillman
(after, of course, as our judge he gave us the worst
dressage score we've gotten to this day!). The first
order of business was to pick a show name worthy of a
great event horse. The result, "Take It Away!"
(get it …T - I - A). Before long, we were ready for
our first recognized event at Redland Hunt. Having
nearly fainted at the sight of some of the cross-country
jumps, as we left the warm-up and headed for the start
box, Mike offered these words of encouragement:
"Trust yourself, trust your horse, and have
fun." Words to live by - we went clean.
And so, Tia, this story is dedicated to you. For your
enormous heart and endless courage, I admire you. For
your friendship and devotion, I thank you. For all of
these things, I love you. Other horses may come and go,
but none will ever replace you. You are now, and always
will be, number one in my heart.
Read other articles by Lalya Watkins