Monday, July 07, 2008

#1 - Susie, horse trainer extraordinaire

this week i'm writing each day about a person, place or thing that has had a big effect on my life. i'm going to be leaving aside parents, sister, husband and daughter because those are a given for having had a big effect and writing about that effect would be way more typing than i should do with the angry nerve in my left hand. 

so, i start with susie.  

i grew up showing horses. i think i was sent into the showring with merrylegs, my little dapple grey pony, clad in the cutest little red and black pants, at about the age of 4. i had no idea what i was doing but it was a halter class so no real harm could come of that. merrylegs was a good pony and i walked out with a big shiny blue trophy (that's no doubt still somewhere in my parents' basement). probably just because we were so darn cute.

i graduated from local shows to quarter horse shows and even had a few years in the rough and tumble rodeo world (as rough and tumble as 4-H rodeos can get)--what i most recall about those was a vast quantity of mud. then, we got paints and pintos and started going to the state association shows.  

we did it all--from showmanship to english pleasure to western pleasure, trail, reining and western riding--even barrels and poles if we were going for the all-around award. i had a lot of horses during those years...bee's star bar, i'm a susie bar, jolene, keelo kandy, tickleweed, spooky, skip's galley lad, top hand, switch, chilli's hot stuff, kitty, ted, suzie q, fred and especially sary (more about her later).

at the black hills pinto shows, i first encountered susie. she was a trainer, showing other people's horses and doing it well. she was dressed smarter than anyone else and in the black hills pinto association, they had settled on their number at the beginning of the year.  aside: you always have a number on your back when you show, since the judge doesn't know you, so you can be called on when you win, of course. :-)  susie's number was 222 and she had made beautiful versions of it in oval and heart shapes in black or green to match all of her outfits. i was in awe. and so wanted to be 222 at any show where susie wasn't there.

she also showed paints and her own mare, diamond h pansy, was my very dream of a horse (i eventually owned her sister, diamond h suzie q). susie was showing her at the same time as i showed skip's galley lad. i think one of the horses susie showed was the association's all around horse the same year (was in 1982?) that i was all around youth with skip's galley lad. 

but it wasn't until i got Indians Adversary, a handsome bay tobiano mare, that i actually started to work with susie. it was a dream come true for me! the folks sent me to live with susie out near the black hills (263 miles from home) for that summer. i actually slept in the living quarters of the big horse trailer that summer, since susie and her husband and son lived in a little trailer house and there wasn't really room for me. 

i learned so much--not only about handling my horse, but the whole spectrum. i probably grew up more and got to know myself better during those 3 months than at any other time in my life. i wasn't allowed to be the little snot hot-shot who was there to work with the trainer. no, a big part of what i did was muck stalls and move bales and sacks of grain. i got up early to feed. i learned to appreciate the soothing sound of a horse crunching grain in the early morning and the quality of the light and quiet that an early summer morning has.

i got kicked by a horse named TJ and had such a solid hoof-shaped bruise on my leg that you could read the brand of the shoe in the bruise. i learned about medicating and worming horses that needed it. and i worked with not only my own horse, but some of the others susie had in training. lunging them and hosing them down after a workout. in short, i really learned about hard work and how it was essential to achievement. i did that by soaping saddles and cleaning equipment, as well as by training for hours every day with my own horse.

we showed all over the upper midwest that summer--hauling off somewhere every weekend--colorado, wyoming, nebraska, kansas, oklahoma, and of course south dakota. we changed flat tires (two on the trailer on the way to longmont). we laughed. we sang in the car--dead skunk was especially popular. we ate junk food and great food in nice restaurants. we were dog tired at the end of days. we drove hundreds of miles. and we won lots of ribbons and points. i achieved my youth championship and my mare beat the world champion in one halter class in wyoming. i had moments of pride and moments of disappointment and i learned from susie to handle both gracefully.

when we were at home, susie taught me to make chinese food. i learned how to cut out a new pair of chaps. i upgraded my show clothes under her influence--she always had style where that was concerned. i learned so much that summer--all of which has translated into a life lived unafraid of trying new things and acceptance of the hard work that goes behind success. it was the experience of a lifetime.

there were other summers that i was back there with other horses, but none really could compare to that first summer i spent with susie and my horse sary. the picture below is from one of those later summers:

that's susie seated on the director's chair in the middle.
my sister on king frederik on the left.
suzie q and me on king kitty next.
and some of the others who susie worked with on down the line.

i'm very grateful for the lessons i learned from susie that summer, they have served me well throughout my life ever since. i'm not sure she was consciously or intentionally teaching me about myself, or maybe she was. but whatever the case was, i learned so much. today she would probably be called a life coach and be able to charge thousands for the lessons. :-) but i think what she really did was teach me by example and i came to think that life lived any other way wasn't an option. i was privileged to have had the opportunity to work with her. thank you susie!


Anonymous said...

this was a wonderfully educational post on so many levels julie! i especially appreciated this lesson which i also learned from doing manual labor which was a labor of love as well.
"i really learned about hard work and how it was essential to achievement."
you were so horse savvy...i would have loved to know you when i was becoming a young woman and learning about riding..i was a terrible rider and always afraid of the back end of the horses. i tried to be brave though and rode and rode my heart out, getting kicked and thrown and god knows what else during that year. this is a great start to your self imposed challenge to write about the influential people in your life.

polona said...

wow, i loved this story... so many life lessons in here.

enchantedartist said...

Wow! Just wonderful...

Kristin said...

I just came across this post (it had a picture of a horse, I had to click) and then I had to add a comment. That experience you described was so nearly identical to experiences I had growing up (I showed Arabians). It was amazing to stumble upon my experiences written up in someone else's words on someone else's blog.