|Me and Lightning 1980|
I got my first Saddlebred when I was 9 or 10. A bay mare named Rose Mars Glow. She was 4 years old and unbroken. My dad traded some embroidered caps for her. She was never easy, crazy some said, but she made me tough and a good rider. I’m not sure how we got into Saddlebreds, we lived in Quarter Horse country and there wasn’t a Saddlebred show or trainer near us. I took some saddle seat lessons from a trainer that was about 60 or 70 miles away, too far to keep up for very long. We trail rode and I got into jumping and dressage but we had subscriptions to the Saddlebred magazines and kept up with what went on in that world. We would go to the shows and watch whenever we were in the Atlanta area.
|Me and Rose Mare 1988|
In 1988 when I was 13 I saw an ad in Saddle & Bridle Magazine that William Shatner and his wife at the time Marcy, both breeders and promoters of Saddlebreds, were having a contest to give away one of their young horses. This was a promotion of the American Saddlebred as a western pleasure horse suitable for young people. It was coordinated by the American Saddlebred Horse Association and Saddle & Bridle Magazine. The contest rules explained that it was only open to kids under 18, each contestant had to make a video about why they should win the horse, show where the horse would live and demonstrate their knowledge about horsemanship and riding skills. I was home schooled and my Mom thought the project of writing and producing my own video would be a great project for me. I wrote my own script and my Dad used our old super huge VHS video camera to tape me. I did a demonstration on grooming, showed off our very modest barn, and galloped Rose Mare around our field. My Dad took me to a camera store that had video editing machines in the back and helped me splice it together into a 10 minute presentation that I titled Saddlebred Dream. Then I mailed it off, really not expecting to hear anything else about it.
About a month later I got a letter in the mail that said my video was picked as one of the five finalists and me and a parent needed to fly to Saint Louis, MO to the St. Louis National Charity Horse Show where the winner would be presented with the horse. We didn’t have much money and my parents ran their own business so at first they said there was no way we could fly to Missouri, but with a bit of begging they decided that it was pretty awesome that I had been picked and they would figure out a way.
My Mom and I flew out together, my first time flying ever. Things were a lot different then, the Captain of the plane heard it was my first time flying and personally showed me the cockpit of the plane. When we landed in Saint Louis it was very late at night and took us a long time to collect our luggage and find a shuttle to our hotel. I think I was asleep but my mother tells me the shuttle ride was very scary, she said she didn’t think it really was an airport shuttle because it was full of chains and the driver took over and hour to find our hotel. I don’t really remember that part though. We were in Saint Louis for two or three days. The contestants were all introduced, we were photographed, interviewed and shown around Saint Louis. We did a tour of the Arch and went to the top in an elevator that resembled a washing machine. It was too foggy that day to see anything from the top though. Finally, we went to the stables and met the horse, Gambler’s Habit. A glowing chestnut gelding, 3 years old. Sweet and calm but distracted by all the people and commotion.
|Contest Finalists in St. Louis|
|Me winning Gambler with Marcy and William Shatner|
Once we were home we had the challenge of figuring out how to get Gambler home. Shipping was not included in the deal and shipping a horse can be very expensive. My mom took care of most of the details. They had moved him from Missouri to Kentucky and were stabling him there until we could have him picked up. We ended up having him put on a truck line that was moving a bunch of race horses from Kentucky to Ocala, FL so we got a little discount. The truck wasn’t going to go out of his way though to drop Gambler at our farm so we had to meet them somewhere near an I-75 exit. We drove down to Lake City, FL and met them at a farm called Valhalla, about two hours from home. It was a very quick exchange, they were in a hurry to get back on the road. It was a little embarrassing getting him off that snazzy horse simi full of glossy race horses and loading him on to our rusty open stock trailer.
|Me and Gambler 1988|
He was trained in western pleasure, a new class in the Saddlebred world. The contest was actually intended to promote this new way of using Saddlebreds. The problem was in my part of the country the only western pleasure classes were for Quarter Horses and anyone who knows a little bit about horse knows that these two breeds are about as different as they get. I had never ridden western either and it really didn’t appeal to me. I had been taking dressage and jumping lessons on Rose Mare so I gave that a try with Gambler. He was a natural jumper. Jumped like a deer and loved it. The dressage wasn’t as easy for him. He had been trained his whole life to take tiny short steps for the western classes and carry his head long and low, not at all typical for a Saddlebred. Saddlebreds normal carry their heads high and are high stepping as well. He was so easy and smart though that he could learn anything you wanted to teach him.
I was in Pony Club from the age of 11 until I graduated out at 21. I took Gambler to all the rallies, Dressage, Jumping and Eventing. And though we never got the best scores in the extended movements in dressage we always did well with accuracy and collection. We also had fun learning some advanced moves like flying changes and the pirouette. We did fun shows with costume classes, sit a buck, pole bending and barrel racing. I took a polo clinic on him. I also took him to police horse training school and shot guns off him. In 1996 when the Olympics were held in Atlanta, GA I lent Gambler to the Pentathlon athletes to train on. We trail rode all the time with groups and off by ourselves. We had many adventures exploring our woods or neighboring farmland. Gambler loved to go swimming and would lay down in any puddle we came to if I wasn’t paying attention. He was also a form of transportation before I could drive. I would ride him to my friend’s house if no one could take me. I rode him in parades and use him to calm or pony other horses. I could ride him with no saddle or bridle only a string around his neck. I have never trusted an animal as much as I trusted him. I could put any non-rider on him and know that they would be fine. In his old age I let my little niece and nephew ride him around the yard or practice cleaning out his hoofs. I knew he would never step on them or do anything stupid. They liked riding him much better than their own cantankerous ponies.
|Me and Gambler on stadium in Ft. Rucker AL 1991|
|Me and Gambler on cross country in Ft. Rucker AL 1991|
|My niece and nephew going for a ride 2011|
|Enjoying a beer on his 26th birthday|
Winning Gambler was a once in a lifetime experience, but the best part was getting to spend 24 years with my once in a lifetime horse.
|Gambler's Habit - May 24th 1985 - June 3rd 2012|