What They Taught Me: Gracia (Part 1)

I've had a lot of trainers, but my favorite ones, the ones that teach me the most, are the horses. I wanted to write about a few that made me the rider I am today. By the time I rode these horses they owed me nothing. They had already done more than their fair share for other riders before me. But somehow they came into my life and had even more to give. I'm thankful for these few horses every day, especially now that Runkle and I are embarking on our own journey together.

The first horse I want to write about is probably the reason I love mares so much. She's the one who made me stop considering my riding a hobby and showed me that it's a career.


At least once in every rider's life, and usually many more times than once, a rider will find themselves horseless.

He was really stiff to bend to the left. And right.

If you're used to riding constantly it's hard to orient yourself without a horse. I honestly don't understand what non-horse people do on the weekends. They don't have tack to clean? Or a horse to train? Or work to do at the barn? They don't have to schedule riding lessons, prepare for a show, get up at 5AM and drive two hours for a $3 ribbon. They must sleep. A lot.

When I was sixteen I found myself horseless for the first time. I had been leasing an incredibly nice 'big eq' horse named Buster who was a consummate professional. I had no friendly relation with this horse; in fact he terrified me on the ground. By his own sheer willpower he pulled me into the top of many classes as I did absolutely nothing to aid him.

But a few months into our partnership he blew his suspensory - again - meaning jumping was no longer on the table for us. I ended the lease and he went to a dressage home to be rehabbed and semi-retired.

I imagine him to be more of a bourbon than wine guy.

So that left me, at the beginning of the show season, with nothing to ride.

I had really struggled with riding up to this point. I could never seem to build momentum. I went through really bad barns, tough winters, injuries, and just being downright scared. Buster did well despite my fear but he didn't do anything to dissipate it. I mostly clutched onto the back of this gorgeous animal and prayed he'd do it for me.

Here's a cliche: his injury was the best thing that happened to my riding career.

Cliches on cliches!

I spent the summer horseless. A few of the owners at my barn were incredibly generous and let me ride their fantastic animals. I rode a retired grand prix jumper named Sambucca and an incredibly trained large pony named Sneakers. I rode them once or twice a week, not jumping, just trotting and cantering around, reminding myself I was a rider and this is what I did. The barn was empty most of the summer as everyone else was out at the big venues: HITS, Lake Placid, Monmouth.

One weekend everyone was back for a bit of a break in the middle of the summer. I showed up at the barn to ride Sambucca and my trainer at the time, Max, stopped me at the door of the barn.

"Turn around," he told me. "We're going to the other farm. They have a horse."

I hadn't jumped in months. I was out of shape. I wasn't ready. Excuse after excuse but I found myself walking back to the car and heading over to the other farm. When we got there, there was a horse in the crossties (who was 90% ears) looking at me. Her name was Gracia.



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