Anyone who believes riding may be too hazardous for those approaching the early-bird-special cycle of life should consider Mary Glowicki and Captain.
Proudly toting up a century and a quarter between them, this intrepid pair from Michigan has ordered Father Time to take a hike, disregarding the scare tactics of the timid (“What if you fall asleep/fall over/fall off?”) and galloping full-tilt over them.
Glowicki, “Mary Glo” to her friends, is “80-something,” and her handsome chestnut gelding, Captain, is about 46 and going on 3. Dr. John Haberlein, a renowned Michigan veterinarian, brought them together in the 1970s, in a trade-in.
“I got my first horse from a woman who said her horse needed a new home,” said Glowicki, who kick-started her equestrian endeavors at 50, an age when many less adventuresome riders are inclined to hang up their spurs.
“My husband firmly insisted I absolutely could not bring home any more dogs or cats,” said Glowicki, whose rescue efforts from the streets of Detroit had left her with a bit of an animal surplus. “But, he never said anything about a horse!” she added with a chuckle.
Alas, the first pairing did not a perfect couple make.
“That horse had been shown quite a lot and was a really good jumper. But, with my limited experience, he was a lot more horse than I’d bargained for. I hadn’t had him long when another who lost control of her horse collided with me, and I fell and fractured my spine,” said Glowicki. That experience might have sent the less tenacious back to the shallow end of the pool.
Although her initial attempt fell short of a match made in heaven, a second try was destined to become downright celestial.
“Dr. Haberlein told me about a ‘patient’ of his whose owner was willing to swap him for something a lot more advanced,” said Glowicki.
A sensible trade for someone in search of a “lot less advanced.”
“It began a 30-year saga of discovering who was smarter than whom,” said Glowicki, admitting that the answer hasn’t yet been determined.
w A Few Test Drives Needed
Imported from Argentina and believed to be a Morgan/Thoroughbred-cross, Captain’s resume runs the gamut from driving cattle to dressage. But it’s his extraordinary personality that’s forged the priceless partnership he shares with Glowicki.
“We may be a team, but Captain has always had a mind of his own,” said Glowicki, admitting it took more than a few test drives to perfect a smooth trip.
“In those early days, Captain would stand just fine while I threw my leg over him and got my seat in the saddle, then he’d leave me in the dirt and bolt back to the barn,” she recalled. “Yet, if someone else got on him he was a pussy cat. It began to kind of hurt my feelings.”
But she persevered, opting for serious re-schooling for them both. She chose the Circle H Ranch Training Center, near her Upper Michigan home, where she would meet and become life-long friends with Captain’s biggest fan, fellow rider Mary Frixen.
“Mary Glo is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known,” said Frixen. “And so is Captain, who seems to be able to do everything–up to and including your taxes. He’s jumped, trail ridden, done at least fourth level dressage, worked cattle, and given lessons. And, although Mary Glo has done everything with Captain, she’s really excelled in dressage,” Frixen said.
Instructor Nancy Kotting is proud to have introduced Glowicki to the discipline. “I worked with her for three weeks while her regular hunt seat instructor was in Florida,” said Kotting.
“All I can tell you is that Mary is one of the greatest inspirations for all riders that I have ever come across,” she continued. “Of course, I was a little concerned when I learned I would be teaching her, but then I remembered I had judged her over fences the previous summer at a schooling show, so I realized basic dressage would be a piece of cake for this dynamo.”
Kotting said that that Glowicki “showed up every day, regardless of the weather, and it was 26 degrees in our indoor. She got her own horse ready and was always on time for her lesson. I started out having her do some simple exercises to loosen up her body and get her to feel a correct position.”
That’s when Glowicki showed off a bit, proudly reaching down to touch both toes with the opposite arm while mounted.
“She’s as limber as any of the 13-year-olds I teach. And, her love for horses is a constant. She stops and commends her horse after each effort, even a simple trot/canter transition or a perfect halt. She’s so proud of what her horse does that she never realizes her own effort is extraordinary,” said Kotting.
Glowicki never seems to give any thought to giving up riding at an age when most give up driving.
“The question has never come into her mind. Mary Glo is evidence that attitude is everything,” said Kotting.
Cigars, Whiskey And Bad Language
Frixen and Glowicki board at Northern Pines Farm in Maple City, Mich., a training center owned by professionals Melissa and Glenn Hirt, who last winter hosted a 45th birthday party for Captain, attended by a throng of fans, with good wishes arriving from fans as far away as California.
The Hirts, who built their facility five years ago, have provided boarding for Captain for the past decade.
“He’s quite a character. If he were human, he’d be smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and using bad language,” Glenn Hirt joked.
“We just let him eat what he wants and turn him loose. He likes to walk up and down the aisles and check out whatever’s going on. Having him around is like keeping a leprechaun, a good-luck charm that makes our barn special,” said Glenn.
But, even with a multifaceted career and extraordinarily productive longevity, Glowicki admits that Captain has “never really mellowed out, except with children.
“He seems to know he’s responsible for them and it’s his job to be their guardian. He even lets them dress him up at Halloween. Yet, he’s very professional and well-behaved in the show ring. Well, except sometimes during the line-up for ribbons, when he might turn to the horse next to him and bite him on the nose.”
On occasion, Captain also feels the need to put a few manners on anyone who wants to ride him. He doesn’t suffer fools, said Glowicki.
“Once, when I had turned only half-way around while I was showing off how to do ‘around the world’ in the saddle, Captain decided he’d had just about enough nonsense and took off. I somersaulted backwards over his left side, which appeared to be quite impressive until I landed flat on my back in the dirt,” said Glowicki.
Then there was the Captain vs. the sport-utility vehicle dust-up that left Glowicki with several fractured ribs.
“That accident was not his fault, and while I broke a couple of ribs when I hit the ground, the others were caused by my underwire
bra,” said Glowicki in defense of her horse.
And there’s the saintlier side that emerged after Glowicki hopped on Captain without remembering to tighten the girth.
“We trotted off, and the saddle slid right around till there I was underneath Captain. But he just stood stock still over me until someone came and pulled me out. Then he moved away,” said Glowicki.
No doubt glancing back with utter disdain.
Beyond All Labels
But being occasionally irascible hasn’t prevented love from entering Captain’s life. Recently, young riders at Northern Pines Farm decided it was high time Captain married Lady, the love of his life (and nearly his age). Jumping into the spirit of the occasion, boarders fashioned a stunning veil for Lady and hosted a ceremony for the smitten pair.
“I explained to the youngsters how people would sometimes marry when the circuit preacher made the rounds, or some might jump a broom,” said Frixen.
“So, just to make sure the ceremony was legal, Captain and Lady jumped a ground pole, which seemed to satisfy everyone. “
But Captain and Lady have lived separately since the mare’s owner moved to another riding facility.
“I only wish that all creatures could end their days of devotion with the quality of life and caring Captain has received over the years,” said Frixen. “Mary is an incredible person: noble of character, generous, kind and loving of heart, and youthfully optimistic of spirit. Like great art and fine wine, age has only made her more valuable and appreciated. She and Captain have evolved beyond the labels normally used to describe those who have lived so long and so well. True pioneers, they are blazing a trail those who love and respect them can hope to follow,” Frixen said.
While no longer showing, Captain still enjoys participating in an occasional clinic and hacking about the farm. As he heads toward the second half of a century, Glowicki realizes every day they spend together is a gift.
“I love to ride, and can’t even imagine giving it up,” said Glowicki, who’s busily improving her dressage with her new Quarter Horse.
“When I go out to the barn, I just call Captain, and he comes running to me from wherever he’s been roaming. Whenever anything’s wrong, all I have to do is talk to him. And, if he thinks I’m just feeling sorry for myself, he pushes against me with his head as if to say, ‘Get over it.’
“We truly love and understand each other, but he’s always been in charge,” admitted Glowicki.