Lexington, Ky.—Nov. 9
Shannon Clifford was just looking for goats when she went to an Amish auction six years ago near her home in Lebanon, Indiana, but when she saw Norma Jean she was intrigued.
“It was rainy and cold and wet, and she was being really naughty,” she recalled. “She was tied to the side of somebody’s trailer and digging a hole to China. I asked the lady about her and she said her kids couldn’t ride her and when that kid tried to ride her in the sale ring, she said, ‘No.’ She went to go in, and that kid was kicking her and she just went straight up. And it was packed, and everybody gasped.”
Norma Jean could have gone home with a kill buyer that day, but Clifford, who enjoys a difficult project, paid $850.
While Clifford started out riding western with Quarter Horses, she’s had experience in eventing and enjoyed the dressage, so she began focusing on that in recent years.
Norma Jean, who Clifford estimates is an 11-year-old pony of unknown breed, took to the dressage after a few years of working through some baggage. Now they’re competing at their first U.S. Dressage Finals, and had a solid finish 11th place finish, just outside the ribbons, in the adult amateur second level championship.
Clifford says Norma Jean has just come around to some solid work this year.
“If you let go of the front, she goes. If you just let her go on the buckle she would just gallop away kind of thing,” she said. “I think somebody had been not very nice to her, so it took me probably a year and a half before I could carry a whip, let alone touch her with it. It took a long time for her to get over that silly stuff and overreacting. She’s been a fun project. Even at second level, it’s a big deal for her.”
Trainer Bonna McCuiston convinced Clifford to compete at Finals after she placed fifth in her championship class at the Region 2 Championships (Michigan).
“I rode yesterday [in third level test 3], and it went pretty good,” said Clifford, 38. “This was a lot for her, and she is paranoid about trees and bushes, and there’s a lot of that all around the ring. I think they can see out across that cross-country course, and then they can see the horses in the round pens [below]. But she did pretty good. Down at the end [of the ring] she wanted to scoot off, but she kept it together for the test. I’m thrilled with her. I paid $850 for her; I don’t think there are many other people who can say that.”
Clifford is a full-time cardiac nurse and keeps the mare at home with four other horses, all “problem children.”
“Everything else I have, they all come with baggage,” she said. “I get them because they’re tricky or somebody doesn’t want them anymore. The other two that I ride right now, are an off-track horse with a lot of anxiety, and then I’ve got a little rotten pony.”
Clifford isn’t sure what’s next for Norma Jean, who she calls her Amish Pie Pony because they were selling pies at the auction when she saw her.
“I think the last eight months she’s finally been, ‘Oh, OK I can do this. Everything’s hard for her,” she said. “She’s little and she’s got a short neck and a short back, and she’s like, ‘You want me to put what where?’ but she’s getting it. She’s a lot of fun.”
We‘re on site at the Kentucky Horse Park for the U.S. Dressage Finals! Check back at coth.com all weekend for more news and stories. If you’re at the show with a cool story, let us know by emailing Lindsay at firstname.lastname@example.org. Look out for the Dec. 2 print edition of the Chronicle for more from the show.