A funny name and a missing pedigree can’t keep this jumper down.
When you hear Cow announced ringside, you might wonder if you heard correctly. This little black-and-white pinto does bear some resemblance to the Holstein breed he’s named after, but his speed and jump are all horse.
Katie Arruda doesn’t really have a good explanation for why she ended up calling her jumper Cow.
“I got him when I was 12, and my sister and I shared the horse. We couldn’t decide what to name him, so people just started calling him Cow. That’s how it came to be. People think it’s ridiculous. But he does looks like a cow,” she said.
Now 21, Arruda goes to school full time at the University of Connecticut and works as an intern at the Mystic Aquarium. But the Old Lyme resident will always have time for Cow.
Arruda first met the 15.2-hand gelding when he was 4. She was just learning to ride herself, and she set out with her parents to find the family’s first horse.
“We knew nothing about horses at the time. A friend knew a guy with a little horse farm that was selling horses,” recalled Arruda. “We went with him and got a horse that was completely lame. That was how much we didn’t know. Fortunately, the place where we got the horse let us trade him in. So we sent that horse back and got Cow instead. It was some kind of a miracle that it all worked out.”
Green rider paired with greener horse definitely doesn’t sound like a match made in heaven, but trainer Fred Becher was willing to work with them.
“He saw a lot in me and a lot in the horse,” said Arruda. “It was hard work. I never had anybody else on him but my sister and me. He trained us both at the same time.”
Arruda was really only riding at the walk-trot-canter level when she started working with Cow, but he was too hot to compete in the hunter or equitation classes, so she made her horse show debut in the low jumpers.
“I was always very gutsy,” said Arruda. “At first, being a kid and having this 4-year-old horse that knew nothing was a little intimidating. But he’s the only horse I ever had, so he was all I knew. I was excited that I had a horse that was eager to go. It was scary to watch in the beginning.”
Things got even more frightening for Arruda when, just a short time after she bought him, Cow developed a late night colic and had to be rushed to the veterinary hospital at Tufts University (Mass.) for surgery.
“We almost lost him. He had a 50 percent chance of living. Suddenly we were paying $10,000 for a horse we bought for $2,000. But we were all so thankful that we saved his life,” said Arruda. “We started rehabilitating him again for jumping and slowly got him working again.”
As Arruda and Cow gained more experience, the distinctive pinto started to earn a reputation for his pre-round antics.
“He’s three times the celebrity I am,” said Arruda. “When I walk in the ring with that horse everybody takes a step back. The second I walk in there, two feet are off the ground, he’s rearing up, bucking, and once the buzzer goes, he’s off. He’s very spunky and can’t wait to go. The hardest part about riding him is waiting those 10 seconds until the buzzer rings.”
But once he leaves the ring, Cow is more of a lover than a fighter.
“He’s the kind of horse that will sleep in the nook of your arm. He’ll stand there so quietly,” said Arruda. “He knows his job. He knows that when he goes in the ring, he’s fast and does what he needs to do, but when he comes out, he’s on your arm sleeping. My dad can hold him or my little brother.”
Arruda’s family has been supportive of her horsey endeavors, but they didn’t always understand.
Two years ago, Cow went through a period of lameness, and Arruda’s parents thought it might be a good time to sell him.
“They wanted to take him away from me,” she said. “They don’t know much about horses and thought we should sell him while he was in his prime and get our money’s worth. Then about a week later we went to a big horse show, and he won a $5,000 jumper classic. They decided he was staying. That was a really big moment for him and me. We all realized how good he was and how we could never get rid of him.”
From that point on, Cow has only gotten better. One of their most memorable wins came at the Shallow-brook Horse Show (Conn.) in June of 2008 when he won a six-bar class.
“The jumps were up to 4’3″. He beat out every horse and won the six-bar. He just keeps amazing us,” said Arruda.
She’s continued to place well, finishing fourth in the adult jumper division in U.S. Equestrian Federation Zone 1 in 2008, and Cow also placed fourth in the Marshall & Sterling League Final.
She used to sometimes feel intimidated when she went to shows and found herself surrounded by enormous warmbloods with fancy pedigrees, but Cow has more than proved himself against his better-bred peers.
“I can relax now. I trust that horse more than anything,” said Arruda. “If I go to a show I’ve never been to with jumps I’ve never seen, I’m 100 percent positive that he’s going to go no matter what.”
Arruda has no idea what his breeding is, but she doesn’t think he has any Thoroughbred in him. “His only flaw is that after a few classes he’s tired. We have to limit how many classes he does in one day, because he runs out of gas quickly. We do no more than two classes in one day,” she said.
Since Arruda is going to school, she does most of her showing in the spring, summer and fall.
“I decided to live at home and go to school around here so I could have my horses at home and keep riding,” she said. “Cow works so hard all summer, so he gets the whole winter off. He relaxes in his stall, hangs out and gets dirty. I think that having the winter off is really what keeps him going.”
Arruda’s parents help her out by paying for Cow’s board and farrier bills, but she’s responsible for all of her showing costs.
“I work full time in a marina in the summer and do random babysitting and side jobs to pay for it. He usually wins back the money at the horse shows. I’m lucky enough to walk away with a check most times. I got a tax form for prize money this year,” she said.