Sunday, May. 26, 2024

Horse Of A Lifetime: Stormin’ Norman

He rules the amateur-owner jumpers, but his amusing personality makes him dear to all who know him.

After 16 years of showing, Stormin’ Norman is an institution on the Mid-Atlantic show circuit. He’s carried Beth Forbes-Howard to ribbons in the amateur-owner jumpers up and down the East Coast, as well as dabbling in hunters and equitation over the years.
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He rules the amateur-owner jumpers, but his amusing personality makes him dear to all who know him.

After 16 years of showing, Stormin’ Norman is an institution on the Mid-Atlantic show circuit. He’s carried Beth Forbes-Howard to ribbons in the amateur-owner jumpers up and down the East Coast, as well as dabbling in hunters and equitation over the years.

But it wasn’t competitive accolades alone that earned “Norman” his horse-of-a-lifetime status at Windy Hill Stables in Stuarts Draft, Va. A mischievous personality and ability to keep his friends, both human and equine, safe have guaranteed him a home forever.

“He is unbelievable at getting me out of trouble. I had so much faith in him. I never questioned that he could do it. He’s been truly amazing,” said Forbes-Howard.

She first met Norman when he was about to turn 4, and Forbes-Howard was just 21. Trainer Olin Armstrong had been searching for just the right horse for more than a year, when he found Norman.

Phyllis Jones owned the Thoroughbred-Hanoverian (San Francisco—Moscouada II). He’d only been backed a few times, and Forbes-Howard tried him twice.

“Olin just really liked him,” she recalled. “When we went back the second time, I said that if Olin said I should get this horse, then I need to get this horse.”

Norman’s vibrant personality was obvious from the outset. Forbes-Howard vividly remembered his first year competing in the International Jumper Futurity.

“He was the least broke of anything there. A lot of them were in nice round frames and went in straight lines. He never looked where he was going. He was off in his own little world,” she said. “He went over every jump, but if he could talk, I guarantee he could tell you everybody that was out in the stands and what was going on. He really takes in everything around him.”

Those early performances foreshadowed the pattern of Norman’s career. While he always performed his job without fault, he could be counted on to throw in a little something that was uniquely Norman.

Ian Silitch took over helping Forbes-Howard when Armstrong moved to Cismont Manor in Keswick, Va., but Norman always lived at Forbes-Howard’s parents’ farm, Windy Hill Stables.

He showed a bit in the amateur-owner hunters before moving into the jumpers with Forbes-Howard.
As Norman grew accustomed to the show routine, he learned to manage the people around him.

“He always thinks he’s starving,” said Forbes-Howard. “When we were at the shows with Ian, he learned that he could get the other girls to feed him some food. But he would still be banging on his door when we came as if he hadn’t had breakfast. We realized he was getting two or three breakfasts, because everyone was feeding him.”

And if you fed Norman once, he could be counted on to recognize you and demand food any time he saw you again.

“Even if he couldn’t see the truck, he knew our truck when it pulled up, and he’d start pawing,” said Forbes-Howard. “He’s always worse when I’m in the barn, because he has us trained well.”

Norman’s focus on food sometimes made it difficult to get him into the ring. Forbes-Howard recalled an instance at the Roanoke Valley Horse Show (Va.) when she was waiting for her sister, Rebecca Forbes, to bring him up to the ring.

“I walked the course, but she didn’t show up. I went back to the barn, because I figured something was wrong,” recalled Forbes-Howard.

They kept a trash can full of feed in the grooming stall, and Forbes-Howard found Norman with his head down in the grain and her sister trapped in the trash can.

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“Every time I tried to get up he’d push me back in,” said Forbes with a laugh.

Norman also regularly got himself into trouble in other ways. On one notable occasion he put his foot in his feed tub at a show in Vermont.

“We had just come back to the barn, and one of Ian’s helpers came running to tell us he was in his bucket,” said Forbes-Howard. “He pulled his foot up and stuck it all the way through so he had one leg hanging in the bucket. But he didn’t panic. He just stood there and waited. I walked in, lifted his leg up, unhooked the snap and pulled the bucket off. When he knows he’s in trouble, he’ll wait for you to come get him so he doesn’t get hurt.”

He did something similar to Forbes on the crossties at home once too. She went into the tack room and came out to see three legs on the ground and one hooked over the chain by his head.

“I was panicked, but he just stood there waiting for me to unhook the crosstie,” she said.

You Can Count On Norman

Fortunately, once Norman was in the ring, he knew how to clear the jumps. Forbes-Howard started showing him in 1992, and by the late 1990s, the pair had really hit their stride.

Norman collected wins at Roanoke Valley, Charleston (S.C.), Ocala (Fla.), Duke (N.C.), Upperville (Va.) and the Constitution Classic (Va.) to name a few. He won ribbons at all of the fall indoor shows over the years. He also occasionally took home an amateur-owner hunter championship in the winter at the
Virginia Intermont Classic or Stonewall Country (Va.) if Forbes-Howard didn’t go south.

In 1998, Norman was the reserve American Horse Shows Association Amateur-Owner Jumper of the Year. He also led Zone 3 that year, an honor he earned numerous times.

Forbes-Howard even contested a few grand prix classes, and she almost always came away in the prize money.

“I loved doing them, but I didn’t want to do anything to hurt him,” she said. “If anything, I’m overprotective of him. I was tempted to do more, but I was very comfortable in the high amateur level with him.”

The Southwest Virginia Hunter/Jumper Association inducted Norman into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
One of Forbes-Howard’s highlights was winning a pair-relay class at the Capital Challenge (Md.) with Tracy Bartko-Magness and Paul Harvey (Horse Of A Lifetime, Feb. 24, 2006).

“The two of us won it together. That was a great win,” said Forbes-Howard. “We were really great friends, and even though we competed against each other, we rooted for each other. If I wasn’t winning, I cheered for her.”

Norman specialized in making tight turns in the jump-off. “He covers a lot of ground, but he’s not really fast across the ground,” said Forbes-Howard. “His turns set him ahead. He can roll back so tight to jumps, it’s amazing. He didn’t need but a stride or two. He’ll focus in on whatever is there.”

Forbes-Howard and Norman gained a reputation for finding the long spot, but she always trusted him to keep her safe.

“Norman does stuff for her he wouldn’t do for anyone else,” said Forbes. “There are times when he leaves the ground when he shouldn’t, but I think it’s just the trust he has for her.”

Only once did Norman make a big mistake in competition. “When he was young, we were at Upperville and came up the hill to a triple that was a one to a two. He tried to do a superman and do a one to a one,” remembered Forbes-Howard. “It was an oxer coming out, and we didn’t clear the oxer. He needed to be more broke.”

Forbes-Howard said that she and Norman have learned together how to wait to the base of a jump with the help of Silitch, and when she forgets to wait, Norman takes care of her.

“If he can’t get me out of trouble, 99 percent of the time I pet him on the neck and try again. Usually he’s saving us,” she said.

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But even though Norman made the effort to take care of his rider, his sassy personality was never far below the surface.

“You’d land off the last jump, and if you kicked him too hard, he’d kick up behind and say, ‘Don’t tell me what to do!’ You had to be very careful with how hard you pushed him away from the last jump,” said Forbes-Howard. “I’d just cluck at him and lay on his neck. He didn’t like being told what to do.”

Forbes got treated to some of Norman’s attitude when she rode him in equitation classes as a junior. He was a superstar over fences, but he would halt in the flat classes if he felt the urge to pass manure.

“He’ll jump anything and poop, but he doesn’t like to do flatwork,” said Forbes-Howard with a giggle.
What Norman did like at shows was a big night class with lots of atmosphere.

“He loves a crowd. He always rises to the occasion if there are people watching,” said Forbes-Howard. “He feels like he jumps even better. It’s almost like he wants to please the crowd. He likes performing for a crowd, and he knows the difference.”

A Member Of The Family

Last year was the first year Norman stayed home. The sisters missed the 20-year-old. Forbes laughed as she recalled hearing a horse bang on its stall door at a show and looking around for Norman before she realized he wasn’t with them.

“He wasn’t injured, but he needs his joints injected,” said Forbes-Howard. “I know what he normally feels like. I’m hoping to do that this spring, and if he wants to come back out and do something that’s fine, and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t owe me a thing.”

Whether he continues to show or not, Norman will always be a member of the family.

Forbes-Howard’s daughter Sarah started riding him with her mom when she was just 1. “When she was 5 and 6 she would walk him into the wash stall,” said Forbes-Howard. “He can be wild, but when she’s around he knows what he’s supposed to do and would follow her around. She’s 8 now, and she can trot around on him. She’s never jumped him, but she’s trotted over a few poles on the ground.”

Forbes-Howard’s husband doesn’t ride, but he’s had a spin on Norman too.

“They ended up cantering through the field, but it ended up OK,” said Forbes-Howard smiling.

Norman enjoys lots of turnout time with two 4-year-old mares, and he cares for them the way he cares for his human family. “He’s protective of his field mates,” said Forbes-Howard. “If you turn a new one out, you don’t have to worry about the new one. He’ll guard him until he accepts the new one into the group.”

While Forbes-Howard laughed about how Norman has everyone trained to do his bidding, she also credited him for years of amazing shows.

“He’s made it a lot of fun,” she said. “You want to go, and you want to keep going and keep him healthy and do the best you can with him. He means the world to me. I wouldn’t trade him for anything.”

Sara Lieser

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