It`s wonderful what horses can do for us. They introduce us to new friends and take us to new places all around the country and the world. They show us when we`re having a bad day. And they show us that ribbons aren`t as important as some of life`s lessons, which they teach us every single day we`re around them.
All of us want a certain quality of life, and we`re lucky that horses can often help us achieve that quality. I`ve been lucky to be able to help many therapeutic riding students make a friend out of a certain horse or pony. Just as many of us look forward to the inspiration our good friends, our horses, bring to us, these children look forward to their one-hour riding lesson each week, to sharing that time with an equine friend who provides them with the self-esteem and self-confidence they`ve never otherwise known.
The same is true for other children or adults who take a weekly lesson. Those students truly enjoy grooming their lesson horse, who provides them a kind of escape from more demanding parts of their lives.
Every time I sit down to write this column, I think of my predecessor, the late Victor Hugo-Vidal. He shared his life experiences with horses, exhibitors and shows with us in each article he wrote. Victor truly enjoyed all the people he judged, taught or just shared horse tales with.
But I wonder if we learned all we could from Victor, just as I wonder if we learned all we could from Steve Hawkins, who died on April 23 (see May 14, p. 162), or from his family of professional horsemen (his father Frank and his brother Artie, who is still judging). We should learn from people like them and from history, because it is a building block for the future.
Steve Hawkins who judged major shows and finals, was a gentleman and a mainstay throughout the evolution of our federation. And, as the judge, he was always dressed better than all of the exhibitors!
Did we learn all we could from this great family? I think the Hawkins family had knowledge we should have shared. I want to know how we take what people like this family had to offer about horses and their training and preserve it to make all of our lives better.
Horses are also the reason I became close friends with Melanie Smith Taylor, one of the best riders this country ever produced. She started from her parent`s backyard, where her mother ran a small riding school. She begged, borrowed and rode any equine, and through dedication and her basic love of horses of all shapes, sizes and temperament, she rose to winning the FEI World Cup Final in 1982 and the Olympic team gold medal in 1984, on the legendary Calypso.
I learned so much about riding, horses and training from watching her for so many years. I was always fascinated by each step she took in the horse world, from being an international competitor to being a judge and a trainer of young horses started from the day they were born on her family farm in Memphis, Tenn., to being a TV commentator.
Many factors entered into her decision to end her showing career. One was that she found the love of her life and married him. But now her husband, Lee, is facing a life-threatening illness. I`ve been watching her face this with astounding courage, and it`s an inspiration to all who know her.
Sometimes situations like this bring out a person`s weakness. Instead, in awe, I`ve seen how she has made me more sympathetic to my own family, friends and horses. She and Lee have set a standard for all her friends and admirers to aspire to; really, the same standard with which she rode for so many years.
The Taylors too found an inspiration in their life of horses–a man named Buck Brannaman. They started organizing his clinics at their farm and began to preach Buck`s training methods. By sharing Buck with others, they`ve met many people who have remained friends for life.
I was lucky enough to have Buck, George Morris and Rodney Jenkins put on a three-day clinic at my place in 1998. Rodney was already a close friend, and George and I have known each other for years and become friends. Again, the common link was horses. The clinic was an experience like none other. Each of these men gave us horsemanship lessons over and over again. And with those horsemanship lessons came lessons about people.
Rodney is a horseman who knows when to stop with a horse for that day. He can sense when a horse cannot learn anything more today. How many times have we watched friends who have never learned this and just lose their tempers? Rodney is a horseman in the finest sense of the word! And that always carried over into his dealings with people.
George has showed all of us how to read people through their horses. George gets straight to the point, and he gives us back our basics. And of course, that`s how he`s gotten to know so many people all around the world. Their common denominator is wanting to learn more about better horsemanship.
Like them, Buck gave everyone at the clinic tools to make our horses better. Most of all, he improved each horse`s attitude and sense of well-being. I think everyone came away knowing we`d witnessed three days of life lessons with horses and people.
Each day brings us choices with our horses, friends and family. Have we learned from the people from whom we need to learn? Are we so caught up in our lives each day that we`ve forgotten to learn from those who`ve “been there and done that”?
I wonder if we have adequately taken on the responsibility to pass on the knowledge of our top teachers, veterinarians, farriers, riders, judges and writers? Have we set up foundations to make sure the next generation will be able to benefit? Have we given all our horses and ponies the future they deserve?
The answers come from each of us as individuals. If we all ask why horses have changed our lives, maybe we can assure that we will learn from the people who have so much to offer.