Arabian Horse Saves Mary Beth’s Life

As someone who has loved the Arabian horse from the first moment that I saw the amazing Cass Ole playing “The Black Stallion” as a child, I have had a lifelong passion dedicated to the breed. All of my personal horses have been Arabian or Half-Arabian, and I have had the privilege of working with some amazing ambassadors of the breed over the years. Recently, I met Mary Beth who has a beautiful story to share about her own love of the Arabian horse, and why she believes that her Purebred Arabian gelding actually saved her life…in more ways than one.

Meet Mary Beth

Mary Beth Sutton has been riding since she was a child. She likes to say that her early experience was “nothing special”, as she mainly rode shaggy rental horses or lesson horses, and occasionally got to spend some time on a friend’s family farm where she could indulge herself with all day riding excursions. It wasn’t until 6 years ago, when she found herself a divorced “empty-nester”, that the longtime itch to own her own horse became a tangible reality. She wasn’t looking, per se, and likes to say that her 14-year-old Arabian gelding named “Shadow” actually found her, instead of the other way around.

Mary Beth Meets an Unlikely Prospect

When Mary Beth decided that it was time to make horses part of her life, she started out volunteering at a local riding facility in the North County. She talked her way into a “groom” situation at a facility that catered mostly to lessons for youth and amateurs on the Arabian Horse Circuit.

“It was the scent of the place, the tactile feel of the dust and horse hair, the muffled sounds of the horses when I would arrive early and they were still eating their breakfast…those were the things that I loved the most,” Mary Beth shared.

Working as a groom, and occasional exercise rider, Mary Beth was happy to simply be back around horses. She hadn’t any plans to own one of her own quite yet, but one day she noticed a skinny, bay gelding in a pasture across the road who always seemed more interested in standing at the fence and watching the goings on at the riding facility than grazing in his pasture. “He looked frightful, to be honest, and the ‘dream’ in my head if I ever owned my own horse was of something more like the horses I groomed – slick coats, muscular bodies, long manes and tails,” Mary Beth shared. “That little bay gelding didn’t really look like anything special.”

Still, every day as she left the barn, Mary Beth found herself pulling her car off to the side of the road and giving the little gelding, that she had dubbed “Mr. Nobody”, a carrot or a cookie and a nice long scratch on the neck and withers. This went on for about a month before she inquired as to the ownership of the horse. She was told that he had been abandoned by his owners and the man who took him on didn’t know a lot about horses, so he just put him out to eat the grass. Rumors were that “Mr. Nobody” was actually somebody in his earlier years, and had papers and a short show record.

“I couldn’t really believe it, looking at him. How could that bedraggled animal ever have been in a show ring?”

Taking Ownership

Eventually, Mary Beth worked up the courage to approach the man who owned the property about the little bay gelding. She found out that his name was actually “Shadow” and that he did indeed have papers as a purebred Arabian. On a whim, Mary Beth offered to take the horse off of the man’s hands. “I didn’t actually expect him to say yes, honestly,” Mary Beth admits. To her surprise, though, the man did say yes, and one week later, Mary Beth was leading her new horse over to the boarding facility where she volunteered.

“That moment really changed my life. I can’t explain what it felt like to have my own horse. And there was something about Shadow that was different. It was like he looked straight into my soul every time that I looked at him. I would be at the barn, and even when I was busy doing other things and all the other horses were picking at their food or lazing in their stalls, he would be watching me. It was like he really wanted to be my friend,” Mary Beth recounts.

“That moment really changed my life. I can’t explain what it felt like to have my own horse. And there was something about Shadow that was different. It was like he looked straight into my soul every time that I looked at him. I would be at the barn, and even when I was busy doing other things and all the other horses were picking at their food or lazing in their stalls, he would be watching me. It was like he really wanted to be my friend,” Mary Beth recounts.

Building a Relationship

“I knew it had been years since Shadow had even seen a saddle, but I found out from the man who I got him from that in his day he had been shown as a Hunter, which was good for me because I grew up taking English riding lessons,” Mary Beth remembers.

So, Mary Beth bought a saddle and a bridle, and one day she walked her now heavier and healthier horse out of his stall and simply saddled him up. “He watched me as I did it, and he never batted an eye,” she said. “It was probably stupid, but I led him right out into the round pen that day and got on his back. He seemed happy, and within a half hour we had walked, trotted and cantered, and he even responded to carrying his head steady as a rock.”

Mary Beth began riding Shadow daily, and then she started taking lessons on him. They grew together easily and quickly, both in the arena and out on the local trails. Shadow was solid – always a good leader and always steady. “People talk about how ‘spooky’ the Arabian can be, but this horse was literally my babysitter. One time we were out on a trail with some friends and we came across a loose dog that was barking and growling. My friends all had Quarter Horses and other breeds, and they spooked, spun and snorted, while Shadow stood his ground quietly until the threat had passed. It was like whatever I asked of him, he did,” Mary Beth said.

“I was still going through a lot of life changes, and then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was devastating, but I still went out to the barn almost every day, because Shadow was my best friend,”Mary Beth remembers.

Luckily, treatments went well and Mary Beth was given a clean bill of health, which also gave her a new lease on life. “I knew right then that I wanted to show Shadow; we were ready.”

A Bond That Can’t Be Broken

At their very first show together, Mary Beth and Shadow won every class that they entered. Hunter Pleasure was their “thing”, and they were good at it. Shadow anticipated Mary Beth’s moves and moods, and she gave him a firm, but gentle hand. The two continued to show for several years and did quite well together.

Today, Mary Beth and Shadow are “pleasure pals”. They ride the trails, meet with friends, and are an inseparable team.

“From abandoned in a pasture to my best friend, it’s been quite the journey,” Mary Beth recounts.

“Shadow and I know more about each other than anyone ever will. I never thought that I would have a horse, let alone a ‘crazy Arab’, as most people like to say, but Shadow is anything but crazy, he puts the traditionally calm breeds to shame. I don’t think that if he were any other breed that he would have fared so well waiting for me to find him in that pasture, or played so nicely when it came to becoming my ‘horse soul mate’. This horse is one in a million, and he has turned my entire mind around on the breed. I will never own another horse like him, but if I did end up with another horse someday, it would be an Arabian.”

Arabians Win Again

With all of the “bad press” out there about the Arabian horse, it’s always refreshing and almost vindicating hearing stories like these. Arabians get a bad rap, and it’s typically due to a simple lack of personal knowledge about the breed. They are intuitive, inquisitive, bond easily and quickly, and they take care of their “people”. From tiny tots on the backs of 16 hand Arabians at horse shows to amateurs who have found best friends in the beautiful breed, the Arabian horse is versatile by nature. Give him a job, and he’ll usually do it – so long as you ask the right way.

So, if you have any preconceived notions about the breed, take a note from Mary Beth, “The Arabian Horse is unlike any other breed you’ll ever encounter. For every challenge that you face, you’ll be rewarded tenfold in the end.”

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I have been an equestrian most of my life, having gotten my first pony at the age of 5, and 30 years later, I competitively exhibit my Half Arabian Reining horse on both the Arabian and NRHA circuits. There are three passions in my life, riding, photography and writing. Being able to combine all three of these things is a dream come true.

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