It’s something inexplicable…that almost surreal moment when you first look into the eyes of a horse that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt will become a trusted friend. Grasping the essence of a horse upon first view is like love at first sight; it’s rare, but it does happen. It happened to me.
It happened during a halter class for half-bred mares at the West Coast Connemara Show. She was being silly in the arena; moving around when she was supposed to be standing still. The little mare was beautiful, with balanced conformation, a deep bay coat undertoned with dapples and a perfectly placed white star between two liquid eyes. Her kindness was evident, and her sensitivity well displayed.
My mom and I had a more in-depth look at her after the class, and despite her silliness, she had the “kind eye” that all horse lovers are immediately drawn to. My then 18 month old son, Jordan, even reached out his tiny hand, and when she gently nudged it, he didn’t pull away. Indeed, she was sensitive and smart. My mom bought her, and I was to train her.
Dreamer’s Kiss-Me-Kate, or more lovingly “Katie”, became our horse that August weekend, sixteen years ago. She came to live in Arroyo Grande, and had just turned four years old. Her training was barely there; she didn’t even know how to lunge. She would be the first horse that I had the privilege to start. I began with ground work, and since I was pregnant with my second child, getting on her back would have to wait until after my baby was born. That didn’t stop me from putting every bit of extra time that I could into her on the ground, and it proved to be an asset.
That soft eye that initially drew me to Katie remained, and she proved herself as a sweet, sensitive and sometimes silly girl. These qualities made her a treat to ride and to train. Her reactions to the world around her were sometimes overblown, but she was always safe and sane. She communicated easily with everyone, always letting us know when something was right or wrong. My kids even eventually passed their childhood mornings at the barn. They grew up there, watching me ride Katie, playing with their barn friends, and learning how to “be” around horses.
In time, each of my three kids got their turn at riding Katie, and she actually introduced each of them to the saddle; they learned the proper aids and how to ride the walk and trot while I held the lunge line. My second son Michael, at five years old, summed up riding so succinctly: “Mommy, Katie is a drum,” he said, as I turned to find him grinning while he heard Katie’s footfalls. “I’m the drumstick.” I pondered his wise statement. In all of my experience and numerous lessons, including a summer experiencing Combined Training the East Coast and a summer spent riding Dressage in Sweden, no one had ever described riding like my five year old son as he sat atop my Katie.
Katie became an accomplished Dressage horse, earning me the USDF Bronze Medal, and our progress took us to Charlotte Bredahl’s ranch in Buelton for lessons about once a month. Since my kids were homeschooled, the trips to Charlotte’s became part of their routine as well. They would play in the corner of the arena with sand toys for company. At nine years old, Jordan was taught by Charlotte to call my Dressage tests. Jordan, the reader, then became a regular feature during our show career.
Nearly four years ago, I retired Katie from the show world. I continued to ride her, but not having a fierce purpose minimized the regularity. She was permanently retired 3 years ago, and became my “go to” confidant and therapist when I needed a reprieve from homeschooling three kids (now teens), coaching soccer and running around to other activities. Katie still greeted me each day with that same kindness as we took walks down the road and listened to each other…her to my voice and me to her sensitive body language. It was good, slow physical activity for us both; gentle and quiet (most of the time), Katie gave me time to think.
Katie took her last breath last week, and with it went her essence. That kindness and sensitivity that I had come to rely upon to bring balance in my life was gone in an instant…unexpectedly. Yet, this I know, it was all worth it. Katie gave me more than I could have ever dreamed, and because of her, I have been able to offer more to others in mimicking her nature. What I have now are the memories of her, the times that we shared, and the experiences with my family and my very special horse. These are now my treasures.
Story written by: Sharon Jantzen Owner and Director of SLO Horse News. This is a personal tribute to a special horse, however the experience is universally shared among others whose lives have been enriched by a horse.