I would like to hijack Grey's blog for a moment to thank Lonnie Lavery for adding us to his favorite links on his Ask the Trainer website. Since I consider Lonnie to be not only a very respectable and knowledgeable horse trainer, but an excellent writer as well, I take great compliment in the fact that he finds this blog entertaining.
Let me tell you how I met Lonnie and how he gave me one of my most memorable Saddlebred moments... Because this sort of ties into how I got into Saddlebreds in the first place, and because I've been looking for a good excuse to tell this story anyway, I'm going to start right from the beginning. I am also going to borrow a technique from Lonnie, and give it to you in parts. Otherwise, it would probably be a real snoozer! Anyway, here it goes....
I grew up in a Saddlebred family. My grandmother had a broodmare, and she raised a few colts. Since Saddlebreds were pretty scarce in our area, and because she was a pretty nice mare, most of the colts were sold before they reached a trainable age. So, I grew up riding an Arabian pony, and an assortment of Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and borrowed Saddlebreds. My father was from Shelbyville, KY, so every year we would go visit family during the Fair, and of course, attend just about every night of the World Champion show. I clearly remember every five gaited World's Grand Champion from CH Belle Elegant through CH Sky Watch. That's about 13 years of watching from the sidelines.
When I was 13, I began riding for an old retired Irishman named Charles Ganey, known to everyone, including his wife, as simply "Ganey". In fact, the only person I ever heard address him as "Mr. Ganey" was Don Harris. That about knocked my socks off. About a year and a half ago, I had the distinct pleasure of introducing myself to Don Harris while at Tattersalls. I proudly identified myself as one of "Ganey's Girls". He paused for a moment, taking that into consideration and then said "I'm probably the only person in this building that would mean anything to anymore.". It's true, most of the rest of the horse world has long forgotten him, and he was truely one of the old time treasures. Ganey was a wheeler dealer, a good old fashioned horse trader. His favorite person had to be L.S. Dickey. To say those two were "In Cahoots" would be an understatement. When I think of them, the first phrase that comes to mind is "Thick as Theives." Anyway, one day, Ganey called the house and I answered. I'll never forget these words.. "your Mama says you want to learn to ride horses." Well, I already knew how to ride, and Ganey knew that. Otherwise, he would not have said what came next.... "I have this 2 yr old stud horse here, and I need someone to ride him." Yes, to repeat, I was 13 years old.
What was going on over there, was a lady from up in Grand Island, NY had sent Ganey this colt. Saddlebred barns are in pretty short supply in this neck of the woods, and I think everyone else was full at the time. He was the only horse in the barn besides a retired road pony, and having this horse was what got Ganey out of bed every morning. He doted on him. He started him in lines then got a local guy to come and get on the horse a few times. From then on Ganey was cross tying him in the lower barn, climbing up from a hay bale, unsnapping the cross ties, and riding this horse. The colt had thrown him at least once, and besides getting himself hurt, I'm sure Ganey was worried about the horse getting out in the road and getting himself killed or worse. I may be off by a year or two, but at the time, Ganey was at least 81 and had both hips replaced. So, putting a 13 year old horse crazy girl up on a 2 year old green broke stallion was actually an improvement in the situation. Plus, I worked for free which was an important consideration. Well, my Mom and Grandmother not only trusted Ganey not to get a child hurt, but they trusted my riding ability. The next Saturday, we all went to see me ride this horse, and yes, we were all excited. From every view point it was a wonderful opportunity.
We started in the round pen on a longe line, and everything went smoothly. The horse wasn't too tough, just quick, and I was every bit the rider Ganey thought I was (almost certainly better than I am 25 years later). I only came off him once, it was the following spring, and I landed on my feet. However, Ganey refrained from telling the owner about our arrangement for a few months until the colt turned 3, and I turned 14. He said those numbers sounded better than 2 and 13 did. Of course, the lady rushed down to put an end to it, but after seeing things first hand, she decided Ganey had everything under control, and the horse stayed. Now that Ganey had a horse, and a rider, he was back in business. To say we breathed life back into the old place was an understatement. We staged the biggest comeback ever seen in the Western NY Saddlebred world!
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