Echo the Wonder Horse (Steeds … Part VII)

Elkana Ranch in Bragg Creek

It was the dead of winter, 1987, and Stan the Arabian had been sold to one of the other students at Calta Stables. I wasn’t looking looking for a horse, but I had mentioned to one or two people that I might be interested in buying if the right horse came along. Hilton and Kristin Hack had been out taking a clinic in Bragg Creek in the fall at the same time the annual Elkana Ranch fox hunt was being held (a mock hunt with no actual foxes). They’d run into friends Rob and Jacquie Bishop, who were participating in the hunt, and Rob was riding a 7-year-old, black, Anglo-Arab gelding that he mentioned was for sale, for $1000, if they knew anyone looking. At the time they didn’t but a few months later, there was me, considering buying a horse.

So, off I went to Bragg Creek with friends Kristin and Tracy to have a look. When we pulled in the yard, there he was, waiting near the house in a tiny corral. Not that it mattered a great deal, but he wasn’t black. He was a dark bay. He also wasn’t seven years old, but twelve. This one mattered more. He was a little older than I’d had in mind for a horse I wanted to turn into a jumper. He was an Anglo-Arab, although it was tough to see what was under that bear-like winter coat.

I took him for a ride around the field in front of the house, just bareback, and Rob suggested that my friend Tracy should hop on too, Echo wouldn’t mind at all. And he didn’t. He was a star.

Echo first day
Taking him for a test ride.

Around the dining room table after the ride, the photos came out, and the stories. The photo below gave me a sense of the horse he’d be come spring. Gorgeous. But the stories, they were the best. My favourite was the one where Rob rode Echo into the hall at Elkana Ranch during an event, rode him right through the crowd, up to the bar to get a drink. And then there was the one where he used Echo to pull a calf out of a bog that none of the other horses would venture into.

Echo with Rob
Echo the Wonder Horse

On the drive home, the joke became “Echo the Wonder Horse” who could do, would do, absolutely anything! What the stories revealed was how much Rob loved that horse. He was only selling him because the family had started raising Pintos and Echo didn’t fit the program. That and Rob was a western pleasure kind of guy when it came to showing, and Echo was far from a western pleasure kind of mount.

echo under saddleA couple of days later, I met the Bishops at an arena in Bragg Creek so that I could try Echo on good footing under tack. Other than a tendency to high-headedness, he was perfect. Such a fun ride … and smooth! I was sold, but that’s when the third bit of misinformation came to light. They weren’t asking $1000, they were asking $1500. At that time in my life, an additional $500 might as well have been $5000. It was more than I could afford and more than I was able to access. I was disappointed. So were the Bishops.

But, not to be deterred from the sport, I was back out at Calta Stables the next evening to ride one of the Hack horses, the thoughts churning in my mind. “I didn’t need my own horse anyway, right? I have plenty of opportunities to ride other people’s horses. Why have the trouble and expense of my own? It was for the best really, that it didn’t work out. Yes. I believe it was. What a lucky break. Whew, dodged that bullet.”

As I was tacking up Daisy, and thinking, Claudia Hack came to tell me there was a call for me. For me? At the stable? How odd. It was Jacquie Bishop. They felt I was the right person for Echo and they wanted me to have him. They were accepting my $1000 offer. For a second I was uncertain how to respond. Apparently, I’d done quite a good job convincing myself that I didn’t need a horse of my own. The truth was, I didn’t, but oh how I wanted one, and this one in particular.

Echo taking him home
Taking Echo home.

By the end of the phone call he was mine and I picked him up that weekend and brought him home to Calta Stables. It was the beginning of twelve and a half eventful years together. Too long a story to tell in this post. It seems Echo the Wonder Horse warrants at least two installments in the To All the Steeds I’ve Loved Before seriesTune in next time when I’ll tell you just why Echo was in that tiny pen when I first went to see him. Some of you horsey folks may have already figured that out.

Echo at Calta
In the quarantine pen at Calta.

Fez Rebestan and the Horses Hack (Steeds … Part VI)

spruce meadowsWhen we last looked in on my journey with horses, I’d just rehomed my sweet, fat pony, Houdini, and moved to Alberta. Calgary … home of the Calgary Stampede, Spruce Meadows, and many more things of a horsey nature. I actually arrived in Calgary in the middle of Stampede week, an auspicious beginning to what would be a long residency.

By early fall, with home and employment settled, I was seeking out a place to ride and continue the learning I’d begun at the Fort St. John Equestrian Centre. I found my new equine home just east of Calgary near Delacour, Calta Stables. The Hack family, who owned and operated Calta Stables and raised Tennessee Walking Horses, was as welcoming as they were knowledgeable and offered weekly lessons in English and Western riding.

Hack babies
Some of Calta’s 1986 foals

The Hacks owned some lovely walking horses but, with my interest in competing in jumping and dressage, I opted to ride a horse of the trotting variety. For one or two lessons it was the reliable and ultimately long-lived Goldie, the palomino Quarter Horse who was in his forties when he passed on. I quickly advanced to a younger, more energetic horse, Daisy, a dun Quarter Horse. And then along came Stan (Fez Rebestan on his papers), a grey Arabian gelding owned by one of Calta Stables’ boarders. Stan had been shown extensively on the Arabian circuit and was extremely well trained. His owner offered him up as a lease to the stable when she decided to move over to Quarter Horses and start training her first show prospect.

Stan at the Indus Light Horse Show

Stan was adorable, fun to ride, my favourite breed, and grey (which reminded me of those first Arabs I fell in love with). I took lessons on Stan, participated in the  annual Easter clinic with Heather Cormie, rode him in an open show at Indus and just had a fabulous time … until his owner decided to put him up for sale. I thought hard about buying Stan but, as much as I loved him, he had a tumour under his tail that had been diagnosed as melanoma and even though it was currently dormant, his future felt too uncertain for me. Sadly, the lovely Stan only lived a couple more years until the cancer progressed and ended his life.

During my time at Calta Stables, I also had the chance to ride some of the Hack’s Tennessee Walking Horses. The first one was Royal, the most level-headed young horse I have ever met. After his basic training by Hilton Hack and four days in the Easter clinic with me aboard, Royal was a complete rock star in the Airdrie and Stampede parades. You’d have thought he’d done it a million times, walking the parade route like an old campaigner, completely unfazed by the crowds, the flags, the marching bands, the wagons, or any of the other potentially horse-terrifying things.  If I’d been in the market for a Tennessee Walking Horse, he would have been my guy. Royal went on to a new home later that year and continued his rock star behaviour.

airdrie parade 87
Royal in the Airdrie Parade
Stampede parade
Royal (right) and his dam (left) in the Stampede Parade

Another of the Hack horses I had the opportunity to ride was Jack. Jack and I played the Lone Ranger and Silver during the light horse demonstrations at the Calgary Stampede. For safety reasons, Jack hadn’t been taught to rear like silver, but we did gallop into the arena to the William Tell Overture. When I wasn’t in my disguise as the Lone Ranger, I was a southern belle, riding in a buggy behind the Hack’s beautiful and multi-talented stallion, Calta Midnite Victry.

stampede 89 jack
The Lone Ranger and Silver
stampede with vic
The very handsome Vic with a southern belle who bears a striking resemblance to the Lone Ranger

Goldie, Daisy, Stan, Royal, Jack and Vic — fond memories of my time at Calta Stables. Also during my time at Calta, I was fortunate to find and own one of the most memorable mounts of my riding life. Stay tuned … stay tuned … stay tuned. (That’s a hint to my next steed’s name. Guesses?)

A Better Place

closing the door 2“Last one in close the door!”

There’s a great irony in Britain voting for Brexit largely based on concerns and fears over immigration. Through its long history, Britain has been a nation of emigrants, spreading to all corners of the globe. They may have called it colonizing or settling prior to the 20th century, but it was done in search of a better place, a better life, not so different from today’s immigrants. Continue reading

The Great Hairy Houdini! (Steeds … Part V)

Off to college and then to Edmonton for my first “real job”, life was filled with the distractions of young adulthood and my interest in horses placed on a back burner. After a year in Edmonton, I was homesick for BC and headed west, my 1977 Chrysler Cordoba (loved that car) filled with all of my earthly possessions. I thought my destination was Victoria on Vancouver Island, but fun intervened during a visit to my dad and I unpacked my car in a little place called Broman Lake, a stop on the side of the Yellowhead Highway between Burns Lake and Houston.

A Cordoba much like the one I owned

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A Bonnie Lass (Steeds … Part IV)

BonnieShandy was off to his new life (after attempting to exit the buyer’s horse trailer through the escape door) and I needed a horse. I don’t recall just how many horses I looked at or tried but I clearly remember going to see Bonnie. She was owned by a fellow Charlie Lake School alumni, who I knew but not well since she’d been a couple of years behind me. There’d been rain, but I wasn’t going to let a muddy paddock deter me from my goal–a horse for the upcoming jumping lessons, clinic, and horse show being hosted by the North Peace Light Horse Association.

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For the Love of a Horse (Steeds – Part III)

It was 1978 and spring had arrived at last! After a winter of studying up on horse care and fantasizing about my next trusty steed, it was finally time to go shopping for a new horse … two new horses, since my sister’s pony had been sold the previous year, thinking she’d need a larger mount.

binder collage
Excerpts from the “Horses Binder”, my self-education program.

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Shandazra and the Gypsy (Steeds … Part II)

national velvetThe horsey dreams of young girls (and old ones) have been portrayed in many pieces of literature and film over time–National Velvet and The Horse Whisperer to name a couple of my favourites–and there’s a reason for this. Girls, at least a lot of girls, are drawn to horses. For some, it’s just a passing childhood attachment, for others, a lifetime passion. My hand is in the air on that second one. Continue reading

To All the Steeds I’ve Loved Before

“I Love You Too” — a print that hangs in my office by Arizona artist Glen Powell

Writing last week’s blog about my lifelong obsession with all things horse brought up a pile of old memories of my equine friends through the years. It inspired me to turn this into a series that I’m calling “To All The Steeds I’ve Loved Before” (cue the Julio and Willie duet). Continue reading

Horse, Paper, Scissors

Since I was twelve, it’s been horses, like the home plate of my life. I often said in my twenties, and even into my thirties, that horses were my rock, the place I returned to, the constant in an ever-shifting landscape of homes, jobs, and relationships.

Selfie with Storm
Me and my equine soul mate, Storm.

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Judging a Book By Its Cover

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. There’s some truth to this and, as a general rule, it’s good practice to not judge the worth or value of something by its outward appearance alone. But, English idiom aside, the cover of a book should match what’s inside, give you a glimpse of the story or the information contained in the pages. A good cover will draw a person to a book they’ll enjoy. A poor cover will mislead or be overlooked altogether. So, you see, for an indie author, choosing the cover art is a monumental task.

The cover has since been redesigned but mine looks like this.

I’d never heard of Garth Stein or The Art of Racing in the Rain when I spotted a copy on a table in Vernon’s Bookland, and I don’t normally buy books without some kind of recommendation, but I was irresistibly drawn to the cover (that’s Enzo with the goggles and scarf). I bought it, loved the story and the writing, laughed out loud on numerous occasions, shed some tears, and was permanently touched by Enzo’s story, all thanks to a good cover. Continue reading