I’ve owned horses for the better part of 30 years and more than once I’ve had to answer the question, “Why? Why do you own horses?” Many people mistakenly think it’s fame, money, power or prestige that prompts us to become horse owners. For me, the answer was far easier. It’s about the horse. I love the horse.
I got my first horse when I was 11 years old. He was a Christmas present and his name was Little Rocket Andy. I loved that horse with all of my heart, and together we conquered the show ring until it was time for me to go to college. “Andy” went off to make a lifetime of memories with a new little girl.
There have been many horses since Andy. Some stayed for a little while; some didn’t stay long enough. They have been broodmares and racehorses and show horses and yearlings and just plain horses. They have caused concussions, broken toes, bruised bones and too many sore muscles to count. They have colicked, choked, gone lame and gotten hurt. But they have all left indelible hoof prints on my heart.
We horse owners are a strange lot. We can spot each other from a mile away, and can spend hours talking to a complete stranger about horses. We might have vastly different stories of how we became horse owners, and could be striving for completely different goals. There are hands-on owners who ride and compete, and owners who leave the riding to the trainers and are happy to watch their horses from the sidelines. But we are united. We know that when we meet another horse owner, we have met a kindred spirit.
Take Cindy Warn, for example. Like me, Cindy grew up with a 4-H background and has always loved horses. But raising a family and business obligations took her away from the show ring, and when she re-entered the world of performance horse sports, it was as an owner who observes from the sidelines. She does ride, just checking fence on the family cattle ranches rather than in the show pen. She has fun searching for young show prospects, and is always on the lookout for a superior athlete. One of the horses she has enjoyed watching compete in reined cow horse and reining over the past few years is multiple champion Smart Luck. Read more about their story starting on page 150.
On the other side of the world, Forrest Saunders grew up in the metropolis of Sydney, Australia, without any horses at all. His introduction to the animals came thanks to his wife, Kim, and together, the couple used funds from a kitchen-remodel loan to buy their first cutting horse. They now have cutting horses competing in the United States and Australia, where they recently won the 2012 Australian NCHA Futurity Open with Lil Rey Of Hope (AS). And Forrest is now learning to ride and compete. Their story begins on page 114.
The Owner Statistics in this issue are more than just names and numbers. Each line represents a person who has poured their heart and soul into the horse business. They have experienced the highest of highs – like the Saunders’ win in the Australian NCHA Open Futurity – and the lowest of the lows, as when Cindy watched Smart Luck fall during the finals of the 2009 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity. And through it all, they persevere. They pay the trainer, the vet, the shoer, the loper, the groom, the chiropractor and the entry fees in the hopes of breaking even someday. They scour the sales, hoping to find the next great prospect that will be their once-in-a-lifetime horse. They stay up late to watch webcasts of shows in other time zones, and take days off of work to watch their horses compete. They proudly share stories of their horses like others share photos of their grandkids. And most, if not all, would probably answer the question just like I did. “Why? Why do you own horses?” It’s the horse. We do it for the horse.
As this issue was going to print, I had the chance to hear legendary owner Jack Waggoner talk about High Brow Cat. It was at a press conference where Jack had announced the stallion’s sale of to owner Darren Blanton. (Read more about the sale in the March 1 issue of Quarter Horse News.) When asked if he would visit “Cat,” Jack replied, “He can’t live without me,” referring to the close bond between man and horse. Earlier, when asked about Cat’s health as the horse enters his 25th year and Jack’s own plans as an octogenarian, Jack related, a bit morbidly but in all sincerity, that he hoped High Brow Cat would outlive him. It occurred to me later that it was true – Jack’s statement, “He can’t live without me” – as was the unspoken completion of the thought, “And I don’t want to live without him.”
That, in a nutshell, is what makes horse owners unique. We don’t do it for fame and glory; we don’t do it for money and awards, although all of those things are nice bonuses. We do it because we can. No matter when our love affair with horses started, these horses have a way of becoming part of our soul. Most of us wouldn’t know what to do if we didn’t have horses in our lives. We do it because we want to and we have to, it’s in our blood. We do it because in the end, it’s all about the horse.