This is my Trail Horse: Shoofly’s Story

By Connie Brownson

In March of 2011, at the age of 47, I was in training to do eventing.  Riding my daughter’s hand-me-down Trakehner, a sweet and quiet gelding named Veridicus, barn name, “Klaus.” I was having a wonderful time focusing on Dressage and jumping.  

I was living the dream I’d had since I was a little girl growing up middle-class in inner-city Houston, Texas.  Every Christmas and every birthday I begged my single mother for a horse.  I voraciously read Horse & Rider Magazine, borrowed from another girl in the neighborhood, every month.  I drew horses and read every book I could find about horses. 
I even pretended my miniature poodle, Chino, was a horse, turning his leash into a halter and having him jump hurdles “in hand” in our tiny backyard.  Living in the city with my grandparents and a divorced mother, however, was not conducive to fulfilling my horse dream. 
I didn’t get my first horse until I was in my 30s.  I dabbled in casual Western riding and competition, but most of my resources focused on fulfilling my daughter’s equestrian dreams in hunter-jumper, Dressage and eventing.  She grew up, went to college, and got married.  Then, as an empty-nester awaiting the birth of my first grandchild, it was finally my time to fly.
That beautiful March evening, Veridicus and I were amazing, cantering verticals and coops in my trainer’s suburban front pasture.  We took a short break to discuss attempting a flying lead change on an approach to a small oxer next.  Neighbors, too, were enjoying the evening, walking their dogs along the road.  Veridicus went back to work and, as we approached a jump, the dogs on the road got into a fight through the fence with dogs on the neighboring property.  Klaus spooked and bolted.  As we galloped toward the barn, the trainer stepped in front of him.  
To this day, I can’t imagine what she thought she was going to do to stop a bolting horse; I had the best chance to do that from his back, but I never got it.  He cut left to avoid her and I barrel-rolled off him to the right, doing a complete 360-degree roll, and landing hard on my left shoulder before my head hit the ground and the rest of me as well.  I lay there with her dog licking my face, my heart pounding in my chest, black and silver stars twinkling before my eyes, and my head and shoulder in painful agony.  Nothing seemed to be broken. So I got up and got back on the horse, but I was never going to be the same again.  After a few cautious trot circles and serpentines, I called it quits for the evening and, what I believed to be, for good.  When I untacked Veridicus that evening, I put all of my tack and equipment back in their places in the barn never looking at the helmet I had on.  It was weeks later when most of my physical pain had subsided and I was packing all that stuff to put it storage that I looked at the helmet and saw the hairline crack running straight from the base in the back to the bill in front.  The strut on the inside in the back where I hit the ground was snapped cleanly in two.  I didn’t feel like it, but I was a very lucky lady and am now a strong advocate for helmets.
I didn’t ride for months.  The thought terrified me.  I sold Veridicus.
We still had a couple of horses at the house, one retired and the other a baby.  That fall I got the urge to get a horse of my own, so I went to the Round Mountain horse auction the first Saturday of October.  From the catwalk above, I saw him: a fat, white appaloosa gelding flecked with red and black spots.  It was love at first sight.

A few people tried him out on the grounds and he showed amazing patience and was obviously in no hurry to get anywhere regardless of the chaos around him.  I had a budget, but I hit high when he came in the sale pen.  No one challenged my bid, so I loaded him up.  I watched him for a week to see how he responded to things.  There were questions of blindness and lameness that we addressed.  My cheap horse was getting expensive.  Then, after all of the health issues cleared, I just knew one morning that it was “time.”  I got up the nerve to saddle him and climbed on under the watchful eye of a natural horsemanship trainer friend of mine.  After that first ride, there was no turning back. 
I google’ed “trail ride+Texas” and found ACTHA.  It seemed the perfect balance of fun and function that I could do at my own and his pace: slow.  We were a match made in Heaven! I joined and we went to our first ride, which was L Cinco in Pipe Creek, Texas.  Joined by Jackie Porter and her daughter, Viviana, and friends, Charles and Jessica Gonzalez, I did things I never imagined I, we, Shoofly and me, could do.  For example, we approached a draw and I looked down and thought, “No freaking way!”  My heart pounding, we started down and made it!  That fat little pony took such great care of me that day and continued to do so for another five amazing rides.  Then, after a ride at Storm Ranch, I realized that I needed to retire him due to his arthritis.  He no longer can do eight-mile trail rides, but he is happily employed in his retirement leased as a therapy horse to REDArena in Dripping Springs, Texas, bringing joy to others as he did to me.

No matter how many horses I own in my life, Shoofly will always be my most special horse.  He gave me the greatest gift any horse can give a person: confidence after trauma.  From his solid, round back on ACTHA rides, he gave be beautiful views, wonderful friendships, and memories to last a lifetime.  He gave me the life I always dreamed of.  No matter what his job is now, Shoofly will always be my trail horse.

Connie and Shoofly reside in Texas.  Many thanks to Durvet Apple Wormer for sponsoring “This is my Trail Horse”.  Shoofly will receive a gift from Durvet.

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