Article and photos by Cecilia Kayano
The first Trainers Rally for Rescues held at Mortenson’s Arena on July 26, was nothing less than a high-drama tear jerker with many happy endings. A benefit for The Horse Shelter, the Rally was one of the last events of the Day of the Cowboy. Who won? Every trainer, every horse, every spectator. Starting with Loal Tucker, whose horse Guerro, a shoe-in for first place was injured and recovering with a cast. Sound sad? Wrong. The morning of the event two of Loal’s fans adopted Guerro.
Michelle and Blue
With Guerro out of the running, that left six mares. The first one to be shown was Blue, ridden and trained by Michelle DeCanditis. Before showing her, Michelle was standing by her trailer with Blue, photos of her pasted all around. “Blue just wants to be part of something,” explained Michelle. Before she started riding, Michelle went to bat for Blue. “We are going to walk and trot, no canter, because it is in the best interest of Blue,” she announced to the standing-room only crowd. Then she started the music on the big boom box she brought: Blue Bayou. She walked Blue across a tarp, trotted her in circles. At the end of the showing, the music changed to “We’ve only just begun.” “These are trained horses, but not finished horses,” said The Horse Shelter volunteers. They had only 100 days of training. Indeed, they had only just begun.
Clint and Jackie
The big question of the day was, “Where’s Clint?” He was up next, but no Clint. Earlier, he said that he had “finally gotten attached” to his horse Jackie O. A man of few words, he divulged nothing of his game plan, saying only, “I just hope she goes to a good home.” Just before another trainer was going to step in for Clint Mortenson, the man enters the arena riding his ranchy-looking sorrel mare, trotting like he had ridden her for years. Not a soul was thinking, “Poor Jackie O, I hope she goes to a good home,“ as they watched the duo jump into a trailer, do flying lead changes, cut some cattle, whack a polo ball, and open a gate flawlessly. As his ace in the hole, Clint removed Jackie’s bridle, then roped a steer. Simple as that.
Erica, Joost and Pipi
Next up was Pipi Longstocking, trained by Erica Hess and Joost Lammers, and ridden by Joost. An hour before, Erica seemed a little less stressed than Joost, saying “We just want her to shine,” while Joost was a few feet away saying, “I’m nervous, but I know I can ride as fast as Pipi can run.” A little background on Pipi. She was one of the most challenging horses in the competition. She was born at The Horse Shelter, and had been treated like a pet her entire life. She was an orphan, and had huge separation issues. Who would have known that the light red horse with the floaty trot and canter and flying lead changes was once a problem child? During the demo, A Horse Shelter volunteer got teary eyed. Another one gasped OMG! The riding seemed effortless, but things went wrong: Pipi would not go into the trailer. The music didn’t work. No matter. At the end, Erica flashed a huge smile, and a thumbs up. She knew the Pipi story.
Recovery Center Clients, Ginger and Root Beer
Just when we thought it couldn’t get better, it did. Root Beer was a horse you couldn’t touch. “She would bite you,” said a Horse Shelter volunteer. When Root Beer followed Ginger Gaffney calmly into the arena, the volunteer almost lost it. “That Root Beer can even do that, it’s amazing!” Apparently, Root Beer did not want to be pigeon-holed as a bad girl. She rose magnificently to the occasion by trotting around poles, stepping over poles, backing around a corner, and pulling a parachute. Root Beer was trained by clients of a recovery center. They were there, smiling brightly because they knew Root Beer’s story. They had saved her. Maybe she had saved them. “I love her because she is lovable and loving,” said one client. Maybe Root Beer was thinking the same thing about the client.
Rogelio and Athena
Rogelio Enriquez was next, riding his gorgeous bay mare Athena. The pair trotted and cantered, doing flying lead changes. A big steer was let out in the arena, and Athena moved it around with confidence. Rogelio taught Athena to dance, but a decision was made to not show the dancing. It would have been a beautiful sight, and would have shown the connection between this trainer and his horse.
Kirsten and Hope
The final pair was Kirsten Clegg riding Hope. Kirsten, her mother, her trainer and Hope were all color-coordinated. Hope wore a purple saddle pad. The humans had painted “Hope” on their faces with purple paint and glitter. Maybe it was the heat, or the accumulation of horse and human drama, but watching this pair was a tearjerker. Kirsten got Hope into the trailer with a suggestion. She rode with no bit, yielding hind quarters and side passing with ease. The crowd was whistling and cheering. Who would think that picking up a horse’s hooves would be cause for celebration? We celebrated. At the end of her demo, Kirsten draped a tarp over Hope’s body, then respectfully lifted it off her head, then planted a kiss on her forehead. So much high drama. The crowd was spent.
By the way, Clint came in first, followed by Kirsten, then Ginger. The horses were auctioned, which turned into a complicated human-interest story of a group of clients buying a horse for a trainer (Michelle), a friend buying a horse for a trainer (Rogelio) and a bidder trying to buy a horse for the recovery center clients. All horses were adopted. If you didn’t attend the event, maybe you are reading this because you want to know who won. But if you attended the event, you know the real story: Everyone won, horse, trainer and spectator. It was an event imagined out of concern for living beings. It brought hundreds of people together to witness kindness, good will, giving money, giving time, giving love. We all won because our hearts were changed, all because of a handful of rescue horses.