This picture was taken of me on my saddlebred, The Emancipator AKA Big John. I am winning the 13-17 saddle seat equitation class at the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo. I also, that year, won the stock seat equitation class on my quarter mare that I trained and kept in our backyard. I think it was the first year that anyone had won both, the saddle seat and the stock seat classes. The American Royal was like none other. You had to walk up a very long circular ramp to get to ringside on the second floor of an old brick building.. The indoor coliseum held thousands of people. The ramp would make a hollow clomping noise as each hoof touched down. The horses were nervous in anticipation. As soon as you entered the ring, the stands would be packed with people and the organ music would echo throughout. Big John was my 3 gaited champion/saddle seat equitation horse. He was a power house. You can see by his expression in the photo above that he was a showman. He wouldn't stand still for me to mount, so I would be tossed up in the saddle while he was trotting. One person holding his bit running along side of him and another tossing me up on his back. He had such a great personality. There was no better show horse. Give him an audience and he came ALIVE.
My parents bought him for me while we lived in the midwest. They picked him up for a fairly decent price because he was no spring chicken. I don't know how old he was when we purchased him, but he must have been in his teens. He knocked the socks of many a younger horses in the 3 gaited division. He was a great ride….like riding a Friesian in a fairy tale. As long as you were light handed and stayed off his mouth he was a dream. A dream come true horse for me.
I remember one year when I was showing at the Missouri state fair. The judge came to down to two riders for the Championship…me and one of Art Simmon's students. I rode with Sug Utz from Raytown, Mo. That's where Big John was stabled. The judge decided that he would like the two of us to exchange horses. That's the only time in my show career that I was asked to do that. As I was getting on her horse, my trainer was mumbling under his breath talking out loud softly how his months of training with Big John could be undone by a new rider. My ride, the other gal's horse, a piece of cake. I was worried for the other rider getting on my horse, too. She looked absolutely petrified. Unfortunately for her, she had a death grip on the reins and John steam rolled around the ring with her. Finally, the judge stopped the ride off. Her face was bright red. I'm sure she was glad to give him back to me and get back on her horse.
Big John and I did very well throughout the mid-west circuit. We made the AHSA finals. Then one day we received a phone call from Sug with bad news. John had suffered a stroke. He could barely walk. Sug talked with my father about putting him to sleep. My father wouldn't hear of it. We went and picked him up in our quarter horse trailer. I drove the the station wagon pulling the horse trailer while my father rode with Big John in the back of the trailer. He stayed in the trailer to help hold him upright. We had about 3 acres for a backyard of green grass, a barn, a corral and a pond. Every day Dad would walk John by his halter and steady him by leaning upon his weak side, so he wouldn't wobble. He did this without fail. Pretty soon you could see John getting stronger. I think he really enjoyed all of the attention he was getting. One day I came home from school, several months later, and my father was sitting atop Big John bareback with a halter. He was drinking a martini! We knew John would never get back to the show ring. We had no idea how old he was, but let's say he was pretty long in the tooth :0) My father, the big softie, he was, found a Veterinarian with 100's of acres that took John till the end of his days. John stood out with other great horses enjoying lush pasture. They probably shared great horse stories amongst each other.
I was the hardest worker when it came to my horses. My father was my biggest fan, other than my mother. My mother used to get so nervous for me she couldn't come watch me in the really big events. Mom would help me get dressed and ready back at the barn. But, my Dad was always there cheering me on from ringside. "Lookie there judge. That's's the winner!" Sometimes I would cringe inside of embarrassment when I would hear him yell out. One judge asked if he would leave the ring. But, I knew he was so proud of me. I used to tease him after my ride about yelling out so loudly, but I never could be angry with him. He had so much love for me…and, I for him. And, we both had so much love for our animals.