By Lacy Warner
I didn’t grow up in the country or on a farm. I didn’t even come from a horsey family. In fact, I was always told that, apart from the occasional carousel ride, I was afraid of horses as a youngster. Around age 3 my aunt had taken me to a pumpkin patch where they gave pony rides and they had one painted blue which I just had to ride – I just could not leave until I rode that pony. She recalls they couldn’t get me off of it! Ever since then anywhere we saw pony rides I needed to have one and not just one! I demanded to ride every single pony in each pony ride.
At age six my mom signed me up for horse back riding lessons. For the next 7
years or so I took weekly riding lessons, hung around the barn as much as possible, attended a horse summer camp every available week of summer break and read every horse book I could get my hands on! Like most young girls I always had this dream of one day having my own.
I grew up as an only child and the only grandchild, raised by a single mom and was often looked after by my grandparents. Having a horse in suburbia was not an option, not to mention out of the question financially until my grandfather passed away shortly after I turned 13. He left my grandmother with means to be able to buy me a horse! My dreams were finally coming true!
Buying a first horse was a big decision! I knew exactly what I wanted: a young, inexperienced bay mare I could train myself (because I thought I knew everything). We saw an ad in the newspaper for a bunch of horses for sale at a local lesson barn. Assuming they were selling off lesson horses we called only to find out the ad was for ex race horses, of which they thought a few might be suitable for me.
The first horse we tried was named “Sweet Potatoe”, a young, inexperienced bay mare that had recently come off the racetrack. The seller rode the horse, then my trainer rode her. She was ok for both of them. The whole time I was watching I just knew this was MY horse! She was THE ONE!
It was my turn to ride. Sweet Potatoe would not stand still for mounting. Even with two people holding her they still had to pop me up like a jockey on to the saddle while she trotted a tiny circle around all of us. Somehow I managed a bit of riding on her until I asked her to canter. She quickly burst into racehorse mode and I fell off. No sooner had I hit the ground I jumped up to announce, “I love her. This is the horse I want!”
(and for those of you that know me now this may come as no surprise when I say everyone thought I was C R A Z Y! In fact, I still hear that quite often).
Even though I knew she was the horse for me they made me try others. I told them there was no need to waste anyone’s time!! I wanted Sweet Potatoe!! Begrudgingly I “rode” two other horses (geldings) for literally about 30 seconds each to appease the powers that be. I wanted Sweet Potatoe and I was not interested in seeing any more horses!
We leased her for a few months before buying her. To this day I am not quite sure why no one talked my mom out of it. I had no business having this young, spooky, untrained ex racehorse. But she was mine! I decided immediately that her show name would be “Grandma’s Sweet Potatoe Pie” to honor my beloved grandmother.
For a few years I tried to show, trail ride and just enjoy my horse. I had absolutely no breaks on this horse, ever! She was incredibly spooky and rarely behaved at a show IF she got on the trailer at all to even attend the show. To top it all off she was nearly impossible to catch! There were many many many days I would be in the field, following her around for what seemed like forever balling my eyes out because I just wanted to ride but could not catch my horse. I just wanted to trail ride with my friends, attend horse shows without refusing jumps or not being able to stop my horse and be able to load her on the trailer and take her places.
When I was 15 we moved her to a new boarding barn. She and I were having the same troubles as in the past but finally they were recognized. This crazy lady was always in the arena with her horse, not riding him but using this orange stick to do whatever it was she was doing with him. Finally after seeing me attempt to ride my horse on several occasions she approached me and my mom and blatantly told us that we needed help before this horse killed me (and boy, was she correct)!
She tried to show me a few of these natural horsemanship techniques she used with her orange stick. I practiced them often but really just wanted to ride!
Later that year a Parelli Natural Horsemanship clinic was being hosted at our barn so we signed up! I was the youngest person in the clinic, the only english rider and, by far, had the worst problem horse! Of the 2 or 3 day clinic the instructor had to work with my horse all but about 2 hours of it because I could not handle her! I was enlightened, inspired and encouraged to continue on with what we had learned. I saw what was possible! With a lot of hard work, patience and support my horse might be able to stand at the mounting block for mounting! She might be able to canter instead of gallop everywhere! I might be able to get her on a trailer to go on adventures! The possibilities seemed endless!
At age 15 or 16 when everyone was looking at colleges and deciding what might become of their lives I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted to have a horse farm and teach kids to ride! Horses all day every day! So many people told me “You can’t make a living off of horses” or “You need to go to school and have a ‘real’ job to support your horse hobby.” The more I heard those things the more motivated I became to prove them wrong!!
I was never really interested in school or a social life per se so I devoted all of my time to this new information I had learned at the clinic. We bought books, dvds, hosted more clinics, travelled to more clinics and eventually attended school at both Parelli University campuses in Colorado and Florida.
Sweet Potatoe, as frustrating as she could be at times, kept me humble, kept me (mostly) out of trouble. She was my confidant, my shoulder to cry on. My biggest successes included her! Horse shows! Team penning! Obstacle courses! Parelli Natural Horsemanship Achievements! The list goes on! I worked every day to make us BOTH better! She taught me so so much! It became less about riding and more about our relationship. She was no longer my horse, she was my best friend.
Over the years we did so many things together from herding cattle in Colorado to galloping through the countryside to bareback and bridleless evening strolls around the farm.
She taught me that every horse gives us an opportunity to learn. She helped me build a “barn family” of people with like interests, people that also truly cared about their horses as best friends and needed their equestrian escape from reality! Sweet Potatoe taught me that every horse comes into your life for some special reason. But not every horse will be as special as Sweet Potatoe. She passed in a tragic pasture accident 14 years after she became mine. I have yet to find another horse quite like her. I now have several horses that fulfill her role in my life.
It’s difficult to put into words the impact your best friend had on you! I miss her every day but I am so grateful for all of the people I met because of her and for all of the lessons and opportunities she taught or gave to me which I can now pass along to others!