Yesterday I wrote a tribute to the memory of BC breeder Janet Oddy, who passed away last month at the age of 81. Reading the information that her son Peter had forwarded for the article took me on a trip down Memory Lane – on the back of an Arab.
I didn’t know Janet personally – if I did meet her I was very young and don’t remember – but her name and that of the breeding farm she had with her husband Bud, Oddy’s Skyline Arabians, are familiar names from my childhood relationship to horses. My first horse was a half Arab gelding named Gezan’s Charade. Folks in the Arab world would need no further information to know that his sire was Janet Oddy’s incredibly prolific stallion, Raseyn Gezan, who sired some 140 purebred Arabs in his life time (don’t forget this was in the days of live cover only) – not to mention who knows how many half and Anglo Arabs. There were enough of his offspring around that I personally came into contact with at least three during my early riding life. Why am I sharing all this with you? Because spending time reminiscing about growing up riding a half Arab brought back fond memories that help to dull the irritation I have been feeling regarding my (apparently) one-woman crusade against being treated like I don’t know what’s good for me (helmet rule). Yes, I’m sufficiently annoyed about the helmet topic that thinking about riding an Arab is soothing.
I inherited that first horse from my mom, who had moved onto the challenge of trying to get all the tension out of the body of a Thoroughbred stallion so that she would get at least 50% from Dietrich von Hopffgarten when he came up to northern BC to judge a dressage show. Gezan’s Charade was nick named Spooky by his breeders almost as soon as he took his first silly step. My mom purchased him as an unbroke youngster; he subsequently nearly broke her. We lived by the Fraser River and she would take him down to the beach to ride him because he couldn’t buck quite so hard in the deep sand (yes his tendons and ligaments survived just fine – he was an Arab after all). By the time I got the ride on Spooky I was nine and he was either a year older or younger – I don’t remember. My mom had won a small mountain of championships with him, including a handful of Top 10’s at the Arab Nationals in 1973. Spooky became my first four legged mentor. The greatest lesson he taught me was how to get back on. His other half was Quarter Horse, and he was equally adept at both spooking and bucking. I would be hard pressed to say one cause outnumbered the other when it came to finding myself in the dirt. Spooky dumped me at home, at shabby little backwater shows in places like Bouchie Lake, BC and at the PNE Agrodome. He was very democratic that way.
When Spooky wasn’t bucking me off or spooking me over his shoulder, he was my all-purpose riding machine. I would go on all-day trail rides with my pal Denise (she rode an Appaloosa), lunches packed on the backs of our Western saddles. I remember being told I could enter no more than ten classes a day at the first big show of the year, the Williams Lake Spring Show – an annual pilgrimage that I looked forward to all winter. (If I had been forced to choose between that horse show and Christmas there would have been no contest.) I took Spooky in everything: equitation and pleasure (English and Western), Road Hack, Show Hack, Trail, Western Riding and that crazy class called ‘combination’ or ‘versatility’ that had us change from English to Western tack half way through. Once dressage finally made its way to our northern land of loggers, I entered those classes too. Spooky was not physically or temperamentally disposed to jumping, but eventually I was able to add hunter and jumper classes to my roster. Spooky had a remarkable jumping style that caused him to carve a bascule that was only inches from the base, top and landing side of each jump. It felt as though he always landed hind-feet first. But I did learn to stick. I sure did learn that from good old Spooky.
Me, age 10 showing at the original Thunderbird – I stayed on that day.
Horse showing in Northern BC in the seventies inevitably meant riding Arabs, Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, Morgans, Saddlebreds and various combinations thereof. I rode quite a few Arabs and half Arabs into my teens, including a saint of a stallion named Arabor (again, the Arab people would guess correctly that his sire was the legendary Nabor). Arabor taught me that there are two kinds of Arabs: those that spook and those that you could light a bomb under – he was of the latter temperament. We had lots of theories about why Arabs spook so much, including the fact that their eyes are large and stick farther out of their heads than other breeds, which gives them more visual access to potential items at which to spook. But I don’t think Arabs spook because of their eyes. I honestly think they do it for no other reason than to entertain themselves; and that sometimes includes the entertainment gained from frustrating their riders. There truly is no spook like an Arab spook.
We don’t see Arabs so much these days – when I say ‘we’ I refer to the pack I have been running with since I took up the Olympic disciplines as a teen. I do come across them here and there in my dressage freestyle business. On one occasion I had a whole herd of them in a clinic in South Dakota. A group of four riders on Arabs presented themselves as wanting to put together a quadrille. These four would be going down the longside in tandem and the first horse would spook. The domino effect was extraordinary, and by the time the fourth horse got the message he needed to spook (only the first horse knew what he spooked at – the others were just following his lead) the horses were everywhere. It was Arab pinball. Entertaining for me, frustrating to the point of near-tears for the riders. A word of advice for Arab riders wanting to do quadrille: you need the non-spooky models for that.
When I went to Cavalia two weeks ago, one of the most memorable horses in the performance was a five year old black Arab stallion that came out at liberty. Long of leg, short of back, and high of head and tail, he was the ‘black stallion’ fantasies of my childhood brought to life. He wouldn’t be much of a dressage horse and I’m sure he’d not make a jumper, but he was very beautiful. That beauty reminded me of the reason my life went down a path on horseback: because, like most of you reading this, I just love horses. In this age of equestrian over-achievement we sometimes forget that the horses don’t owe us anything. Their beauty and honesty alone should be enough, at least some of the time.
Each of us exists because of a long series of improbable events that led us to where we are in the world. I am grateful that Janet Oddy’s passion for horses, and for Arabs in particular, was one of the improbable events that crossed my path.
This photo is not an endorsement of children riding without helmets.