Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marianne's lesson from Tom

Marianne riding her beloved Criollo Mise
Continuing on from my last post,  I decided to quote from the book Marianne Du Toit wrote about her 2 year journey accompanied by two horses.  In her final leg towards her goal of long riding to NYC in time for the Saint Patrick's Day parade, she passed through our town where we met and spent a few days together.

In her book, Crying with Cockroaches Argentina to New York with two horses, Marianne wrote of her problems with American horse Toto and how Tom Simmons addressed them.  She writes:

"Tom was and expert with equines and strongly believed that they should be outside in their natural habitat as much as possible and allowed to be horses.  He was well-known in the area, as well as in California, for his direct and intuitive approach with these animals.

"Toto wants to be the leader," he said, "and as long as you allow him to be that, you'll have these problems and outbursts." 

He told me that Toto did not get enough leadership from me and that I hadn't yet established my authority over him.  I told him how I was more a friend to the horses than a disciplinarian but that I recognized the importance of being in control. 

He also reckoned that while we rested at Annette's for the five days, the daily alfalfa and sweet feed combination could have made him particularly hyper.

He took Toto in a ring for a bit of training and to get him to become more submissive without hurting him.  Afterwards, Toto was like putty in my hands.  I took him on the leading rope and walked with him.  When I stopped, he stopped, when I retreated, he did the same.  You could see that he was now respecting me as the boss.  I had a feeling Toto would always have his dominant personality, and I would not have wanted to break his spirit, but at least it was clearer to him now as to who was in charge.
Tom said that Toto needed to feel safe with me and that he needed a lot of reassurance when something frightened him.  I tried to apply all the tips and advice and the improvement was noticeable immediately."
Fred Rojo, Marianne, Nancy Rojo, Tom Simmons & Camanchi

For more information on TATA Challenge:
To order book from Amazon, click on link:
Crying with Cockroaches

Monday, February 21, 2011

One Woman's Journey

Being without power for a few days gives rise to thought.  Oh my...what's that?  Memory (as a recently read  author wrote) are capsules of time that make up one's life.  I reason that I write so as to recall more clearly some of my capsules in case disease gobbles them or they grow thin and erode. 

So... while we were living in North Carolina, we got a cryptic phone message on the recorder that led to meeting an extraordinary woman.  Just luck for us that our paths crossed.  I guess she could say the same.
Meet Marianne Du Toit:

 In early February, 2004, I was out driving my horse on the farm when my husband Fred came outside and insisted I listen to an unusual plea left on our message phone.  It seemed a woman traveling with two horses was in need and had gotten our number from a Saddlebred Horse directory.  We tried to call her back on her cell phone, but reception being pretty spotty in our rural area, didn't succeed.  Our friend and neighbor Tom Simmons, who is a notable horse trainer, was told of the call and he suggested we just go and try and find her.  The message said she was 4 or 5 miles north of Roxboro on Highway 49.  Off we went and somehow drove right to where she had her two horses tied to a tree.  The young lady, Marianne Du Toit was sitting under the porch of a hospitable homeowner who allowed her to rest there while she tried to find accommodations for herself and her horses.  It was a cold day with snow and ice covering the landscape.

snow and ice on the farm in February, 2004
In the ensuing minutes, she related her odyssey on horseback.  Born in South Africa and an Irish citizen, who 19 months earlier began a ride starting in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  She had ridden alone the length of South America, Central America, and then had to fly past Mexico (without her horses) because she could not obtain permission to pass through.  She began her last American leg in Alabama in December with American horses and was on her way to her final destination of New York City, hopefully in time to ride in St. Patrick's Day parade in mid-March.

Her journey, called TATA (Travels Across the Americas) Challenge is benefiting an Equestrian Center for Children with Disability that is to be built outside of Dublin, Ireland. She had sponsorship from DHL shipping company and unlimited phone use from Alltel Company, and generous help along the way from the people she has encountered along her route.  She spent almost three days on our farm while she had to obtain new tack and write in her journal.  Marianne said that traveling the secondary roads gives wonderful opportunity to see the real America and meet it's people.

It is strange how just the right assistance can come at the right time because Marianne had trouble with one of her horses before she reached Roxboro.  Her horse Toto spooked and bolted through the woods while being led.  It was pretty scary but all were unharmed except for Marianne's saddle, which broke in two requiring new equipment.

Tom and I went back to the farm to get the horse trailer to bring Marianne and her two horses back to the farm to lay over before her next leg of the journey.  Next day, Tom gave the errant horse a training session that put him more under Marianne's direction to prevent future outbursts.  With some rest, training and a new saddle, Marianne began her journey again moving north into Virginia.  I put word out among my internet carriage driving friends and some stepped up to offer their farms as layover on her intended route.

I'd like to say that this 34 year old horsewoman and world traveler is an inspiration to all that meet her.  It is a comfort to know that she binds us all together in our human condition with her stories of all the unique people she has met along the way.  I felt a part of her journey and she gave me an opportunity to share and spread her good will among men and women. 

I finished her book Crying with Cockroaches and was struck with just how much guts this gal had to strike out on such an adventure.  Of all the people who shared in her journey, she said the most loving and generous were the very poorest.  At one point, she slept with several family members on a mattress and felt safer than anywhere.  Here's to you Marianne!  I hope our paths will cross again, but if not...I will always admire you and your humanity. 
Tom Simmons checking new saddle with Marianne
Marianne riding Comanchi leading Toto into Virginia
For more information on TATA Challenge see website:

Next:  an excerpt from Marianne's book Crying with Cockroaches on what Tom did for her horse problem.
Book can be purchased from above link at Amazon


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Life after competition

My favorite view in the world
  The transition from active driving to retirement driving can be a difficult one to make.  After actively competing in combined driving from 1994 through 2006 on a full time basis, it became time to adjust to the effects of RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) on my health and activities. 

If one lives long enough, works and plays hard enough, most will experience OA (Osteoarthritis).   I have that variety also.  Horse folk know how to power through the pain and get on with their horse activities.  RA is different as it is an autoimmune disease that not only targets joints but internal organs as well.  Treatment can involve chemo therapy drugs to curtail erosion and deformity that can be crippling in many cases.    I am one of the lucky ones that respond well to treatment and can function pretty well.  I do require a few life altering changes that are necessary for a good life.  Plenty of rest, no stress and quality food is important.   The unfortunate part is I can no longer ignore my body and power through body pain.  The saying “no pain, no gain” does not apply to me anymore.

After a few years of non-competition, I have finally come to contentment that combined driving is a past achievement for me.   There are indeed other ways to drive one’s horse and still achieve some necessary goals if one is so oriented.  I have just completed an open end goal that has taken me nearly 2 years to achieve.  The American Driving Society’s Hours to Drive program is a great way to achieve personal goals as well as having a log to reflect on a horse’s conditioning progress.    Having a goal, or purpose is so important to me and the Hours to Drive program is a great way to have fun, see progress, and be rewarded for achieving a milestone.

cruising with LH Winfield Scott
Thank you ADS (American Driving Society)  for instituting such a program and giving recognition to the recreational drivers out there.  I think we must be in large numbers and it is nice to know that we are an important part of the driving community.    I’ll be mailing in my log sheet this week and can’t wait to receive my achievement pin for 100 hours on the box seat.  I have lots of pins from competitions over the years that I enjoy looking at and remembering the great fun and adventure of the event.  I think I will enjoy the Hours to Drive pin with more enjoyment because of the times I didn’t feel like getting out there with my horse.  I’d remember the program and goal and it would give me the needed inspiration to get outside on the good days, climb on the box seat, and experience all the joy that driving a good horse brings…such good medicine.    Onto my next milestone…250 hours!