Saturday, November 19, 2011

Remembering a great horse

"one look into that hazel eye"
It has been two years this week that I laid my best horse friend to rest.  I thought I'd reprise an article that I wrote on the occasion of his retirement from Combined Driving in his memory.

Lance, the Wonder Horse
This article appeared in the Oct./Nov. 2003 issue of Carriage Driving World
By Nancy Taylor Rojo

It is very bittersweet to bring an end to a great team member in Combined Driving. Who wants to ever stop doing what they enjoy most? But I will do just that with my pony (horse) Lance after his last competition at the National Pony Championships at the Laurels at Landhope. 

At home, we call him Lance the wonder horse. His registered name as a Morgan horse is Sir Lance-a-lect, which is a play on words from his sire, Petalbrook Sigmalect and dam TVM Gwinever. He was foaled in California in March of 1985, which makes him 18 years. I don't think of him as an older horse because he always rises to any occasion with enthusiasm, willingness, and a strong sense of competitiveness.

One look in his hazel eye will tell you all about him. He is open, curious, bold and my best horse friend. I want him to take life a little easier now and not have to work quite so hard. He is sound as can be and has never been sick a day in his life but I know that it wont go on for ever, so now is a good time to retire my buddy and give him new status as a retired Gentlehorse. 

What is in store for this great horse will be a weekly drive through the countryside, some driving lessons for clients of his trainer Tom Simmons, and maybe an occasional lower level CDE for a family member who wants to experience a great little horse. I hope one day to take him back to his place of birth and gather cattle on him like we used to do before we moved east to compete. Lance is particularly fond of cattle and takes every opportunity to whinny at them when he spies them. 

When Lance was two, he was purchased by Gayleen Worthington from breeder Ann Taylor. Tom did all of his training and he had a varied career before I bought him as a 10 year old. He started his career as a 3 year old in the Morgan show world as an English Pleasure Horse. As Tom's interest in the breed world waned and interest in the carriage world grew, Lance was driven in carriage classes. Tom had his most fun with him at the Woodland Stallion Station in California as a team penning horse. Lance's enthusiasm thrilled the crowd and he even had his own fans to watch him sit on his haunches and just lightly tap his front feet on the ground in anticipation of Tom's command to take off. 

My husband Fred and I met Tom in 1994 at a clinic he was giving at the Woodland Stallion Station and knew then we had found a horseman to help us achieve our desire to learn about horses and to drive. We began taking weekly lessons, attended our first CDE that year as spectators and decided this is what we wanted to do with horses. I asked Tom to select a horse for me since my own previous horse purchases were made purely on emotion and my choices didn't have the qualities necessary for the rigors of Combined Driving. Tom phoned me and said to come visit his stable near Mount Lassen to see the gelding he thought would make me a good Combined Driving horse. I peered in the stall and saw this cute little horse and said yes even though I was not emotionally bowled over by him. That changed quickly though as I became aware of the vast capacity of this horse to learn and want to please. The one thing Lance has always shown to any human he has come in contact with is willingness. He never has resented anything that was asked of him. He just gives and does his best without any complaint or fanfare. He just does his job because that is what he does. 

Three months after I purchased Lance I was itching to drive him at my first carriage pleasure show. It was the 1995 Santa Ynez Valley Carriage Classic, the second largest and best show after Walnut Hill. Tom thought it a little premature for me to do such a big show, but we went anyway and took Lance. I'll never forget the feeling I got when I entered the show ring. Lance took on this "persona" and showed himself to the judges. I was amazed at how he swelled up and went proudly with animation yet obedience to me. We came home with blue ribbons in a huge class of Turnout, and won the Firestone Pleasure Drive Single Horse Lady to Drive. We repeated the same thing the next year in Turnout. What a way to start our driving career together.
Santa Ynez Carriage Classic Firestone Pleasure Drive 1995

Fred and I were having the time of our lives competing with Lance in carriage shows as well as Combined Driving, always under the watchful eye of Tom, who kept us on track and kept advancing Lance. When the opportunity arose to totally indulge ourselves in the horse world and move back east to join Tom and his wife Cathy, we gathered up our horses and settled on our co-owned farm in North Carolina to experience all the wonderful events the east coast has to offer. We traveled up and down the east coast to compete Lance in Preliminary at Metamora, Michigan to Live Oak, Florida and everywhere in between. We even ventured into Canada by invitation to compete at the Can/Am event in 2000 at the advanced, FEI level.

Our most memorable dressage was at our favorite event Live Oak in 1999 when George Bowman as President of the Jury, along with Sydney Smith of Great Britain and Margie Margentino gave Lance and me a 31.5. Lance was so relaxed and rhythmic in that test, that it was commented that he was a pleasure to watch. 

Live Oak 2002 dressage
Fair Hill International, Maryland
We were fortunate to attend a clinic given by Betsy Cowperthwaite, three time National Pony Champion and twice Reserve Champion. We struck up a close friendship that continues to grow. Betsy has given us lessons on the finer points of Combined Driving and encouraged us to move up to advanced level with Lance, which we did in the year 2000 starting with our favorite event Live Oak. That is also the year we discovered that Lance was pony height instead of horse. Everyone was a bit confused and worried that we would be upset with having to compete in the pony division, but it was a great move because the people were, and are great.  There is a special camaraderie amongst the pony pack. In the beginning, the only disadvantage, which really isn't a disadvantage anymore, was the few competitors. We did some winning but what was important was the fact we were steadily improving as a team. Lance, ever willing, did what was asked and never made any mistake or resisted in any obstacle put in front of him. 

I can't tell you how wonderful it is to have a horse that never questions what you ask. He has the confidence built in him by his trainer, to listen to his director and perform. He is always a challenge to his driver though, because if you are not clear with your instruction, he will decide on his own to move. He wants to please so much he anticipates your instruction. I must always vary my workouts and keep him guessing.

As our confidence has built over the last few years, so has our speed in the hazards. One of our most exciting marathon wins has been the challenging Fair Hill International marathon of last fall (2002). There were so many good options designed by Dr. Wolfgang Asendorf that I was still undecided in two of my routes the morning of the marathon. It was exhilarating to be in such a beautiful place with the best in the nation and win the marathon. 
Water hazard at Fair Hill International

Cones at the Laurels 2001
I can truly say that it has been a great pleasure to have a horse like Lance. I can relax even while competing knowing that I have a solid horse that is willing and predictable. I wish anyone interested in the sport of Combined Driving could be as fortunate as Fred and I have been.

Give a good thought to my kind gentle horse and may yours be the same for you. 

Lance at age 24 shortly before can see the inoperable tumor on his right upper jaw

Sir Lance-a-Lect

his hazel eye
his bright attitude
his huge nostrils open to life
his deep heart giving all
his thunderous neigh calling all to witness the glory that he is

read Time to Let Go