Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Horses of Spain

My first husband was posted to the Air Force base in Madrid, Spain and the nearly five years I lived there were incredible. I loved Spain ... the country, the people and the horses!

Oh, the HORSES!

Having grown up on the little Quarter Horse type working cow horses of the west, the Andalusians put stars in my eyes from the first day I saw one. They were my introduction to a different way to ride.
Unfortunately, nearly all of the photos taken in Spain were lost and I have not found any of the incredible gray gelding I owned while I was there. By a strange quirk, recently found two slides that were taken of me on my instructor's "school horse", and got photos made from those slides. Not great detail, but will at least suggest the general type of horse and the type of equipment.
The bridle is a straight shanked curb, with a "moscera" on the browband, something I had never seen before, a double row of long leather strands which, when a horse was walking properly, would brush back and forth across the face. This served two purposes, brushing the flies from the horse's face, plus it provided the rider/trainer with an indication of correct gait. If the animal was not walking with the proper cadence the moscera would not flick back and forth and the rider would not see the ends as they swept back and forth.
The basic saddle most reminded me of the Austrailian saddles, they had a squared pommel, with no horn and a curved cantle, also squared at the top. This was covered by a heavy sheepskin pad over the seat, which came down along the sides of the horse to about the rider's knee level. The metal stirrups were on a English style stirrup leather, but the stirrup itself was very different, a solid side, triangular, down to the foot plate, which was solid and roughly 6" long. You can see the crupper which helped hold the saddle in place as well as a clearer view of the sheepskin pad in the this photo.
My first instructor was Spanish and my first lessons were in the traditional Spanish style, primarily developed for work on the fighting bull ranches and in the bull rings themselves. The rejoneadors of Spain are the mounted bull fighters and their only partner in the ring is the horse on which they are mounted. I never developed a fondness for the usual bullfights, where the actual work with the bull is done on foot, but the ballet of the rejoneadors never ceased to thrill me. The horses were incredible, the rejoneadors themselves skilled and daring and the choreagraphy of the duel between the bull and the horse and rider was never dull. The photo below will give you an idea of how closely both rider and horse are to the bull during the passes. It looks as if they cannot possibly avoid injury, but I never saw more than minor scratches in any of the fights I saw personally.
I was once priviledged to see Angel Peralta, then in his 20s, who became one of the premiere rejoneadors of his generation. It was a display of horsemanship I will never forget. Several horses are used during a fight and on one, a black mare, he made his first passes, then removed the bridle. The next series of passes were made with the mare working only from weight and leg cues.

Not content with that, he then moved the mare to the center of the ring, broke the last pair of banderillas in half, leaving him with 18" banderillas, which he then proceeded to plant on the next pass across the bull's charge. A truly incredible demonstration of communication between horse and rider which brought many of the spectators to their feet with cheers.

I will always have a deep love and respect for the incredible Andalusian horses I was so priviledged to see and to ride during my years in Spain.

Friday, October 9, 2009


If I was given the opportunity to clone just one of the many wonderful Rottweilers I've had in my life, it would have to be Hummel. He was the epitome of the working Rottweiler, intelligent, attentive, quick to respond. He had been imported from Germany into Canada and I purchased him when he was not quite 2 years old. He had been trained as a working security dog and was intended as a "dual purpose" Rottweiler, a stud dog for my American linebred show and obediance breeding program and a working dog for my husband.

He was very different from my American dogs, incredibly well trained, but had absolutely no idea what "play" was. It took me close to six months to teach him that he could "chase" a ball ... he didn't have to sit until he was given the order to fetch and he didn't have to return it instantly to my hand. The more relaxed situation confused him for months, but eventually he decided that it was obviously not going to change, but that I was going to be "his person", perhaps because he thought I was so careless I needed protection.

He did learn to play, finally, and one of his favorite companions was a bitch from one of my first homebred litters that we called Catty. They both loved the winters and snow and would play for hours, though it did sound and look serious. One of my favorite photos was taken as they were playing in a snowdrift the second winter he was with us.
He was selectively sensible about his duties, although we did have occasional discussions about what required his protection and what did not. He often travelled with me and he was my shadow at home. He would work for my husband but if he gave him an order when I was present, he would look at me and I would have to repeat the command.

My husband was a police officer and did competition shooting, so often had handguns in the house. Hummel was not comfortable with him having one in his hand, stayed between us and would eventually "grumble" about the situation. On the other hand, I could carry my revolver into the house and he wouldn't even look up.

He was never shown, thanks to an argument with one of the horses, which left him missing lower front teeth. He absolutely never believed I should be allowed to lead one of those huge beasts around, they needed to be somewhere behind fences and even after years of travelling with me hauling horses, never trusted them.

His sons and daughters, however, proved that my feeling about his qualities as a sire were correct, as he produced many winning Rottweilers for my kennel, including youngsters that were AKC champions, obediance title holders, won or placed at Rottweiler specialties and several that went on to be rated top-10 nationally through AKC.

I did this portrait of him as an older dog, after he was starting to feel the effects of arthritis during the northern winters. He would sneak into the bedroom and nap on the heated waterbed when I was out doing chores even though he knew it was not something he was supposed to do.

"Who's been sleeping in my bed?" was always my first comment when I caught him ... and he always responded with this very typical Rottweiler expression, flattened ears and the "oops ... must have been sleepwalking again" look.
He has been gone more than 15 years now and I still look at his portrait, remember the love he gave so whole-heartedly, the sense of security I always had when he was with me ... and find a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I have had one or more dogs almost all of my life, except for the few years I was a city dweller. A friend introduced me to dog shows in the early 70s and I started looking for "my" breed a year or two later. All puppies are adorable, but I was lost the minute I picked up my first Rottweiler puppy.
My first puppy came from Arizona, the second came from the Merrymoore Kennels in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1976, and my Rottweiler experience began, a love affair that lasted for more than 20 years. My last homebred litter was whelped in 1991, shortly after my mother died and my father came to live with me. I moved from Montana to Kentucky in 1998 with the horses and my last two Rotts. The following year, my last homebred dog died of cancer and the year after that I lost Heidi.

My first show dog undoubtedly gave me an unrealistic view of the show dog world in some respects. Merrymoore's Ric-O-Shay got his AKC championship as well as his AKC obediance title and went on to be shown as a champion and was in the top-10 standings nationally for two years, with very limited showing. Not only was he a superlative showdog, but was an incredible ambassador for what was then a comparatively rare breed.
My breeding program was primarily based on Rottweilers from the Merrymoore Kennel in Georgia and my plan was to have several linebred bitches to establish a foundation, then bring in a dog from completely different lines. The outcross was a German import, making the bloodlines as much different as possible, with a more compact body, which I wanted and an extreme head. and "Hummel" became my personal companion.

He was a trained working security dog when I purchased him at just under two years old, intended originally as my husband's working dog, but he decided I was "his person" and he because my personal companion. He produced a number of outstanding show dogs as well as many working police dogs and several search and rescue dogs.
Hummel himself was never shown, thanks to an early introduction to horses, which left him with several missing teeth, but his offspring certainly made their mark in the show and working world, particularly with his daughters. One daughter finished her championship at Westminster by taking Winner's Bitch from the open class and went on to go Best Opposite the following year as a competing champion. Another daughter won or placed at both Regional and National specialties as well as being top-ten rated in the AKC national standings both as a class bitch and as a special.

His portrait and more details about him are on my art studio website:

Pennybrooke at Westminster

Elsa at the Region VI Specialty

I no longer have a Rottweiler in my home, but somehow, after so many years, it seems wrong that there is not a big black dog by my side as there was for so many years of my life.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I always wanted a pony

The only child I can ever remember envying was my cousin. She had a pony.

She not only had a pony, she had a black and white pinto pony and she got to ride it to school.
I bitterly resented the fact that all I had to ride was my mother's retired cowhorse, who was too tall for me to get on and off to open gates so I couldn't ride the 3 miles to school like Betty did. And it wasn't a PONY!

I had other horses over the years, but I never lost my desire for a pony. I was in my 50s when that dream finally came true for me ... a black Connemara Pony stallion.

Stonybrooks Curragh Kildare (Stormy) was a 4 year old when I found him, just barely started under saddle and he immediately went to a trainer in Colorado to be put in harness. From there, he went to a friend/trainer in NW Montana to go under saddle and for the next two years stayed with Pam and was shown by a young woman, Lori, in what local dressage and hunter shows were available.

He posted respectable scores at 1st level dressage in USDF shows. He even won his first open green hunter class against the "big guys", having to show against Thoroughbreds and warmbloods in the open classes. He never belived he was only 13.3 hands, he was convinced he was 10 feet tall and bulletproof.

He was one of the best trained animals I ever owned. If I wanted to ride to enjoy myself, it was Stormy that got saddled. I rode him on trails and up in the mountains, I rode him after cattle. He loved having a job and he was always ready to go to work.
He came with me from Montana to Kentucky. I didn't ride much once I got here, after thousands of unfenced acres in the Montana mountains, 17 acres on a hill was not really "riding". Stormy adjusted to the changes, like the gentleman he always was, happy to show off and pose for anyone who came to look at him and his offspring for the next 10 years. He produced a number of talented offspring and was one of the foundations of my sportpony breeding program as well as a personal companion and the "dream pony" of my life. When downsizing became a necessity due to age and old injuries, Stormy stayed. He was older, perhaps wiser, but never lost his sense of mischief.

The best photos I have of him were taken several years ago, in his "old age" ... at eighteen ... still showing the energy and charisma he displayed all of his life.

Stormy, thank you for all of the wonderful years you gave to me. You left on your journey across the for the Rainbow Bridge before I was ready for you to go. There are still times I wake at daylight, listening for you rattling your grain tub.

If there is any justice anywhere you are learning to use the wings you always believed should be there.