A horse who exemplified heart, presence and courage, Topcat not only helped me become a successful trainer but a better human being as well.
My forever horse: A horse who exemplified heart, presence and courage, Topcat not only helped me become a successful trainer but a better human being as well.
Who is your favorite horse, Ms. Alica? The one you love best?” I gaze down into the small face. My students ask this often. Most are waist high, their hair tucked under pink helmets. Some come once a month, in worn jeans and borrowed boots. Others come weekly in expensive outfits from the local tack store. All are starry-eyed and breathless with their first ride, their first canter, their first ribbon. They all still have so many firsts ahead of them.
I pause to think. What horse do I love best? I have been in the business for more than four decades and have loved many horses for different reasons. There was Sugar, the backyard pony who helped me perfect my emergency dismount. Floyd, my first training project, whom I eventually paired with his perfect owner. Castlewood’s Checkmark, a seasoned performer, who taught me showmanship and gave me my first blue ribbons. I owe my reputation as a trainer to the many talented horses I’ve worked with over the years, many of whom brilliantly carried my riders to victory passes. And, of course, my riding program would be nothing without my school horse partners, who do their jobs unerringly, day after day.
Yes, I have loved many horses. But as I face the pure innocent emotion beaming from a little girl’s eyes, I wonder what answer could possibly satisfy her expectation? In truth, the horse business is often exasperating. Hours of sweat, freezing cold, flies and boneweary exhaustion blend with the moments of triumph and jubilation. There is disappointment, loss, injury, old age and, yes, inevitably, death. This little girl wants a love story that transcends all this. She wants to hear a fairy tale about a forever horse.
So what is that elusive something that elevates one horse above all others to become a superstar in your heart? What name pops up again and again when I try to define words like heart, presence and courage? What single horse could also be friend, teacher and business partner? There is one. As the years have passed, I suspect the facts of his life have gotten mixed with the myth of what remains of him in my heart. I don’t know that they can be separated. He is the horse by whom I measure all others. He helped “make me,” not just as a professional, but as a better human being. I smile at my young student and say, “There was an American Saddlebred called Folly’s Topcat….”
STANDOUT: For the author, Topcat was a “friend, teacher and business partner.”