A Return to Horses Makes Life Better
by Allison Trimble
Northwest Horse Source readers will have a lot in common with my friend and client, Dr. Constance Scharff. One of the things I love most about horses is the impact they have on people’s lives. Many people return to horses later in life; it’s fun and inspiring to hear their stories. Connie’s new horse arrives at the barn this weekend, and that has caused a lot of excitement. Here is her story.
What is your background with horses?
From my earliest memory, I wanted a horse. That dream became a reality when my family moved to Oregon when I was ten. Within a year, I proudly purchased a yearling, ¾ Arabian mare, Sintana. I saved money from birthdays and holidays to buy her.
Sintana was my 4-H project. I am grateful to my 4-H leaders for helping me learn horsemanship, a skill my parents could not teach me. Karen, who led the Golden Horseshoes in Scio, Oregon, taught me a lot about horses and a fair bit about life. I also had a trainer, Linda, who helped me polish my mare into a show horse. Okay, maybe not a fancy show horse, but we were competitive at the state level in 4-H and did bring home a champion ribbon in showmanship, the event my mare loved most. Sintana liked to strut around.
Why did you get out of horses?
Like most people, I graduated high school and had no money. I was fortunate that my family did not make me sell my horse; rather, they kept her for me. When I was older and had a job, I paid for her board. But I was always given a rate I could afford, paying only for my mare’s out-of-pocket cost, not for the labor to keep her fed and clean. I never lived in a place where I could keep her myself, so she remained happily with my mother for 31 years until she passed. I didn’t ride regularly from the age of 21 to 42.
How did you get back into horses?
Two years ago I moved to Whatcom County, Washington. I wanted a small hobby farm because I wanted to have a horse again. But I had been very ill for several years and did not have the strength to maintain a farm or the income to hire someone to do the work for me. My real estate agent (you) suggested I buy a house instead of a farm and lease a horse. It was the perfect solution!
Tell me about the leased horse.
Because I had been ill and had not ridden regularly for 20 years, I looked for a very reliable horse. I knew if I fell or was thrown, I could be severely injured. I also had lost my confidence as a rider. When you’re a kid and you fall off, you just get back on the horse and continue with the ride. I knew there would be more consequences if I fell now and that made me afraid.
I leased a bay roan quarter horse, Irene Dynamo Queen. “Reenie” is a sweet, 14-year-old mare who has “more whoa than go” and is patient. When I first began riding her, I was not confident enough to ride more than fifteen minutes; I was afraid something would happen. Reenie didn’t mind. She let me take her in the round-pen for weeks until I felt safe enough with her to go into the arena. She excels at the most beautiful jog trot you’ve ever ridden and we’d spend hours together sort of shuffling along. She seemed relieved to have a rider who was content to poke around and I was happy to have a horse that didn’t need a speedy job.
What’s going on now with you and horses?
I adore Reenie, and will always make time for her when I’m at the barn. My confidence grew enough that I started to want something more than what she can give. My heart belongs to Arabians—especially half-Arabs that have the Arabian type and intelligence mixed with something that has a little more size. I started to look around and found 20-year-old gelding, Coda Chrome (Cody). I liked him from the minute I saw him, but it was riding him that made me want to bring him home. He rides exactly like Sintana. I immediately understood him. He feels familiar in how he moves. He’s also a kind horse and wants to please.
Reenie was so important in preparing me for Cody. Reenie was like training wheels on a bike. Now, Cody gets to have a partner who is ready to embrace all that he has to give, and we can accomplish new tasks together.
What are your future goals?
Foremost, to improve my fitness. Nothing motivates me to eat better or exercise more than a horse, because we all ride better when we’re fitter.
I want to get out of the arena. Cody likes to be out and about, and so do I. Being in a parade or going to a half-Arabian show in a costume class might be fun. I also very much enjoy pattern work. I might try one of the different Western disciplines like Western dressage, equitation, or even reining—though I’m not sure how I feel about all the galloping. Slow and particular is more my thing. Cody is trained and enjoys saddle seat and I might just give that a go!
Mostly though, I’m grateful to be riding again. There is no greater joy for me than working with a horse. It is stress relief. I am physically and emotionally healthier when I ride. I like to be in the barn with the smell of horses and hay. It’s just good for me and I am very, very pleased to have an opportunity to do what I love again. I don’t care a bit about ribbons or competition. Being with horses makes life better and I am privileged to be able to work with quality equine partners.