by Christian Clark
Some call it fate, but I would rather call him an unexpected blessing. Nearly eleven years ago, I found my heart horse, Dodger. The day started in a crowded Amish auction barn in Davies County, IN. Masses of people clamored about, bidding on tack, farm machinery, and antiques. Many were riding and driving the horses they had brought in to show for eager buyers. Others were milling about the tightly wedged bargain corrals, looking at the lame, un-started, and discarded horses.
I can remember making my way into the last aisle, which had been used for unloading and loading stock onto semi trailers. This aisle way was particularly crowded, and being my 4’11 self, I had the advantage of squeezing through, to see what the commotion was about. A large semi was backing up to the empty dock. Filled within its steel frame, I could see tufts of fur poking out of its sides. Colts were packaged snuggly together as they waited, unsure of what was next. Finally, the driver stepped out, slid open the door, and we all watched as colt after colt was hurried off. I can’t say I saw him right as he stepped into the already filled pen, but I can remember him drifting his way through the herd, right to me, as the last of the frightened babies were corralled off. His eyes still showing white, never being touched by human hands, he landed in my corner, and I somehow knew, he needed to be with me. Sound too cliché? Call it what you want, but there was an instant bond.
The day went on and, eventually, the horses were all transferred from the unloading pen into two cramped pens. Everyone was now tagged and haltered, for easier bidding. During the course of two days time, I visited with Dodger as much as possible; every time, making contact to imprint upon him. In those days, I probably drove the seller nuts, but I wanted to know everything he knew about Dodger and his background. There wasn’t much information for a three-month-old PMU colt, rounded up off of hundreds of Canadian acreage just days before coming to auction.
The time had finally come, and colts were led by young Amish handlers through the arena. I can remember as if it were yesterday, my racing heart and sweaty palms, as I waited for number 1304. He, of course, was the last to be auctioned. For painstaking minutes, I bid back and forth until, at last, he was mine. I ran back into the pens and watched, so I could find where he landed amidst the confusion. I wasted no time in paying my fees, and went to collect my tiny, wide-eyed boy. Despite all he had been through, he was the easiest colt I have ever loaded. He was safe now. I had saved him from a statistically terrible fate. Over the years, he would repay in kind, as my inspiration and saving grace though many hard times.
Our bond grew over the years, and we began with liberty work and trick training. Dodger was both smart and witty, which is of course how he earned his name, “The Artful Dodger,” coming from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. This was a name he sure grew into, always making me laugh and keeping me sharp.
Years went by until, finally, I could begin to ride and our partnership under saddle would begin. Again, just as in the past when loading onto a trailer, he was a breeze to start. Teaching him to lay down made this short lady’s job, of getting on bareback, much easier. We spent most of our days guiding trails in Whitewater Memorial State Park, in southern Indiana, where my late husband and I ran a saddle barn, for several years. This was most certainly a change of pace for me, as I was more accustomed to the English disciplines. Growing up, I began in hunter/ jumper and later moved into dressage. I had a solid foundation and, honestly, was eager to begin again. However, running a business and caring for thirty plus horses leaves little to no room for free time.
On occasion, when we did take a break from the trails, Dodger and I began one activity he was very fond of. Cows! Oh he loves cows, and would love to gobble them up! We learned the ropes, no pun intended, of roping and headed many cattle. Eventually, as time allowed, we made our way to our first real dressage lessons. Not as intense as going full tilt after wiry cattle, but much more suited to us. Then, it wasn’t long until we were fully immersed in a new discipline- eventing! In the beginning, dressage had been the struggle of the three phases. Jumping was a joy to Dodger and his heart leapt at every fence, which sometimes made me question our sanity, but he was honest and I mostly remained on top.
Through the next four years, we competed, gradually making our way up to novice, but dressage was still our biggest challenge. It wasn’t until moving north that we really began to flourish as a team, under the instruction of Jennifer Kaiser, at Forrest Hill Farm, in Lafayette, IN. I began to realize I had a very talented and capable dressage mount beneath me. It is like unlocking a new chapter in our partnership. Last year, we began at Training Level, and this year, we are beginning First Level. Talk of possible FEI, in our distant future, has sparked a flame and deep desire to learn and experience all I can with this miracle, this once in a lifetime horse. From zero to my hero, he never ceases to amaze me.