Century Club Members: Mary Johnson and Bashka

Mary Johnson and Bashka (Franke Photo Design)

The Century Club recognizes dressage riders and horses whose combined ages total 100 years or more. Horse and rider perform a test of any level at a show (schooling or recognized) or event, and are scored by a dressage judge or professional. For more information go to The Dressage Foundation Century Club.

Team #440 – Mary Johnson and Bashka

Ages 76 and 24

Combined age 100

Like many of us, I started my life on horseback with pony rides at the Fun Fair. Thoroughly and forever smitten, I spent my childhood years devouring the books we all read, collecting models including some of the first from Breyer, drawing oh so many horses, and campaigning for a pony of my own. At 8, I rode my first horse at Drowsy Water Ranch and won my first award: “Cutest Kid in the Rodeo Parade.” I was tiny and had pigtails. I still have the fancy cowboy shirt I wore. Yes, I do.

Lessons at summer camp followed, where I immortalized my favorite, a dapple-gray mare named Khandy, with a statue I made in arts and crafts. It sat on a shelf in my bedroom until my mom sold her house more than 40 years later. Saddle seat lessons became jumping lessons in Junior High, and several summers were spent at Crystal Springs Ranch, where I had “my own” horse for the season: first a big gelding called Grey Bull and then a little mare named Frosty to ride up and down the canyons and foothills of the Tetons. I learned how to groom and saddle my horse, run the barrels, and throw a diamond hitch.

Franke Photo Design

Then, you know, life: college, marriage, four kids, work. I always thought I’d get back to riding and my other love, theatre, but instead I taught aerobics, did yoga, and became a body builder – the usual stuff. A disintegrating marriage and the need for self-care led me back to theatre, which seemed more accessible than the horse world. One of the many gifts that brought me was a fellow actor who was also a breeder and trainer. I began taking lessons again, happily re-learning how to jump. I competed at IHJA B shows but was exposed to the worlds of dressage and breed shows as I helped and groomed for Ken Borden, Jr. I made the shift to dressage about 10 years ago thinking it should be easy: All I had to do was learn to sit the canter, right? Yeah. You all know just how wrong that thinking was.

Silky Flyer, aka Junior, an OTTB who had Cushing’s by the time he made the switch with me from over fences to dressage, always knew his job when he entered the show ring. I will always love Lilo Fore for her comment on one of our tests – “A jewel in fur”— which he surely was. When Junior retired, a little Paint mare named Kate, who had been a magician at taking me over a fence no matter how flawed my approach, became my dressage partner. And when she left the barn for a new home, I learned to ride the bigger gaits of a Warmblood, Bashka.

Franke Photo Design

A product of Ken’s breeding program, Bashka (Bütow *E*/St. Pr. Aktuell) is a Premium mare for ISR/Oldenburg. She is a USDF DSHB HOY and dam of three Premium daughters, all with multiple USDF in-hand championships. Her daughter, Tashka, is dam of the stallion Rashka, who had the highest score ever in the U.S. at his stallion test and went on to win at FEI. Shown through 2nd Level and schooled through 4th with a little PSG, Bashka has been a patient teacher to many over the years, reminding us gently by doing exactly what we ask, even when it’s not what we thought we asked. She has taken care of me on more than one occasion when I have made mistakes that could have had more serious consequences. She will test her rider but never offer to unseat them or do anything dangerous. She loves a good mint but not a cat appearing without warning in her arena. Although she and I have shown only to 1st Level, she has helped me navigate higher level movements in our lessons, and I can honestly say I finally began to understand how to ride dressage, how it is supposed to feel in my body, under her tutelage. I am, of course, leaving out the inspired teaching of Ken Borden, but that’s another whole bio.

I have a sense of things coming full circle because three years ago, an old friend, Susie Lewis Cook, who shared a love of all things equine with me in 7th grade and who still shares wonderful memories of our time at Crystal Springs Ranch, posted on Facebook about her Century Ride with her longtime partner Indy. It instantly became a goal for me, and I am delighted now to be achieving it with Bashka at Sorensen Equestrian Park. I never did get that pony, but my life has been blessed with so many opportunities to be with and learn from the horses and their people, that I cannot be anything but grateful.

Many thanks to Bashka’s owner, Nancy Van Kalker, who has generously and enthusiastically supported me in making this ride. Thanks to the horses in my life who were my teachers. And most importantly, thanks to my dear friend and trainer Ken Borden, without whom I would not be riding and writing this today.

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