By Julie Hall
Like the words from the 1960’s song Age of Aquarius, “When the Moon is in the Seventh House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars; Then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars.” This is the story of Rudy, Julie and Jennifer, whose different lives converged in 2020, the year of COVID, and supposedly the beginning of the Age of Aquarius. The stars and planets aligned, and bonds between human and horse were formed. Peace and harmony prevailed.
Julie grew up with a single mom and did not have the luxury of owning a horse as she was growing up. The only real pony Julie knew as a child was her grandparent’s mean pony, and even the mean pony was states away. Julie did all the things horse loving young girls did. Julie perfected her ability to draw horses, read book after book on horses and riding, made scrapbooks of horse articles in the news, collected horse statues, and dreamt of riding through the fields on her beloved steed. Life carried on with her career, marriage, and family, and she eventually was able to intermittently squeeze a horse into her life, although there was never the opportunity or time for Julie to take riding lessons during these years.
After a series of tragic life events, Julie began the search for a horse to fill a void in her life. It had been about 10 years since Julie last put her foot in a stirrup. After scouring the various internet sites with horses for sale, Julie came across this beautiful horse who was the same color as her all-time favorite horse Secretariat – Big Red! This horse shone like a copper penny and it was love at first sight. Julie immediately purchased this coming 5-year-old Morgan horse named Scatoaks Major Jake aka “Rudy”. Rudy had been born at a small breeding farm in Alabama, and he had been taught appropriate ground manners at a young age. He knew how to carry a rider, stand quietly when umbrellas were raised, and raincoats were donned. He learned all the skills needed to be a trustworthy, steady trail horse with a superb work ethic, or so Julie thought. It turned out to be green on green. Julie and Rudy survived learning together over the next 10 years, primarily competing with NATRC in competitive trail riding and, fortunately for Rudy, Julie never succumbed to her urge to sell him for $5.00 in his younger years, on some of their worst days. Neither of them knew that the best of their partnership was yet to come.
Jupiter and Mars aligned once again in the fall of 2018, allowing Julie and Rudy to move onto Topperhill Farm in Lenoir City, Tennessee, where they met trainer Susan Hill. Julie and Rudy had never lived at the same place before and this was a new experience for Julie. In the summer of 2019, Susan convinced Julie to take some dressage lessons. In competitive trail riding, most of your trail time is trotting and, if you did canter, it was to get back into camp before the end of your allowed ride time or if a thunderstorm was coming and you needed to get back to the barn! No one cares what lead you are in during a competitive trail ride. Now Susan was not only asking Julie and Rudy to canter, but to canter on a 20-meter circle. Under the watchful eye and guidance of Susan, Julie, at age 63 and Rudy, who had just turned 16 years old, entered their first schooling show in late September 2019 at Intro Test A with a score of 77.81 and Intro Test B with a score of 78.44. It was apparent Julie and Rudy needed to move up and they both needed to learn to canter that wretched 20-meter circle. The challenge was on! Despite the drastic shift in careers, Rudy was working hard to please his person.
Rudy is a remarkable, intelligent, willing, obedient, and forgiving Morgan horse, and he quickly rose to every challenge Julie requested of him. Julie and Rudy spent the last part of 2019 learning to canter. They spent 2020 learning to perfect the 20-meter circle in addition to trot-canter and canter-trot transitions. Rudy and Julie entered two Recognized dressage shows in 2020 and ended the show season with a Training Level median score of 69.31 and finished their debut First Level test with a score of 68.103. Green on green was bringing home the blues! And the Moon was in the Seventh House!
In a separate journey from Rudy and Julie, Jennifer’s voyage was unfolding. From Jennifer’s first pony, an Appaloosa named Sugar, she’d been infected with an undying love for horses. At 6 years old, Jennifer would shimmy up Sugar’s leg then disappear for the day on the family farm. Sugar offered a peaceful retreat against any calamity the world presented. Anyone riding horses behind Jennifer on the family trail rides could watch Jennifer’s blonde hair swoosh from side to side in line with Sugar’s quick, pony tempo, knowing Jennifer was in her happy place. Jennifer’s love for horses grew, but her disciplines changed. She’s ridden in 4-H, hunter shows, combined training, three-day eventing, endurance competitions, fox hunting, and trail riding, but her passion for dressage was born the first time she tried it.
“There’s a magical combination that comes from the balance of a horse and rider dancing in dressage,” Jennifer says.
When Jennifer went off to college at James Madison University, there was not a dressage team. Actually, there was not even a horse team of any kind, so Jennifer and a few of her friends started JMU’s equestrian team. Hunters did not have her heart, but hunters allowed her to have a horse in her life. Jennifer’s next move was to the confines of New York City to attend law school. The combination of law school and city living almost put a stop to her riding career. I say almost because Claremont Riding Academy, a small barn on the upper west side of NYC, offered riding lessons. It wasn’t long before the barn told Jennifer she needed to go upstate to ride. She didn’t have time to travel upstate and, as a solution, the barn graciously allowed Jennifer to periodically take a horse out of the barn, ride down the streets of NYC amidst cars swerving and taxis honking, to ride through the tranquil bridle paths within Central Park. The two pillars at the upper west side entrance to Central Park became a beacon of peace. These pillars were a gateway to these periodic trail rides that offered Jennifer a chance to re-center, a welcome retreat against the chaos of the rapidly moving pace of city life.
Jennifer eventually moved back to Knoxville, Tennessee to practice law and raise a family. Time for horses was a luxury Jennifer did not have and the pandemonium of life continued on, even though there was a mild nagging in her heart gently requesting horses. Jennifer was able to satisfy her yearning by being on the board of Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding, a therapeutic riding center in Lenoir City, Tennessee. Jennifer would walk into the barn, inhaling the aromas of horse life, and be satisfied for a while.
But tragedy can strike at any point, and for Jennifer’s family, tragedy came in the form of infant loss. Jennifer lost her daughter, Alex, in 2014, at only 6 days old, followed by the stillbirth of her second son, Henry, only 11 months later. That occasional nagging miss of having horses became an insatiable yearning.
“Horses carry the wisdom of healing in their hearts and offer it to any human who possesses the humility to listen.” – author unknown.
Despite the yearning and need for healing, Jennifer lacked the humility to listen. She continued to plug through her daily life of work and being a mother. Fortunately, Jennifer’s husband observed her longing for a horse and conspired with Jennifer’s longtime friend to get Jennifer back in the saddle. In the late fall of 2020, Jennifer found her way to Topperhill Farm. Because of Julie’s work schedule, Rudy was in need of additional ride time and as luck would have it, and over 20 years out of the saddle, Jennifer instantly found comfort in Rudy’s soft nose, his gentle whinny, and the familiarity of a horse. Jennifer swiftly informed Susan of her desire to continue her trek for her USDF Bronze Medal. Jennifer had received her First Level scores in 1995 (yes, 1995). Twenty six years after leaving the dressage arena, Jennifer was starting back on her quest for her Second Level scores toward her Bronze Medal. Jupiter and Mars had aligned and the Moon was in the Seventh House. Rudy was the perfect fit. Peace and harmony prevailed.
In March 2021, Jennifer and Rudy ventured into their initial debut at Second Level at the Scenic Flight Dressage Series in Cleveland, TN, organized and managed by Andrea Davenport-Himel. Rudy helped Jennifer toward earning her Bronze Medal with Second Level scores of 63.9% and 64.8%. At that same show, Julie and Rudy entered the GMO Challenge on the team representing Crossroads Dressage and Combined Training Society (“Crossroads”), competing against several other GMOs. Julie, Anne Titus, and Meg Larson, along with their wonderful horses, Rudy, Tosi, and Vinnie, were awarded the beautiful blue ribbon sash for first place and Crossroads was awarded $150.00 to be used toward education for Crossroad members.
Rudy, a horse that did not know he was destined for dressage, has been the nucleus of this new circle of friendship. Rudy works hard to master the skills presented to him, and is an absolute gem. He’s the type of horse that people offer to buy as you walk out of your dressage test. Rudy has tremendous work ethic, trying his best to always please you, but keeps you on your toes with an occasional buck too. Rudy is also tender and kind with Jennifer’s daughter, getting her over her fear of horses. Rudy is her unicorn!
In this Age of Aquarius, it is never too late to learn to ride dressage, as evidenced by Julie. It is never too late to learn to canter and to learn canter in a 20-meter circle, as evidenced by Rudy. Julie and Rudy have covered quite a bit of ground in just two years. Julie and Rudy are preparing for their debut at Second Level during the 2021 show season. Not only have they progressed in levels, but their scores also display they have mastered each level before moving on.
It is never too late to restart your journey toward earning your Bronze Medal, even with a 26 year pause, as evidenced by Jennifer. Rudy and Jennifer have some work to do in order to move up to Third Level, but Jennifer hopes the jump from Second to Third Level will take far less time than it took her to go from First to Second Level. Nonetheless, no matter how long her journey to achieve her Bronze Medal takes her, Jennifer is ecstatic to be back in the world of horses, because being in the company of a horse is the best therapy she has ever known.
Whatever your dreams may be, it is never too late to pursue those dreams. And it is never too late to discover and chase a new dream, a dream you never knew would exist. “When the Moon is in the Seventh House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars; Then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars”
Reach for the stars in this Age of Aquarius!!