Pixel Perfect

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Arabians are our YourDressage Breed of the Month for July!  One of the oldest horse breeds on earth, and the influence for many other breeds, these elegant horses are easily recognizable with their delicate faces and high tail carriage.  They excel in many sports, particularly endurance riding.

Dressage enthusiasts who ride Arabians have the opportunity to earn special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as Arabian Horse Association, North American Shagya-Arabian Society, and Performance Shagya-Arabian Registry are all Participating Organizations.

We recently asked our social media followers to share stories about what makes these horses so special.  Here, a Region 5 rider shares how a very special rescue Arabian, purchased on a covert mission to make one little girl’s dreams come true, turned into her own heart horse.

by Sam Madden

In summer 2005, our natural horsemanship dressage stable acquired an older Arabian gelding. He came from a horse rescue quite by accident, although I’m now convinced it was fate.

After tossing and turning one night, I switched on the TV at 3 a.m. and happened upon a human interest segment about a little girl in Phoenix, who had written a letter to the racehorse Smarty Jones. They had mutual vision problems: Smarty had injured his eye in a starting gate accident and Krista had had several eye surgeries. Since Krista lived not far from me, and we had not only a love of horses in common but sight challenges as well, I contacted the TV show about getting in touch with her.

The producer told me the part of the story that didn’t air: Someone had donated a relative of Smarty Jones to Krista. But when the horse stepped off the trailer, despite having vet checked clean, something was obviously wrong. Her new Thoroughbred gelding spent the night in an equine hospital and died the next day from a pulmonary embolism. And Krista stoically cowboyed up and taped the segment the same day — with no tears!

I invited Krista up to ride at our ranch, and we realized we had another thing in common: We had both written to Oprah’s “Wildest Dreams Come True” segment! Krista had asked Oprah for another horse, and I was hoping to find a movie producer interested in my screenplay, an inspiring romantic comedy based on my life as America’s first totally blind rodeo queen, horse show champion against sighted competitors, and death-defying (YOU try riding with your eyes closed! Heck, how do I even eat without stabbing myself with a fork?) dressage diva … a little funnier in retrospect. Picture Seinfeld draped in National Velvet:

Horse Around in the Dark looks at the enlightening journey into darkness of a humorous horse lover who learns to dream in color again after diabetes robs her of her vision. Sans sight, she surpasses her wildest equestrian dreams, changing the rules for all disabled dreamers and stumbling upon love along the way!

Pixel before
Pixel After

Inspired to make Krista’s dream come true, I called around and learned of a quiet and sound rescue horse that I wanted to rehab to be fit and fat to present to her.

The history we got on Handsome, as he was called at the equine rescue, is that for five years this flea-bitten gray Arabian gelding was owned by a little old lady who didn’t understand his buttons. She was having a difficult time on a trail ride when another rider happened by and offered to buy the horse on the spot, to do both the woman and the horse a favor. His boys rode the horse bareback at their ranch before he was chased through barbed wire by an overly aggressive pasture mate and sustained nasty injuries to his front legs and chest that required expensive, extensive suturing.

So, the horse ended up at an Arabian rescue where he was nursed back to health and used as a therapy mount for handicapped children, before being adopted out. Then, his new owner got divorced and gave the horse to a third party to avoid a nasty equine custody battle. The transfer violated the adoption contract and when the rescue investigated, they discovered that the third party had abandoned and starved the horse! They repossessed him on an emergency basis, but with no room, they sent him to another rescue where we found him. He was scarred, skin and bones, and had a dental deformity making it impossible to determine his age.

When we went to meet this gentle soul, with Krista in mind, I ran my hands beyond the contour of his every rib and vertebra to feel the beauty of his finely sculptured, unmistakably Arabian, face. I couldn’t hear the quality of his gaits with the rescue volunteer putzing around on him in the round pen. So, I got on him in her western saddle, asked him to connect and engage for a moment, and was impressed with how balanced, responsive, and safe he felt.

Sam and Pixel

I suggested that my partner hop on in the big arena. After a change of saddles, he encouraged that underweight and deconditioned old horse, in a no-bit side-pull bridle, to round up and perform bits of collected and extended trot, half pass, and flying changes! Admittedly, it was sloppy and for only a few strides, but the whole ranch gathered to watch in awe. I didn’t need to see to be impressed by all the oohs and ahs I heard. But what most touched me about this horse was his kind, trusting, willing nature, despite his horrendous history.

When I called Krista’s mom to get the go-ahead to carry out my covert mission, she informed me that Krista was on a mission of her own. They had just learned they had to move and weren’t in a position to take on the responsibility of a horse. This nine-year-old girl had decided to donate her wish to me — Krista was in the midst of writing a letter asking Oprah to make MY dream come true!

My screenplay is still waiting to be discovered, but Oprah was the unwitting catalyst for Krista’s dream becoming the dream I never knew I had for an upper level mentor with a beautiful dished face and speckled gray coat!

We had not been looking for another horse for ourselves, certainly not a gray and certainly not an Arabian. But when Krista’s family couldn’t take him, I got thinking: Our main lesson horse was recovering from monsoon-induced laminitis. That’s how I justified spending $600 to bring a flea-bitten bag of bones home with us as a fixer-upper school horse. I named him Pixel Perfect for the tiny rust-colored specks that covered his body, including a heart-shaped one on his left shoulder. And in the process of conditioning him, I fell in love — with Pixel and with the Arabian breed!

Pixel became healthy, pampered, and cherished for all his endearing quirks. He would joyously perform canter pirouettes back and forth from his stall to his run at feeding time. At one dressage schooling show, he expressed his enthusiasm by busting down centerline in extended trot, to the astonishment of his training level student rider! The acoustics of his own footsteps in a covered arena would prompt shoulder-in, in a protective move to guard against the phantom horses chasing him. As soon as the curb chain on his bit was unhooked, he’d slurp it into his mouth. Pixel taught me the coveted passage and generously shared all his fancy moves to make me look good in demonstrations, “Riding with Finesse — So Easy, Even a Blind Woman Can Do It!”

It’s been said that Arabians live forever. No one knows how old he was when he eventually breathed his last breath many years later, succumbing to congestive heart failure, but Pixel will live forever in my heart. He was my first and inspired us to own a myriad of purebred and half-Arabians over the years, including two youngsters currently. New generations carry on, but I hope fate will find me with another happy happenstance heart-horse Pixel Perfect schoolmaster-on-a-budget someday!

Pixel making me look good:

Related Links:

Information about the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards

From the Racetrack to the Sandbox

New Horse – A Whole New Ballgame

Bob, the Accidental Dressage Horse

Breed of the Month – Arabians! Part 1

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