Spotted and special! February is Appaloosa Month on YourDressage! Easily recognizable for their colorful, spotted coat pattern, this American breed finds its origins with the Nez Perce Native American people. Join us as we celebrate these beautifully marked horses as our Breed of the Month, where we will share stories and photo galleries from Appaloosa enthusiasts across the country.
Dressage competitors who ride Appaloosas have the opportunity to earn special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as Appaloosa Horse Club is a Participating Organization.
We recently asked our social media followers to share stories about what makes these horses so special. Here, a Region 9 rider shares about her once-in-a-lifetime partner Maverick, who brought her back from the brink of deciding to quit riding forever.
By Ann Switalski
For me, Maverick feels like the kind of horse that comes around once in a lifetime. It was like the universe was telling me, okay kid, don’t give up. We picked one just for you. I’m so thankful that I trusted my heart and jumped at the opportunity to own a once in a lifetime partner.
Four years ago, I was boarding my retired mare and leasing a gelding at Holly Hill Farm, a local eventing barn. The gelding I was leasing was one in a string of horses that were just “not right” for me. There was always something that kept us from clicking and creating a good partnership. And it was so frustrating. It wasn’t the horse. It wasn’t me. It was the two of us together and no chemistry (hey, that rhymes). I had gotten to the point where I confided in close friends that once my lease was up, I was going to stop riding altogether. I would care for my retired mare and leave the lessons and showing for everyone else. Riding had become more of a job, more like work than pleasure, and I already had two jobs. I didn’t need another one. Nope, it was decided that riding would be put on the back burner. And then everything changed with a few words.
I was working for an equine vet at the local racetrack. My good friend and local vet, Dr. Mary Thompson, walked into my office and we engaged in our usual banter about what was going on at the track and at Holly Hill, the barn we both rode at. And then she said, “I guess Maverick is for sale.” And I can’t explain it, but right then and there, I knew that I was meant to buy Maverick. There was no doubt in my mind. I have fawned over horses for sale in the past, but I never actually entertained the idea of purchasing a second horse. Being married to a USAF officer, I’ve kept my limit at one horse because our future residence was never guaranteed. But not in this case.
I knew I had to inquire about Maverick immediately. Why? I had only seen the big, beautiful Appaloosa gelding a few times. I knew he was being used as a lesson horse and apparently he was a good, honest jumper but that was it. I never rode him. I knew nothing about his sire. I didn’t even know how old he was, but I knew he was “the one”. So, I contacted his owner and made arrangements to take Maverick for a test ride. Thirty minutes in the saddle and I was sold. Or should I say Maverick was sold. And for a very reasonable price, I not only took ownership of one Maverick Impression but also the Breyer model of his daddy, Impress Me Shanon.
From then on, developing a solid, lifetime partnership with Maverick was my number one goal. We took lessons together, rode in the local schooling dressage shows, and dreamed about riding in an event. I enlisted the help of friends to assist in Maverick’s training and help him understand the difference between jumping in an arena and jumping around a cross country course. As hard as it was to see someone else enjoy my horse, I knew that having a more experienced rider introducing Maverick to new challenges was in his best interest.
Everything was going great until I got sick. It wasn’t my normal sick; it was land-your-butt-in-the-hospital sick. For many years, I had battled diverticulitis. It was always the same routine with pain in the lower abdomen, strong antibiotics that made me even sicker, and a hatred for food in general. But this time, I was really sick, and it took a weekend in the hospital to get the infection cleared up. After that, I knew it was time for drastic measures, but I was terrified of surgery. And once again, Maverick’s presence in my life made the world of difference. The horse adjacent to his stall was owned by a lovely, caring rider who had the same medical condition as me. She had the exact same surgery that I needed and was able to walk me through the entire process, even recommending the best surgeon available in our area.
With the information and encouragement of my fellow rider, I took the leap and had the left side of my colon removed. I scheduled the surgery around my work schedule at the racetrack- after the Quarter Horse meet and before the Thoroughbred meet – and I had the surgeon’s promise that I would be able to attend the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event four weeks post surgery. Thanks to being a fit rider, my surgery went very well, and I recovered quickly. Walking was painful at first but necessary to promote healing. Two weeks post surgery, I went to the barn to visit Maverick. The weather was beautiful and the atmosphere around the stables and riding arenas was calm and quiet. Maverick seemed particularly chill. I took advantage of the situation, and Maverick and I went for our first ride post surgery. My friends were overly concerned that I was back in the saddle too soon, but I knew Maverick would take care of me. That’s what we do, we take care of each other. That’s why when Maverick came up lame in the middle of his first horse trial, I changed my goals. No more jumping, ever. From now on, we are purely dressage buddies.
Maverick is now residing in my backyard. Immediately after my surgery, my family purchased our first farm – 10 acres of beautiful open pasture on a quiet country road. Maverick has two girlfriends to keep him company, a former barrel racing Quarter Horse and a rescued off the track Thoroughbred. Some days Maverick and I work on transitions in the arena, and some days we hang out and eat apples. Some days, I just take pictures of him being his silly self. As a professional photographer, it pays off to have a beautiful model available at all times. Maverick and I continue to take care of each other. I know that he has separation anxiety so I don’t ask him to leave his girls. He knows that my priorities have shifted a little so he’s cool if we don’t ride 5 days a week. Every time I hop back in the saddle, Maverick is the same horse, maybe just a little lazier. It’s all good. He’s my forever horse, and I’m his forever girl.