Starfoot’s Journey

Kelli with Starfoot at a local historical society event. NOTE USDF strongly suggests all riders wear protective headgear when mounted.

By Kelli Wilkinson

I must have started riding when my imaginary horse, Soda, took me on flights of fancy all over my backyard as soon as I could walk. My first pony, Thunder, arrived when I was six. Thunder and I terrorized the neighborhood, but I got no formal training until I became a working student at a local stable.

As a working student, I spent some time studying eventing and met a lot of horses of varying breeds. I managed to continue learning a lot while at other various horse jobs, including those at Thoroughbred racing stables. Life being what it is, I managed to spend 30 years away from horses. Then, at the age of 53, I felt time slipping away and was determined to get them back into my life.

Originally, I got Imaginative as a companion horse.  

He was dumped at a rescue in Orange, Virginia because he couldn’t do as much as the previous owners/rider wanted him to do. When I got him, I didn’t know his name. All I could see was a skinny brown horse with a star on his face and one white foot. So, I called him Starfoot.  

Although I had gotten him as a companion horse, when I began to ride him, I learned he was far more talented than I could have expected. His training since he came off the track was exemplary, and it seems he can jump and do some upper level dressage movements. He has taught me worlds and I love his quirky attitude, and his on and off moods that dissolve into willingness to try.

After I looked up his lip tattoo I learned his registered name was Imaginative, and discovered he is a California-bred gelding who last raced in Maryland. From there, I don’t know where he went.

In the spring of 2019, both of my Lipizzan stallions were at a breeding clinic, and my one poor lonely Thoroughbred gelding, Ross, was at home. Starfoot and Ross took to one another brightly and were very happy. When my stallions came home, Starfoot served as a companion to my young stallion throughout the COVID years.  Showing and riding were both in suspension. Oh, I dabbled, but like many, without shows, there was little inspiration to do much. Starfoot’s many talents were left mostly undiscovered.

When the pandemic restrictions eased in 2021, I took my older Lipizzan stallion to his last show. It was Dressage in Lexington. I took Starfoot as a pal and for some exposure. We knew he could be ridden at walk, trot, and canter, so we entered him in a Dressage Equitation class. 

Starfoot was a mess! He was terrified by all of the sights and sounds. His class was on top of a hill, with flags snapping on a pole nearby. Poor Starfoot was aghast at the vista and the noise! He was difficult, and it was stressful for him. I was surprised because I would have thought the fanfare and pageantry of the racetrack would have given him plenty of experience. 

Back at the farm, I concentrated more on Starfoot. My trainer kept watching him and making comments about what he could do. I asked her to mount him and, sure enough, I saw much more of the collection and lateral movements I had only guessed about. Our training continued. 

Finally, in 2022, in-person shows became more accessible. We knew Starfoot was talented enough to compete at First Level. So, we attended our first show, Dressage at the Meadow in Doswell, Virginia where we showed First Level Test One. 

Looking back, it’s still hard for me to recognize how unfit he was. He could barely make it through that test, particularly the canter portions. The lack of work during the COVID years were telling.

Our second show was a return to Dressage at Lexington, where he did better. He was far less afraid of the sights and sounds, was able to make it through his tests, and we brought home some ribbons.

Now, it is 2023. The show season has started and I have learned so very much! Starfoot has been in harder training over the mild winter, and we are a more balanced pair. (The canter tours are complete, if not completed perfectly.)  We’ve just completed our first two shows and are planning to move up a level!

I advocate for rescues because you never know when you might find a diamond in the rough, like Starfoot. Abandoned and looking for a home, he came to me as an uninspiring, skinny horse with a funny-looking neck. Now, he is sleek, glossy, and full of himself!

He has taught me perseverance and patience. With hard work, I believe that we will move up the levels in dressage.

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