Saturday, April 12, 2014

Start Voting for Your Favorite Entry in Five Star Tack's Contest "Lessons on Life from the Back of a Horse"

Below are six entries that really sum up how much we can learn from our horses that can be applied to life in the "real world." Vote, share and/or comment on your favorite entry on Five Star Tack's facebook page, now through April 21st. The winning entry will win one of Five Star Tack's Signature Halters!

Here is the first entry in Five Star Tack's contest from Marissa Collins. It's a great example of what you can learn about life from the back of a horse. 

Horses have taught me many lessons over the years. However I will focus on the three lessons I recently learned. The first lesson I have learned over the past year is to never give up. I had a fall that resulted in multiple fractures to my shoulder. Getting back to where I was before the accident was proving to be more difficult. No matter what, I could not get around training level cross country clean. I spent a year with elimination after elimination and picking myself out of the dirt. I began to hate cross country and showing. There were many times where I debated going back to dressage or quit showing. Despite the constant failure, I kept at it. I had a great support group but most of all the love for my little talented horse kept me at it. I started to learn to focus on the good moments. Instead of dwelling on the fact I fell, I began to think of what positives I could take from the ride.

I now try to have this mindset in all aspects of my life. When things are bad to focus on the positive. This lesson led me to my next lesson: don’t worry about others. With the many crashes and eliminations I found many people who I called friends to be quite judgmental and hurtful. They constantly put me down. Through this I began to realize “who cares”? Who cares if I fell? Who cares if I didn’t win? Who cares if I don’t move up a level? I learned that people bring you down to boost them up. I learned that results don’t mater. I didn’t start riding for the ribbons; I started riding because I loved horses. I learned to not worry what others think and even when others are negative towards you, don’t stoop to their level. The important thing is to always remember it’s not about success; it’s about the process.

The third lesson is one that is still a work in progress. The many falls made me a very nervous and worried rider. I didn’t trust my horse because I constantly thought of the bad falls. Through trying to trust my horse I realized I don’t trust in any aspect of my life. This will be the hardest lesson for me to overcome, but I need to learn to trust my horse and others.

Brianna Bowling

My first horse was ugly. I'm not talking just a little ugly. Big bulky head. Mane that stood on end in little wisps, a stringy tail that no kidding only came to just past the dock no matter what I did to help it grow. Feet too big for her size and knobby knees.

But she was the best horse a novice rider could hope for. She took care of me and made me think I was an awesome rider. So much so that when she started to age and could not longer compete, I bought a beautiful grey gelding that was way beyond my skill level. I quickly found out that it wasn't that I was a great rider -- she was a great horse that had kindly kept her body under my unstable seat.

My new horse, Moon, was a beautiful gelding who had more energy and antics than my novice skills knew how to handle. He was always engaging the other geldings in the field, rearing and running as if they were young colts out for their first romp as a group. He was a kind horse but loved his playtime.

One day I arrived at the barn and found his antics had gone too far. He had reared and caught his foot in the crevice between two panels of a round pen located in his pasture. He was hanging by his front hoof, his body just skimming the ground. Enough blood had spilled to fill five gallon buckets and was both in pools around his body and sprayed in the surrounding grass. The flesh on his leg almost the full length of his cannon bone had been stripped away in some places to the bone. Nearly dead, his eyes rolled back in his head and his lips were stuck high up on dried out teeth.

Panicked, I ran to the round pen and attempted to release his foot. It was futile as his foot had stretched the metal and his foot was firmly entrenched deep between the panels. After a half hour of trying to release him and watching him suffer and slip into deeper shock, I sent a friend to get a gun. I couldn't watch him suffer any longer.

While I waited and held his head, a car pulled up. It was a cop passing by who had more sense and strength than I did, and we were able to dissasemble the panels and release him to the ground.

With his tenacity to live, lots of hard work and great vet care, Moon lived and I even rode him again just two months later.

I learned a lot from my vet during his healing. I learned to bandage quickly and effectively. I learned about wound care -- what speeds healing and what slows it down - how to deal with proud flesh and how to recognize the initial signs of infection. She taught me how to give injections and the most effective way to get massive amounts of antibiotics down a horse daily, even after a horse was clearly aware of the icky taste coming his way. Most importantly I learned to get over the initial squeamish feeling I got from the oozing of a massive healing wound.

For many years I was happy that I had this advanced home horse care under my belt. It came in handy when helping friends with their horses and I felt more confident taking care of my own horses.

I'd love to say that was the end of the story but that horse health experience helped me in a way I never thought it would.

I was in San Diego on a business trip when my sister called. "Mom is at Johns Hopkins and they think she has pancreatic cancer.” My stomach dropped. How could that be true? She was fine when I left just two days ago. And what was pancreatic cancer? How serious was it? Lots of people survived cancer – maybe this wasn’t one of the bad types.

I quickly started searching the web for information on pancreatic cancer and what I found was not promising. With a five year survival rate of just 5%, it was one of the most deadly cancers. Most people were dead within three months of a diagnosis. Our best hope at this point was that the doctors were wrong and it wasn’t pancreatic.
When I was finally back East and able to walk into her room, I found my usually vibrant and active mother prone on the bed and the color of a pumpkin. The tumor was cutting off her liver and not allowing it to process the bile, thus the orange color. By now, they had definitively diagnosed her with pancreatic cancer and had scheduled her for a Whipple procedure. A Whipple procedure is where surgeons remove the pancreas as well as the upper small intestine and part of the stomach in the hope of removing the entire cancer and if not, at least staving off the progression of the disease for a bit.

This was just the beginning of three years of treatments that included multiple surgeries, radiation, clinical trials and medicines that made her more sick than the cancer itself. Each time the doctors invaded her body and attacked her with poisons with the hope of extending her life, she came home and our family helped bring her back to her new version of wellness.

My skills in wound care meant I could effectively bandage my mother and do it quickly enough that it minimized the pain she felt. I understood wound care and what would help her heal more quickly. Any squeamishness I would have felt had already been desensitized long ago with Moon. I didn't have any issues giving her injections when needed and even utilized some of the same methods to improve the taste of meds to make it more palatable.

My Mom didn't make it -- she passed away almost two years ago -- but I am glad I got to "practice" my nursing skills long before she needed it so I was better able to care for her. I miss her so much. She was a fabulous lady who spent so much of her life caring for others and I am glad I had the opportunity to care for her. At the time I was caring for Moon I would have never guessed I would have to put those skills to use in such an important way but am SO glad he gave me the chance to learn from them. 


Confidence in the saddle has always been a tough thing for me. I’ve learned how to hide my fear with most horses but I find myself praying it will be over while jumping around a schooling course. It’s sad because I love horses and I want to be an Olympic Eventer when I’m older. I’ve had many falls, and though none of them frightened me, there was this one incident where I didn’t actually fall but it was so bad, it traumatized me. I was teaching a green horse the basics of jumping. She was this chubby little buckskin BLM Mustang mare named Dakota. She couldn’t have been taller than 14-15hh. But things were going great at the start. We made it up to 2’8 and decided to go big. We upped it to about 3’ tall. The first time was great; she sailed over it without a thought. But the second time was not so great. As I was rounding the corner, I allowed her to cut in too tight and she stalled. I was still in two-point when she decided to try and jump it at a standstill. She came up and all I remember seeing was horse neck and a splash of vibrant colors and stars. I didn’t fall off but she hit me hard enough to make my face go numb and scramble my brain for a minute. I wasn’t sure where I was and why I was on this tiny horse. It took a few moments and my head stopped spinning. I ended up having a minor concussion with the possibility of internal bleeding near the back of my head. Since then I’ve had this fear when I see a jump, it makes me tense up and send the wrong signals to my equine partners causing run outs and stalls.

My friend recently helped me find my current horse; Puckerupbuttercup (pictured). I’m purchasing this mare as my eventing horse. She is 5 years old, 18hh, and an OTTB (or- Off the Track Thoroughbred). She is amazing! I have started jumping with her and I thought I could forget about all my fear, and start fresh with this horse. I decided to wait a little longer and get to know her better before pushing myself to jump her. So we’ve been doing flat work and trails. Since getting this mare, she has been nothing but a blessing. She has given me confidence I’ve never felt before. I take her out bareback in a halter by myself with no fear or anxiety. I have never been able to do that! It’s amazing. I’m finding that this new found confidence isn’t only helping me in the horse world but in my school life and social life as well! I can be shy sometimes when meeting new people and this mare alone has helped me break out of my shell. I trust her with my life! I have wanted to give up on my Olympic dream so many times but then I look at my amazing partner and I know it’s something I can do. I still, even to this day, struggle with confidence but with my mare and a little hard work, I know I can overcome my fear.


Hello, my name is Courtney Gehrig and I am a 20 year old jumper girl. A little over two years I was at a barn helping out at an in-barn horse show. My trainer at the time needed one more horse for the class to have any points, so he sent me into the barn to fetch this beast of an animal named Tabasco. Tabasco is a 17.1, 16 year old Dutch Warmblood who wasn't ridden very often because his size and strength turned people running in the other direction. As for myself, I refuse to not try a horse. I am not scared of these loving creatures. I had only seen this horse in his stall and ridden him on the flat very few times before this horse show. We successfully went around the course and competed against a few other people. Something hit me while riding this horse, I FELL IN LOVE WITH HIM! I begged and raved to my parents how wonderful this horse was. I didn't want any other horse, I needed Tabasco and Tabasco needed me. After a lot of whispers in my parents ear I got a phone call on the day of my birthday. Can you guess what they got me? TABASCO!!!!! I bursted into tears like any little girl would. I finally had the horse of my dreams. Although Tabasco is not your average horse, he has a neurological disease called shivers. As Tabasco ages he will continue to get worse with his disease. As of now he stands with his hind legs spread apart as for as they can go, he does not like any objects in front of him, you have to be careful with putting anything on his legs, he dances on the cross ties, and he sometimes thinks he cant simply turn around. Now with all of this going on in his brain, we accomplished so much in only a short amount of time. We were always top 5 in all of the jumper classes that we entered. There were times where it was my fault that we didn't do as well as we could and some tears may have fallen on his neck but he always carried me back to the barn with his head held high. This bond grew stronger when we were ranked top 30 in the North American League (NAL). This horse gave me his heart and we delivered in every class we went into. People would always stop and stare because of the way he walked but when they saw us jump around the course so flawless they could not believe their eyes. I had people coming up to me complimenting the way we would perform. We were unstoppable. Before me Tabasco would still be rotting away in a stall somewhere. Now he lives a happy life in retirement with friends and fields of fresh grass. I am very privileged to have been able to ride such a magnificent creature. Tabasco has taught me to never give up in myself or in others even when I am in doubt. He has made me a better person, not being too quick to judge people for they may have a special place in my life. If I was a horse I would want to be Tabasco, as he is a horse I will never forget in my career.


Four years ago I started looking for a new horse after I took time off from the show world to work and focus on school. Honestly, I had no idea what I wanted when I started looking; I considered old ones, green, babies, you name it I probably gave it a thought or two! Finally I decided that I wanted to start something from the ground up so I began my search for a weanling or yearling quarter horse. After a few months of online searching and friend phone calls I found a fuzzy 6 month old colt located about two hours from my home. I scheduled a visit to come check him out and evaluate whether or not he would be the right fit for me and myself for him. As we all know babies are adorable which makes it harder to focus on their caliber when you're absorbed in the cute factor. I kept my focus on the ability he showed with a mind set of my own, this guy was dead quiet, nothing bothered him! I was sold alone on his perfect personality but the minute he moved I knew I needed him and didn't want another. Within a month I brought "Squishy" home with me (his name stems from Finding Nemo). "Squishy" has been a blessing in my life, I love him dearly along with my other wonderful horse whom I have since retired. I have learned a lot about patience and forgiveness with this horse, it's a waiting game owning a young horse. "Squishy" has picked up everything I have taught him with ease I don't even feel like I have to work to show him what I want! The willingness he possess stuns me to this day. I haven't had the chance to meet or work with a horse who truly just wants to please their owner/rider every single time they work with them but this horse does.

I can't say that since I purchase "Squishy" everything has been smooth sailing, horses have accidents and we do too. On September 23, 2013 "Squishy" started bleeding out of his nose and mouth to the point where it wasn't stopping, it was gushing. My poor horse was panicked at 9 am when this started, I rushed to the barn when the owner of the farm called me. The vet came out for an emergency scoping and by this time the bleeding had subsided thanks to wonderful workers who iced and piled blankets on my horse while I was in a state of shock and fear. Before the vet even scoped she explained to me that I would probably have two options from the scope and I didn't like the sound of that. I had a tidal wave of fear running through my body while she scoped him. Once she found the reason for the bleed her facial expression dropped and I knew I needed to make a quick decision. "Squishy's" future had two options.. surgery or euthanization. Stunned and heart broken I called my mother for help and with her kind amazing heart we took "Squishy" to Cornell University for surgery. My 3 year old gelding made the trip without bleeding and sustained enough to go into surgery. Being worried about my horse I wanted to stay until he was out of surgery but I was told it would be long and I should go home. However prior to me leaving the anesthesiologist came out to tell me that my horse lost more blood than we thought as he swallowed a lot of it and he would need a transfusion before they could continue, of course we said go ahead. After I left I anxiously awaited a phone call letting me know "Squishy" was okay, well, 6 hours later I finally received the phone call that my horse was stable and out of surgery. I couldn't wait to see him the next day. Overwhelmed with emotions I immediately started crying when I saw his face, he still looked weak but his lovable personality was all there to give me hugs and kisses even though he was the sick one. After waiting a while I finally got to speak to his veterinarian about the surgery and recovery process. I was told that he indefinitely had Guttural Pouch Mycosis which is extremely rare to the point where they estimate one in twenty five million will get the infection and about less than .5% will live after being diagnosed. I was certainly taken back by the entire situation after that. The vet then explained that my horse lost all vision in his right eye, this worried me because I didn't know how he would handle it. The vet's next words made me laugh and sigh after he told me "well no one knew until we did the routine check this afternoon with the oncologist!" My wonder horse didn't let a loss of vision ruin anything he just kept going and acted like a gentleman for everyone.

"Squishy" remained in the hospital for about a week but he taught me a lifetime of lessons in only 24 hours. If I can relate his strength and perseverance personality to my life I can overcome just about anything I am faced with. He showed me patience with waiting for the things that are really worth it. I learned about sacrifice and the will to live even when the odds are against you. For me this horse is not one that will come and go, he will stay a lifetime with me. To this day he is still blind in his right eye but without me telling all of you "Squishy" would never let you notice he was. I hope my horse can give people hope and faith even when the "going gets tough."


When I first met Gretta, she was a lovely mare in a corner stall. I would walk by her on my way to catch my pony, and she would stretch out her neck in search of attention. My riding ability was approaching the limit of my pony’s athleticism, so we were inactively shopping for the “right horse” to come along. One Tuesday afternoon I asked my trainer if there was something else I could ride for the weekly group lesson, and her working student suggested “Gretta.” I didn’t know the mare by name, but was always up for anything, so I was directed to the grey mare in the corner stall. Hacking, she was so-so. Well behaved, smooth, willing...but jumping, I was blown away. We trotted a series of cavalettis set up for gymnastics, and after the first time through, Gretta threw a huge buck. I wound up on her neck, and she stopped, waiting for me to re-situate myself so we could continue.That moment, I knew she was mine. Unfortunately, I had to wait a year before my pony sold before I could buy her. A vet check during that year revealed some issues that would cause most people to find another horse, but Gretta was the one, and I was willing to forgive the flaws to keep the mare. One week before my 15th birthday my pony’s sale was finalized, and Gretta was mine. She was my junior A/O jumper prospect, AA-rated champion children’s hunter, medal horse, and whipper-in’s mount on the weekends. I showed her through high school, and when college came, there was no question that she would come with me. Freshman year, Gretta tore her right front collateral ligament in the spring and spent six weeks recovering. In the fall, after I nursed her back and got her fit, she strained her right hind suspensory in the paddock. I gave her a year off, and after two vets’ OK, I started getting her fit to hunt. We went gradually, and when hunting season opened, I kept her in the slow field to avoid aggravating the injury. This past season, we returned to whipper-in duty, as long as the footing was safe. In January of this year, on a particularly windy day, Gretta re-strained her suspensory in the paddock; four months later, she has been cleared to resume working.

Gretta has taught me so much over the eight years we’ve been together that it’s impossible to write it all down, but perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned is to take time to enjoy life. Our early years together were filled with the hurry-up-and-wait that comes standard with horse shows, and the subsequent frustrations that makes everyone ask “Why am I doing this?!” As we have gotten older, it’s become more important that we cherish the time we have together. She loves hunting, and is often the most energetic horse at the hunt despite her 19 years. Of course, she has developed arthritis, and has good days and bad days; but as long as she isn’t in pain, and still wants to hunt, I see no reason to keep her from it. As she continues to age, she will become more and more limited in her abilities, and I look forward to reaching those milestones with her. Some days, we just go for a short walk on the trails and enjoy the time together. We make time to do what we love. As a busy young adult, juggling between my last semester at college, work, applications to graduate schools, and any semblance of a social life often becomes overwhelming, and I can’t help but feel a tinge of panic. But when I’m with Gretta, I remember everything we’ve done together, what we’ve overcome, what we’ve learned, and how we’ve changed but stayed the same. When I think about that, the other things become small, and life becomes just a bit more manageable.