A Horse To Remember – Northfork Redwing (Can 187)

Story by Dianne Little

Strange things happen when one decides to pursue something they couldn’t do when they were young. As a child I was fortunate to be allowed one trail ride a year in Banff. While I thought this was riding a horse, in retrospect, it was really sitting on a living creature and dreaming I was Dale Evans on Buttermilk.

Just before my 40ieth birthday, my best friend asked if I wanted to join her and take riding lessons. The “yes” was fast and loud – I had waited years for this opportunity. The fact was that I knew nothing about horses or about riding. At the first lesson, I learned my partner would be Dia, a Tennessee Walking Horse. I was excited and felt it was meant to be – Dia was part of my name and I knew she would be a good fit. What was not so exciting was the work in getting ready to ride. As a child, I did nothing but show up. Now I had to actually learn something about horses, tack and everything involved in the process. I was not a natural and in fact I was frightened and dubious that I would continue. However, in spite of all my misgivings and thanks to Diane Sept, an instructor with the patience of a saint, continue I did. I continued to take lessons and bought a horse.

About a year later, I attended a Diane Sept clinic hosted by Marjorie Lacy. Personal video cameras were new and Diane wanted video of the clinic. I volunteered to be the holder of the big camera and record the clinic. I was impressed by a sorrel mare and could not help make comments about her especially her shoulder. Like many things in life it is what you don’t know that makes the biggest difference. I was not aware the camera recorded sound. That evening, we viewed and discussed the video. Jack Gurnett, the breeder and owner of the horse, sat quietly for a long time and finally said, “If you like her so much, you should buy her”. Now Jack is a fine and truthful man, so I took his advice and bought her.

The horse I will always remember is Northfork Redwing (Can 187) by Kary’s Jeepers (Can 174) and out of Something Special H (Can 171). She was a sorrel mare born June 17 1982. I don’t remember her barn name with Jack, but after consultation with my daughters we decided to call her Tiffany.

Tiffany arrived in Calgary in August of 1985. She resided at Westridge Farms southwest of Calgary until her death in September of 2007. Ownership of Tiffany led to a change in my life and the life of my family. Tiffany and I learned together – sometimes she was the teacher and sometimes I was the teacher. I realize we do not have the same brain and I do not want to imply that we think alike, but there was a connection between us that based on mutual respect.

My relationship with Tiffany started me on a journey, a journey that continues beyond her life. I was a timid rider lacking in confidence, but I was an owner who knew what I wanted. I wanted to ride, but I wanted a connection and relationship with a horse. With the guidance of Diane Sept and Helen Williamson, I was privy to discussion and lessons regarding “training” that respected the nature of the horse. They were patient with me and through their generosity helped me develop a base upon which I could build. From them, I learned the attributes that made the Tennessee Walking Horse an exceptional pleasure horse. I was exposed to the sound and natural TWH .

Tiffany and I accepted each other and worked well together. Her nature was one of patience while my nature was one of determination as I strove toward what I hoped was a mutual goal. I became a student of the equine. I studied the horse and riding and tried to incorporate the philosophy of others in my progression. Books by Sally Swift, lessons from Diane Sept and later books by Peggy Cummings provided the basis for me to allow Tiffany to teach me as well. I was determined that I would not allow my fear or nervousness to ruin Tiffany. I would not deaden her mouth or her sides. I would find a saddle that fit both of us and would allow me to “feel” her movement.

Tiffany became my teacher as I struggled to feel the movement under my seat. I was crooked and not aware that I was crooked – I could not feel the unbalance in my body. I sat with more weight in my left seatbone than my right. Tiffany was very aware of this crooked rider, and showed me in no uncertain ways that I needed to improve my body and balance if I wanted a balanced and correct moving horse. I came to a point where I could “feel” that Tiffany was not moving one hind leg as far forward as the other. In other words, she was hitching or off in the hind. I would ask one of my daughters to ride her. With a different rider, Tiffany did not hitch. I finally realized that the source of the offness was my crooked body.

Recognizing that one is crooked in the saddle is one thing – fixing the crookedness is another. With Tiffany as my teacher and monitor, I experimented with a variety of body changes as I strove to “fix’ myself so Tiffany and I could accomplish what I considered our mutual goals. Tiffany was a patient teacher and I was a very slow learner. I have been able to use the lessons that Tiffany taught me to help others to discover what their body is communicating to the horse.

Tiffany was not a push button horse – she was a sensitive horse. If the rider knew what he or she was doing, Tiffany would execute. If the rider did not know what they were doing or if they were unbalanced, Tiffany mirrored the rider.

My daughters Cicily and Amy rode Tiffany on the rail and on the trail. Tiffany was exhibited both English and western including rail classes, obstacle classes, hunter classes, in hand classes, leadline and gymkhana. She was not outstanding, but she could hold her own.

My fondest memories are the times Tiffany and I spent learning from each other. I will never forget the feeling in my heart when I arrived at the barn and called her name. Her answering whinny made every day a special day. Everything I learned about communication between the body of the human and the body of the horse I learned from Tiffany.