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Not One, but Two Mares in Foal! Or, Five Horse Things On Which I’ve Changed My Mind

This is no April Fool's day joke--this horse owner is embarking on an exciting new journey.

The older I get, the less I say the word “never.”

Things that were once black and white have now morphed into a lovely shade of gray, and I’m finally starting to realize the full beauty of that line offered by Buck Brannaman’s foster mom in the documentary “Buck,” –that is, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape.”

This was recently pointed out to me by my oldest son, who saw me let the youngest get away with some minor infraction that in years past I would have pounced on like a cougar.

“Wow, the ‘old you’ would have killed me for that,” the eldest noted with a mixture of admiration and envy.

So I’m learning. Toward that end, there have been some significant developments within the past year in my horse life, and I’m sharing them here because you might find them helpful:

1. I don’t feed treats by hand anymore. For those of you who are groaning right now, yes, I used to, and every time a trainer would see me do it and fuss, I would shrug it off, because MY horse would never become rude or pushy as a result. Until he did. Freddie the colt, who has a bit of an arrogance problem anyway, started mugging me, and even Yukon, my husband’s sweet, giant black-lab-of-a-horse, developed an air of entitlement, sort of like a lazy teenager who expects to be catered to for just breathing.


Here I am with our boys Freddie, left, and Yukon, just before treatment last year. | Photo by Stephanie Davis

Now I show them the treat and either drop it on the ground or in a bucket. Freddie still tries to mug me on occasion but he’s met with a block instead of a cookie.

2. I ride in a Western saddle. This is a biggie, because I grew up riding hunter/jumper, and that barn was rather snobbish toward the folks who rode Western. I used to say, “I will NEVER ride Western,” because the saddles seemed so cumbersome that I thought there would be no way they’d be comfortable or allow close contact with the horse. And then last year at the Julie Goodnight clinic in Granby, Julie offered to let me try one of hers, and after riding in it for two hours, I was a convert.

So now I own an all-black Julie Goodnight Circle Y Wind River Trail Saddle. What I love about it:

colt wearing saddle

Freddie the colt models my new Julie Goodnight Circle Y saddle and breast collar. | Photo by Amy Herdy

It has a narrow twist, which makes it more comfortable, especially for a woman. If you don’t know, the twist is the part of the seat immediately in front of your crotch and to put it bluntly, a wide twist makes you feel like your legs are being wedged apart.

It has memory foam in the seat, which will come in really handy on long trail rides.

It DOES have close contact–the whole saddle is narrower so you have a closer contact with your legs. Much of the skirting is cutaway under the leg; also, the sheepskin underneath it is gone (it’s the first thing to wear out on a saddle and the bottom of the saddle has gel pads sewn in between the horse and tree).

The tree is a Flex2 tree, which is comfy, allows for a better fit and fits a bigger variety of horses than a rigid tree.

In my Aussie saddle, my legs were put into a forward position, and this saddle puts me in the correct position.

Plus it’s made from Hermann Oak leather and is just beautiful, so much so that I didn’t want to take it out of my house when I first got it.

3. I own–and ride in! –a pair of chaps (again, see ridiculous attitude from #2). I had no idea how a nice pair of chaps will help you stick to the saddle so much better, until my friend Bernadette gave me a pair she got at a 4-H yard sale for $15. They are rust in color, have fringes and a large decorative silver snap and are about as far from a pair of breeches and tall boots as you can get. And I just love them. I harness my Inner Cowgirl every time I put them on, and that feels like more of a fit to me now than Breeches and Tall Boots Rider.

4. I pay closer attention. As much as I hate to admit it, I have had useful coaching in years past from different horse trainers, and it just didn’t gel. Maybe my life at the time was too busy–it’s hard to learn when you’re also spinning a half-dozen plates in the air. Maybe I needed to get older and wiser and learn by trial and error. Or maybe (ah, the really difficult one to admit) it took a bout of breast cancer last year before I fully appreciated the gratifying fullness of living an attentive horse life. You don’t realize how much you will miss your horse until treatment tethers you to the bed.

I get it now. And the lessons I’m given are finally sticking, and making sense in a way they never did before. This builds my confidence to try new things. And that led to #5.

5. I’m going to help raise a foal. Before being diagnosed last year, I told you about my horse bucket list, which included just that. It seemed like a daunting but lovely endeavor I would attempt someday…but again, there’s nothing like a little chemo to kickstart the process of fulfilling of your dreams.

I took my idea to fellow horsewoman Julie Oelman, and when she agreed to a partnership, the planning began. Armed with a low budget (we both already have a horse) and high hopes, we started looking at mares currently in foal (my criteria) who had already been started under saddle and were good jumping prospects (Julie’s criteria).

Somewhere along the way of perusing dozens of horse ads, we realized our top dollar wasn’t going to be good enough to get a quality mare who had been well bred, so we took a deep collective breath and went higher.

And somewhere along the way, I fell in love with a blue roan Friesian cross mare in South Dakota, named Sapphire, who was in foal to a stunning purebred Friesian stallion named Ice Man. I had actually met Ice Man, on the same day we found Yukon.

And something about the mare, Sapphire, resonated very deeply with me, as if I already knew her, too. And perhaps it’s because she reminded me of my beloved steel-gray Appaloosa mare, Sophie, who I lost just before being diagnosed with cancer last year and whose death left such a wound in me that I could not bring myself to mention it until now.


Sapphire, a Friesian cross mare. | Photo courtesy of Prairie Wind Ranch

Sapphire hadn’t been started under saddle, but I still hopefully emailed Julie a link to her page on the breeder’s website.

“She’s lovely…for you,” Julie said. “But she’s not what I’m looking for.”

I conceded a point to logic, and Julie and I ultimately chose to buy a lovely Canadian Sporthorse paint mare by the name of Faberge Farah from JMR Pintos. Faberge is in foal to a stunning Oldenburg stallion named Banderas who comes from jumping lines.

The mare Faberge Farah (barn name "Spot"), takes a jump. | Photo courtesy of JMR Pintos

The mare Faberge Farah (barn name “Spot”), takes a jump. | Photo courtesy of JMR Pintos

It was my husband who figured out that Faberge had been born on the same horse farm Yukon came from, called Whispering Hills Friesians. I immediately let breeder Dawn Boyer know I was the co-owner of yet another one of her wonderful horses. We marveled at the odds, and she told us the mare’s barn name was Spot (she has a perfectly round spot on her chest).

The mare nicknamed Spot rests her eyes after a long trip to Larry Fleming's ranch. | Photo by Amy Herdy

The mare nicknamed Spot rests her eyes after a long trip to Larry Fleming’s ranch. | Photo by Amy Herdy

All the while, I couldn’t get Sapphire out of my mind. I continued to correspond with her owner, and in desperation even made her a lowball offer, which was exactly the amount of my tax refund and all I could afford on my own (yay, medical bills).

Rightfully so, the woman said no, she couldn’t come down on price. Finally, I conceded defeat…even while still holding onto hope.



“My heart is just stubbornly set on Sapphire,” I wrote her owner, “so I’m asking the universe to have all the planets line up so that it works out. I’m a big believer in that.”

And she wrote back:

“I’m so glad that you have the attitude that if it is meant to be, then it will happen.  When I first put out the ad for Sapphire I expected her to sell very quickly…But when she didn’t, I adopted the attitude that it meant that the right person had not come along yet and the delay would just mean that the very best future owner for Sapphire was out there and our paths just hadn’t crossed yet.”

Stubbornness is at once one of my best virtues and worst faults.

“It could still happen,” I told my ever-patient husband, who nodded in the understanding way he has every time I brought up the blue roan mare.

“A big gift could simply land on our doorstep!”

And then, miraculously, it did, in the form of a family member offering to buy Sapphire for me. Stunned and grateful, it took me all of 30 seconds to call Sapphire’s owner and leave a half-laughing, half-crying message on her voice mail.

So now there will be two mommas-to-be at Larry Fleming‘s ranch, where we board our horses, and we’re busily researching supplements and feed for pregnant and lactating mares. They are both due in June.

I feel incredibly lucky to realize the miracle of life in a year that follows one haunted by thoughts of death. My sense of hope for the future, once shaky, is now strong, and I’m vowing to never let it go again.

“If Sapphire has a filly,” I told my husband while marveling at the chain of events, “maybe we should name her Faith.”

mare and owner

Sapphire arrived on Saturday, and here I am with her the next day, Easter. | Photo by Julie Oelman

Categories: Rider Education.

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13 Responses

  1. I was so moved by your story of how you came to belong to Sapphire and vice-versa. All my life my heart has ruled my head when it came to my beloved animals and all my life, this approach has never let me down. I have moved heaven and earth to have animals that I shouldn’t have been able to afford, that I didn’t have the experience to handle, but it has always worked out. I made it work out. I am so happy for you and know that this will be a life-altering experience. Please continue to keep us posted on this wonderful part of your life.

  2. Great article Amy! I’ve commented before and also am a cancer survivor. I have mares named Hope and Faith that I have raised. Maybe the next one will be Joy. :) The lessons we learn from surviving cancer are certainly life changing. This year we finally bought a stud of our own. Life is entirely too short to live without taking risks. Best of luck to you on the new babies that will be coming. It’s so much fun to see them grown and learn.

  3. Thank you for the support, ladies! I love being a part of this horse community.

    And Olga, if you don’t mind, I may borrow your horse names if we have a filly–those are great.

    I will definitely keep everyone posted.

    Thanks for the lovely messages!


  4. I added a photo taken yesterday of me and Sapphire to the end of the story. See above!


  5. It seems the older I get, the lessI use the word “never” . I, too, learned that giving treats from the hand creates a nasty vice. Those loving nuzzles quickly turned into pinches–so, it’s into the bucket with the goodies now. As a senior rider, I felt I needed the security of a western saddle (after I swore I would NEVER ride western!). I now own a Julie Goodnight Blue Ridge gaited horse saddle and I absolutely love it. It was comfortable right out of the box and the flex tree and lack of the heavy padding found on most western saddles makes it light enough to lift onto my mare’s back. Cookie and I are enrolled in Julie’s clinic this coming weekend in NJ and I can’t wait to get there. I do enjoy the columns on My Horse Daily and find them both helpful and informative. Best of luck with your new mares and babies. I’ll be looking for pix.

  6. Lovely article! Thank you for sharing and I look forward to updates. Raising a foal is a truly wonderful experience.

    Since you mentioned your ‘stubborn heart’ being set on Sapphire even when it seemed impossible, I want to share a painting by Rodney White that says “Sometimes the heart should do things without the brain’s permission” because it reminds me that the heart has a way of making things happen, even when the brain thinks – no way.

    Wilhelmina HopperApril 1, 2013 @ 7:59 pm
  7. Wilhelmina, that painting is great!! I just ordered it, and I’m going to hang it in my office to remind myself that all things are indeed possible.

    Thanks for sharing that link.


    • Oh, I’m so glad you liked the painting! :-) I have several of his pieces hanging around my house and find them inspirational. Best of luck to you!

      Wilhelmina HopperApril 2, 2013 @ 5:44 pm
  8. It was meant to be, what a great story……

  9. Still reeling from the news on Sophie. I first fell in love with her on the pages of Equus magazine, where you shared your journey together. As a lifelong Appy lover this struck a chord deep within me, as for my second Appaloosa I too chose a rescue, a sorrel yearling filly that came to me seriously underweight, full of rainrot and worms, but was the sweetest little thing ever, and who also underwent fhat amazing roan transformation that Appys experience. I cheered that one more member of this beautiful breed had found someone to take a chance on her to give her a future, then couldn’t wait for blog updates. The silence regarding her over the past several months felt ominous as I awaited word concerning her, fearing the worst. So so sorry to hear about her loss and totally relate to the grief that makes it nearly unspeakable. I understand the connection to your blue roan, as my current mare’s color and markings are so similar to my beloved first mare that I loved her at first sight. Thank you for sharing the story of your life together. She was so blessed to have you to love her and to call you her own. :)

    Lacey AtkinsonApril 6, 2013 @ 12:35 pm
  10. Dear Lacey,

    Thank you for such a kind message. It’s a wonderful thing to be understood, and I believe you truly do relate to how I felt about Sophie. Losing her felt like a crueler blow than the cancer diagnosis that followed. Indeed, I used to wonder if the stress of the first triggered the rapid onset of the second.

    Now that the worst of all of it is behind me, I’m left with a deeper appreciation for this horse life, especially when I know there are folks like you out there.


  11. I don’t even know where to begin except I sit here with tears in my eyes and hope in my heart! How this article resonated with me! I am 39 with 4 & 6 year old little boys, and have dreamt of having a horse since I knew what a horse was. My family had little money so I could only dream about horses. I then answered an ad for someone needing a trail riding partner last spring which led to me given a beautiful pregnant mare, Peanut, by this fellow bc he ended up getting a job far away. Peanut came to me in December. I was a freak the first few weeks she was here as I am so very green to the whole horse thing! Then as I finally started to relax a bit, 6 weeks later in February, I was diagnosed with her2 postive breast cancer. I thought about giving my dream come true, a horse of my own, back to my trail partner to sell or what not, but the thought just broke my heart. I just finished my 2nd round of chemo last week- 4 more to go and then herceptin for years. Friends helped this past weekend create a dry lot to keep Peanut off fescue. She is also due in June and I’m probably more nervous about her than I was with my own babies! And oh, yes, I totally understand about the medical bills too- even with decent insurance they are so painful- yet another reason I contemplated giving the mare back. How can we afford her….yet, psychologically, how can we NOT afford her?! Your article resonated so deeply about being willing to take a chance, although like you wondering about the stress causing the cancer, December and January I felt were the most stressful in my life as it was hectic with my job and with all my fretting over Peanut when she arrived – I would go check on her every two hours and worried like crazy (and I’ve heard from a few others with same diagnosis and a radiologist who seems to see a correlation between stress and breast cancer). Anyway, your article was so inspirational to me! I still don’t know much about horses, but sometimes one just needs to follow their dream. I’m disappointed I won’t get to fully enjoy this spring and summer b/c of the chemo, but after reading your story, there’s much hope and possibility in the future. Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  12. Dear Tina,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. And I’m very glad that you found some inspiration in mine.

    It’s wonderful that you have Peanut, despite the stressful start. And I asked one of my doctors about when he think the cancer showed up, and he said at least a year or two before the actual diagnosis. But the timing of when it became apparent was really odd.

    So, I hope that you can find a way to keep Peanut. I can honestly say that I don’t know what I would have done if we didn’t have horses–it will give you something to focus on and plan toward and dream about. And the mental aspect of fighting this disease is very important.

    Maybe the same friends who helped create a lot for Peanut could have a horse fundraiser for you down the road–or a foal “baby shower.”

    I’m glad Peanut’s due in June, as well. I will be sharing everything that I’m learning about foaling here on this website, so you won’t be on this journey alone!

    Keep thinking of your girl and making those plans, and you will soon be done with chemo. And trust me, your hair and your strength will come back. And no, the idea of being on medication for the next several years is not fun (mine is tamoxifen right now), but I tell myself it’s keeping me healthy, just like a multi-vitamin.

    I will be thinking of you, and I hope you stay in touch and let us all know your progress.


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