• Cara Van Leuven

Rebranding An Important Relationship

It was that tiring cold in March of 2016 that I let Tom know I was ready to pull the trigger. Penny was the right horse for me - I knew it the minute we picked up the trot during our first ride. He insisted I sit on her back one more time before putting forth an offer.

For a horse I had already fallen in love with, I couldn’t wait to get that ride over with, get the offer in the air, rush through the paperwork and call her my own. And soon she was and things were pretty great … at first.


In so many ways Penny reminds me of me. We’re both firecrackers and can be difficult but should be handled smartly because there’s a little just enough talent that can lead to pretty decent results.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit I gave up on that horse for several months. She was exhausting. She knew exactly how to turn every ride in a panting, hell-induced workout. It was too much.

Details of my chestnut mare were posted online along with a sale price and location. It took only the first inquiry to send me into a nosedive and tail-spin simultaneously. How dare somebody else want my horse?? The balls. I mean, my God.

The ad was taken down and a massive rebrand redefined my relationship with Penny. I sat on that mare’s back and scanned the six acres of our property - open and flat with no arena. Time to fish or cut bait. Committed walking does wonders - it was the first step in redirecting her brain to do something serious.

A month later, in November, there was a schooling show I wanted to try - we were by no means prepared. We were out of shape, hairy and shoeless. We took it easy and did the smaller jumper classes, winning both. But it was the Classic where we had the donkeys handed to us, if you know what I mean.

I was confident we had won and was envisioning our victory gallop around the arena, a blue sash decorating Penny’s neck, my big smile. Then the announcer broadcast that the last rider’s jump off was the new time to beat and it was two seconds faster than me. She was in a striped shirt and seemed so innocuous. Two seconds is like watching 10 years worth of crow’s feet marching around your eyes in minutes. Talk about getting schooled at a schooling show.

These are the livid, living nightmares that keep me up at night. Two seconds in a striped shirt.

We lost time in our turns. My challenge was to tackle a mare’s brain with a similar make-up to mine and improve our turns in a way that is not demanding but fun.

And Eureka! We donned Western apparel and took to a mechanical flag to chase at Cowboy Bob’s at ABC Horsemanship. From fright to curiosity and ultimately a ton of fun, we locked on to that moving target. I felt that mare’s hind end sit down, muscles anticipating a change in direction and a softness all horsemen strive for. Angels come in all forms from cowboy hats to motel managers to flags.

Next week I have a schooling show again. I’m hoping the striped shirt is there, and although I don’t know if we’ll be fast enough to beat her, I have high hopes we’ll give her a run for her money.