My summer breaks during high school consisted of getting up early to ride before the heat, spending a few hours in the pool, then watching Rocket Power on Nickelodeon until it was cool enough to ride again. Poor Stormy and Ghosty. I’m sure they wished that Rocket Power would’ve run an all evening marathon to keep them from having to canter down the trails twice a day. Now summer doesn’t seem complete to me without watching Rocket Power, nor can I think about riding or horses without thinking about Rocket Power.
December 2001, my senior year of high school, a friend asked my mom if we would go with her to look at some horses for sale. The owner of a farrier school had decided to close down the school and move to Florida, so he was selling off all of the horses that he used to let his students practice on. These horses weren’t in deplorable shape, but they weren’t in the best of shape either. We’d gone to look at a little bay gelding with reining training… it took half an hour of gentle coaxing to get a saddle pad on his back. Considering that my mom’s friend was looking for a husband proof horse, this little gelding was out of the running. My eye kept coming back to a cute appy gelding with red spots on a roan body. I barely even noticed the pitiful filly next to him.
The friend ended up buying the cute appy, and because the owner was desperate to get rid of his herd, he decided it was buy one get one free day, so he threw in the pitiful filly. The friend took her to the Harriman Horse Sale, but prices were so abysmally low that they didn’t even unload the trailer. In a fit of frustration, she let it slip in front of my mom that, “I’d take $300 just to get rid of her.”
My mom, being the awesome mom that she is, came home right away to deliver this news to me. I clearly remember the conversation. I was working Stormy on western pleasure in the backyard. We’d been drilling our transition to a lope from a halt when my mom showed up to ask if I was interested in a sales project. Being the horse crazy kid I was(am), I jumped at the chance to get another horse, so I untacked Stormy and off we went to check out the filly.
I wish to goodness I’d taken a picture when we first brought her home to show the before and after for what some groceries and TLC can do for a horse. Most people don’t believe how bad it really was. This filly was the UGLIEST horse I’d ever seen. She had a gigantic wormy belly, a skinny pencil neck with a ratty mane and big ‘ole jug head. Her back was covered with rain rot, and she was only 14 hands high. As an undaunted 17-year-old, I put her in cross ties and proceeded to inspect her while grooming. She seemed to be built well (the benefit of an underweight horse is that you can see all of their bones!), but when I touched her shoulder before running my hand down to her leg to ask for her foot, she screamed and jumped straight into the air. When she came down she trembled all over. This poor little girl was terrified of people touching her legs. My heart went out to her. I think this was the point my mom was ready to take her home, but we still continued with inspecting her.
After putting my saddle and a bridle on her, I took the filly out to the round pen and free lunged her for a bit. She moved with a fairly flat knee, and had a decent stride, so I decided to hop on. This poor little girl didn’t have a clue. She didn’t know left from right, or anything about the bit in her mouth and the legs against her side. Her selling point? She tried her hardest to figure out what she was supposed to do with these foreign cues. After my mom came out to lead her around the round pen, she caught on and I was able to start trotting her within just a few minutes. She tried so hard and gave me such a comfy trot. We took her out in the field and let her follow my mom around. Now as a 28-year-old, I can see that taking an untrained almost 3 year old filly out into a 20 acre field was probably not the best riding decision I’ve ever made, but this little girl just followed my mom until we came to a down tree. She stopped and stared at it in confusion until my mom grabbed the side of her bridle, and stepped across with her. That’s where it all began for us!
After taking this little girl home, the first order of business was a name. My two favorite cartoons are Scooby Doo and Rocket Power. Unfortunately she was not pretty enough to be a Daphne Blake, nor smart enough to be a Velma Dinkley, so that settled it and at that point the ugly filly became Reggie Rocket.
Reggie was without a doubt the most pitifully ugly filly I’ve ever met. This short little bay horse was suffering from a lack of good nutrition, so her coat which should’ve been dark bay, had no oils, making it dull and orange. Her rain rot was my first order of business, so in December I gave her an iodine bath and scrubbed every single one of those nasty scabs off, leaving her with no hair along her topline. So at that point she was skinny, dull, half bald, with a jughead. In the words of every gentle southern lady, “bless her.” About this time, a friend of a friend who knew the owner of the farrier school called to offer some intel on Reggie’s background. Because of her lack of characteristics, ApHC had issued her NC papers (basically breeding papers), but the farrier school owner never changed over her registration to his name, and he threw away the papers. Additionally, this friend had seen Reggie in a shoeing lesson one day. The students had knocked her down and sat on her neck to keep her down so another could practice nailing shoes on her feet! At least now we finally knew why she screamed when anyone would teach her legs.
Even before hair started growing back, Reggie and I started training everyday. After a week on the lunge line, I progressed to her back. Within two weeks of being under saddle, she started carrying me down the trail at a trot. There was no challenge that she didn’t rise to, and no task that she said no to. She had found a home that offered steady meals and gentle encouragement, so was determined to stay. Despite Reggie’s horrible previous experience, she had no hatred of people. Extremely wary of having her legs touched, she still trembled a bit when the farrier came, but she would let me pick up all four feet without complaint. She still today gets nervous with new people, particularly men, messing with her legs.
After a few months under saddle, I started making some plans for Reggie’s future. She was 14 hands when I bought her, and she had the most forgiving nature with a strong work ethic. Visions of a short stirrup hunter began dancing through my mind. Reggie and I started working over trot poles and drilling simple changes, and then she started to grow. It’s amazing what good nutrition will do for a little girl. Reggie shot up a full hand. So much for my short stirrup hunter. We started working over fences anyhow, and I took her to my final 4H show, the Cumberland District show, where Reggie won hunter hack.
That summer I began taking Reggie rather than Ghost to my jumping lessons at Ten Oaks. My plan was to sell Reggie to a hunter kid so that I could buy a horse for eventing. Halfway through that first lesson Vicky said, “Does she have to be a hunter?”
Reggie was determined to fill whatever roll was open in our barn. She had found a home and was determined to stay regardless of what she had to do. I’m not going to say that it’s been completely smooth sailing; she’s given me plenty of side-splitting tales to share another night, but she has certainly brought considerable to the lives of many. To date, Reggie has served as a hunter, eventer, jumper, ranch horse, trail horse, and lesson pony. I haven’t found a challenge yet that she hasn’t excelled at.