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Happy Tail, Horses: Black Pearl, aka Whitney

After 30 years riding, from 4-H to Quarterhorse competition, Peg Schaeffer decided to take the a very challenging world of jumping, in 1995. It's a sport she recommends starting a much younger age. Her horse of choice was "Black Pearl", aka "Whitney," with whom she's shared some unforgettable moments. Whitney turned 20 this year and shows her age - but she's still got the fire in her eye of a great competitor, a great jumper. Click on headline for story with photo(s)
The next previous Happy Tail: -Happy Tail: Remembering Joe Ann Grant. who loved dogs Posted March 16, 2014.

By Peg Schaeffer
Sugarfoot Farm Rescue

I started showing horses in 1965 (I'm not going to tell you how old I was.) I always rode Western but rode all different styles. I showed in Western Pleasure, Gymkhana, Reining, rode a few cutters, rode turn back for calf roping, and even tried my hand at driving. So basically I was a Jack of All Trades but master of none. I won my fair share of awards and progressed from 4-H Horse Shows to Quarter Horse Congress. Then 30 years later, in 1995 I decided I wanted to try jumping.

First of all jumping is a sport you should start at a much younger age. There is so much to learn. The saddle is a lot smaller. There is no horn to grab onto when your horse decides to start bucking and your legs are practically under your chin. When riding English you have to learn your "diagonals," which means when the horse's outside leg is forward you are up and as it goes back you go down. This requires strong calf muscles plus coordination. The plus side is you have a fifty/fifty chance of getting them right.

Learning to jump fences without falling off

Once I learned the basics it was time to learn how to jump fences without falling off. It's much harder than it looks. When you ride Western you have a loose rein and light contact on your horse's mouth. When you ride English you keep a tight rein and always have contact with your horse's mouth. So it's not a good idea to learn how to jump on a Western horse that responds to a light touch of the rein. There's so much to remember when jumping - hands on the horse's neck, eyes up, legs tight, heels down - all while you're praying your horse doesn't stop or you fall off.

Pagan was first jumper she rode

The first year I was learning to jump I rode a horse "Pagan" that I had raised and trained from a foal. I had broken her Western and then decided to try jumping with her. She gave it her supreme effort but was confused when I would try to put pressure on the rein. She was trained to stop at the slightest pull and now she needed to be "untrained". I showed her for a year in Hunter classes and did pretty good but decided I needed a different mount, more suited for jumping.

I saw an ad in the Quarter Horse Journal for a dispersal sale of horses at a farm in Ocala, Florida. Some of the horses were consigned by Andy Moorman, a reputable trainer, and were hunter/jumper prospects. So I got the catalog, read the bloodlines and descriptions, highlighted the horses I liked, and headed off to Ocala.

It was 1,200 miles away but I didn't have a problem with that. Adrenaline kept me going and I drove for 20 hours before stopping for a break. I took a brief 2 hour nap and finished the drive, arriving on Friday morning. The sale was on Saturday and Friday was the day to preview the horses. I watched the horses I was interested in during the demonstration and went back to the motel to rest up for the sale.

Black mare named "Black Pearl," aka "Whitney caught her eye

Saturday morning I got there bright and early so I could get a front row seat. I bid on the horses I was interested in but they sold for more than I had planned for. Prospect after prospect entered the ring, I would bid, but never got the winning bid. As the sale approached the end I wondered if I would be going home with an empty trailer but I still had a few more horses on my "like" list. One was a black mare named "Black Pearl", aka "Whitney". I had watched her in the demonstration and liked her and had talked to her owner about her. She was what I was looking for. So when she entered the ring I got serious with my bidding. The bid went back and forth and it reached my maximum. I really liked this mare so I bid one more time. Luckily the person bidding against me stopped and the black mare was mine. So "Whitney" became my new hunter/jumper prospect.

The difference between a Hunter and Jumper

What's the difference between a Hunter and a Jumper? A hunter horse is judged by their performance. They move at an even pace to the jump and then when they land travel off at the same even pace. They are judged by their attitude and approach to the fences. A jumper is not judged but races against a time clock. The way they approach the fence is not judged - as long as they clear the fence and follow the course and the rules - anything goes.

Whitney made it quite clear from the beginning that she wouldn't be a hunter prospect. She tossed her head, fought me all the way to the jump, swishing her tail madly - not at all like a hunter. But she loved to jump and she was FAST. My trainer was Cliff Gustafson and the great thing about him was that he thought like a horse. He was also a man of very few words. He watched me ride Whitney for a while - her pulling at the bit, tossing her head and madly swishing her tail. When we were done he stood quietly for a minute and then gave his advice. "She's fighting you and expecting you to hold her back, fool her, give her her head up to the jump and after she jumps let her run to the end of the ring without pulling her back. " So I did as Cliff instructed. At first Whitney didn't know what to do. She expected me to pull on her but when I didn't she was more confused than anything else. Then when she wasn't stopped but allowed to run after landing she seemed amazed. After a while she was actually enjoying the ride and so was I.

"Green horse" and inexperienced rider equals "Black and Blue"

One thing you learn when riding is that a "green" horse and an unexperienced rider equals black and blue. Whitney and I both were new to the world of jumping and didn't have the confidence in each other we needed to be successful. We'd be racing towards a fence, I'd be leaning too far forward, and Whitney would decide to be the polite horse. She'd let me go over the jump first. They say that the more you fall off a horse the better rider you become. I've got to be the best rider in the world. I have fallen off of Whitney more than all the horses I've ridden in my life put together. The funny thing is that when I hit the ground Whitney stops and waits for me. She looks at me as if to say "what are you doing there?" She waits patiently while I brush myself off and stands quietly while I climb aboard. But that's the only time she's quiet. The whole time you ride her she tosses her head, squeals, stomps her feet, and swishes her tail furiously. That's unless you're letting her run full speed. That's when she's the happiest.

At horse show in the Catskills in New York with Whitney

I was at a horse show in the Catskill Mountains in New York with Whitney. The show was at the foot of the mountains and after our class I would take Whitney trail riding. There was a wide stream you had to cross first and then a field you could gallop across to the trails. We would ride for a few hours and then race back across the field to the show grounds. After one of our rides we startled a deer. The deer sprinted off alongside us and guess what? We out ran the deer! When I got back and told Cliff he shook his head and laughed "I'm not surprised." Whitney has a knack of dumping me like no other. She is such a quick horse that she can literally run out from under you. You can be sitting on her one minute and the next minute you're sitting on the ground. With Cliff's help and lots of trial and error Whitney and I got our act together. It took a lot of work and it paid off. She became a force to be reckoned with. When she was on her game she could fly over the jumps and no one could beat our time. I won lots of classes and championships with her.

Best wins was the Pomfret Hunter Pace - unforgettable

Our best win was the Pomfret Hunter Pace. A Hunter Pace is like a Fox Hunt but without the fox and hounds. There is a course that goes through woods and fields with jumps. You must complete the course within a predetermined time which is unknown. You get penalized if you are too fast or slow. I had entered the Pomfret Hunter Pace with Whitney one year and placed fourth. The following year I was in the hospital and was unable to participate. So the next year I was determined to have a good ride. My friend, Sarah, rode my other mare, Sula. Early in the ride Sula threw a shoe so whenever we were on gravel we would walk. As soon as we hit the woods or fields we would gallop. We were afraid our time would be too slow but our first concern was for Sula. When we completed the course we checked our time - we won completing the course within 5 seconds of the optimum time. That was one of my best rides on Whitney. I'll never forget it.

Whitney turned 20 this year - but still has fire in her eyes

Whitney turned 20 this year. She's still beautiful. Her lower lip is starting to droop, she's over at the knees, and her back is starting to sway. But she still has the fire in her eyes and in her heart. I take her trail riding - we either walk or go top speed. I love racing through the fields on her and jumping fallen trees along the way. And despite her age she still has the ability to run out from under me on occasion. The ground has gotten a lot harder and it takes me longer to get back up but she waits patiently. I think she's laughing at me. I now have to find a tree stump to get back on and off we go again - the two aging mares reliving our race with the deer.

Peg Schaeffer, Sugarfoot Farm Rescue, 860 Sparksville Road, Columbia, KY 42728 Telephone: home 270-378-4521 or cell 270-634-4675 email:

This story was posted on 2014-03-30 06:47:57
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Happy Tail: Peg Shaeffer & Whitney, in the Catskills

2014-03-30 - Catskill, New York State - Photo from Peg Schaeffer. Peg Schaeffer writes: I'm riding Whitney at the HITS Horse Show in Catskill, NY.
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Happy Tail, Horses - Riding Whitney in Florida

2014-03-30 - Ocala, Florida - Photo from Peg Schaeffer. Peg Schaeffer writes: This is a photo of me riding Whitney at the HITS Horse Show in Ocala, FL.
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