The Girl That Loves Horses is Now The Woman That Loves Horses
Once in a while, life works out, blessing abound and dreams become reality. That is what happened to me as a 10 year old when I made a friend in Maryland while in school. She had horses, showed Hunter Jumper in the A circuit and I was her best friend. She taught me how to ride her ponies by the seat of my pants. It was like, “stay on and jump everything in site with or without a saddle.” We were known to close the barn doors, mount the shetland pony bareback and backwards, squeeze and have contests to see who could stay on the longest. We also had a trail course and would compete with each other to see who could complete it the fastest. We would also have our ponies pull us on skis when it snowed. I would go to her lessons and horse show all over the East Coast as often as possible. I couldn’t get enough horse time and I learned a lot. We would go to Devon, Harrisburg, Maddison Square Garden and other big shows and I was delighted and honored to be her groom. I would also pick up other groom jobs at the shows.
On my 11th birthday, my parents surprised me with a pony of my own. Shawnee was now my best friend and we rode all over the Maryland countryside together. This was fox hunting country and we could ride for hours and miles and jump coups in the fence lines, ride to private schools that had cross country courses to master and woods to gallop through and many obstacles to jump. My only rule was to be home before dark. Looking back, it was a bit odd that I didn’t get a saddle with my pony but I didn’t care because I was the luckiest kid in the world.
My parents saw how happy riding made me and decided to move to the country and buy a farm. That year, I mucked cow manure out of an 1800’s peg and timber bank barn, while my Dad lovingly transformed it into a horse barn. The neighbors saw me riding all the time and offered to give me their Chincoteague pony named Cindy, as she would frequently buck their grandkids off. I started babysitting and raised $25 to buy her so that they couldn’t take her back. I didn’t ride her for about a year and then one day it was as if she beckoned me to ride her. My first ride was perfect and she developed into a very nice pony.
My parents decided to let me breed her to a lovely Arabian, 10 miles down the road. That involved a horseback ride to the farm, a breeding and a ride back home, all in a day’s work! Eleven months later, a beautiful foal named Bombadil was born. He became my partner until he died years later after teaching my 4 children how to ride in Texas. We would run together in the fields, jump hay bales and logs, cross creeks, and have picnics and even “spend the nights” in the barn. When it was time for his first ride he walked, trotted, picked up his canter leads, did flying lead changes, and jumped my cross country course! We were perfect partners and I was becoming a natural horse girl.
To my great surprise, when I was 15, I came down the stairs at Christmas and there was an English saddle on the couch. I couldn’t believe such a gift. About that time I started hitchhiking to the local TB Race Track where I could make money, hot walking horses after they were exercised. It was great until I hitched a ride in a horse van that I thought was going to the other side of the race track only to have it go out of state. To say the least, I was scared to death, but
I did manage to get in another van going back to the home track and make it home safely. Like any farm kid, I started collecting ponies and horses and I loved and rode them all. One in particular, a TB named Eagle’s Mare allowed me to gallop her over 500 acres of beautiful countryside every day after school. This was very special to me because I could feel the day’s stress blow away in the wind. About that time my mother started a 6 week summer camp for dyslexic children at our farm and I became the assistant riding instructor. The next year at 16 I was the “seasoned and experienced” Director. My collection of ponies and horses had a job and so did I. I would sometimes take my students on a trail ride to our little town and go through the McDonalds drive thru on our horses and treat them to an ice cream cone. We must have been a sight! That camp became a private school and I was hired to be the Director of the riding program. Many horses were donated, and I had quite a time developing them into lesson horses. But I did! At this time I was a senior in high school and went to school in the mornings and then I would teach in the afternoons. I taught the next year as well.
Then at 19 I finally had enough money saved up, $350. to move to Colorado and ski some big mountains instead of the little ones that my family skied twice a week, every week. Skiing was also a passion. I told my parents that I was going to find a horse ranch near a ski resort. I found the T Lazy 7 Ranch in Aspen and got a job a mile down the road at Aspen Highlands Ski Resort as a sous-chef. While living in Aspen I did some ski modeling and even landed on the cover of Ski Magazine. That was a lot of fun.
I missed my horses so my boyfriend had this trailer top that fit into my pick up truck and I headed East. The trick is you have to find a stock ramp to load a horse into the back of a truck. Bombadil and I left Maryland and headed to Colorado with a plan to drive until I got tired and then find a farm or ranch and ask them if I could put my pony in their barn and sleep there for the night. It worked really well and I started my horse business at T Lazy 7. The ranch gave me their reject dude horses and I turned them into an english riding string and started teaching English riding lessons.
I also trained many of them to pull a sleigh, including 2 fat miniature mules, that I named Raisin and Bran so that I could keep my horses on the ranch in the winter, instead of sending them down valley to the winter ranch. It was a blast to say the least. I loved it there and had so many new experiences like packing horses and mules and going into the back country for weeks at a time, especially during hunting season. My horses learned to pack, and one, Mighty Little, even brought an elk head down tied to his saddle, while I walked. My horses were used in the filming of a Marlboro commercial and I was the head wrangler with a string of 20 horses on Independence Pass for a few days.
One day while wasting time during filming, I jumped on Bombadil, bareback with a halter and lead rope, and darn! if he didn’t take off at a gallop down the trail. Around the bend 2 camera men with very expensive cameras leaped out of the way as we came galloping by. I thought that I was going to die when we came to a sharp 90 degree turn onto a trail bridge going over the Roaring Fork River, way down below. My motto has always been to hang on for all I’m worth, and it worked as we came screeching to a halt. I was gasping and Bombadil thought it was great fun. I joined the Fox Hunting Club and we went coyote hunting during the season. That 4 years really shaped me into the woman that I am today in many ways.
My boyfriend and I broke up so I headed back East to my family farm, and spent the next few years teaching riding lessons, going to local horse shows with my students, buying off the track thoroughbreds, developing them, and selling them in the hunter/jumper world before my parents sold our beloved family farm. During that time I married a horse vet, Jeff, who was a graduate of Texas A&M. I then went to work on a yearling farm where we started TB yearlings fresh off the breeding farms. We had 1 month to get them “petable” and started riding before they went to the track or to the big sales. My instructions for galloping them cross country was to spank when they started bucking. Good gracious!
Jeff and I moved to Austin, Texas, and started our family of 4 children and a small animal vet hospital. I even brought Bombadil with me. I was very fortunate to be able to stay at home, homeschool my children and ride, camp, playday, parade and eventually play polocrosse. My youngest son became #1 Jr. player in the US and played International polocrosse.
During that time we had a 2nd home in Durango, Co. and spent a lot of time there for Christmas and skiing and summers, with 6 horses, 4 dogs, and 4 kids. One year I even brought a bottle baby white tail fawn with us. My family has Dyslexic Camps in Durango and Evergreen and 2 of my boys attended for years. I, of course, used my horses and my brothers’ horses to be the riding instructor once again.
In 2000, I took 2 of my children to Equitana in Kentucky. When I saw that a neighbor, Pat Parelli, was a presenter, we attended his seminar. What I saw “blew my socks off.” What really blew me away was when a gal’s horse left her at Liberty and ran past a girl in a wheel chair with her huge beautiful black Friesian, trailer loading at Liberty from 50 feet away, running past the beautiful blonde woman sporting leather fringe riding pants, circling her horse with only a flank rope, running past the miniatures that were going under the draft horses bellies and jumping barrels, running past the man running along side a Zorse and running past Pat Parelli, yack yakking while his beautiful black horse was trotting circles around him at Liberty. I told my kids that somebody, or a horse, was going to die. Well, to my astonishment, no one even cared or stopped what they were doing! Then the horse saw his human and cantered past all the horseplay going on and joined her. I was speechless and knew that I had to find out what the heck just happened. What I found out was that Pat and his wife, Linda, had an Instructor Program. That very moment I told my kids that I was going to become a Parelli Natural Horsemanship Instructor, and I did! After spending months at a time in Pagosa Springs at their beautiful ranch I earned my 2-Star Instructor status in 2005. At the time I was developing a beautiful little palomino horse, Practically Perfect Perfectly Precious Pal, for my daughter, but decided to keep him as my next partner and bought her a great little QH. It was a tough, exhilarating journey and the hardest thing that I had ever done, but it was a natural fit for me.
I came home to my ranch in Austin and built a covered arena and enlarged my barn and started teaching clinics. It was a family affair. My daughter was the house keeper for our guest house where clients could stay. My oldest son was my handy man. My middle son was our chef for the weekend meals and my youngest son, a talented natural horseman helped me train and develop client horses. My kids were still teenagers and I had a very hard divorce in 2002, but together we did it. In 2009 my first granddaughter arrived and we have spent many horse hours together. On her 5th birthday she was invited to do a spotlight at a Parelli Tour Stop in OK. She played with my beautiful little Parelli Partner, Pal, On Line, Liberty and then rode beautifully Freestyle. I was very proud of her.
In 2016 my mom and I joined together and bought a 61 acre ranch in Fredericksburg, Tx. Here we started a very busy bed and breakfast with 6 listings. I have a petting pasture which includes 2 miniature horses and they are both trained and developed by my granddaughter and me to drive and ride. We also started another summer boarding camp for dyslexic students here and of course, I taught the riding program using my Parelli Level 4 students’ horses for 6 weeks each summer. They were awesome. I also tutored several students as a trained Orton Gillingham Language Therapist. One of these students was my granddaughter, Hartley.
I feel very fortunate to have led an exciting horse lifestyle all these years and raise my children that way. I have loved my 15 years an a 4-star, Senior Licensed Parelli Professional. It was a bit traumatic to resign as a Parelli Instructor, but I am very excited about joining, Linda Parelli, as a, Happy Horse Happy Life Master Instructor. Sometimes you have to let go of what you have to get something that is going to be spectacular!! I am also newly married to a wonderful man who will be my forever human partner.
Let’s journey together, I love helping people and their horses!!!
Kerri April, FB
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