Travis left Skowhegan to head home from a show for the last time that next day. Probably if he got to decide one of the highlights of his life was that he now got to be turned out with the rest of the herd out in the grass fields. During his new life of retirement I was away at school a lot of the time. So my dad learned to ride, so instead of just taking trips to the barn to visit Travis he was able to go and ride him. Travis also gave a few lessons here and there to some of the more advanced riders at the barn. They all seemed to enjoy him, even though I'm sure he wasn't always on his best behavior. Travis also had the duties of giving my friends the obligatory horse back ride every now and then. We also continued to dominate all of the game classes at the annual barn fun show, egg and spoon being the favorite. Travis also made a trip to Johnson & Wales University with me for a week where he was my final project in one class. Completing the Sport Horse In Hand Triangle like a champ, even though he refused to do the correct stance at the end and just parked out instead. Travis passed away on Tuesday March 1st 2011 when he was 19 years old. I just happened to be home on spring break for the week. I was lucky that I was able to be there for his last hours of life and that I made the decision to stay with him for his last breath.
Specially Designed taught me and others many of the lessons you can only learn from a great horse. I learned how to actually 'show your horse' in the ring and not just sit there on cruise control. I learned that the ride was the most important part of showing and not the win. I learned that patience is one of the major keys to success and no device can get you or your horse to the level you want to be at better then the maybe long but correct way. I learned responsibility, because if you don't take proper care of your horse before and after your rides then you have no horse. Then most importantly I learned how to love. The love and bond I shared with Travis will never be able to be replicated with another horse. He was my first love, my best friend and my equal. I may have other great horses, some that go further then Travis. But none will ever replace.
The first years of owning Travis were not easy. I remember hating him, I remember loving him and I remember falling off. There were days he would park himself in the middle of the indoor ring and refuse to move. I also remember going up to the Skowhegan Fairgrounds for my first three day show and getting excused out of three of my five classes over the weekend. Travis would spin around, slam me up against the rail, not walk, leap into the air and back up as fast as he could sometimes into other forward moving horses. It was almost as if he enjoyed the walk of shame out of the ring. I do remember my very first blue ribbon though. It was in a MHA English Pleasure class and it must of been well earned because it was very rare in those first years that we even completed the class.
The show seasons got better and better. Before long I finally began to understand the game that Travis played in the show ring. We quit riding in arenas at home and completely kept his training to riding the trails and on the beach. This is what he enjoyed, he knew how to be a show horse and he did not need to be reminded on a daily basis with regular schooling. I also began to realize what an amazing extended trot he had, probably what he was known for best. It was a whole other gear of trot, you asked him for it and he gave it to you, no matter what you never had to ask again. Anyone that ever had the chance to ride him would probably agree that he was like driving a sports car when it came to his extended trot and hand gallop. Road Hack was his class, we either won or lost (most likely due to some crazy explosion of frustration he had when it came time to walk). My most memorable moment in the show ring with him was a Road Hack class in Skowhegan. I remember going second direction of the ring and coming around the corner at the end of the ring near the announcers booth. It just so happened that Staci Yates and Andrew Guillemette came around the corner at the same time and we were perfectly three wide for that far rail. And we just went for it! The three of us were reprimanded in the line up for excessive speed and given the last three placings in the class. But boy was it worth it.
Probably the most successful time in our show career was our two trips to St. Louis in 2005 and 2006 where I showed him in saddle seat English Country Pleasure and also the Saddle & Bridle Hunter Seat Classic Final. Although we didn't place in the ribbons in 2005 we were excited to come out with a 10th in 2006 out of a beautiful group of hunter saddlebreds. I also felt that we were just lucky to show against the amazing CH Kansas City and Beth Oliver who dominated the Saddle & Bridle Hunter and Shatner finals for so many years. It was an amazing experience for me at age 15 and 16. After our trips to St. Louis (thanks dad for doing all that driving) we stayed home in New England for the rest of Travis's show career. Specially Designed was retired at age 17 on Saturday night of the American Saddlebred Association of Maine's Summer Spectacular. We won our last blue ribbon together at that show in an MHA English Pleasure class of nine, the very same class we won our first blue ribbon together in.
I still remember the very first time I rode Travis. I was 12 years old and in 7th grade, taking lessons with Theresa Guillemette at Hi Stepping Equestrian Center. I normally rode the casual lesson horse in my weekly lesson, but this week I was asked if I wanted to ride Travis. Not knowing who he was or what he looked like I said yes. Well, I was led around the back of the barn to a grass paddock where this beautiful but absolutely crazy looking horse was galloping at full speed, whinnying and bucking. Pretty sure I was scared to death but assured that he would calm down and went out to catch him. I do not remember the grooming process but I'm sure I was a nervous wreck after seeing Travis's version of 'airs above the ground' out in his paddock. But I do remember that first ride, his trot was like floating on air and when you asked him to canter he just did it, never a wrong lead. I went home so happy and told my mother all about it. I remember riding Travis for a few more lessons and then one night when I came home my parents sat me down and asked me if I wanted him. If I did my grandfather wanted to buy him for me. Of course the answer was YES!!!!! Just like that, on November 2nd 2002, I had my very first horse.
Photo by Dusty Perin
Photo by Dusty Perin