Many years ago I trained Arabian horses, mostly young horses. I would get them started under saddle, maybe take them to a few horse shows and then they’d go on to other trainers who showed nationally if they had the talent. That was something I had neither the time, nor the desire to do. One of the problems I would run into was that where I trained I usually rode by myself, maybe with one other horse but never in a big arena full of horses. Until I would get to a horse show.
So, here I was at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Katy, TX with one of my favorite young horses, “Shot in the Dark” a.k.a. “Houdini”. He was an incredibly talented young horse and a really handsome one as well. Back then Patrick Swayze owned and showed Arabian Horses and worked with a trainer in Tomball, TX so it wasn’t uncommon to see him at a show. Patrick was really serious about showing horses and it was delightful to see him every time he won a ribbon because it obviously meant a great deal to him. It wasn’t a given that he would do well and I think that made it all the more meaningful.
At this particular show the word had gotten out that Patrick would be there. I felt bad for him. Excited fans leaning over the rail while he was trying to warm up or show his Western Pleasure horse, a class in which the horse needs to be steady and obedient, wasn’t what he needed. It was disruptive for everyone but especially for him when his horse would get spooked by some crazed fan.
Things weren’t going particularly well for me either. Houdini had never been in a ring with other horses; never been in an indoor arena and was so freaked out that I had people coming up to me and asking questions like, “Wow, how do you stay on him?” Screaming fans with flailing arms weren’t helping. After the first day I had pretty much decided that we wouldn’t be showing; we’d just stay there and work in the arena so he could get more accustomed to it.
The second evening of the show I was working Houdini in the warm-up ring and doing my level best to keep him from leaping into the air. He was starting to settle in and stop seeing boogie-men everywhere. Patrick was warming up his horse in preparation for a class. Here I was going around off the rail in one direction; Patrick coming the opposite direction on the rail. Everything was going OK until a rabid fan leaned out over the rail just as I was coming up even with him and his horse. Houdini lost it. He zigged one way and then wheeled around the opposite direction right smack dab into Patrick and his horse. Wham!! I was mortified. Please, God, just let there be a giant hole open up and swallow me into the ground. I’m not sure if it would have been better or worse if I had fallen off but I did manage to stay in the saddle. I just wanted to disappear. I have a vague recollection of mumbling an apology and slinking off.
The good news is that Patrick was able to collect his horse before he had to go into the show ring. I don’t remember for sure if he won anything but he put on a respectable showing and was none the worse for wear for having been body slammed five minutes before show time. I mustered up the courage to offer a sheepish apology later on which he accepted graciously. I didn’t know him well but he seemed like that kind of a guy. He just wanted to fit in around the barns and be able to compete well and without a lot of fuss; difficult for a man as handsome as he was, much less for a movie star.
I can’t say that I’m grateful to Houdini for having attempted to do a tap-dance on Patrick Swayze’s head, but I have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to the opportunities, good times and good friends I met while training horses. Houdini actually got his act together and went on to do pretty well in the show ring. And I am very grateful for forgiving movie stars who get that things don’t always go perfectly, even when you’re rich and famous.