In the June 2009 issue of Horse & Rider magazine, Marla Lowe of Oklahoma wrote us an endearing letter about what makes a “champion”–horse or human. In case you need a refresher, we’ve included Marla’s letter here. The “champion,” Hank, and his family were featured in Jenny Meyer’s column, The Riding Family, “What Money Can’t Buy,” in our October 2007 issue. Below Marla’s letter you can also read Jenny’s column and view a photo of Hank and his lil’ tyke rider, 11-year-old Shelly Lowe.
[ANOTHER HEARTWARMING STORY: Memories Inside a Box]
What is a Champion?
While at a church youth retreat, our kids were asked, “What is a champion?” Of course they and the other young people named all the major-league sports stars they could think of. That question lingered in my mind even after we arrived home, and found that our dear horse, Hank, had passed away. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that one of the great examples of a champion had lived right with my family.
Hank had no great bloodlines, did not come with registration papers, had no great training, and had been physically scarred for life. However, my husband saw something in Hank that made him want to give that old scarred-up horse a chance. Brought home to three little kids who only had eyes full of love, Hank was given the opportunity he needed to prove himself.
I thought of so many of us who are just like Hank. That horse proved to me that anyone, no matter where or what we come from, can become a champion.
What Money Can’t Buy
Hank is an unregistered gelding of Morgan type. He was 20 years old when Marla Lowe and her husband bought him for their daughter Shelly, then 8. They paid $275 for him.
“Finding the perfect horse for your children is the hardest job in the world,” observes Marla. “Ordinarily you pay thousands for one that’ll do anything and be safe.”
The reason Hank was priced so low, apart from his age, was because of extensive scarring down the back of both hind legs, from the hip to the foot, the result of a brush fire. The burn wounds had become infected, and his previous owner had spent months nursing him back to health. Because of the scars, his owner hadn’t wanted to send him to a sale barn, or especially to a sale. She was fearful of where he might end up.
When the Lowes said they wanted the good-natured gelding for their children (Shelly has an older sister and younger brother), the owner thought they’d make a good match.
The Lowes live in Watson, Okla., population not quite 200. Their children love to compete in playdays, and the girls also ride in rodeo royalty contests, which are judged on appearance and grooming as well as horsemanship. The family wasn’t sure how Hank would be received in such competition.
“When you watch him walk from behind,”says Marla,”it looks as if he’s had a hip replacement. The scar tissue is tight and restricts his movement somewhat. We massage bacon grease into it to help keep it soft, and he moves a lot better at faster gaits.”
“In the ‘Little Miss’ rodeo competitions, the judges often ask what happened to him, but he’s never been counted down because of his scarring,” she adds. “In fact, our $275 horse has beaten many expensive, beautiful horses. With Hank, my children have won three saddles, at least 10 belt buckles, and too many breast collars to list.”
Not surprisingly, he’s also caught people’s attention. “I think they now groan when they see him coming, instead of chattering about his scars. They know he does his job perfectly.”
Now 23, Hank will be with the Lowes for the rest of his life. “He’s going to become our 6-year-old son’s horse, and slow down a little,” says Marla, who notes that Hank still carries himself with pride. “The scarred horse nobody wanted has made a name for himself. “
“Sometimes money can’t buy everything. And,” she adds, “just a little love can go an awfully long way.”
[ANOTHER FAMILY STORY: A Mother’s Perspective on Horses]
This column originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.
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