High Sierra Challenge: Woman, 64, Takes Annual Trek With Horse And Two Mules

Mary Breckenridge crosses the High Sierra every year with only her horse and two mules for company.

The beauty, the self-reliance, the solitude drive her.

With her horse, Surprise, and mules Dixie and Woody,  Mary Breckenridge guides them across Mono Pass on the second day of her trans-Sierra trip.

Taking in the view of Mono Pass

She always leaves in September, when heat still tents the Central Valley but cool mountain breezes stir silvery-green aspen leaves.

Higher up, the nights can be so cold that the water in her coffeepot turns rock-hard. It’s happened. She kept going.

Mary comforts Woody after he was spooked.

Packing and unpacking 300 pounds of gear daily, making and breaking camp, starting her fire from twigs.

Trekking the High Sierra makes her feel thrillingly self-reliant. A true Western woman.

This is my church, says, Breckenridge

Except, now that Mary is 64, and she’s not sure she can do it anymore. Not alone.


For the entire story and video of Mary Breckenridge and her High Sierra Challenge:  Los Angeles Times

Photos: Katie Falkenberg

Wild Horses Saved By Billionaire’s Wife


Time Running out for Wild Mustangs on Goverment Land


Recently, news reports hit the papers that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could no longer afford to feed and house the wild horses and burros in their holding pens while they awaited adoption.

Wild Horse Adoption Center

The Bureau of Land Management was on the verge of slaughtering 2,000 of the mustangs because they’d not been bought at auction and were too expensive to continue to feed.

Horse Relocation

Now, 33,000 horses live in holding pens, each horse costing $1,500 a year to feed. By law, if they can’t be auctioned or adopted, they are to be slaughtered.


Recently, the land available to the horses has been drastically reduced by 19 million acres, so the government has had to round up more and more mustangs.

That was until just a few days ago when Madeleine Pickens, wife of billionaire T. Boone Pickens, dramatically stepped in to come to the aid of the animals.

She offered to adopt not only the 2,000 mustangs and burros, but the entire herd of 30,000 unwanted horses that were rounded up by BLM and are kept on federal land.

The BLM agreed to work with Mrs. Pickens to locate an area of federal land that she could rent or purchase for the animals.

In doing so, Mrs. Pickens earned the ABC Person of the Week Award. She is an animal lover and as a horse breeder and a philanthropist, she has always considered that people must be responsible for the care of animals.

“Animals don’t have a voice, and as long as man is their protectorate, we have a responsibility to take care of them,” she said. “We cannot abandon them.”

After her husband gave $7 million to the Red Cross to help Hurricane Katrina victims, she wanted to help the animal victims, too.

“I managed to hire an airliner, a cargo airliner and I went on my first trip down to Baton Rouge and we picked up 200 dogs,” she said. “I think we got about 800 dogs and cats out to California and Colorado and got them adopted out.”

So when Pickens heard that thousands of wild mustangs might be euthanized, she wouldn’t sit still for it.

“Our wild mustang must be our national treasure. We must not be slaughtering it,” Pickens said. “The horses have no natural predator. Their only predator is mankind, when we do the wrong thing.”


Wild horses, which date back to the time of the Spanish conquistadors, roam free on federal land in 10 western states and share that land with herds of cattle.

“Can you imagine somebody suggesting that you euthanize 30,000 horses? It was abominable,” said Pickens, who lives in Dallas and has a ranch in the Texas panhandle and a home near San Diego. “That will never happen.”

“If all these cattlemen have access to all this BLM land, what if I bought a ranch and I can get access to the BLM land and then we shared it,” Pickens said of her plan.

“They can have their land and we’ll have ours for our horses. This way, I can create a sanctuary and we can take in all the horses that are homeless so that no one will ever be turned away.”

wild horses

Pickens said she is in negotiations to buy about 1 million acres for her wild mustang sanctuary in the West, a land mass slightly larger than Rhode Island. And it will be a place where anyone can go and see these wild horses running wild.

“I think a lot of people would love the opportunity to go and see what America’s really like, to see our true heritage, which is the wild horses.”


With the generous rescue plan from Mrs. Pickens and two other rescue organizations, the wild mustangs and wild burros got the intervention they so desperately needed … and just in time.


Re-written from news sources:

Website: Madeleine Pickens’ Project

Link: ABC: Pickens Person of the Week

Link: The US News and World Report

After 436 Years, Spanish Riding School Take In Women

It’s no longer a man’s world
in Austria’s most sophisticated stables.


The country’s prestigious Spanish Riding School, for centuries a bastion of masculinity, is modernizing.   On Wednesday, the 436-year-old institution officially presented its first female riders-in-training.

21-year-old Hannah Zeitlhofer, from the Austrian capital,
and Sojourner Morrell, a 17-year-old British national


The school, which was founded in 1572 and is part of Vienna’s former imperial Hofburg Palace complex, is known for elegant white Lipizzaner stallions.

Every year, throngs of tourists from around the world watch as the horses, led by male riders in identical uniforms, gracefully perform exercises and jumps.

Allowing women to sit in the saddle marks a distinct break with tradition. But for Elisabeth Guertler, the director, opening up the exclusive club reflects the realities of modern life.

“What speaks against it?” Guertler told reporters. “Today, ladies and gentlemen both have to earn their keep and prove themselves.”

In the 18th century, ladies of the Austrian royal court regularly rode the Lipizzaner horses but were not recruited to be trainers.

Spanish Riding School spokeswoman Barbara Sommersacher said Guertler, who started managing the institution less than a year ago, personally pushed for the candidacies of women to be taken into consideration.

“For her, it just wasn’t acceptable,” Sommersacher said. “For Ms. Guertler, traditions are good as long as they’re adapted to current times.”

The young women making history are 21-year-old Hannah Zeitlhofer, from the Austrian capital, and Sojourner Morrell, a 17-year-old British national who grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York.

The two were dressed in identical riding gear with their hair tucked into caps.

“I’m very happy — it’s my dream come true,” Morrell said.

Morrell, whose father is British, said she has always loved horses and wrote to the school “out of the blue” after taking a tour of the establishment while on vacation in Vienna with her mother when she was 15.

Zeitlhofer, a broad smile on her face, echoed Morrell’s enthusiasm.

“I’m still trying to believe it,” said Zeitlhofer, who always wanted to become a rider and recently got a degree in equestrian science.

“People are totally nice and we’re not treated any differently … I’m completely elated!” she said.

The competition for the posts is fierce.

The school, which claims to be the world’s oldest, receives “countless” applications from around the world, Guertler said.

The Lipizzaners long served as a symbol of Austria’s past glory during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which stretched across much of Europe.

Austria’s former ruling royal family, the Habsburgs, went to Spain centuries ago to buy horses and founded a stud farm in what is now Slovenia.

The school, privatized in 2001, also operates the Piber stud farm in the southern Austrian province of Styria.


Re-written from news sources:

Website: Spanish Riding School of Vienna

Simply Marvelous Post: Spanish Riding School Photo

Stacy Westfall ~ Bridleless Bareback Champion

Click On The Arrow To Watch The Video




Website: Stacy Westfall

Spare The Horses


Christine Hajek, founder of Gentle Giants
Draft Horse Rescue, gets a nuzzle from Jonas.


Christine Hajek fell in love with her first draft horse when she met Elijah, a Belgian gelding, at an auction in August 2001 and brought him home.

But Hajek, who grew up on a horse-breeding farm, had been mesmerized by the huge horses raised for plowing and farm labor ever since she rode one years earlier.

“I loved the gait, I loved the size and I loved the feel,” said Hajek, 34, who is an Anne Arundel County firefighter. “They’re so broad across the back that they give you a real sense of security. They move slowly. Anything they do is kind of in slow motion.”

It was Elijah that gave her the idea to form Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue, a nonprofit operation specifically tailored to draft horses — and turn a hobby into an obsession.

“He ended up being a perfect horse — totally flawless in every way,” she said.


That one horse has turned into 21 at the 42-acre Woodbine farm in Mount Airy, Maryland where she lives with her husband, Jamie McIntosh.

Hajek estimates that she and her husband have rescued more than 60 draft horses since then — most of them within the past two years.

“They work hard, they’ve seen everything, so they’re not afraid of anything,” she said.

Once she brings horses home, she spends an average of two months with them before they are adopted.

“I might be sad for a couple days, and I might cry really hard when I drop them off,” she said. “But mostly, I’m happy for them.”

The horses she’s rescued are now scattered around the United States, with adoptees in California, New York, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, she said.


Recently, Dick Dodson, 72, from Boyds, who recently took up riding again after a 20-year hiatus, visited Hajek’s farm to meet a horse named Texas that he’d seen on the Gentle Giants Web site.

“The attraction for the drafts is that they’re very calm, they’re sure-footed, and they don’t spook easily,” he said. “I want something that’s bomb-proof. I don’t want to get hurt on a horse.”

He was drawn to Texas because of the chocolate-colored Belgian’s background as a carriage horse that had done some plowing for an Amish farmer.

“I might ride that horse bareback,” Dodson said. “This horse has a very gentle disposition.”


The Gentle Giants dog, Bug, hangs out at Tristan’s feet.

Not only can people adopt horses from Hajek; they can also ride. She caters mostly to adults and a few children of adults who ride there.

Saving draft horses is a passion that costs her money, she acknowledges. She only wishes she could save more.


“I’m passionate about draft horses,” Hajek said. “The bigger the better.

I just want everyone to know how incredible they are.”


Link: Gentle Giants Rescue

Stanford University Medical Students Learn From Horses


Medical student, Katalin Szabo, examines Apache
for telling signals of discomfort 


It’s hard to ignore a patient who weighs 1,200 pounds, stands 7 feet tall and won’t hesitate to nip you if she doesn’t like what you’re doing.

But those attributes are precisely why medical students can benefit from working with horses, according to the philosophy behind a new elective course at Stanford Medical School, “Medicine and horses: A communications model for the doctor-patient relationship.”

Not intended for veterinary students, it’s geared toward making medical students more conscious of how they come across when interacting with others.

On the first day of course No. 252 at the Stanford University School of Medicine, a pack of horses were brought down from pasture near Portola Valley and herded into a corral, so the students could lean against the fence like wranglers and study … horses.

They were looking for both leadership and followership in the horse hierarchy, as indicated by ear pinning, tail swishing, nudging and nipping.

Dr. Beverly Kane with “Dream”

For many people, the idea of horses helping medical students hone their communication skills might conjure up images of Mr. Ed, the “talking” horse of TV fame, the bangs of his palomino mane flopping around as he tossed his head while lip-syncing to the soundtrack.

But Mr. Ed would have no place in this class, as horses who can’t speak the language are preferred: The point is to improve nonverbal communication.

Still, why don’t the students just stick to human beings?

“Animals in general respond to people in ways that are so transparent and honest,” said Sam LeBaron, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Education in Family and Community Medicine.

“They hold up a mirror for students that they may not get from human patients.”

Beverley Kane, MD, added that just because patients can talk doesn’t mean they will. “Human patients don’t always tell you what’s on their mind,” she explained.

“We’ve all been socialized into hiding our feelings and reactions, especially from somebody in a white coat.

Horses will tell you in no uncertain terms how you’re affecting them—if you pay attention to the right signals.”


During every class, the students encounter a new horse, so just like a doctor with a new patient, the first task is always the introduction.

On one particular day, the task was to listen to the heartbeat. Kane said a common complaint is that doctors come at patients with a cold stethoscope, without taking time to establish rapport.

Medical student, Szabo, with her hand on the horse’s side, gently applied the stethoscope, sliding it down to the belly, behind the foreleg, to the heart.

After a few moments, she said she could hear the heart as well as a good amount of “digestive rumbling.” But the real measure of success was her patient’s calm—no ears laid back, no fidgeting, no walking away.

Fifth-year medical student, Tracy Dooley, said “I became a lot more conscious of how I behaved in certain situations. “What my body language would be telling a patient, or in this case what it was communicating to the horses, as opposed to verbal signals.”

But the class is about more than just making students aware of how their behavior affects a patient. Many medical students who don’t have experience dealing with horses are intimidated when they have to approach such a large animal, which LeBaron said is another thing of which doctors need to be aware.

“We want to become more mindful, as doctors, how we behave when we feel a little stressed or a little intimidated,” LeBaron said. “That’s something that virtually is never talked about, and the truth is doctors are as human as anybody else.”


Last spring was the first time the course was offered at the medical school. At the end of the session, Kane and the students hoped to see the class continue. It’s an elective and is completely supported by donations, so the future wasn’t guaranteed.

However, the latest word from Stanford University is that the classes have proven so popular and successful that the funding has been provided and the classes will continue.

So now, the  lesson horses are on notice that herds of med students are about to stampede onto the ranch again.

Story Link:

Anky and Salinero Win FEI European Title


 Anky van Grunsven and Keltec Salinero


Dutch rider Anky van Grunsven and Keltec Salinero won the title of 2007 FEI European Dressage Kur Champion in La Mandria, Italy. This is Anky’s third individual European title after Arnhem in 1999 with Gestion Bonfire and Hagen in 2003.


Grand Prix 2007
Anky and Salinero

 Earlier Post:  Anky and Salinero ~ Final World Cup 2006

Rehab-Horse Wins Bronze At European Vaulting Champs


Liz Mackay and Islay


A former police horse deemed unsuitable for duty has triumphed at a major international vaulting competition, thanks to the dedication of equine welfare charity the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) and his new borrower.

Islay, a 17.3hh 12-year-old black gelding on loan to Liz Mackay from the Eagles Vaulting Group in Perthshire, England won a bronze medal for Great Britain at the FEI European Vaulting Championships, held in Kaposvar, Hungary.

Islay and his vaulter, 17 year old Victoria McLaren were competing in the Junior Female Individual CVI.

Liz Mackay stated,  “We achieved so many personal bests that my head is still spinning!

Islay was an absolute star from beginning to end.


Islay arrived at ILPH Farm in Aboyne in 2002 from the Strathclyde Police Mounted Branch.

Islay did not fit well into the stress of police work.  He found loud noises scary and would not stand still at football matches.

The Mounted Police Unit signed him over to International League for the Protection of Horses. It was there that Islay began an extensive rehabilitation program.

After a year he had progressed so well and had such an excellent temperament that we asked Liz if she would like to try him for vaulting.

The rest is history!”


Re-written from news sources:

Unruly Stallion Calms Down Playing Football


Kariba the horse has become a regular Mane Rooney – after his trainer discovered his amazing passion for football.

The troubled stallion was once so unruly, it regularly threw its riders and was nearly left on the bench permanently. But thanks to horse psychologist Emma Massingale, he has been placated – by his love of soccer.

The 16-year-old animal has mastered passing, shooting, dribbling and hoofing a ball around his field. He has even moved on to nudging his large blue ball with his nose – in a horsey-style header.

Emma, 25, rehabilitates dangerous steeds at her training school, Natural Equine, based in Bradworthy, Devon, England.

She said: “I’m not interested in football myself. But I looked at the players and thought ‘my horse could do that’. “We started by leading him to the ball with a rope and I rewarded him with a pat if he touched or kicked it.


“Horses naturally shy away from unusual, bright objects that move towards them, so that had to be overcome. “Luckily, he is such a show-off, he took to it immediately and there was no looking back.

“He loves to learn new tricks and will parade around showing off his skills without any instruction. If you leave him in the pen with a football, he is happy there for hours kicking and heading it about on his own.

Kariba, who stands 16.2 hands high, was Emma’s first-ever horse after he was bought by her father for her to ride eight years ago.

Named after a town on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, the steed is a thoroughbred Irish Draft Cross. But the jet-black stallion had such a bad attitude, the local pony club told Emma she should sell him straight away because he would never be safe to ride.

Emma later discovered Kariba’s previous owners decided to get rid of him after he threw off his rider during a public parade.

She said: “When I first got him, he was out of control and I spent most of the time on my backside after he’d thrown me off. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him, I already loved him too much.

“Instead I travelled to Australia to a camp in the outback where I learned to understand the psyche of each horse.”  On her return, she set her new skills in action on Kariba, who is now the star pupil among the 13 horses being trained at the school.


The horse soon began playing with the ball by himself – known as “training at liberty” – and even invented his own moves.

Kariba favours a larger than average football – a 65cm version so he can get a good boot down the field.

Emma said: “He will take a shot at goal, but seems to prefer playing about in a midfield position. I personally think he’d do best as a goalkeeper – you wouldn’t get much past him.”

Story Link:

Julie Suhr – 76 yr. Old Endurance Rider


Julie Suhr just turned 76. She lives in Scott’s Valley near Santa Cruz, California. For over thirty years, she has ridden in cross county endurance races of 30, 50, and 100 miles each. Starting in 1968, Julie began riding the coveted 100-mile, one-day Tevis Cup race.

She has started the race 28 times and finished 22, with three Haggin Cup wins, the award given to the horse among the top ten finishers, which is judged to be in the best condition to continue.

Julie says that her ability to still ride long distances is directly attributed to good health, and a supportive husband.

Julie says there are some changes she has noticed from a lifetime of riding, and some things to keep in mind when “riding into your 70’s”. First, “polish up your sense of humor”. The thing that does not change with age is the thrill of a good ride on a good horse”.


She admits that the confidence she used to take for granted is tempered by the reality of knowing that if she goes off she could break a hip. She knows her reflex actions and balance are nowhere near as sharp and quick as they once were.

She feels that if you are going to continue to compete, the selection of endurance prospects is reduced. She now likes to buy a horse keeping the 6 “S’s” in mind; Safe, Sane, Short (14.2 or 3 at most), Smooth, Sound and Sure-Footed.

She has noticed some other changes brought on by the years. She is more sensitive to hunger and thirst. Julie says that she rode her first Tevis Ride (over 30 years ago) with “not a single drop of liquid or food.” She now carries four water bottles on her saddle.

Her most important addition to her riding gear is her survival fanny pack, which she wears around her waist. “This is my security blanket. It goes where I go.”

In case of a fall off her horse, she will have on her body:

A space blanket.
A glowstick to fend off wild animals, or to attract attention.
A knife with an easy-to-open blade.
A small leatherman tool that has many uses.
Some waterproof matches.
A couple of leather thongs for quick repairs.
Some benadryl in case of attack by killer bees.
A few Advil in case of pain.
A short, small pencil with a tiny notepad. She says the point always breaks the first time you put it in your pack, but no problem, you can sharpen it with your knife.
Lastly, a lipstick, “Because you never know who you are going to run into out there.”

Julie also says that her thermostat no longer works as well as it used to. “I am much more apt to be too cold or too hot than in previous years.

She likes Polar fleece that zips up the front so that you can get it off and on without removing your helmet, and is easy to tie around your mid-section with just one loop while riding.


Julie is sure that “the two discoveries that have meant the most to mankind are not the discovery of fire or the invention of the wheel. They are polar fleece and Velcro.”

She has also switched from an English to an endurance type saddle that has a deeper seat and a rounded pommel in the front to give her more support.

Julie continues to go to at least one endurance ride a month, and is often accompanied by her husband and trail companion, Bob, who rode his first endurance ride, the Tevis, at the age of 58. He rode his last 50 miler at age 84.


Julie Suhr crossed the finish line of the 2007 Shine and Shine Only Endurance ride, for her 30,000th mile of Endurance competition.

Now, that is called … inspiration!

Link:  “Ten Feet Tall, Still” by Julie Suhr

Discover the world of endurance riding:  This engaging true story is not for horse lovers alone, but for all ages and all walks of life who have ever had dreams.

Link:   Tevis Cup ~ Earlier Post