Another Dimension

Smokie was my first companion when I began in English equestrian events in 2001.

Smokie was a ‘retired’ ex-racehorse, whom I found for sale in the weekend newspaper classifieds section. At the time he was only six, and sounded a lovely quiet prospect - spending his days providing trail rides for tourists at a local cattle station…

When I arrived at the station, after a very long car trip, I was greeted by a very sorry bag of bones that of course was (needless to say) very ‘quiet’ - translation: weak from starvation.

At the time I did not realise that this horse was going to teach me so much and set me in good stead for the rest of my horsey career.

Although my main feeling at the time was that I simply couldn’t leave this pitiful creature there to waste away, there was also just something about him that I was immediately drawn to.

I often reflect now, over my comparatively short time with him, and wish I knew then what I know now. If only l had him all over again, with the knowledge and experience l have now, things could have been so different.

Smokie at home was a beautiful sweet natured soul, always up for a cuddle and a pat.

Under saddle, however, was another thing. Once back on real feed and restored to an amply healthy weight he was a typical young TB descendant of “Mookta“. Sensitive, hot and challenging. Not at all suitable for a ‘beginner’ rider.

My now good friend (who had had multiple Royal Supreme Led, Ridden & HOTY winners, and who didn’t know me previously to visiting the shared agistment I was at during this time) eventually told me how Smokie instantly caught her eye one day as she drove slowly in to the property to teach another rider.

He was all quality TB, and as she watched me over the proceeding weeks, well and truly out of my depth with this sensitive genius of a horse, it crossed her mind every time she saw us struggling, that she could easily encourage me to get rid of him (she contemplated, hopefully to herself for a pittance – he wouldn’t have been worth much more), and I could get a good reliable horse all the better to learn on.

Unaware of all this, I eventually approached this person for lessons, and to her credit she decided to do the honourable thing and support and educate me in the ways of working with a super sensitive & intelligent individual. She sure had her work cut out for her! But Smokie’s kind and forgiving nature, as well as my willingness to adopt a completely new tact with him spurred her on to stick with us.

Prior to this point, I had already commenced competing at local Hack shows, and it had not been such a smooth ride… He, an ex-racer (with all the associated and many problems it brings along with it) and I, an inexperienced rider, did not make a good combination make.

I managed to hit the deck on many (many) occasions and was very lucky to never incur any serious injuries or broken bones - just one broken finger and a very bent leg!

One occasion, which has all my ‘long time’ hackie friends in fits of laughter, was the ‘King’ of all busters, which of course had to occur at the very first Darwin Royal show Smokie and I attended. We were competing in a Hack class and, as is typical of a royal show arena, there were many things going on… such as pig racing, show rides, show-jumping, and so on.

This was all well and truly too overwhelming for Smokie. Eventually the conflict between his flight response and his rider’s death grip built up to the point where it all exploded in typical uncontrollable mad horse style which finally ended with him directly behind the central Judge & Steward tent, rearing up and flipping over backwards (with me still on) right on top of the tent. Needless to say the tent had ‘officials’ racing out of it everywhere (who had been having a nice cup of tea until we spoiled it). You have never seen people run so fast - cutlery going everywhere.

But wait, there is more!

Not only did Smokie manage to land on the only tent within a two acre radius, but as he struggled to get himself back on all fours (and as I fled to a safe distance) the tent got caught around the stirrup and, yes, he then did laps of the arena pulling the flapping tent around the Darwin Royal Showgrounds upsetting all the other relatively calm and normal horses and ponies.

I was so lucky l did not get caught under him, and that we both came out of it surprisingly unharmed (well, physically anyway).

I became quite good at falling off, until probably the last time I went sailing when my great pals Kelle & Theresa could barely raise the ability to look concerned and worried for me through their side splitting, chortling and snorting. It was again in the show ring, on the circle. Smokie and I were going through our paces in an important qualifier at a local Agricultural show, when he suddenly pitched me forward and chucked me off. I was fuming… when was this bloody horse finally going to get over it and get on with behaving himself. I was truly dirty on him.

Kelle and Theresa were adamant he actually only stopped and it was in fact me who just kept going… luckily for them they had caught it on video, and yes he hadn’t actually lifted a single foot with intent to pitch me off. I had just gotten so used to going with it that I had managed to throw myself off. As I said before – I learnt a lot with this horse.

Smokie and l came a long way together, a journey l look back on with strong fondness and quite some amazement (and also with many thanks to that trainer, and friend, who put many hours into us). But also with gratitude, more importantly, to a horse that could forgive me for so many errors and misunderstandings and still offer me his best when I got it finally right. We finally grew into a well established combination taking out many Champion/Reserve awards in both the hack ring and the dressage arena.

Ultimately, this stage was short lived. I very sadly I had to say goodbye to this beautiful horse due to illness reasons. Although it was my heartfelt wish to give him a comfortable retirement paddock, it would not have suited his personality, nor his health conditions.  Smokie was laid to rest in August 2006 and will always have a piece of my heart.

Contact Details

Sarah Finch
Lancefield, VIC, Australia
Phone : 0438834070
Email : [email protected]