Alisa Gusterer knows first hand what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he wrote, “Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby.
She has hit the dirt many times in the last year.
But no matter how often the 17-year-old has been unseated by her bright, white Thoroughbred, she has climbed back in the saddle, even when all logic seemed to argue against it.
“The first time I put my foot in the stirrup he reared and ran away,” she says. Many times after that, he left her on the ground to tear around the arena. “There was another time, when the saddle didn’t fit him properly, that he bucked me off and then bucked all the way around the ring—twice.”
Despite some of these rocky experiences in their first year together, Gusterer and Apollo have persevered; she has come to understand much about him, from how a “glint in the eye” means mischief is coming, to the gentle touch necessary to calm him. And he has eased out of his 11-year racing career into a near-perfect lesson and trail-ride horse.
Race name: Scattering Breezes
New name: Apollo
Sire: Concordes Tune
Dam: Buck N Cavalry
Apollo had just retired from racing at Colonial Downs and Calder when Gusterer saw the opportunity to purchase him last July. The longtime “lesson girl” admits she was pretty junior when she first started with him. And at times she wondered if everything was going to be okay.
“I didn’t know him very well then, so I didn’t know if he had behavioral issues or if he was really scared,” she says, adding, “When he arrived, I wasn’t very advanced. I didn’t know how to deal with anything that might spook or buck.”
Her first lesson came early and without warning. She had put him next to a mounting block and was about to climb aboard when he reared up and fled.
Three weeks later, she tried again. But this time, not wanting to take a chance, some friends helped box him in near a wall, and she was able to climb on. “He was really shaky though,” she says. “He was scared and he was shaking from head to toe.”
Gusterer embarked upon some experimentation to figure out what was wrong. And as it turned out, an easy fix was simply finding him a better fitting saddle. Eventually she chose to get rid of her medium tree and refit him with a medium-narrow tree, plus the addition of a gel pad.
“When I got the new saddle and a good, shock-absorbing pad, things really improved,” she says. “It took a lot of experimenting to figure out what he needed, but when I did figure it out, he improved dramatically.”
Today, Apollo and Gusterer can do it all. She has started jumping him and working on dressage moves, and best of all, has introduced him to the joys of taking rambling trail rides across the countryside.
And although the lessons were sometimes more difficult than expected, the rewards of teaching Apollo to carry her, fostered a deep, abiding bond between horse and rider.
As the poet said, “Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire.” And as Gusterer echoes, the passion has “seized her whole.”
(To watch Scattering Breezes race, please visit this You Tube link).