Storm Ruckus looked more like a wooly mammoth than a show horse on the day Lauren Camara came to have a look.
“When I saw him, the first thing I said was, ‘No way!’
A scruffy gelding that her riding coach had asked her to consider, he appeared to be the furthest thing from her idealized vision of a “made” competitive children’s hunter.
“But,” she adds, “My coach said she thought he was really cute and that she could see past all that hair. She told me I needed to trust her on this.”
So, on Valentine’s Day 2008, Camara took a chance on the fuzzy ex-racehorse, and had him shipped to her Ontario barn to begin what would turn out to be some of the most terrifying, frustrating, yet ultimately rewarding, riding lessons of her life.
At first, it all went quite smoothly.
Ruckus got a makeover, including a full body clip and mane pulling, and quickly began to build muscle and balance on a seven-day-a-week training schedule.
Under a tight deadline to get him ready for April shows, the pair worked diligently, jumping all manner of obstacles, including a browned, discarded Christmas tree.
Race name: Storm RuckusShow name: Fall ColoursBarn name: CaseySire: RokebyDam: Miss RuckusAge: 11
Most of the time the gelding, who she calls Casey, proved to be a cooperative and willing mount. Although he had his spirited moments when his focus strayed from the work at hand.
And while riding Casey was a lot harder than tooling around on a highly trained children’s hunter, they nonetheless had a decent first year showing, completing and placing in 15 events before 2008 wound to a close.
The achievements unfortunately become distant memories by April 2009, when Casey had to forego competition after pulling up lame.
After one of their most successful lessons, Casey inured his superficial digital flexor tendon and was forced to undergo nearly three months of stall rest to recover.
Then, in July, the pair hit an even rockier patch.
When he reentered the training ring with Camara on his back, he quickly figured out a way to dump her.
From July to the end of August, every lesson ended with Camara in the dirt, dislodged from her tack as Casey spun without warning.
“He could do a 180 spin in less than half a second. It happened so fast I couldn’t feel it coming, and I’d be on the ground before I knew what happened,” she says.
Day after day, Camara landed in a heap. But a cracked tailbone and bruised shoulder did not deter her. She climbed back in the saddle again and again, always landing in the dirt.
Finally, after a pep talk from her coach, Camara figured out how to ride out the spins.
“I’ll never forget it. I had fallen off again and my coach asked me the question, ‘Do you like falling off?’ Of course I said no. And this is when she told me to stop coming off my horse, and that was the last time I fell.”
By employing a few safety measures, like controlling the right rein better to help avert a left-turn spin, she managed to stay in the saddle.
And she also learned to laugh at the situation, taking pleasure in the ride, regardless of how he behaved.
After a punishing year together, however, and her many riding skill improvements, Camara remained unconvinced that she had the right horse. With some frustration and regret, she decided to sell Casey.
In order to put her horse in front of as many prospective buyers as possible, she entered Casey in schooling classes at a September 2009 championship show, and rode him through his paces in a non-compete division.
To her amazement, Casey was an angel. He didn’t spin once, and he did everything she asked.
As luck would have it, nobody wanted to buy her horse, and Camara eventually realized that her riding coach had been right all along: her little Thoroughbred was a diamond in the rough, waiting for someone to polish him.
With a new attitude, the pair “rocked it” in the 2010 Children’s Hunter Division in Ontario, finishing ninth overall in points.
“The last horseshow we did we won a couple class and were grand champions of our division!”
Now in her second year of college, Camara is deeply appreciative of the lessons she learned with Casey, and has no plans to sell him.
It was a hard-fought battle to improve as a team, overcoming injury and so many bad rides.
While there were moments along the way when Camara wished for a ready made hunter who was ready to win from the get-go, she looks back on her years spent learning to ride her ex-racehorse Thoroughbred as some of the best in her equestrian life.
It might have been easier to take the well-worn path of other riders with made ponies. But she did it the hard way, and when success finally came, Camara knows it is deeply deserved.
“He was meant to shine, just like my coach told me he would,” she says. “He is now the most gentle horse with the sweetest personality, and he will have a home with me for the rest of his days.”