Lisa Gubenia was done.
Scrambling to her feet, brushing off the dirt, the 46-year-old mother of two wept as she announced to her friend Allie Conrad that the fall she had just taken, from the back of her ex-racehorse who had simply “exploded” on a trail ride, was like a final call to hang up her tack. She had to quit riding.
“I loved this horse, and I tried so hard to make it work, but I constantly got bucked off,” Gubenia says of an OTTB who she owned for three years, and who was eventually euthanized after being deemed dangerous. “I was on a trail ride with Allie when it happened and by this point, I’d become terrified of riding. I told Allie I was done. I couldn’t get on another horse, I was just too paranoid.”
But her friend Allie Conrad, the executive director of Thoroughbred re-homing organization CANTER Mid Atlantic, and of whom it is often said possesses a “sixth sense” when it comes to matching prospective owners with horses, would not hear of it. Conrad couldn’t let her walk away from a pastime she enjoyed so much.
“First, Allie stuck me on a mare and trail rode with me. I was so scared — of everything. We just went for walks in the woods and I was afraid the whole time.”
But once she dismounted after yet another uneventful ride, Gubenia felt better about herself, proud that she’d Kiss a Monster
Barn name: Monster
Sire: Meadow Monster
Dam: Kiss Me Cat
Foal date: April 27, 2007confronted her fear and got back in the saddle.
And then in March 2013, a horse named Monster arrived on Conrad’s farm.
Looking like a gypsy with a shaggy coat and mane gone wild, Kiss A Monster wasn’t anyone’s idea of a perfect horse. But Conrad sized him up as an ideal fit for Gubenia.
Soon after his arrival, on a trail ride together one day, Conrad arranged for Monster to tag along, ridden by a friend, as the three women set out for a leisurely hack through the woods.
“It was a sunny, cold day in March this year and Allie and her friend Suzanne asked me to trot up ahead, and I could hear them talking,” Gubenia says. “The next thing I know, they asked me to try Monster.”
After a little convincing, she mounted up and immediately felt all her muscles tense, and her legs get “grippy” in the saddle. Then they started walking. And after 10 minutes, a feeling of calm enveloped her like a warm hug from a good friend.
“I looked at my friends and said, ‘I haven’t been this relaxed on a horse like this in years!’ ”
Little by little Monster and Gubenia got a feel for each other as they took lessons and gradually built up from walking to trotting and cantering.
And while Monster had been no saint in the past with other riders, for Gubenia he tolerated her tendency to grip too much, and hang too heavily on the reins.
With past riders, including Conrad, Monster had acted up a bit. Gubenia only learned this detail later when she was shown video of a feisty horse giving others a hard time.
But for Gubenia, he was a saint. Especially so one day on the trails when an Eastern fox squirrel literally flew from the trees and landed on his back.
“It scared us both! This little black and white animal jumped from the top of the trees onto his back, and it really startled him,” she says. “He jumped and then moved to the side, but I could tell that he was keeping it together for me, and he made sure he kept me on his back.”
After losing a horse she loved, and losing her confidence along with him, Monster turned out to be her perfect match.
“He’s my horse of a lifetime,” she says. “I know he has my back and takes care of me.”