Three horses, three girls, and six changed lives.
Out of the 30 or so horses at Flying Cross Ranch, three off track Standardbreds have made their mark on the hearts of their owners. Flying Cross Ranch is a stable at Lacombe, owned by ‘Thoroughbred guy’ Roy Sturgeon and his wife ‘Standardbred gal’ Christina and they offer lessons to both children and adults. Mixing Thoroughbred people and Standardbred people can be a bit like mixing oil and water, but between the two of them, they have created a haven for a number of off-track horses and for their lesson students. Badlands Buddy, Every Gamblers Girl and Man Alive are three lucky horses who have not only found their forever home at Flying Cross, but have found their forever people!
Badlands Buddy was a true warrior at the track. He raced until he was 11 with more starts than Christina can remember! He was claimed by several barns, he contracted a ferocious case of equine distemper (strangles) and he had not one, but two slab fractures in his knees. Any one of those can end a horse’s career, or life, but not Buddy. Truly tough, he went from barn to barn and never lost his consistency on the track, he miraculously survived strangles as an older horse and he came back from both fractures completely sound and healthy. Christina owned Buddy as a four year old, and when he was claimed away she eventually claimed him back, finally retiring him at the ripe old age of 11.
Christina’s daughter Aleshia Shaw is 15, and is devoted to Buddy. Standardbreds in Alberta are pacers, and retraining a pacer to walk, trot and canter can take a daunting number of hours and for an older horse it can take years - Aleshia has happily accepted the challenge. Aleshia always loved Buddy when he was in their racing stable’s barn, and with her younger sister would hang off the bars on the stall and slip onto his back as often as they could. He was as patient with the girls as was tenacious at the track, and with his extra long tongue that he lolls out at every opportunity and need to be part of every activity in the barn he worked his way into their hearts.
When they decided to retire Buddy they turned him out for a year of rest and relaxation, happy to keep him as a pasture pet for the rest of his life. Then Aleshia decided to make him her all-around, do everything horse, and he was pulled out of the pasture and put to work. Riding him every day, working through all of the obstacles of retraining a pacer, managing her expectations and the little frustrations that come with working with an off-track race horse and simply putting in hours of love and devotion, she and Buddy are now a team. Together they can do just about everything from working at liberty doing tricks, jumping, barrel racing, and both English and Western equitation.
Taylor Shaw is 11, and is living proof that every little girl needs a horse to love. And that every horse needs a little girl to love! Trainer Rod Starkewsky had Every Gamblers Girl in his care at the track, but she was a small filly and after being in a minor accident on the track he realized she was not going to be a successful race horse. He was looking for a home for her, preferably with a little girl to love her! Every Gamblers Girl made her way to Flying Cross, and has been nicknamed ‘Z’, after the great Thoroughbred mare Zenyatta.
Z could not have found a better home or a better partner in crime in Taylor! Z is an energetic and lively horse, and she is well matched with Taylor. Taylor has worked hard with Z, and in the year and a half they have been together they have developed a level of trust that is a joy to see. Z walked up to Taylor in the pasture and Taylor swung up onto her, talking to her and taking her for a bridleless bareback ride. Their bond is evident, and when Taylor says that “Z can do anything”, it’s very clear that the two of them can!
Victoria Luscombe did not grow up with horses. Unlike the Shaw girls, she didn’t have a real horse as part of her life, rather having posters and pictures of them on her bedroom wall and dreams of one day owning one. Her obsession was rewarded when she was able to save enough babysitting money to purchase riding lessons at Flying Cross. Now she bakes and sells cookies, and helps out at the ranch in order to pay for her lessons. Man Alive retired from racing and needed a new career. A gentle, willing horse, Manny has become the perfect partner for Victoria’s introduction to horses. Victoria recalls her first ride on Manny in the round pen, when he was looking back at her with a confused look on his gentle face, and she was desperately trying to conquer her nerves and fear.
The two have come a long way from that first ride, and they have slowly introduced new skills to each other, and Victoria displays a confidence and assuredness with him that shows their relationship. The smile when she talks about the feeling of accomplishment of realizing a lifetime dream is only matched by her bubbling enthusiasm when she talks about how much she loves him. Victoria and Manny have developed a bond, and now they are working on Manny’s English flat work and approach to jumps. Manny reverts to a pacing gait when he feels pressure and Victoria is learning to bring him to a trot and canter. The hand and leg aids she has to use have developed her riding ability and she has a new goal of learning dressage in mind for Manny’s future.
The three Standardbreds had an unusual task set before them in June at a fundraising event called Talk Derby to Me. Some fun match races were set up at the training track at Flying Cross Ranch, in conjunction with a Murder Mystery dinner theatre and Aleshia, Taylor, Victoria, Buddy, Z and Manny were pressed into service. It’s more than a bit unusual to see Standardbreds breaking from a set of flat racing gates let alone thundering around at full gallop around a turn and down the stretch, but all three of these equine athletes made their flat racing debut look effortless! For the girls it was just one more adventure with their horses!
When all three girls talk about their equine partners, the love shines through. There is a saying that every horse needs a little girl, and Badlands Buddy, Every Gamblers Girl and Man Alive have all found their girl. Although it is true that their love has ensured that all three horses have earned a forever home at Flying Cross, it is also true that all three girls have been touched and changed by their equine partners. These girls have learned patience and determination, and have developed a quiet confidence that comes from hours of time with their horses. They are remarkable young women, thanks to their devotion to horsewomanship skills! All three girls, and all three horses have been changed for life. All three girls and all three horses have been changed for the better, by each other.