By Traci Durrell-Khalife
I inherited the "horse bug" from my mother. In the 1920s, her father farmed his fields with teams of Percherons. While the gentle giants lounged in their corral, Mom, who was just a child, would climb up the leg of Bird or Jess and sit on her back as she walked around. Mom begged for a pony of her own. Finally, her family found a suitable 13.2 hand bay mare named Babe. She was very fast and won lots of pony races at local fairs. Babe was just the first of many for Mom.
In 1943 she purchased a Shetland mare for my oldest sister. Over the years there were Thoroughbreds, Morgans, Quarter Horses and crossbreds, but Shetlands were a mainstay. My five siblings and I all learned to ride on Shetlands, and we still have a small herd of them to this day. Our childhood favorite was Spike. He was a 38" sorrel tobiano gelding with endearing blue eyes. Not only did we learn to ride on him, we learned to be better riders because of him.
An experience I'll never forget was the day I entered my first solo riding class on Spike. At the tender age of six, I was too old for leadline. There were no walk/trot classes then, so I was entering Pony Western Pleasure 8 Yrs & Under. Spike wasn't a show pony; he was more experienced at pasture and trail riding. At last the announcer called my class. I walked into the big, dusty outdoor arena along with seven other ponies and riders. When asked to jog, Spike trotted a bit fast, but I had good control and sat his animated trot nicely. When the announcer called for the lope, Spike took off at a gallop, trying mightily to catch up and overtake the bigger ponies. He surely thought it was a pony derby. The harder I pulled on the reins, the faster he went. Then he lowered his head and started crow hopping across the arena!
I'd developed a pretty good seat and balance, having ridden bareback most of the time, but even that was no match for Spike's bucking. Soon I sailed over his head and landed in the dirt, right in front of the audience. The ringmaster hurried over to see if I was all right. As I got to my feet, I realized my cowboy hat had flown off, my belt buckle had come unhooked and was flopping loose, and a pearl snap had popped open on my shirt. I spit out a mouthful of dirt and exclaimed, "I'm falling apart!" That didn't deter me. I persevered with both Western and English riding and pony driving. I participated in 4-H and competed in open shows. After high school, I found my niche as a horse show judge and have been judging for 35 years. The knowledge, experiences and friendships gained through my horse life have been incomparable and have shaped me into the person I am today.