Author Archives: Susan Williamson

About Susan Williamson

Writer, gardener, horsewoman, local foods promotor

A Horse of a Different Color

I spent June 13-15 at the Rare Breeds Horse show at the Virginia Horse Center. I went for several reasons, but mainly to learn more about the Akhal Teke horses who captured my attention and became an important part of my book, Turkmen Captives. And of course, to sell books. I was successful on both fronts.

In addition to Akhal Tekes , I saw Lippitt Morgans, Fells, Dale, Dartmoor , Gotland ponies and Caspian Horses which are by height definition ponies. I have ridden and worked Lippitt Morgans and had seen some of the ponies before but I enjoyed all of them.

The show was rather informal, being presented as an educational experience as well as a competition. I wasn’t able to stay for all of it, but the hunter, in hand, and costume classes were wonderful. Since my focus was on the Tekes, I missed the pony driving classes which were held in a different arena.

The Akhal Tekes were, as a breed, larger than I expected. And while they are narrowly built, not really much narrower than many Saddlebreds. Their high headed carriage and hot temperament attracted me because of their similarity to the American Saddlebred. Their lean confirmation reminds one of a Greyhound and in their native Turkmenistan they are used mostly for racing. While their ribs often show, none of the horses I saw were what I would call too thin. Rather their ribs are wide sprung, which would allow for greater lung capacity. Their often metallic colors are beautiful, but only icing on the cake. My favorite was a color I could only describe as silver buckskin on what I later found out was a 21 year old stallion. I didn’t care for the pale gold shades as they often had yellowish eyes as well, but they were still lovely animals.

There seemed to be a unusually high number of stallions for a breed with small numbers, but I assume many owners were hoping to breed to mares of other breeds

Every horse I saw moved beautifully. I wish we had been able to stay for the dressage classes as I’m sure they were impressive as well. This breed has very hard feet due to their desert heritage and never requires shoeing. I didn’t see a crooked leg or off movement in the bunch. The Tekes were happy in their work, some competing in class after class with never an ear back. There was no misbehavior under saddle in any class. No tail wringing, no shying, no evidence of displeasure.

Despite their somewhat long bodies, these horses are collected under saddle with lovely headsets. I was trying to explain to my husband why I thought they moved so well and I had to stop and analyze their motion. First, any collected horse tends to move better, but it was more than that. They push off their hocks and are very free in the front. While they don’t have high action, their motion is somewhat lofty and always straight. I watched one girl who double posted and I wondered why. But then I noticed another horse had almost a hesitation in his trot—not quite a Spanish walk but almost a parade gait.

Most of the riders and handlers appeared professional and capable. Some were, in fact, professional trainers, while others were amateur owners. When giving the history of the breed, it was mentioned that Akhal Tekes didn’t suffer mishandling well. I don’t suffer fools well, so I understand completely. They are extremely people oriented and interactive. (Another Saddlebred similarity that caught my attention.) One owner told me that a dressage “trainer” had nearly ruined her mare because she couldn’t handle her outside of the ring and simply wasn’t used to hot horses.

In the distant past, an Akhal Teke would be tethered outside the family tent, covered with blankets and tack, ready to fly off across the desert at a moment’s notice. Consequently, they are not fond of stalls. I saw more than one weaving. I asked an owner if that was usually a problem and she said her mare had access to a small paddock 24/7.

Various breeds have been developed and perfected over the years to do certain jobs. In general I have not been a huge fan of crossbreeding—if you want an Arabian, buy an Arabian and so on. But the limited gene pool of the rarer breeds in some ways begs for crossbreeding, especially when they have so many desirable characteristics. Akhal Teke Sport horses are 50% or more Akhal Teke. I am very interested in the idea of a Saddlebred-Teke cross because I believe the horses are similar in temperament. The Teke’s sound feet , good lungs and breathing capacity would be a bonus to any American breed. And as owners of two Saddlebred mares, it will be interesting to see if my husband and I pursue this theory– by putting our money where my words are.

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Death of an Icon

As I write this, my husband is on his way to Kentucky. He is going to attend the funeral of a mentor of sorts, the man who introduced him to American Saddlebred horses. James Howard Young truly was a legend in his own time.

He loved his family, history, Saddlebed horses, antiques, the South, and pageantry. Everyone who knew him could quote one or more of his colorful sayings, some more politically correct than others. He was a teacher and his obituary said that he read three books to his students every day: The Bible, Gone with the Wind and the works of Shakespeare. I used to pass him on my way to work. He was heading to school, shaving as he drove. There just weren’t enough hours in the day for all of the living he wanted to do.

We used to think he was born a century too late. When an old mansion went up for sale he bought it and had it moved and attached to his farm house. He hosted his children’s weddings in the yard, and I remember him wading in the fountain in his tuxedo with the legs rolled up when the water wasn’t flowing as he wished.  He lived large in every sense of the word. Peacocks and broodmares wandered in the background. Local friends and relatives mingled with music producers arriving by limousine.

His wife Gwen is the essence of southern gentility. She had her own career in social work and joined James Howard in encouraging their children to follow their dreams. Richard and Fred Young spent their high school years playing music. An old tenant house became their rehearsal space. The Itchy Brothers Band was popular at local venues before eventually landing record contracts and becoming The Kentucky Headhunters. They won Nashville awards and continue to tour today with their own brand of country rock. They bought Elvis Pressley’s tour bus. Richard’s son is a member of Blackstone Cherry, a rock band very much in demand in Europe. But the boys always come home. Fred to a cabin he built on the farm with his lovely wife, Marla, and Richard to his grandmother’s  restored home lovingly decorated by his wife, Cindy.

Daughter Mary Jane spent a few years in Virginia, but married a surgeon and returned to the area.

For our wedding present, James Howard commissioned a painting of his grandmother, my husband’s great grandmother. Such a typical gesture. He knew the lineage of all of his people and all of his horses. He never was wealthy, but found ways to follow his passions. “Can’t” was not a word in his vocabulary.

Hail, James Howard, for a life well lived, all 93 years of it. You will no doubt be organizing Heavenly spectacles to greet us all.

 

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