|Horse Stories: Jazz
By Karen Nelson
Last Updated: March 5, 2009
|Just to warn you, this story is going to be more about my life struggles and changes during the time I had Jazz, than it is
going to be about the horse herself. The time I owned Jazz marked the situations and struggles that brought an end to
what I thought was going to be my future.
For a while things were going quite well for me, and the future looked promising. I was teaching a few lessons now at
Amberlea, and Sue and Clark seemed to be getting closer to having clients that would be willing to invest in a barn for
them to work out of so we could leave Amberlea and I could take over the barn management and do more teaching.
Their client base had grown and the quality of horses and riders had improved. I was still taking night courses, and was
doing the bookkeeping for Sue and Clark as well as my other duties. The opportunities for riding still were not as
consistent as I liked, but it was improving, and I now had Tango to look forward to riding when she got older.
Some big changes had come for Sue and Clark as well; Clark had won a flight for two to anywhere in Europe for winning
a Grand Prix class in Saskatchewan. After doing some research, they decided to go to Holland and their vet set them up
with some contacts so that they could go to some of the sales barns and horse shows. This trip to Europe really opened
their eyes to how differently things were done in Europe. Horse shows were held pretty much every weekend, and
evening classes were a social event attended by the locals. The quality of horses was very high, as was the standard of
training, with most breeders sending their horses to sales barns to be started and marketed, ensuring that all the young
stock received a good start in life, as well as making horse shopping much easier.
Horses were also worked much harder there, with it not being uncommon for a horse to show every weekend. These
horses were not babied, and it was more of a true business with less emotion involved; If the horse broke down they had
more waiting to replace them, it was as simple as that.
The idea of buying horses from Holland was a turning point for them, as it solved an issue that they had started to face:
as their clients advanced, they needed to be able to buy already going horses to advance with them, but most of the
area barns did not want to sell their good horses to them as we were the barn to beat, and quality horses from the US or
Eastern Canada were pricey. As well, if they did buy a local horse, and the horse didn't do as well with them, then it
would reflect badly on them and their methods. Buying horses from Europe also made financial sense; what we
considered a good horse for our shows, would be a mediocre horse in Holland as they didn't have the demand for
hunters or equitation horses, and to them a horse that was limited at 4'0" wasn't that valuable.
The other benefit that horse shopping in Europe brought to Sue and Clark, was the opportunity for commissions. Not
only would Sue and Clark get a commission from their client for finding the horse, they would also get a commission from
the agent in Europe for buying a horse from him.
This double commission was legitimized internally by the reasoning that these horses were greatly undervalued and that
the clients were still getting a good deal. This was occasionally the case, but equally as often, these imported horses
didn't pan out as expected. The long trip over would leave the horses body sore for months and they seemed to have a
higher than average rate of soundness problems in that first year or two. As well there were some communication
problems between the horse's and their new owners. These horses were used to being ridden by professionals with a
solid understanding of dressage, whereas Sue and Clark's clients didn't have very solid flat work as Sue and Clark
rarely taught flat lessons...most of the time clients warmed themselves up, and were only taught the jumping portion of
the lesson. Finally I think there was also an issue with the horses just plain being too much horse; the big strong
warmbloods were very powerful and athletic and ill suited for the teenage girls and women they were being bought
for...people that were used to riding lighter and more sensitive breeds like thoroughbreds.
The fact that the horses being brought back weren't having much success for their owners, didn't deter clients from
sending Sue and Clark on more horse buying trips to Europe. One family even took out a second mortgage on their
house to import a horse for their teenage daughter. It was a nice horse, and the girl was very deserving, but the horse
was a lot more challenging then the girl was used to, and it seemed like a very risky investment to take out that sort of
loan on. People just seemed to be caught up in the excitement of importing a horse, and didn't look at the actuality of it. I
think only a handful of the horses they brought back in those early years actually enabled their clients to move up a
Probable the best thing Sue and Clark brought back from a horse buying trip was a girl from Northern Ireland named Jo.
Jo worked as a groom in Europe as a way to escape the poverty of her hometown. We tried to help Jo gain residency
into Canada, but we were unable to do so; instead she just came over for long visits as she was able. Jo was a hard
worker who had lots of experience with horses in Europe, but she surprised by how differently we treated our horses
here....more like pets. For example, in Europe, even the "good" horses would haul to shows and stand tied to trailers all
day, whereas ours always had deeply bedded stalls to retire to. Grooms were also treated much better here than in
When Sue and Clark were away horse shopping, I would get a lot of riding opportunities, and I used this time on my own
to develop my flat work skills. I still felt I needed to prove myself as a rider to Sue and Clark so that I would get more
rides when they were around, and I thought I had finally done that: one day they gave me an older children's jumper to
hack as his owner was sick. This horse had been around the show circuit for years, and one of his frustrating
trademarks was that he would go around with his neck and nose jutted into the air. His previous barn had spent so much
time lunging him in a Chambon, that as soon as you snapped a lunge line to his halter he would immediately assume the
position and lunge with his head down and his chin to his knees. It was obvious that this work had been useless though
as it didn't carry over at all to the ridden work. This hadn't been a problem for him as he was a jumper, but with jumper
equitation classes becoming more popular and competitive, having the horse go around like a giraffe would keep his
riders out of the ribbons.
Even in the pelham or kimberwick he was usually ridden in, he would stick his nose out. The day I was given him to hack,
I decided to put him in a plain french link snaffle, which had become my bit of choice. I was a voracious reader back
then, just as I am now, so I wanted to try some of the exercises I had read about in a dressage book. Within 15 minutes I
had him going at walk and trot with a round frame and soft back. Sue happened to walk by the arena as I was riding, and
quickly went to get Clark; they could not believe how good the horse looked. I rode him for a few days straight and was
able to get him going consistently well at walk, trot and canter. When his rider came back to ride him she was impressed
at the difference, and her parents encouraged me to ride him for them again. From that point on, this teenage show
horse was finally able to go around in a soft frame without the need for strong bits, draw reins, or other devices.
For a while this really served to boost my ego and I rediscovered my enjoyment in doing flat work. It also seemed like I
was getting some better horses to hack. I still wasn't getting to jump much, but by this point I felt so rusty at jumping that
when I was allowed to jump a horse I would be too nervous and feel too much pressure to do well to actually enjoy it. I
thought perhaps I had found my niche in doing quality flat work and hoped it would lead to more consistent riding.
I still went through painfully dry spells where I wouldn't get to ride, but they would always be offset by weeks where I had
more than I could handle. I was also much happier now that I was teaching some lessons again. Teaching was
something I hadn't realized I had missed until I started doing it again.
There were times when I would get frustrated enough with the lack of riding, or with the lack or progress towards getting
their own barn that I would broach the subject with Sue or Clark, but other times I would just feel sorry for myself. Talking
to them usually help matters for a few weeks, feeling sorry for myself never helped matters. The problem wasn't that
there wasn't enough horses to be ridden either. Clark had a chalk board with all the horses' names, and beside their
name he would allocate their rider for the day. If he knew a boarder wouldn't be out, then that horse would be allocated
to someone else to ride. Sometimes he would do the board up the night before, so then I could ride any horse's
assigned to me before Sue and Clark showed up that day. However more often he would wait until the next day to fill out
the board. This meant I had to help Sue and Clark finish riding all their horses before I could do any riding, but with
school and only so many hours in the day, this often meant I just didn't have time to ride the horses I was assigned.
All in all though, I was feeling fairly optimistic for my future working for Sue and Clark, and really did feel that one day
they would have a large show barn that I could teach out of and manage, as well as ride. It didn't even occur to me that I
could look for employment elsewhere.
Sometime after Tango was born, the sister of one of our clients had a horrible accident befall her family; her husband
had been observing wildlife from a tree on their farm when he fell. That fall resulted in his becoming paralyzed from the
neck down. They lived in a remote area and had a young family, so understandably this injury was extremely hard on
them all. As a result they were selling both their young warmblood horses. Christine hauled them both to Amberlea for
Clark and Sue to assess. The first one off the trailer was a 4 year old chestnut gelding with a very handsome face. He
was a nice height and had a kind expression. The second one was a 3 year old solid bay mare who had a very long lean
look, much like a greyhound. I was immediately drawn to the mare, but I am not sure if it was truly that I saw her
potential, or if it was just that I felt sorry for her as everyone else was immediately drawn to the gelding. I spent a fair bit
of time with the mare that evening, and cleaned up her mane and bridle path, and introduced her to the facility. Neither
one of the horses was started under saddle, but they both were reasonably well handled and dealt with being in the
barn quite well.
The next day Sue and Clark free jumped the two horses. They free jumped the gelding first as that was the one they
both favoured, but he made it immediately obvious that his talent was not for jumping. He did have lovely movement
though, and I think he was eventually sold as a dressage horse. They free jumped the mare next . I was busy cooling out
the gelding, so I didn't get to watch, but Sue was quite excited when she told me how amazing she had jumped, and they
too now looked at this mare in a favourable light as she showed a lot of promise as an upper level jumper.
The next day I presented them with a proposal; as part of my wages I wanted a free stall so that I could buy the bay
mare. I would pay for her vet, farrier and show fees with Sue showing her (trying to show when I was also grooming had
proven too stressful in the past, so I knew having a horse of my own to show was unrealistic, and Sue's European import
was lame). They had seven stalls at Amberlea that they didn't have to pay for, so giving me one free stall wouldn't cost
them anything, and it would actually help discourage them from collecting as many horses! I think they were still excited
about how well she had jumped, but also eager to help out the owner of these horses. I paid the full asking price of
$4000.00; hard to negotiate with someone facing the sort of tragedy the seller was facing, although I am sure some
people would have taken advantage of the situation.
The mare's registered name was "Jetta's Jewel", but I called her "Jazz".
|This picture was taken for Jazz's passport. She
would have been 4 years old in this photo. She
looked very much like a thoroughbred, but her dad
was the Holsteiner stallion "Silberpfeil" and her mom
was Holsteiner/TB cross named "Jetta". Jazz was
Jazz became mine and I enjoyed once again having a horse in the barn. I bought her new winter blankets, and spent my
spare time trying to tame her winter coat. I had her lunging and wearing tack, but Amberlea was too busy a barn to be
suited to starting a horse under saddle, so Sue helped me find a trainer out by St Albert to put 60 days on her. I can't
remember the name of the trainer, but I did go watch him work her and he seemed to be a nice and patient trainer. The
indoor arena he worked out of was quite small though, and Jazz had trouble balancing at the canter in the ring and I
think this western trainer had trouble with her warmblood gaits!
All in all though, I was happy with her training and the treatment she received. She came back pretty much the same
horse personality wise, just had some more knowledge.
Sue was away on a shopping trip in Europe when Jazz came back from training, so Clark offered to be the first one on
her when she came back to Amberlea. She was overly sensitive to leg pressure as she had been used to the muffled
contact of a western saddle, and Clark found her to be a little difficult to ride. As such he felt he should continue riding
her rather than allow me to ride my horse. This offer seemed ungrateful to turn down as it equated to free training, so I
agreed to have him continue to ride my horse. What I didn't know is that this would be a permanent arrangement and I
hardly rode Jazz the entire time I owned her. It got to the point where I was worried I would wreck her if I rode her.
I still enjoyed owner her though, and I really liked that mare. I felt proud when she went into the show ring, and it was
nice to be grooming for a horse I owned. Temperament wise Jazz was fairly aloof. She seemed to accept the attention I
gave her, and liked getting out of her stall, but she wasn't a particularly social horse, either with humans or other
horses. She was happy enough on her own, and even when out with other horses, she tended to do her own thing. This
was probably a good thing, as I didn't always have the spare time to spend with her, and she seemed ok with that.
Jazz started showing as a 4 year old. I think she did one hunter class at an Amberlea indoor schooling show, and then
went right into jumper showing. She was doing the 4'0" jumpers as a 5 year old. I am really not sure why we rushed her
as much as we did, and I am surprised she held up soundness wise as well as she did, but she was never lame, and
passed the vet check 100% when we sold her.
I remember one show Clark took her in, he was having a lovely round and was coming to a decent sized vertical. Jazz
didn't even appear to see the jump and ran chest first into it, somersaulting her and Clark to the other side. There were
a few such scary moments that I am sure were due in part to her youthful short attention span, and in part due to her
personality; she just didn't feel a strong need to bond with her rider and would more often than not be in her own world.
|I liked having a horse at the barn, but was disappointed that it
hadn't led to me riding more. I felt like it would of come across as
ungrateful if I had complained though, as Clark was in many
ways doing me a favour by putting so much training into Jazz.
Despite the fact I didn't ride her very much, I did enjoy taking her
for walks to find grass, brushing her, and just spending quiet
time with her when time allowed.
Things at the barn started to go downhill for me though. With Clark riding Jazz, I was still unable to count on having a
consistent horse to ride. This got worse when a former student of Clark's moved in with him and Sue. Now this former
student, "Tom", would get the majority of the extra rides. He was a nice enough guy, but I really resented that he just
moved in and greatly decreased my opportunities for riding.
It started to occur to me that this would likely always be the case. There would always be a paying client that could be
billed another lesson if they were given an extra horse to ride, or a more talented/more experienced rider available to
put work on a horse. Unless Sue and Clark were willing to give me that extra experience and actually teach me once
and a while, my struggle to improve would forever be futile.
I was also starting to doubt if Sue and Clark really were serious about moving out of Amberlea and building their own
stable. I did their books so I knew how much money they made and spent, and it seemed more and more unlikely that
they would give up the very cushy arrangement they had at Amberlea, and they certainly showed no signs of actually
saving any money to be able to afford to move. They did have clients looking for property to build on, but that didn't
seem to be going anywhere fast, and I think Clark was a little afraid of having the responsibility of bringing in enough
income for a barn of his own.
The incident that finally pushed me over the edge happened in the summer of 1997. Sue and Clark were at a show in
Red Deer, and had taken Jo with them to help. I don't remember if Jazz had gone to that show or not. I had stayed
behind with Tom to look after the horses that had not gone to the show. As was becoming more and more the case,
Tom had been left numerous horses to ride, and I had been left a list of other chores. One of these chores seemed odd
to me: Clark had stated very clearly that he wanted me to clean the wash racks. For some reason this was important to
him. I didn't quite understand why, but on the day there were to arrive home, I set about scrubbing the wash racks until
the walls actually started to look white. Tom meanwhile had arrived somewhat late, and was riding the horses on his list.
I had hoped he would be done riding earlier in the day so I could have the tack cleaned and put away as well as have
the tack room and grooming stall clean for when Sue and Clark returned, but Tom said that he would look after all that.
He knew I couldn't stay late as it was my parent's anniversary and we were going out to dinner.
Clark came back from the show early; about 30 minutes after I had left. He called me at home immediately and was
angry that the tack room wasn't cleaned and that there was tack hanging out. He hadn't even bothered to talk to Tom
yet, just called me right away. I explained that Tom was still riding and that I had to get ready to take my parents for
dinner. Not 5 minutes later he called again as he was just so upset about the tack room. He actually wanted me to come
back to the barn to clean it up!He called a couple more times, but I had call display, so I just let it ring and finally just left
my house to go to dinner. I was REALLY mad as he had made a mistake and said wash rack rather than tack room, and
I spend hours scrubbing the wash rack for apparently no reason. He also didn't seem to care that Tom was still riding
and it was he that had left the tack out after I had already left the barn.
I tried to put all that behind me as I went to dinner with my family but I was still mad. Years of feeling that I had been
taken for granted had come to a head.
The next day I came to the barn and unloaded the tack boxes from the trailer as I usually did and started the rest of my
day as usual. But then I saw Clark. I forget what he started to say, and it may have even been an apology, but I know
my comments to him were far from professional. Years of frustration came pouring out. I was so mad at him for
forgetting how hard I worked in general, that he couldn't give me some slack on one day that I wanted to leave early to
spend time with my parents.
Looking back it was foolish of me to quit without a back up plan; I had a horse I would have to pay board for, and I had a
mortgage as well as tuition and living expenses to pay, but guess I thought quitting cold turkey was the only way I could
be sure I would do it.
Clark called Sue in so the three of us could talk. He explained to Sue that I had quit, and I explained that I could
continue working until they found a replacement. We decided that the best option for Jazz would be to sell her at the
Spruce Meadows sale in October, providing we hadn't missed the deadline.
By that night some of the clients knew I had quit and I had two job offers, one of which I went to an interview for and took
the job once Jazz had sold. We also managed to get Jazz into the Spruce Meadows sale even though we had missed
One of Sue and Clark's other students decided to take my job, so the last month I worked was also in part providing
trainer for Cathy to take over. The last month of work was oddly peaceful and I was much happier, leading me to believe
I had made the right decision. I would get nostalgic though as I thought of all the skills I had that I would no longer use.
The knowledge and routines that I had perfected that were really only any good for that one specific job.
Jazz was in good condition and jumping well. As I had been to the sale with Ross a few years previous, I didn't feel as
nervous about taking Jazz, and was far more prepared; we had a video made of her show rounds and I planned to take
a TV and VCR to the sale to set up in front of her stall. I also had white polo wraps to make her stand out a bit more in
the sale ring. I figured with her breeding and show record she would stand out at the sale.
The sale was the first weekend in October, and Clark went with me to the sale. He had offered to ride her for me to help
ensure she was sold. I think he was also getting a little nostalgic and was being overly nice those last few weeks.
Jazz arrived at the sale in good form, and as she had shown at Spruce Meadows earlier that summer, the show grounds
were nothing new to her. I braided her for each presentation, and had clean white polos on her each time she went into
the ring. She free jumped amazingly well, but I think they may have held her back a little height wise as I am sure she
could have gone higher had they let her.
She was Lot 22 in the sales catalogue, with only two horses after her. "1992 Bay Cdn Warmblood Mare. Showing in
jumpers with ***Clark***, she finished her first competitive year by placing 4th overall in the 1996 ASJA 4-6 year old
Jumper Futurity. In '97, Jazz began competing at Class A shows in the 3'6"-4'0" divisions. Reserve Champion Green
Jumper at Regina "Jumps into Spring" show and is now showing Preliminary. Show video available upon request"
The prelude to the sale went well, and we had lots of interest in Jazz. On the evening of the sale, after the showcase
presentation, Clark, Jazz and I were called into the ring for a special award: we had won the Breeders Marketing Group
Inc prize for best presented horse. Jazz received a cooler, and Clark and I received BMG jackets. I thought for sure this
would improve her price!
Horses were selling well, and I felt optimistic as Jazz entered the ring with Clark aboard. This sale gave each owner a
special bidding card, good for one bid. This was instead of a reserve price and allowed owners to buy their horse back
if they didn't like how the bidding was going. I had set $6000.00 as my lowest price, but didn't feel there was really a risk
that she would not go for that much, but still went into the stands with my yellow bidder's card to be ready to bid should I
The bidding was painfully slow to get going. It seemed to take forever to get to even $5000.00. Clark and Jazz were
doing their best in the ring, but people just were not bidding! Eventually the bidding crawled to $7500.00 and Jazz was
I was shocked that this lovely, proven warmblood mare sold for LESS than my less proven thoroughbred gelding!
Perhaps people were sceptical of how much she had done at such a young age, or perhaps bidders were waiting for
the two horses after her who also had show records. Either way, Jazz was sold and that chapter of my life was over.
We took Jazz back to the barn, and her new owners came soon after. Turned out that they bid on a whim! They didn't
think for an instant that the bidding would stop so soon, and had been shocked to find they now owned a horse. Still,
they seemed like very nice people, so I was confident that she was going to a home that would treat her well.
The drive back to Edmonton seemed to take forever. It was strange to think that this chapter of my life was over, and
that in two days I would have an office job and be waiting for my baby horse to grow up.
Follow up on Jazz: her new owners got her home and then realized they had no idea what to do with her, so they sent
her back to Clark in the spring to train and show. Over the next couple years Jazz went on to compete and higher
levels, even winning a smaller grand prix competition. Jazz was a very athletic mare, and over time she became a
consistent competitor. She wasn't an "in your pocket" kind of horse, and she suited a more workman like arrangement.
|As for me, Clark was very good about helping me find a job after I quit. The job I ended up taking was an office job that
required extensive computer work. Clark had told my potential new boss that I was great on computers and had a lot of
experience with them, so they didn't ask me much about my computer expertise in the interview.
I did have computer experience, but only on Apple computers, not PCs, but I didn't think this would matter much.
So along comes my first day of work and the controller shows me what work he needs done, so I go over to my desk to
get started...and then I realize I have NO idea how to turn the computer on! My computers all had buttons on the
keyboard to turn them on, but none of the buttons on this keyboard did anything to start it up.
It didn't seem like a good move to tell the controller I didn't know how to start the computer, so I sat there and looked
like I was studying the paper work in front of me while I tried to figure out how to turn the darn machine on. Thankfully it
wasn't long before a coworker showed up and turned her computer on...so I realized I had to hit a button on the CPU to
get it to start! From there on it went smoothly and in the two and a half years I was there I moved up the ladder and filled
many different positions. Although office work was different than barn work, being able to think and to multi task are
skills that I think carry over to pretty much line of work.