Marigold,a Turning Point
By Karen Nelson
Last Updated January 3, 2009
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Lee Kruger of Caledonia stables is a great woman, and I am forever grateful that she matched me with Marigold. The
horse she offered me after
Radar was s small chestnut mare with a short neck and a LOOOOONNNNGGGGGG back!
She was only about 15.2 hands, so much smaller than I would have chosen for myself (I was pretty tall as a kid), but she
had an exceptionally pretty face, kind eye, and super disposition.  

Mari was by an Oldenburg stallion and out of a mare that was either Quarter Horse or Arabian…or maybe a cross
between the two breeds; I was never able to pin down just who her mom was, but it didn't really matter to me.  She wasn’t
typical of the Caledonia breeding program in either size or type, but she did have the good looks and trainability that
tended to come from their breeding program. Mari was just what I needed to gain confidence and to enjoy riding again.
To be honest, I likely would have accepted any horse if it meant finding Radar a new home, so I am fortunate that Lee
matched me with such a kind mare.

It was the summer I turned 16 when I met Mari, and she was just over 3 years old. She was very green but could walk,
trot and canter, had done some tiny jumps, and most importantly she seemed safe. I tried her twice before making the
trade, but I think I had made my decision as soon as I saw her, as despite her size and conformational short comings,
there was something about her that made me feel happy, and comfortable in her presence.

When I bought Mari, part of the deal was that my coach at the time would be paid $1000.00 to go towards her training to
ensure she was given a chance at an education. In theory this was a great idea for the trainer, however in reality it didn’t
work out so well. My coach at the time was undergoing some personal and health issues, and it was hard to get her to
come out to teach me. Sometimes she just didn’t show up, and sometimes she was so late that I was put in a lesson with
the more advanced riders. I cringe when I think of how she was expected to keep up with the older horses, but she did.

Not being able to count on consistent help with Mari made me start to think of how to train her on my own. I think this
gave me the foundation for wanting to be a trainer. Mari tolerated my mistakes, but only responded well when I was
doing it right. She was both a very patient student, and a very good teacher.

Eventually I tired of the inconsistent lessons and moved on to a new coach at the same barn, even though it meant
giving up my prepaid lessons. This new coach was just starting out, and had excitement and energy for her job. She was
happy to work with a variety of horses and take us to little shows all over Alberta. She also gave me an opportunity that
really helped me learn; I became her working student. I helped tack up, lunge, untack, set jumps, help with the vet and
farrier, and such, in exchange for help at shows and for training rides. I worked for her for many years and was able to
learn more by working than I ever could have by simply being a full paying student.

With Marigold, I participated in jumping clinics with top riders such as Wayne McLellan and Chris Kappler. These clinics
went much better than my experience with Radar! Mari was a great clinic horse as she was able to do twisty turns, and
was very tolerant at trying new things. I also took some flat lessons with Gordon Dalshaug from Saskatchewan, which
awakened in me an interest in flat work. I learnt how to control and feel my horse with my seat, and how to control her
balance in ways I never knew possible.

I showed Mari up to the 3’0” hunters, under the show name “Promises Kept” and although she wasn’t the fanciest horse,
and I looked pretty silly on her, she was very consistent and we came home with some good ribbons from the  shows we
went to. She was also very easy to deal with at shows, and looked great in braids.

She wasn’t without her quirks though; I remember showing her at the Brandon Winter Fair when I was 17. We had been
showing the week before in Regina and she was going great. She had been good each day in the Brandon ring, so we
decided to skip warming her up in the show ring one morning. I went into the ring for her first class, picked up a
canter…and did a complete spin around! Apparently the sponsorship banner was new and frightening! Goofy mare.  
She only did that a handful of times while I owned her. It seemed that if she was going to spook, she was going to make
it a spectacular spook!

The best show memories I have aren’t at the big “A” Circuit shows though, the most fun I had was going up to
Mayerthorpe for the AHHS shows at Touchstone. The hunters were held on top of a hill in a big grass paddock with no
perimeter fence around the ring. I was amazed no horses took off down the hill. One time though, a herd of Broodmares
came galloping through the ring with foals following! That caused some excitement, luckily my horse was safe in her
stall. As rustic as that show was in some ways, it had a nice atmosphere, and wasn’t as “political” as the bigger shows
can be. Touchstone had the best prizes too, and Mari won a couple show sheets, some buckets, and numerous other
things. I wish that show was still being held.

Mari was more than just a show horse though. I spent countless hours with her, just grooming her, or taking her for
walks. My friend Nicole had a similarly sized thoroughbred mare named Elfie that was Mari’s friend, and we would go to
the barn in the evening and take them for grass, turn them out in the big field, or just spend an hour brushing them while
we talked. Mari and Elfie competed for shiniest coat! That time spent in quiet friendship with our horses was some of the
most therapeutic and relaxing time I can remember. If there was a moment I could recreate, it would be a moment where
Elfie, Nicole, Mari and I were together on a quiet summer night. I think those days are how I know a horse can be more
than just a “tool for riding”, they can be a friend and they can be a therapist.

Marigold also helped me learn more about horse health and soundness. One winter I brought Mari in and noticed her
hind legs were “squishy”. She had popped curbs on both hinds as she was slightly sickle hocked. Soon after she
developed massive splints due to being bench kneed. I perfected how to properly wrap and treat leg ailments rather
quickly. Fortunately she was kind enough to do it in the cold of winter, so it was easy to accept her being on stall rest
and not being able to ride for a while. She was a tough mare and even with those issues, she was never unsound as far
as I can remember.

The two summers I had her, she also developed a high fever (over 104 degrees) for no apparent reason for one week
in July. Both times it was when my coach was at the Saskatoon Horse Show, so I felt rather alone to deal with it, but the
vet and I never did find out what caused her temperature to spike. Blood work all came back normal, and after a few
days of stall rest and Bute, she was all better. As it happened twice at the exact same time of year, I wonder if it was
something in the air at Whitemud, although it never affected any of the other horses. It never happened again after she
moved to a different barn.

While I had Mari, I started to work with another green horse, a draft cross named Olga. Olga and Mari were turned out
together and I wished I could have owned them both! Olga was a bigger mare, and I felt well suited to her, and really
enjoyed working with her. I remember the first time we ever jumped her; my coach set up a combination to see what she
could do. The second jump was a 3’6” oxer by the time we decided to quit, as she had definately proved her worth as a
jumping horse. Olga just seemed to know how to jump right from the start. I was fortunate to be able to work with her for
a while, but once I got Olga going well, one of the instructors at Whitemud decided to take over her training, so Olga and
I parted company. The mare later went on to be a decent Children’s jumper. That is the hard part of training or being a
catch rider; you tend to get problems to fix, and once the horse is going well and fun to ride, you have to pass it on to
another rider.

Looking back it is hard to understand why I decided to sell Mari, but at the time I wanted to progress, and Mari was not
going to move past being a 3’0” hunter and her size made it difficult for me to ride correctly. I think riding Olga in part
helped me feel what the right size of horse was for my long legs. At the barn I rode at, riders regularly traded up to
different mounts as they progressed, so I just accepted that this is what would happen with me and Mari.

If I had access to a good dressage trainer, I may never have sold Mari, as her trainability would have taken us far,
although I am not sure she would have lasted soundness wise, so maybe it is for the best that she was sold to continue
doing what she did best: giving confidence to people in the hunter ring.

Last I heard Mari was doing hunters down in the southern US. She would be in her 20’s now if still alive.

Mari gave me some confidence back. She got me into the show ring and I actually managed to win ribbons. Most
importantly though, she started me on the way to wanting to understand how to train horses in a non confrontational
way, and to develop a partnership with the horses I rode.
Marigold at Whitemud Equine Centre
in 1991. Did she not have the prettiest
face ever?
Marigold and I at the River Valley Classic in
1992. She was one long backed mare but she
had a temperament and willingness that could
make up for any conformational flaws.

My mom made my hunt coat, and everything
else I am wearing was 2nd hand at best (other
than my helmet), but I think we still looked
pretty good in the ring!

Photo Credit Jim Kleine Photos