In this new series called “Lifers,” we interview equestrians who have spent the better part of their lives in the saddle or involved with horses in some way.
Horses have been a huge part of Tracey Dickson’s life for 47 years and she’s still kicking on and embracing the joys of being an equestrian. Tracey manages Sandridge Saddlery in Saint-Lazare, Quebec and is the director for a local equestrian organization, where she helps organize clinics, seminars, and workshops throughout the year.
A Horse Crazy Beginning
Even before I remember, my parents report that I was ‘horse crazy’, and I do remember getting in trouble fairly on in grade school for constantly drawing horses all over my notebooks!
My first rides were on trail horses we would rent for an hour. I quickly learned if you made the horse stop and let the others get ahead I could get them to run to catch up. As these trail rides were usually led by a teenage boy or girl who couldn’t care less, my poor horse would spend the entire ride repeating this exercise.
When I was 10 and 11, I went to a month-long sleepover camp that had horses, so I had my first taste of formal lessons. Following that I began to take occasional lessons at ‘Silver T Ranch’ and generally became a barn rat – riding when I could, but mucking out, brushing, turning out horses, and generally doing anything that kept me at the stable. The summer I was 12 I rented a pony, “Max’ at Silver T, and that only confirmed my desire to own a horse.
In 1973, when I was 13, we bought ‘Penney’ – a very green 4-year-old chestnut half-Arab mare for $650.00. While I would never advocate a purchase like that for a 13 year old today, I was besotted with Penney and met every mishap and challenge with enthusiasm. I kept a journal the first year I had her, and reading it today I am half laughing and half cringing at just how inexperienced I was and how much I THOUGHT I knew what I was doing!
Shortly after we bought Penney, we moved her to Hunt Stables in Saint-Lazare, Quebec, where we began regular lessons and experimented with everything from playing Cowboys and Indians to attempting dressage, showing in hunter ponies, jumpers, and equitation, as well as regularly hunting with the Lake of Two Mountains Hunt – where we had many, many exciting adventures. We bought a second horse, (my Dad saw an ad for her at a tack shop when he was on business and “thought she looked nice”) who didn’t work out and we sold her to a friend in the barn.
Catching the Eventing Bug
At the age of 16 I was introduced to Eventing, and have been hooked ever since. After a clinic in Eventing with Robin Hahn, he helped us find ‘Victor’, a 3-year-old Thoroughbred we paid $1,200.00 for. Victor was a lovely, quality horse who taught me a lot. We did jumpers and Evented and dabbled in dressage to medium-level (Third level today). We had a love-hate relationship (I used to call him ‘Hagar the Horrible’) and chances were pretty good we would be first or last at any competition we entered. My Dad bought a farm in Saint-Lazare in 1981 and we’ve been there ever since with a variety of horses over the years.
At 57, I am still Eventing – now with ‘Ralph’, a Thoroughbred originally bred and trained for polo. I still think the most encouraging, enthusiastic, and down-to-earth riders are the eventers; despite significant changes in the sport at the higher levels, up until about Training it is still the same sport as it was when I started, except the footing is better, stabling is better, jumps are better, stadium courses are better, the quality of dressage is better (I don’t think I could still win a Training level event with a pony that did flying changes all around her 20-meter circles!), the quality of horses is better (for the most part), and the tack is definitely better! The riders are generally weaker at the lowest levels – when I began Training level was where you started – because they can get away with it and people want to compete before they necessarily have a lot of mileage. The level of horsemanship is about the same in Eventing, I think – there is more attention paid to things like shoeing, saddlery, physiotherapy and conditioning, which offsets some of the loss of ‘horse sense’.
The Gift of Horses
Horses have obviously been a constant through the ups and downs and changes in my life, and many of my ‘horsey’ friends I have known for decades. They have been an unfailingly supportive group of people with, in matters of riding and horses of course, but also with many of the aspects of my life outside of that realm.
There have been so many great moments over the years. Getting my first horse, Penney, would have to be up there, along with witnessing the birth of ‘Peekay’, a foal we bred. A few years ago I was awarded the ‘Inspiration Trophy’ from the Quebec Horse Trials Association, and along with it being a complete surprise, it was something that meant a lot to me.
I feel very fortunate to have been involved with horses and riding in the era I did. Most of my contemporaries got into riding because they just loved horses and wanted to learn everything they could about them. We all looked after our own horses, mucked stalls, groomed and braided, cleaned our tack, and so on.