This is the third part of a series I will be writing on the school horses at my alma mater; Otterbein University (you can catch Part 1 and Part 2 here!)

What many people may not realize is that our school horses have been donated to the university. They are all here for a variety of reasons, with a wide range of histories. I’m here to quell any misconceptions about our schoolies; our horses are top-notch quality and many are still actively showing and competing outside of the collegiate ring. These horses do one of the hardest jobs you could ask a horse to do (be school horses), and I am honored to tell some of their stories.

Part 3 will focus on Josie, an Appendix mare, who has proven to be an integral part of our program.

Josie began her training in Michigan, originally for Western disciplines. Just before she turned three, Josie met Debby Handler, who would come to own her. Debby said, “Looking for somewhat more of a school master as I had only been riding for about five years (late bloomer) I fell in love. It’s not hard to see why. In my eyes she was simply gorgeous. Her big doe eyes and the curiosity of a youngster. I thought well, if it doesn’t work out, she’s young I can always sell her or we will grow old together. The latter occurred.”

Debby and Josie began training with Cathy Henderson at an eventing barn in Michigan.  While Debby was more into dressage, Cathy began jumping her. Debby said, “She was soon going cross country and making people take notice.”

Along the way, Debby met Bruce Mandeville.  He was the first clinician to work with them, and he helped the pair work through what Debby calls a ‘revelation’ in her life. “We had some crazy times. But she taught me so very much. We had our arguments, but as they say, we never went to bed angry!” says Handler.


Josie with Cathy Henderson. Photo courtesy of Debby Handler

While Debby was not really interested in competing with Josie, Cathy took the mare to multiple events, starting Beginner Novice, and ending in a few Preliminary events.  Handler says she was a “superstar” at Training level.

After a personal tragedy, Handler sent Josie to train with Bruce Mandeville for a couple of months.  Handler would come down on the weekends to ride and hang out with Josie. After six months, Josie returned to Handler, where she resumed showing with Cathy, and lessons, trail rides and fox hunting with Debby.

It was shortly after this that another clinician discussed with Handler that Josie had probably reached her potential doing 2nd and 3rd level dressage movements.

Soon after, Handler was looking at a young horse for Cathy, and “looking into her eyes was exactly like when I first saw Josie 14 years ago.”

Debby dropping Josie off at Otterbein. Photo courtesy of Debby Handler

Debby dropping Josie off at Otterbein. Photo courtesy of Debby Handler

Handler said, “I told Cathy, if she didn’t want her, I would take her. I thought what would I do with Josie? She taught me everything!  So I thought, if this would be my last chance to start a new horse, why not let Josie teach kids and enjoy her life.” Handler went to Bruce, also a professor and instructor at Otterbein, and asked if the University would be interested in her.

And we are so lucky to have her. She is definitely a different type than many of our “fancy” warmbloods, but Josie has proven that she can keep up with the big kids! She is a tried-and-true steed for our beginner riders, but is always willing to step up to the plate for a challenge. She is sweet and gentle, and continually proves her worth to the program.

Allie Rubenstein, a recent graduate from Otterbein, fell in love with Josie and refers to her as Otterbein’s “best kept secret.”

“The first summer she was at Otterbein, Josie helped me find confidence and she took great care of my in my mistakes. She was very forgiving, and relaxed regardless of my emotions and fears,” says Rubenstein. “This summer is filled with many of my favorite riding memories, thanks to this horse.”

Allie and Josie. Photo courtesy of Allie Rubenstein

Allie and Josie. Photo courtesy of Allie Rubenstein

“What I needed to learn on Josie, is exactly what I needed to learn off of Josie. I need to let go of problems I cannot control and move on. I need work with what life gives me and make the most of it. I need to relax and not be anxious. Horses are said to be great teachers, and Josie is in fact a great teacher. She has helped me grow as a rider, and a person in every day life. I went from jumping 2’ jumps in fear, to jumping some 3’3’’ jumps with excitement!” proclaimed Rubenstein.

Once school started, Josie was often used in beginner lessons due to her quiet and calm demeanor. “Little did they know she is a superstar all around! I thought I would keep it a secret as long as possible” joked Rubenstein.

Danielle Roskins aboard Josie in their work-off. Photo by Katie Allard

Danielle Roskins aboard Josie in their work-off. Photo by Katie Allard

When Otterbein hosted the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program last November, Josie was one of the mounts for the week.  Again, her initial appearance compared to some of the warmbloods made her look even smaller, but she once again proved everyone wrong. She was the only mare to compete in EAP, and ended up being the work-off horse for the winner of EAP, Danielle Roskins (You can read about her ride aboard Josie here). A picture of the pair was even on display in the USHJA building at the Kentucky Horse Park during the Intercollegiate Horse Show Asssociation (IHSA) Nationals.

Not being limited to one arena, Josie has shown she is a great teacher on cross country as well. Mattie Boyd, another recent Otterbein graduate, had the pleasure of taking Josie schooling in our cross country field.  “My last lesson of my college career I asked to go to the cross country field to have a little fun. I am a hunter jumper so being able to jump solid, natural jumps was a little intimidating. I was put on Josie because my coach knew she would be a great one to learn on,” said Boyd. “As I was cantering around the course, Josie did everything I asked her to do. As a rider, sometimes all we want is a horse that responds and listens to our aids, and Josie did just that. She was absolutely fantastic! She took me around the cross country field and allowed me to learn and have so much fun. After my lesson I looked at my coach and said, ‘I had so much fun! Josie is one of the coolest horses I have ever ridden, Otterbein is so lucky!'” Boyd exclaimed.

Mattie aboard Josie for her first time on XC! Photo courtesy of Mattie Boyd

Mattie aboard Josie for her first time on XC! Photo courtesy of Mattie Boyd

“In the past year, Josie has become a favorite horse at the Otterbarn. She will be hard to leave once fall comes” said Rubenstein.

As Handler says, “Well, you know the rest of the story. My gal is in the best of hands, teaching new friends and getting a ton of love. When her days of teaching come to an end, I hope to bring her home.”

To learn more about Otterbein’s equestrian and equine science program, click here.

Many thanks to Debby Handler for providing pictures and a wonderful history of Josie, and to Allie Rubenstein and Mattie Boyd for sharing their pictures and experiences with Josie!