BY KRISTIN PITZER
Walk along the aisleway at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center (GSWEC) in Katy, Texas, during the Great Southwest Winter Series, and you will find a stall setup unlike any other. Where many people have chairs or couches, this setup boasts a small paddock complete with a miniature horse and a stall plate reading “Noel.” One look at the tiny palomino pinto and it’s no surprise she’s become one of the biggest superstars at the show.
As the mascot of Madrone Ranch Stables, based in Austin, Texas, Noel travels with her owner, professional Rachel Lindsey, all over the county, riding in the stud stall in the trailer. Her paddock is set up front and center at each horse show, allowing the small mare to see and be seen by those who admire her.
“She’s like a pet to me, and just like you wouldn’t leave your dog home for three or four weeks in a row, I don’t leave her behind for that long,” Lindsey said. “I didn’t have this whole elaborate paddock [when I started], but then I was like, you can’t even see her. She’s below the stall wall. So it just kind of morphed into this.”
Noel’s job isn’t just to look cute, though. In previous, pre-COVID-19 years, she also pulled a cart, carrying the flag during the national anthem.
“We taught her how to drive a few years ago, and she likes it,” said Lindsey, who called upon her assistant, Cassandra Clarkson’s, driving experience to help train the mare. “It’s like her little job, and it’s a good way to keep her exercised. In fact, last week during the snowpocalypse [the winter storms that hit the week of February 14] we had here in Texas, we made a sled out of a trashcan lid, and she pulled us around.”
It’s hard to image such a cute, well-behaved mini came from a rescue situation, but that’s exactly how Lindsey acquired the mare. A friend was perusing Kaufman Kill Pen’s Facebook page and discovered someone had dumped a large number of miniature horses. Knowing Lindsey was looking for a mini, she tagged her in the comments.
“I was looking through the videos, and a lot of them looked really feral,” Lindsey said. “She didn’t have any videos. There were two pictures of her just tied to a fence, and something about her I thought looked so sweet.”
Lindsey decided to adopt the mare, but she then discovered she had to pay through PayPal. She hadn’t used her PayPal account in years and didn’t know her password, but when she finally got signed in, there was a surprise waiting for her.
“I realized I had exactly the money, to the penny, that was the adoption fee sitting in my account,” Lindsey said. “I was like, ‘This is a sign. It was meant to be.’”
Since it was Christmas Eve, Lindsey named her new mare “Noel.” When the mare arrived in Austin, she was very shy and cowered from any attention. Lindsey was determined to help her get past her fear, though, and enlisted the help of her students at the barn.
“I just told all the kids to go in there and spoil her and pet her,” Lindsey said. “She just learned to enjoy the attention because it often comes with snacks — so that’s always enticing!”
Three years later, Noel is a sweet, sassy girl who loves attention, cookies and working. She took so well to pulling a cart that Lindsey showed her in the opportunity driving class at the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show a couple years in a row, even winning the championship one year. With her personality, coloring and work ethic, Noel has completely fulfilled Lindsey’s childhood dream of owning a miniature horse.
“I’m obsessed with her, so I could talk about her all day long,” Lindsey said. “These shows here at the GSWEC are the first ones we brought her to, and once she started pulling the cart and carrying the flag, everybody knew who she was here. She kind of became a little bit of a celebrity here at GSWEC, so I was like, I can’t leave her behind anywhere. I’ll take her to all the shows.”
Noel was spotted at the Texas Winter Series Week IV, which continues through the weekend. In addition to hosting the Texas Winter Series, the Great Southwest Equestrian Center is home to the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary March 24 – April 11, 2021. Learn more about the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show here, and visit the Great Southwest Equestrian Center’s website here.