BY LAURA OWENS
My junior year of high school didn’t go as planned, to say the least. In January 2007, I was walking to school in San Francisco and slipped on black ice. The fall left me with nine broken bones in my right foot and a rare injury called a Lisfranc’s fracture-dislocation. I was told that I needed two surgeries and would be out of the saddle for six months if all went well—maybe not at all if my injury didn’t heal properly. I was in my second to last junior year and I couldn’t wait to move out of the three foot division and into the big eq. This setback seemed devastating at the time.
I counted the days until I could sit on a horse again. When I finally could, I was surprised at how I felt. The physical pain was nowhere near as bad as I expected, but mentally, I was light years away from where I was before my non-horse related injury. Instead of moving up at my first show back that June, I asked to move down to the 2’6″…I hadn’t been in in years. At the end of the week, I was left with a bruised ego; not only was I jumping a full foot lower than I wanted to be, but I also wasn’t winning. My horse was somewhat unpredictable and I was afraid of getting hurt again.
The following week, I went to New Mexico with my mom and sister to visit my grandma. Every year, I would spend my days riding. When I was twelve years old, I met and took home my first pony, Tiffany, who I had ridden in summer camp at Julie Luzicka’s Heartlane Farms. I called Julie to schedule lessons for that week in New Mexico and she asked me if I would still fit on ponies. Despite my age, I was still the right size to ride them. I eagerly accepted her offer to ride a new large that had arrived in her barn named Rumor Has It.
I remember the first time I laid eyes on Rumor, a stocky chestnut Quarter pony. Despite not being the model winner, she had a beauty and grace about her that I was immediately drawn to. Julie didn’t know that my confidence was at an all-time low, so I tried to maintain that I was still the brave(r) rider she had gotten to know over the years. Rumor did everything I asked her to do with no questions asked and before I knew it, the jumps were up to 3′. I rode her a few more times during my time in Albuquerque and felt like I was back to being my old self again. Since she was for sale, I asked my mom her thoughts on me taking money out of my savings account to buy Rumor and have her as a pony project. She had fallen in love with her as well, so we made arrangements to take her home to California.
Rumor’s ride to my barn in California was delayed, so we ended up having her delivered to a show in Pebble Beach in July. We stepped right into the large greens and were reserve champions our first time out, which gave me the courage to step back into the three foot ring with my horse. Rumor’s no-nonsense attitude and total bravery proved to be more valuable than perfect conformation or a ’10’ jump, and we ended up being Grand Circuit Champion.
I loved riding her and didn’t want to sell her, but my mom reminded me (many times!) that I had bought her as a project and that I didn’t need to spend the last year and a half of my junior career in the pony division. When she left the barn, I was, for lack of a better word, gutted. She was a self-esteem booster both in and out of the saddle at a time when I needed it the most.
Rumor went to several homes over the years and thanks to social media, I was able to follow her whereabouts. From time to time, I would see her at shows. When I heard her riders gush about what she meant to them, I felt better about my decision to sell her. She was kind, brave, and reliable, and deserved to have an impact on more careers than just mine.
One of the happiest days I can remember was towards the end of her show career when she was sold to a family in my barn with two little girls who adored her. When they outgrew her, I feared that she would leave the barn (and my life) for good, but that didn’t happen.
My first trainer, Helle Eriksen, was based at that same facility and wanted to keep Rumor as a school horse. Helle has been like a second mother to me since I started riding with her in 2001, and I can wholeheartedly say that if it wasn’t for her patience and belief in me, I would have quit. It seemed like fate that the two most influential ‘ladies’ in my life, Helle and Rumor, were coming together to work as a team, and I was lucky enough to see their partnership in action for several months. When I told Helle that I was moving from my San Francisco apartment to a horse facility in Scottsdale, I asked to retire Rumor when the time was right.
Just over a year later, in the early fall of 2022, Helle and her daughter, Annika, came to Arizona to visit. She said that Rumor, who had been difficult to keep sound at 25, was ready to retire. I jumped at the chance to have her again, and weeks later, she was delivered to my barn. When our eyes met, it was like we both knew we would finally be together for good. I threw my arms around her and hugged my old friend who had white hairs throughout her face and muzzle. Later that week, we took a ten-minute walk to the park near my house, where I sat on her back as she grazed.
I no longer have to worry about if and when I will see Rumor again; all I have to do is look out my window. It’s one of the biggest honors of my life to get to retire the little mare who changed me in so many ways. Having her had been such a great experience that I got another pony project after she sold, and then another…and another…and 35 others. If she had been wild, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to do it again!
I’ve often wondered how many people had their lives improved by her, or whose day was made a little better because she was in it. As a school pony for beginners, she sparked a passion for riding in countless people, which has undoubtedly been a positive addition to their lives. As a show pony, she brought blue ribbons, which made for smiles and excitement on the car ride home. Now, every time I see her, I take something from her quiet dignity. She reminds me to believe in myself, to have faith, and to always keep a positive attitude. Rumor Has It that retirement won’t stop this teacher from teaching and I’m all ears!
Laura Owens co-hosts one of the top self-help podcasts, ‘Nobody Told Me!’, with her mom, Jan Black. She lives in Scottsdale, AZ, and trains and sells her own investment ponies through her business, Quartet Farms LLC. She competes nationally in the hunters and equitation on her horse, Scirocco 91.