By Tori Bilas
A few things are for certain in this sport: It takes hard work to succeed and sometimes you find success in the most unlikely of places.
That’s something Naomi Gard knows all too well. She’s put in the work with her rescue horse Skipper, and they’ve now made it to the winner’s circle at Desert International Horse Park.
Skipper, or “Skip To My Lou,” is 15 years old and stepped into Naomi’s life five years ago. Her parents had been searching for a horse for her, and the rescue opportunity presented itself, so they helped make it a reality. The family rescued Skipper from Sound Equine Options in Greshem, OR. Though he was going to be a project with no guaranteed success, Naomi was not intimidated and realized the horse fit a lot of her criteria on her wish list.
“All he knew was leading and lunging,” the now 19-year-old said of the day she brought Skipper home. “He had never had a saddle on, and he didn’t know anything. My parents put him through training until he was saddle broke, and then I actually took him home and did the rest. He was a starvation case, so the rescue spent a year just putting weight on him because he was so thin.”
Naomi knew she wanted a show jumper, and a show jumper she received.
“He seemed to pick up stuff pretty quickly,” Naomi said. “He really doesn’t like touching poles. He actually had a lot of fun the first day we jumped him. His first cavaletti he jumped like it was four feet high, so I was like, ‘Yeah, we like jumping.’”
Naomi wasn’t completely inexperienced with rescue horses, as she had been working with a trainer’s rescue just prior to rescuing her first (and only) horse. “I didn’t have the best view of rescues,” she said, due to the fact that the rescue she was working with was physically abused and seemed to hold a grudge about it. “I didn’t know for sure if [Skipper] was going to freak out over random things or if he would be one that I could get to trust me enough.”
She now has Skipper’s complete trust, except when it comes to baths. “He hates water but loves the ocean and lakes. When it’s bath time, he spooks at the water the whole time,” she explained. Luckily for Naomi, her mostly-white paint horse actually likes to stay clean, so the scary baths are few and far between. Cows are a bit of a scary situation too, and considering Gard grew up in Tillamook, OR, where dairy cows make up most of the population, it was a fear he had to learn to live with.
Over the past five years, Naomi has not only done the majority of Skipper’s training herself, but she’s also financially supported her riding and showing fully on her own. At just 19, she’s learned so much about how to manage her time, her funds, and her horse.
“I was doing full care myself, so I fed him, did all the grooming, and made sure he was taken care of all the time,” she explained. “I learned that you really have to know your horse and it’s not always going to go exactly to plan. Sometimes things go to plan, but other times you have to roll with them and take things at their own pace. That was a tough one for me.”
The relationship has been five years in the making, and like any equestrian’s journey, there have been highs and lows, but Naomi and Skipper are right up there with the best in the bunch at their level. Patience is part of what ultimately got them there, as well as training and mentorship from Dunne. “I really wanted him to be a nice professional horse immediately, but I realized I wasn’t going to get that and it will be okay,” she said.
Naomi made it to Desert International Horse Park in late November to compete for the first time at the venue during the three-week Desert Holiday horse show. Both she and Dunne had the park high on their bucket lists, so they made the trip a reality and their efforts paid off. They took a win in the .80m, along with the reserve championship, during week one, and second place in the .90m during week two, hoping to move up soon to the 1.0m.
Naomi and Skipper are evidence that sometimes, quality appears where we least expect it. With patience and trust can come the most rewarding of victories.
To learn more about rescuing horses from Sound Equine Options, visit soundequineoptions.org.
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The Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association (PCHA), a non-profit corporation, has as its main purpose the promotion and development of the sport of horse showing, primarily in the Hunter/Jumper, Western and Reining disciplines. These objectives are accomplished by setting the standards for showing on the West Coast and approving shows that meet these criteria.
Founded in 1946, the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association promotes the interests of owners and exhibitors, cooperates with exhibitors, officials, and management of competition, publicizes and advertises PCHA sanctioned shows, encourages and assists owners, exhibitors, and breeders of horses to maintain, develop and improve the quality of horses of the Hunter, Jumper, Western and Reining divisions.