Annie: Dunrovin's First Horse

By SuzAnne Miller    
Cover Photo by Tamar Kasberg
Issue 2 Article 7: October 2016
Dunrovin Ranch Lifestyle Magazine

Endurance racing was my main horse interest when we returned to Montana from Alaska. While I had never done it in Alaska, I loved just thinking about it. Traveling at speed with your equine partner through miles of trails sounded like heaven to me. Also, I loved the ethics of endurance racing: it isn’t just about the fastest time, but the combination of the fastest time and the best condition of the horse. Races are monitored by vets to ensure horse safety and a very big part of training involves learning how to monitor and support your horse’s great effort.

So as soon as we moved into the property that would become Dunrovin, I began looking for the right horse as my partner for endurance racing. I had gotten to know Tennessee Walking Horses through an acquaintance in Washington state, and I was eager to learn more about then and their ability to participate in endurance racing. But I also had considerable experience with Arabian horses, which are the preferred breed for endurance racing. Unable to decide which breed to purchase, I ended up leasing two horses – one an Arabian and one a Tennessee Walking Horse – my Annie. Clearly I went with the Walker.

Annie has a long and distinctive "beard"    Photos by SuzAnne and Sterling  Miller

Annie has a long and distinctive "beard" Photos by SuzAnne and Sterling Miller

Annie had it all. She was stout yet sleek, compactly build, strong, very competitive, and totally determined. Her lovely bay coat was accented with one white sock. Her long "beard" under her chin gave he a Mongolian pony look. I purchased her and kept her at a Missoula area farm until I could ready Dunrovin for horses.  All was going very well. We were churning up the mountain miles and getting to know one another. Then, tragedy struck.

 At the farm where I boarded Annie, she spend most of her time in a beautiful large pasture along the Clark Fork River with several other horses. One spring day, a very violent thunder storm rolled through the valley dropping hail stones the size of baseballs, causing considerable damage throughout the area. After the storm ended, I hurried out to see how Annie has fared, only to find her limping on her right front leg. At first it didn’t seem that bad. She did not manifest any broken limbs and we hoped that her knee was simply swollen from a bad fall.

Within several weeks of the storm, I was once again riding her, when she fell to the ground. The vet determined that she had what is known as a compression break on her knee, and he thought that she might fully recover with arthroscopic surgery to remove a tiny bone fragment. The surgery went very well. She seemed to be totally healed, so I began to recondition her.

Within a year of the surgery, she fell again while I was riding her. Returning to the vet, he found another tiny bone fragment and Annie went through another expensive arthroscopic surgery. In fact, the entire process repeated itself – including her falling yet again after another full recovery period. I finally had to admit that Annie’s riding days were over. She was 8 years old. We did not go back for a third surgery, and I retired Annie from being ridden.

Annie was a great mother to Lady Lonza.  Photos by SuzAnne Miller

Annie was a great mother to Lady Lonza. Photos by SuzAnne Miller

There as a silver lining to her retirement as it did prompt me to breed her. While her breeding process turned out to be a challenging ordeal it ended most happily in the birth of our Lovely Lady Lonza, which is described in my blog, Lonzo Becomes Lonza.  

Now Annie seeks Lonza's side for protection.  Photos by SuzAnne Miller

Now Annie seeks Lonza's side for protection. Photos by SuzAnne Miller

Annie proved herself to be perfect mother for my very first foal. She trusted me. She let imprint the foal and handle her without concern. Yet she fiercely defended her from our two geldings, Power and Denali. One day, I drove home to discover that Lonza had rolled under the rails of our corral and was in with both geldings. Denali was running interference whenever Power was tried to get near Lonza, and Annie was frantically running the fence line. Everyone calmed down as I moved Lonza back in with Annie.

While I could not ride Annie, yet I wanted Lonza to get out on the trails and build up her muscles while still a youngster, I would load my trailer with three horses: Denali to ride and pony Annie while Lonza ran freely behind. These workouts were good for both Annie and Lonza. Annie taught Lonza her love of water, playing in the Bitterroot River, splashing through any pond, and tipping over the water troughs.

As Annie has gotten older, the roles have reversed. Mother and daughter are devoted to each other and have never been separated for more than a week or so. Annie now looks to Lonza for security and protection from the rest of the herd. Lonza’s two previous foals (she is expecting a new one in April of 2017) hung out with Annie, in a multigenerational band.

Annie has been so patient with letting people paint her and teaching kids  leadership skills.  Photos by SuzAnne Miller

Annie has been so patient with letting people paint her and teaching kids leadership skills. Photos by SuzAnne Miller

Mother and grandmother are not the only roles that Annie has played at Dunrovin since her retirement. Dunrovin has on occasions participated in various forms of equine assisted leadership training, therapy and wellness for adults and children, and Annie is often a favorite among such participants. She is particularly appealing to people with challenges of any kind – emotional, mental, or physical. Annie seems to understand. She senses their vulnerability and offers them a soft look or nuzzle. She quietly stands for hours for grooming or painting, just enjoying the company of her handlers.

Annie was born on April 21, 1991. She will turn 26 years old in 2017.  The lifespan of a horse is generally between 25 and 30 years. Just this week (10/16/16), Annie was diagnosed with moon blindness and she has been put under a vet’s care. Two years ago, I had to go out in the middle of a snow storm and help her get up from the ground in our winter field. For these reasons, Annie will be kept close to home this winter along with her pregnant daughter. We will ensure that they both get exercise, plenty of food and water, shelter from with wind to get them through the cold season. My heart knows that Annie’s days are numbered. I grieve at writing these words.

I have had a wonderful journey with Annie these past 18 years. I love her dearly. I will hold her close this winter and throughout the rest of her life. Her determination, her grit, her joy of running and playing in the water sing to my soul. I have vivid memories of our rides together, of spring snows gathering on her back, of winter gallops through deep snow in the meadow across the river, of bright orange leaves flashing by as we raced through the river bottom, and of the big wake she would create as she chugged up the river. She loved it all.

Ours was a short horse and rider partnership, but it was a beautiful one. She would have a made one heck of an endurance horse. But our partnership changed out of necessity. She had been on heck of a friend to me regardless of her physical limitations. She is my Annie.