MY VW JETTA (BY MICHELLE DESJARDINS
I was a horse crazy lady with no pony to call my own up until about 2003. I rode whenever opportunity presented itself which might be two to three times a year. It was at this time when my eldest daughter was invited with her cub pack to a leaders’ farm to allow the cub pack some horse experience, primarily ride on one of their horses. The McLean’s also bred a few Standardbred mares to produce potential harness racers. They also owned Standardbreds for riding horses and here is exactly where my passion for the breed initiates.
As a friendship grew between the McLean’s and me, they invited me to come ride with them. I was often loaned a large dark bay (she looked black to me) mare named Reta. She had her moments as mare do. She tested me, but I too am admittedly quite stubborn (as I am told some women are), and rarely gave ground. As they worked full time jobs and had a farm to keep on top of that, they had more horses than they could ride, and I was offered to ride Reta as often as I wished. I went out often through the summer of 2004. At this point I would consider my riding ability to be advanced green, but I could tack up a horse and not allow her to get the better of me should she decide she had other ideas.
After a year or so, I started to really yearn to have my own horse, with encouragement from Lori. I decided, with the help of my husband at the time, that it was time for me to have my own horse. The internet had not yet caught on and I had to rely on newspaper ads and postings at the UFA. Lori was gracious enough to accompany me to assure, first of all that I didn’t buy the first horse I laid eyes on, but more importantly at assure I didn’t get a bad deal, also because I didn’t yet own my own truck and trailer. We went around to a few listings on whatever dates we could arrange. I seemed to be favoring Paints and Quarter horses at this time. Eventually for 2000 dollars, I purchased an incredible specimen of a horse, a QH gelding named “Oni”. I have since learned “Oni” is a Japanese word for demon. To be clear, this animal was a performance horse. He could turn on a dime and give you change. I admit that at the time I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted out of a horse, but to make a long story short, Oni was too much horse for me. Three months later, and after having my confidence shaken by nearly putting me through a fence or two, Lori and my husband convinced me to call the seller to take him back. He agreed, as he was in the business of buying and selling horses, preferring his sales were a good match. We loaded the big gelding up. He asked me to go look around to see if there was anything else I was interested in. Lori and I looked around, and we spotted this dark little mare. Lori said, ask about her – she looks like a Standardbred.
I have owned Jetta for almost 11 years now. Jettaway West, freeze brand VW450, is 17 this year. I joke that she is my “VW Jetta”. She never raced due to a bowed tendon during training in her second year. I have never bred her, and I have only contemplated the thought a handful of times. Common sense has prevailed on all accounts.
For the first couple years I had Jetta, it was mostly just building my skills as a rider, and leaning to communicate my intentions to a 900+ lb animal. The first year we spent going on ditch ride, where I learned what a pace under saddle felt like. What speed! What a thrill!!! Jetta always seemed to be rather pleased with herself every time we went for a spurt down the side of the highway. I had to keep an eye on her previously bowed left front. Many of my rides were also in teaching Jetta to be a saddle horse. Her previous owners had given her some initial under saddle work and mountain riding, and was a good mount in that regard, however, I was also informed that she was ridden with blinkers. So when we encountered game birds in the ditches, I learned to have a glue seat when she pulled quick lateral movements. She had spook! She was also quite timid of rocks, bags and anything with shape. I decided to teach her that nothing was to be feared if I was with her, and over time I removed her spook. Despite the spook, she was amazing to ride, and quite confident in the mountains.
As all good things come to an end, Lori and Dean eventually had to sell that farm, and I needed to relocate Jetta. We moved to a facility which also bred, raised and trained Standardbreds for racing. They even had a track. When they weren’t using it for training, Jetta and I would tear around at a pace. The rest of the time, we would go for hacks in the country side exploring the land. There was development happening in the area. There was talk and some progress of a new racetrack just north of the property, and there was also the redevelopment of the highway. All of which would reduce my stay at the Bensmiller’s. It was about this time when I became involved with the Performance Standardbreds, and I met Kathy Sunberg. I don’t recall specifically what event, but I know it has been a part of my life and activities for the past 9 years.
I then relocated Jetta in about spring of 2007 to a leased property up in Sage Hill. It too, was quickly redeveloped and Jetta was moved yet again early in 2008. This time there was an indoor arena near Langdon…And they cattle penned! There was always something going on. Jetta and I were taught by the willing hands of Bernice Miller how to collect, which aided Jetta to canter around the cattle and also to maneuver around barrels for the East Gate Gymkhanas. (Jetta still struggles with quick led changes when pole pending). Despite Larry David’s less than positive opinion of Standardbreds in general, I believe he developed a soft spot for Jetta and the two other Standies he had on the property who all showed exceptional levels of willingness. My own horsemanship skills improved remarkably in the company of such varied opinions. It was sometimes safer not to say anything among the opinionated ladies. Most often you learned more just by watching. Larry’s arena became a haven for me, as my marriage fell apart.
By this time, my youngest daughter had developed some horse skills herself, and acquiring a second Standardbred was a logical choice. With two horses now and the collapse of my marriage, we healed together on our horses. I had taken stress leave from work and once Meghan was home from school, we were out at Larry’s riding most evenings. If I could calculate the number of hours we clocked in the summer of 2008, it could very well be around 100 hours each. That winter, we competed in the team penning and cattle sorting. We also participated in Stampede for booth duty. Jetta tried booth duty but was too excited to settle down in the barns; she was reminded of her training days at Stampede Park and wanted to race on the track. In the fall of 2009, the four of us also participated in the breed demo at Spruce Meadows. 2010 was a very difficult year as the divorce started to affect my finances, and also Larry was selling the farm. Ruby, Meghan’s beloved mare, had to be re-homed due to a long term injury which I couldn’t (financially) treat. I attempted to lease Jetta out and it was one of the most difficult things I ever did. The lady who took her wasn’t prepared for the amount of work Jetta required under saddle. She was wanting a horse who was professionally trained. The lease did not work out and Jetta was back in my possession and in a new place in February of 2011. What was really fun about this new facility was it was being leased by another member of Performance Standardbreds. Holly’s was home to several fostered Standies. Under Kathy Sunberg’s guidance, Meghan and I learned some valuable techniques on retraining off the track Standardbreds to new careers. Some of these techniques I use on Jetta. The lease ran out and they were unable to renew at Holly’s. I moved Jetta to her current home, at the Van Bryce home, just East of Lyalta. This is our current on ultimately , our favourite "home", with the Van Bryce's. My first year there, we enjoyed the incredible fall field rides with the coyotes, deer and birds. This past year has been our busiest ever since I reacquired a truck and a trailer. We travelled to the new Century Downs Racetrack and Casino to be a part of post parades. In August of 2015, Jetta and I participated in the first Pace under Saddle race in Alberta. It was something I have dreamed about ever since Jetta first paced for me. We placed dead last as the speed was significantly faster than I thought it would be, but it was still incredible!
Jetta also had a busy 2015 with training and competing in gymkhanas. It paid off. We competed in four dates that summer, and earned two high point awards. One was awarded by the Performance Standardbreds, who tracked points of their members competing in gymkhanas. I felt very proud of my mare upon receiving this news. I cannot express the pride I felt upon receiving the news of the second high point award, from the gymkhana club which we competed with in the Jack Benny division.
Jetta has also jumped at liberty to about 3 feet. I’m not brave enough to be on her back when she does it, as neither of us are trained to actually jump, but I will pop her over a small jump once in a while. She has mastered a slower collected trot however still questions why since she was trained for speed. In the spring of 2015, we attended the introductory Competitive Trail Rider event. It’s something I might still consider, as Jetta seems as eager as ever. I have also taken her through homemade “cowboy challenges”. There are a couple of items I cannot convince her are completely safe (like a cardboard box on a windy day defeats her sanity!). The point I’m trying to make is that through the many barns I have stayed at, I have met many breeds and many people. We all believe our own horse is the best in the world. So I get to say that about my beautiful mare. Jetta is an amazing horse and Standardbreds in general are an amazing breed. Their willingness and versatility is unsurpassed by any other breed I’ve encountered. We don’t plan to compete in the Pace under Saddle again, but Post Parades, Gymkhanas, Booth Duty at Stampede, maybe Competitive Trail, and if opportunity presents, we will cattle pen again. We might even try a parade or two. Watch for us – me and my VWJetta.
The seller visibly winced when we asked about her. “Are you sure you want to look at her?? That’s a Standardbred. I was going to ship her off with the others that aren’t sell-able.” (My ignorance at that time did not tell me that her future was with Dr. Ballard’s). She was brought into the arena and turned loose. I recall losing my breath. She was beautiful. She reminded me of Reta…the same dark bay, but she had a star, and those white socks. She carried herself through the arena with her neck arched, tail high and full of spirit. The seller tacked her up, and showed she was ride-able, and Lori got on to test her; to assure I would be able to manage her. And then I got on her. I have never looked back.The QH had shaken my confidence somewhat, but I knew this was my horse. Now I’m not saying that Jetta and I haven’t had our share of disagreements, but I did know this was the horse capable to teaching me how to become a better horsewoman.