Caps Royal Echo
AQHA Versatility Champion
Rest in Peace

If you've been around the horse show arena a time or two, you know that once that blue ribbon bug bites you, you're a serious goner! You dream of the day you have enough cash to go out and buy the horse that's going to take you to the top. Gorgeous, floaty, soft and sensible, quiet and easy - the envy of everyone! Most of us envision trips "Outside" going from show barn to show barn where there are so many great ones to pick from, it's like asking a hockey player which Victoria's Secret model he wants to take to prom! It's very glamorous and very exciting.
And that is exactly NOT how Echo and I first found each other. Visions of show ring blues and state championships were the furthest things from my mind as I stared at the U-necked, mangy-coated, grumpy, mare-faced, sack of bones that stood glaring back at me, no doubt equally unimpressed with her present company. It was settled. We didn't like each other. And that's how the whole thing started, plain and simple.
 It was March of 1992, and lucky for me, I didn't have anything better to do. I reluctantly started working with the mare that day. If you could get past her complete ugliness (which I couldn't), or squint your eyes real tight and visualize her potential (which I didn't), a smarter person might have noticed that Echo wasn't just an ordinary horse. She was truly uninspiring at that moment, but she had a whole lot of depth to her. Her beauty would eventually blossom from her intelligence and grace and she would develop into something extraordinary.
Simply put, it seemed she hadn't yet run into a human who possessed a thought worth sharing and was, thusly convinced, we were all a bunch of yahoos who didn't have the good sense to solicit her worldly opinion on matters of import. Her most recent assignment had been, as far as I could tell, to gallop down the bike path at break neck speed and then be tossed back in the small, backyard round pen she called home to quietly regain her composure. And that's precisely what she was doing when Dorothy first laid eyes on her. Now Dorothy Walker didn't do any horse whispering herself, but she had an eye for untapped potential and saw something that day that kept slipping into her daydreams and nagged at her incessantly until she surprised herself one afternoon by marching up her neighbor's driveway and knocking on the door. "What'll you take for that horse in the yard?" A deal was stuck and she became the proud owner of a really ugly mare that didn't appear at the time to have any redeeming qualities. Enter the less-than-optimistic but cruelly honest friend. (That would be me.) 
"Yuck!" What'd you go and buy this thing for?!" I whined.
"You're going to show her."
"What?!? This sour-faced nag?"
"She's got potential, you just need to look harder. Think 'diamond in the rough.'"
I squinted tighter. She did look better with my eyes nearly closed.
"What are you going to do with the horse you already have?"
"Sold him."
"What!? Are you out of your mind?!"
"What do you have to lose?"
"My self respect!"
"Other than that."
" See! If she's not worth anything when you're done with her, well, she wasn't worth anything to start with. You can't lose." It sounded logical for just a second, but she didn't let me linger long enough to form a worthy rebuttal.
"On the other hand, if she does show some talent, you'll look like a genius!" The trap was set. 
"The first show is in three months!" I protested.
"What're you just standing here for?" Clearly, I never had a chance.
To the untrained eye, Dorothy appears soft-spoken and shy. Oh contraire! She's devious and brutal and relentless. And I'm so glad she is.
That's how it all started. Two bad attitudes staring at each other. I reluctantly headed to our first session. I was confident I would be vindicated when  I climbed on and found her completely talentless.  My sour disposition quickly faded. Echo was like a sponge, soaking up everything I taught her. She was, like most good horses, one who blossoms when given a real job. And she took her job very seriously. I worked her English from March to May working on the basics: frame, balance, strength, suppleness, obedience. We got rid of the U-neck which made the head hanging on the end of it not look quite so offensive. We put a shine on her dingy coat and came to find she was actually a beautiful dark brown, almost black, when polished up. Her back lifted a bit after a few months of working her rear end underneath her. She took quickly to absolutely everything. She was soft, supple, strong, but most of all, she was a willing half of a partnership and she tried her best at everything I put before her. We clicked into each other right away and it's been like that ever since. She can read my mind, which I'm sure has been a little disturbing for her at times, but she's been a trooper about it. And other than the fact that she tried to buck me off at our first schooling show, the partnership has been a pure pleasure, hopefully from her perspective, too. 
We were ready in three months. I've never seen a horse come so far, so fast. I didn't put a western saddle and bridle on her until one week before that first show, but she knew what to do when the time came. At the first Quarter Horse show in June, she went in that ring like she knew her business and won the High Point All-Around Open Horse. The ugly duckling had come of age. She looked nothing like her former self. She was capable of beating veteran horse and rider teams and pricey Lower-48 horses just on what the cowfolk call "TRY." Echo has it in spades. She didn't think being an Alaskan-bred, backyard horse was a disadvantage at all. And so it wasn't.
It's been ten years since then and Echo has earned over 100 AQHA points in the five years I've shown her, and in June of this year, she finished her AQHA Versatility Championship by earning points in 8 different events, 10 points each in 5 events, and 5 points each in three more.  (She spent five years in Virginia with Dorothy from 1993-1998.) It took a while because she had her second colt in '99 which put a damper on her show career for two years, so she had to come back in 2001 to finish those last few Green Working Hunter points. Unfortunately, it took longer than expected because there weren't many horses showing in that particular event, and we had to win 3.5 more AQHA points to finish it. More often than not, we'd show up to find the class didn't fill. We campaigned that whole year only to earn  2.5 more points… one gosh darn point short! We were determined this year to finish it and at the first show, when there were only two horses entered, I grabbed one of my clients' pleasure horses, threw Echo's tack on him, and went and jumped a 2'9" course! (His style was a little rough, but we jumped every jump and finished the class.) That left only a half a point left and the next day there were three real competitors. That was it. She earned that last half point and the rest is history. 
We get to just play now, Echo and me. We've been running some poles at the NBHA competitions and trying our hand at Beginner Jumper in the open shows. We're chasing cows on Tuesdays at the Center and both of us are having a blast because there's no pressure and nothing left to prove. Everything we sent out to accomplish, we've accomplished.
There's something really empowering about being able to do it all with a horse no one (including myself) thought was worth a bucket of rocks. Anybody can throw a bunch of money at an awesome horse and come up to Alaska and win. But like Dorothy said, what does that prove? And more often than not, the horses that looked so perfect their first year up here, don't look so perfect the next season. It really comes down to what you and your horse can do together, as a team. I'd like to go out and buy a "made" one myself one of these days, but you need to realize that a great horse can only carry you for so long before it gets tired of being great all by itself. If you're not partners, equally committed to becoming the best you can be as a team, all the polish a horse comes up here with starts to fade. It's not just about you as a rider. If you and your horse aren't connected and in-tune with each other, equally committed to being great, then you got the wrong horse. And being a team player means letting your horse be a HORSE once in a while. Out loose, covered in mud if that makes him happy. If you keep your horse in a box stall day in and day out, covered up from head to toe, I guarantee he's not going to be a happy member of the team. Put yourself in your horse's shoes. Would you be challenged and content doing what you've asked your horse to do? Would you want "you" on your back as a rider? Are you a good teacher, role model, friend, competitor? Do you ever have any fun? Keep that in perspective and you AND your horse will last a whole lot longer. 
Echo turned seventeen this year, but she doesn't look like it or act like it. She's taught me some important lessons about first impressions and searching for untapped potential in every horse I meet. She's taught me what's really important in a horse - HEART. She's clearly earned the right to go back to Virginia and retire in the 10-acre pasture that's waiting for her at Dorothy's place. Truthfully,  I'm having a hard time letting her go.  My daughter Regan took Echo in her very first Walk/Trot class at the Paint Horse show and my son Nolan just won his first belt buckle at age 6 in Leadline! (Can you believe it!) So it looks like I can procrastinate a little longer and give her one last job before she goes for good - giving my children the best show career start any kid could ask for. She still gets sassy with me sometimes, but she takes care of my kids and that makes her worth her weight in gold. And if she's got a few bad habits, well, that's okay by me. I'm sure there are a few habits she'd like to smack out of me, too. We try to keep a balance, the two of us, that way we hold each other up. That's what a true partnership is all about, and both of us take that job very seriously.

Alaska Horse Journal October Cover Story
"Caps Royal Echo earns AQHA Versatility Championship"
By Laura Fitzgerald