Tribute to a Schoolie

Schoolies are the drudges of the horse world. They’re the horses folks learn to ride on, treading endless circles around dusty arenas, carrying every level of skill from clueless beginners to intermediates working toward their own private horse. They learn to tune out the leg flopping, rein yanking, unsteady balancing of their passengers; they tolerate bad riding that would goad a higher-strung equine into rebellion; they figure out evasions that test the patience of students while helping to teach them the skills to cope with such tricks; they sort through beginners’ conflicting signals yet respond to proper aids; and the best of them can pony-ride-pack a tiny kid patiently yet come alive to the sensitive aids of a rider who knows how to communicate with them. Horses hardly ever start life as a schoolie; usually it’s a step down (or many steps down) from whatever career they were bred and raised to pursue.

Drudges, yes – also the unsung heroes of the horse world. As the modern world moves farther and farther from the past of horses being an integral part of life, they’re the first step for ever more folks who want to learn to ride, perhaps eventually to have a horse of their own. They bring delight to the students who ride them – and yes, at times frustration, but that’s part of the education they offer. They become the cherished friends of children (and adults too) who dream of horses and live for trips to the barn, for grooming and treating and hugging and loving their giant equine buddy. They teach more than riding; they teach hard work – in learning to ride well, in the labor of their care – and sometimes they teach hard lessons in life’s realities.

Finny was a school horse at the barn where my horse Ben boards: a short, round, sturdy red and white pinto with an abundant forelock and mane, an amiable disposition, a trot way bigger than he was, and a calm willingness to tote any rider safely around the ring, from tiny beginners to more or less competent adults. He knew his job and did it well, always with an eye out for treats (of course!), and was adored by all, especially his own pet girl (and every horse, but even more a schoolie, deserves his own pet girl to worship and pamper him).

Finny had to be put down Thursday, when the cancer infesting his sinuses reached the point where it was time to let him go. He passed over the bridge calmly, peacefully, amidst those who loved him.

He will be missed.

Cross-posted at my blog, where you can see [a photo of Finny](

Good night sweet Finny. I am glad that you had a barn that valued you and a pet girl to worship you. May you enjoy green fields and pleasant days with friends in the summerland.

Hopefully Finny is now browsing peacefully in green fields.

No more dusty arenas. Hoping he’s breathing fresh air and having great leisure. Adios, Finny.

One of my favourite things about getting better as a rider was being able to coax the best qualities out of the schoolies. Lucifer was a darling old grey pony who plodded his little people around happily. One day the boss asked me to bring him in from the paddock. Cheeky, I asked if I could ride him up the hill, and got a yes. So I found him, haltered him, and vaulted on. A tiny nudge and we were cantering like the wind! The cross country course was just in view, so we hopped over a few logs, pulling up sweetly every time, weaving around trees. He seemed to enjoy it as much as me.

Schoolies are the unsung heroes of the horse world. My Ariel was a schoolie. She was on the track til she was 4,then bought as a schoolie which she did for 12 years. The first time I threw a leg over her I knew we were meant to be together. I leased her for 8 months, bought her 3 months later. She will be with me til her last breath.

Godspeed Finny. You were loved. Say hi to Bob for me. He’s the one mooching carrots from my mom.

A good school is quite literally worth their weight in gold.

I’ve spent most of my working life teaching riding, and those kind, wonderful animals never failed to amaze me with their generosity. I’ve seen them step back under a kid losing their balance. I knew a mare who was a right obnoxious bitch to knowledgeable adults but would follow a kid in a wheelchair slowly and carefully to be put out in the pasture. Some have their funny quirks, like Bo who would reach around to pinch me as I was getting a kid settled in the saddle. He knew damned well that I couldn’t reprimand him with the kid up there, and he never bit hard enough to do any damage, but there was definitely a glint in his eye as he watched you try to evade him. He was the one all the kids had their first canter on though, because he would pick it up smoothly on voice command, and slow down the minute he felt a wobble up there.

I hope wherever Finny is now he has lots of sun to bask in, breezes to keep him cool, and all of his favorite treats scattered through lush grass. And he can certainly look back on his former life knowing he was loved.

Enjoy the green grass and warm breezes, Finny!

Our schoolie was called Diego. A sturdy black and white paint. Patient enough for newbies, but challenging for intermediates. I learned so much from him. Not just riding, but grooming and care. He’s probably up there with Finny now. I’m sure they, and all the other schoolies are swapping tales.

(Sigh … I really need to learn to re-read my stuff when I post from the iPad. Schoolie not school, dammit.)

Schoolies and “husband horses” are those most sought-after equines. You can keep your $50K grand prix jumper - a horse who can be trusted with anyone is the real star.

Green pastures, Finny.


Thanks, all, for the fond reminiscences of schoolies known and loved; packers and husband horses, they’re precious indeed.

ETA: Unless one really needs the big-buck (multiple meanings) horses, why would anyone want to put up with all the difficulties of a horse who doesn’t offer a schoolie’s dependability and trustworthiness? Who needs the grief?

The Minnesota Horse Council offers its Horse of the Year award to outstanding horses. Several of them have been won by ‘lesson horses’ that have been used for years to start new riders. The presentations about these horses (often in memorium or in retirement) have been very moving parts of our Annual Meeting.

Tim, that’s lovely! And says some very good things about your organization.