Helen K. Garber

fine art photography


Owning a horse is every young girl’s dream.  I was no different and dreamed about horses and living on a ranch since before I could walk.  It was the mid 1950s and western shows were the rage.  I would dream about Black Horses (Fury), White Horses (The Lone Ranger) and most of all Palomino Horses (Roy Rogers and Sky King) and the smartest Palomino of all, Mr. Ed.  I didn’t have baby dolls, but plastic horses that you bought in a set with cowboys.  My dad built a jailhouse/fort with no roof and nails for bars on the window and I would play with my horses for hours.  We  lived in Brooklyn, NY and the only horses that I got to ride were the carousel horses in Coney Island.  

I was able to ride real horses once a week in summer camp for a few years and then took two semesters of riding in college, also up in the NY State Mountains.  There was a big break until I was in my 30’s when one day the dentist across the hall from my husband’s West Los Angeles chiropractic practice walked in wearing jodhpurs.  It turns out that he had a big thoroughbred that was stabled close by in Sullivan Canyon, and he allowed me to take lessons on him with his trainer.

It was then that I learned about equestrian communities as Sullivan Canyon in Brentwood is about the most expensive one there is.  But you would turn off fast moving Sunset Blvd on to Riviera Ranch Road and into Horse Heaven.  Kids would be riding down the country road on their ponies with theirfollowing  dogs off leash and hawks flying overhead.  I knew exactly where I wanted to live.  Just needed millions to make the move from the beach to this rural enclave in the middle of suburban LA.  

It was such a desirable neighborhood that only the richest could afford to live there, mostly making their money in the entertainment world.  Spielberg moved there with his equestrian wife and hey built their own facilities at the top of the mountain.   They also gave the neighborhood plenty of money to maintain the shared riding and jumping rings down on the floor of the canyon.

The lessons were short lived as it was winter and trails were washed out due to heavy rains.  The trainer suggested that we use the time to learn how to jump the over 17 hand thoroughbred in the arena instead.  I was horse crazy, so agreed, but realized quickly that this was not for me.  A 17 hand horse has a giant stride and I recall his canter terrifying me.  The jump terrified me much more.  Then the dentist wanted me to buy him as Injun was the wrong horse for him.   He galloped Injun through the woods during coyote hunts.  He was always injuring the poor animal.  

I was just starting my photo career which was also very expensive to support and adding the riding was financially impossible.  We said no to buying Injun and that ended my riding for almost thirty years.

I started to get the deep urge again in 2012.  Ride when we would go on vacations.  I then met fellow fine art photographer Elisabeth Sunday at a show where we both had booths.  It was quiet during the day and we began to talk.  She mentioned that she owned a horse which gave me permission to add riding into my life.  My dad always taught me that I could accomplish anything anyone else could do, I just had to do it.

Money was still an issue, and living in Sullivan Canyon an impossible dream.  Malibu, where we took lessons,  just as unattainable.  So staying close by to our community and adding the extraordinary expense of horse ownership would never be.  But there are equestrian communities all over and we considered moving away from the beach to afford horses.   But where?

I wanted to go some place different but not too expensive for my 60th birthday and couldn't decide where to go.

I received an email right before my birthday advertising an encaustic mono print workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I had never been here, the drive was doable and we found an amazing house to rent close to the studio for not very much money.  We fell in love with Santa Fe immediately as it was August, the most magical time of year here.

We could see that our townhouse could buy a horse ranch and the biggest downside was having to give up the great weather.  I thought that I would never leave Santa Monica as we had a wonderful location by the beach and a great community, but things were changing in the city and I started to enjoy the clean air and quiet of Malibu and Idyllwild more than the extreme noisiness that Main Street had become at night.  

We went again in December to see if I could handle the cold and I did not like it one bit.  I got sick immediately photographing in the snow.

So we considered other places for the next year or so.  Then it was Stuart’s 60th birthday and he wanted to return to Santa Fe.  It was the summer, it was magical and so very quiet.  I enjoyed the idea of living in a rural community with a cultural city close by.  And decided we would give it a try and rent a house while we sell ours.  I felt done with Santa Monica.

We moved to Santa Fe in 2016 with the intention of learning how to ride, purchase horses and then find a ranch for all of us to live.  We had no idea which breed of horse we wanted or that there were different kinds bred for specific jobs.

We had asked our friends that had lived in Santa Fe to connect us with anyone they knew with a horse ranch and we were connected to Barbara Windom.

We visited her 100 acre ranch an hour north of Santa Fe and right on the Rio Grande.  She bred magnificent Peruvian Paso horses and we learned about gaited horses.  We spent a bit of time with her up at her ranch and her world class trainer Roberto, who gave us lessons for only $25.00 an hour.  She had 36 beautiful horses to see in the various pastures and we rode the trail around her property.

Barbara explained that it would be healthier for our over 60 year old backs to ride gaited rather than non gaited horses, but the Peruvian Paso seemed way too prissy for me.  Plus those saddles and tack weighed too much.   

Barbara was a fascinating woman, very down to earth, so it was a great surprise for me to find out that she was Hollywood Royalty.  She was the granddaughter of Louis B. Mayer, a niece of David O. Selznick and she and her sister inherited the family fortune.  She was successful in her own right, first as an interior designer and then importer and breeder of this beautiful breed.

Unfortunately she died just a year after we moved here at 84 years old.

We did get to spend some time with her when we first arrived.   But then our newest Springer Spaniel, Sophie, had run away from a dog sitter, got hit by a car and had traumatic injuries.  We didn’t want to leave her for so many hours per day and we looked for a training facility closer to home.

We found one with quarter horses, took a few lessons, but I made it clear that I wanted a gaited horse. One day,  I walked by the paddock of a horse and he nickered at me.  I looked up and saw a big, sexy black horse, and the trainer said, well he is gaited.  He is a Tennessee Walking Horse.  And he is available for sale.  His name is Desi.  Show horse first, now a school horse.  I thought his head was too big, out of proportion (it is) and he had a big Roman nose, so didn’t fit my idea of a beautiful horse, but when you look straight on at him, he is magnificent and was one of the right colors (jet black)  from a great line of TWH and sweet as could be, so I fell in love.

I started to take lessons on Desi in early 2017 and leased him right away.  He terrified me as he seem so big and strong.  I had no clue on how to ride him and we were basically left on our own as the trainer was concentrating on Stuart.  I bought a saddle that I didn't want that was too heavy and big for me, but I trusted the trainer for she seemed an expert in something that I wanted to learn.  Now of course, I ride in the saddle that I always wanted to, an Australian stock saddle.  They come in all sizes and fit my horses well.

We didn’t work with his gait as she had no idea how to gait him ….He had spent most of his last 10 years as a walking trail horse with only other quarter horses for companions.  His competition days were over ten years before, I still have no idea if he ever won.

We were so green.  We had no idea that he had terrible arthritis and asthma from living in a commercial barn in a stall without outside access 16 hours a day.  But I loved him and we went to look for a horse for Stuart, realizing that he too needed to be gaited to be able to keep up with Desi.  Tennessee Walking Horses have big strides and quarter horses have trouble keeping up with them.  

We started to look at different horses for sale.  Gaited horses were not popular in New Mexico yet and there weren't many to choose from.  I found an ad for Ranse and we went to check him out in Albuquerque.  We saw right away that he was too much for Stuart and passed.

Our trainer called us a week or two later and told her that she decided to bring Ranse over on a trial basis and felt that she could teach Stuart to ride him well.  He was even bigger than Desi at over 16 hands.  Again we trusted her and agreed to the plan.  Ranse is another story , but we got to a certain point, and with the encouragement of our neighbors, brought them home to the ranch we were renting on Leaping Powder and learned how to take care of horses.  

It was terrifying at first, but 6 years later, we have learned to handle most emergencies: colic, choke, pneumonia, loneliness and even death.  We can safely add a new horse to a herd.  We learned about how to feed them naturally.  Understand herd behavior much more.  And Stuart went back to school to get certified as an animal chiropractor, and fortunately formed a great partnership with our vet to keep them as happy and healthy as possible in the New Mexico environment.

I learned to gait him would move him around the arena at the rental house when would come back from a walking trail ride.  He was a lot of fun.  I cantered him as well.  

When Ranse got too ill to ride, we purchased Gunner for Stuart.  But Gunner was too much for him and we traded horses.  I didn’t ride Desi for a few years while I was bonding with Gunner.  Now I jump on him bareback for a quick ride as he is retired and I see no need to ever saddle him or put a bit in his mouth again.  Or lock him in a stall.  The horses have 3 acres with 24 hour access to the barn that we built for them.  They love to take their naps in the barn especially in the summer to escape the sun, rain and flies.  They choose to sleep wherever they want and sometimes two share a stall leaving one empty.   Or they all hang in the center aisle, all just depends.  And they love to sleep in the snow.  Its wonderful to see horse angels that they form when they lie down at night.

Desi has slowed down and now Gunner shares Alpha position with him.  He had a tough last winter, having trouble getting up when he laid down, but now I think a lot of it had to do with depression from his losing Ranse.  Horse buddies tend to mourn and give up.  The other two horses have filled in Ranse’s responsibilities and we exercise him regularly and never leave him alone, so I believe Desi is happier and healthier than he has ever been before.

Stuart keeps him comfortable with chiropractic, his formulas, supplements, exercise and some medication as he is now 24 1/2.  We pony him when we take the other two out now that Ranse has died.  I could see that he feels very important after my short bareback rides with him.  He feels useful, something horses seem to need to do.  The main thing is that he was my first love, and I will do everything I can to make him happy.

Desi is a registered Tennessee Walking Horse with the registered name of Silver's True Design