Helen K. Garber

fine art photography


We originally bought a pair of older Tennessee Walking Horses because we were past 60 and didn’t know how long we would be able to ride for.  Thought we would finish with riding about the same time as they would pass on.

But, Ranse had a neurological disease, EPM, which left him unrideable after only one year.  Stuart had the chance to not replace him and give up riding, but he wanted to continue and we began to look for our third horse in winter, 2019.

Looking for a horse is exciting and heartbreaking at the same time because few live up to their advertisements.  And leaving a possible new family member is always hard.  But I did enjoy the adventure of the search.    Our expert horsewoman friend joined us for the first look-see.

We drove two hours south to see a gaited Palomino.  It was a cold and rainy day and the poor thing was shivering.  His herd wouldn't let him under their cover.

Kristi got on him and immediately said no, the horse wasn’t trained enough for us to take him home.  We enjoyed the trip but were greatly disappointed.

That was it for Kristi and so then Stuart and I were on our own.  We drove west to Arizona to see a black TWH that I jumped on and said no right away.  But, again, a fun day to a warmer place away from the house.  We went to see another breed horse down in Corrales, but again not for us.  I’m sure we had  lunch out and probably a Costco run before we headed back so no time wasted.

Our friend Barbara saw an ad for a Spotted Saddle Horse for sale in Pagosa Springs, Colorado and his price was in our range and he looked quite handsome in his photo.  We drove up to see him without even looking at a video just because of where he was.  And that he was being brokered by a friend of our trainer who said we should trust her.  Plus we had heard  that Pagosa was beautiful and the drive through Abiquii and Chama very pretty.

It was early March, there was still a lot of snow, but it was a beautiful sunny day.   The broker was smart.  We walked into an indoor arena and a young girl was cantering him bareback.  We took turns riding him and although we couldn’t get him to gait, he seemed like the right horse for us.  He was such a snuggle bug and seemed to take to Stuart right away.

We arranged for a vet check which he failed.  We like him so much that we hoped it was just an injury, not a permanent lameness and arranged for another test in two weeks.  This time he passed.  We drove back up for the test and met his present owner who said he just couldn’t keep up with her husband’s much larger horse on the trail.  No other issues.  Ha….But, we were told by our trainer that they were to be trusted.  And arranged for the owners to deliver them to us in Santa Fe.  They were so happy to get rid of him, they agreed and delivered him the next week.

The couple had purchased Gunner from his breeder who I have since become good friends with. Flo has taught me lots over the years.  She sent me his baby photos and his story.  We went up in 2020 to visit his mom and children and Flo of course.   Even rode a mare he had sired, Lady Derringer.  

We still have Gunner in 2023, but he has been a piece of work.  Stuart kept jumping off of him and finally I agreed to ride Gunner and let Stuart ride my horse, Desi.  I never jumped off, but many rides left me very tired from dealing with the behavior stemming from his emotional issues.  I have worked with a number of trainers and learned to be a much better rider by working through his crap.  Flo has been a great help in guiding me with her son as I call him.

We have had some frustrating lessons for interesting reasons.  The main one was Gunner was afraid of a goat that being boarded at our trainer at the time.  He's the kind of spooky horse that looks for monsters on the other side of the fence and out there on the trail.  His confidence gets better along with mine.  I keep rationalizing that his shenanigans has made me a better rider.

I did give up on him in March 2022 and bought another horse to replace him.  Easy going, small, sweet little Spotted Mountain Horse, whose registered name is Apache’s Royal Ranger.  But, Stuart fell in love with Ranger,  Desi was ready to be retired so I gave Ranger to Stuart and gave Gunner another chance.  I hoped that Stuart would enjoy riding again now that he had a small, sweet, non combative gelding to ride.  

Gunner also fell in love with Ranger.  He had been unhappy with his herd situation, being much younger than the other bonded pair, and having Ranger as a buddy to push around allowed him to be a happier and more agreeable member of the family.  He had more confidence on the trail and they are our new bonded pair.

I got into mounted archery and have been working with Gunner on partnering with me.  He is not the best horse for the sport as he wasn’t trained to canter and it kills my back to ride his cross fire.  He is also not so big on my shooting arrows off his back.  In fact, he layed down with me in the saddle one day to show his disapproval.  A very dangerous act of defiance, I let him know that was unacceptable behavior by making him move fast around the round pen afterwards, something he does not enjoy doing.

But, he is very smart, and when he is in a good mood, the best partner I could imagine and I trust him more every time I get in the saddle.  I learned that he reacts to sweet hay as it becomes cocaine for him and he turns crazy wild and paranoid.  But on straight grass, he is far more relaxed and lazy.  He likes to learn tricks and well take him for trick lessons this weekend.  He is so very handsome, perhaps that is where he belongs, on the stage…..

About that beautiful photo of Gunner in the advertisement…I was looking through his file last year and came across a copy of the ad.  Noticed that the horse in the photo had a white, not black and red tail —not Gunner at all. Fortunately Flo to conferred that the photo was of Gunner’s sire, Have Gun With Travel and since they look so much alike, the broker didn’t realize that she had the wrong photo in the ad.

Lessons learned:
get to a tryout early before they can warm up the horse
never trust a broker or trainer when there is money involved
don’t buy a horse that was gelded late
take an animal communication class so you can understand what is troubling your horse

Gunner’s registered name: Travelin' Son of a Gun
His dad is Son of a Gun
His children are Pistol, Ruger, Lady Derringer, Hot Shot
Mom is Malibu