Mark Llewellyn is a technical writer and editor for two Kentucky-based equine nutrition companies. He is a lifelong student of hunters, and he pursues hunt seat equitation and has an interest in breeding show hunters.
Ignore adversity. If it were possible for a horse to have a motivational motto, this might be Beanie's choice. Despite a life fraught with challenges, the mare has stood tall, both literally and figuratively, and many people have reaped the rewards of her kindness and perseverance.
For nearly two decades, the Masterson Station Park Equestrian Program, located in Central Kentucky, has been administered by Georgia Ockerman, whose responsibilities include finding appropriate mounts for the program. Because its horses must cart around riders of all levels, the main criterion is unequivocal quietness.
In the late 1980s, a horse dealer contacted Ockerman to tell her about a calm mare that might work in the program. When pressed for details, the dealer said the mare had worked for a logging company pulling timbers.
On the day of their introduction, Ockerman was presented with an imposing mare of obvious draft breeding. Always interested in strong, sturdy horses for adult riders, Ockerman agreed to take the mare on trial. She recruited Christine Brown, a college student who was known to her friends as Beanie, to evaluate her temperament and training.
Christine Brown was recruited for the job of evaluating the temperament and training of her namesake, Beanie, and she immediately fell in love with the imposing mare.
"I immediately fell in love with her," said Brown. "I loved everything about her--her enormous ears, her big feet, and her quiet, humble nature. I was so smitten with the mare that the Masterson crew decided to name her after me. I even tried to buy her, but she wasn't for sale."
As expected, the mare passed her trial without a hitch, and Beanie was used for lessons and trail rides. At first she was ridden primarily by intermediate and advanced riders, but as she settled into the routine, she became a reliable mount for beginners. Ultimately, she took part in the handicapped riding program, where she was unfazed by the sometimes-scary apparatuses that are inherent to the environment, such as wheelchairs and loading ramps.
For years Beanie met each challenge with the kindness and aplomb of a complete professional, never veering from her docile ways. However, a one-two punch of unfortunate events would test the mare's resolve.
About four years ago, Beanie was diagnosed with an eye injury. Although she received diligent care, veterinarians eventually decided to incapacitate the optic nerve to relieve her pain. With this procedure her vision was lost, but removal of the eye was unnecessary. Many horses acclimate well to having one functional eye, but the transition can sometimes be difficult. Not for Beanie. With the veterinarian's approval, Beanie went back to work almost immediately. Even with limited vision, she reacted no differently to the cues offered by able-bodied riders or the flurry of activity that sometimes surrounds classes designed for riders with disabilities.
Two years later, Beanie developed a more mysterious condition. "It looked as though one side of her head was completely caved in," said Ockerman. "She was drooling profusely and the eyelid and ear on that side hung loosely, but she didn't appear to be in pain." Veterinarians could not pinpoint the exact cause of the facial paralysis. Over the next few months, however, her face regained its normal shape. Because the mare was in no pain, she continued her work. Always the trooper, Beanie forged on.
Beanie, now in her mid-20s, continues to work. She primarily totes around beginners, tolerating their mistakes in her characteristic ho-hum, forgiving fashion. She is still a favorite among riders and volunteers. And though her riders come and go, Beanie remains steadfast in her loyalty to the community.
One person from Beanie's past pops in occasionally at Masterson Station Park to check on her. "I often wonder what we would be doing together if I had the chance to buy her," commented Brown. "She has been such a wonderful asset to the Masterson program that I know now why I wasn't meant to have her. She's truly one in a million!"
Ockerman shares those sentiments. "I wish I had 15 more just like her. She's just that incredible."
Editor's note: Beanie was inducted into the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association Animal Hall of Fame in 2008 for her lifetime of service. She was nominated for the award by Georgia Ockerman and Jennifer Feiner, VMD, a veterinarian with Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky.
Originally published in the February 2008 issue of The Horse.