A Birthday Party for Duchess

May 2001 - On May 12th, Wildwood hosted a birthday party. Duchess, matriarch of Wildwood Reining Horses, was 35 years old!! We brought out the old trophies, photos and awards, made a video of her life and invited everyone to celebrate the life of this great mare and to share the day and memories with us. Friends and neighbours joined Don and I for wine, cheese and birthday cake (carrot cake, of course!), a nostalgic glimpse into Duchess’ past courtesy of modern technology (i.e. video) and, of course, a visit with Duchess. The guest of honour was tolerant of, but not greatly impressed with all the attention, but she did appreciate the gifts, which included carrots, apples and a fly mask.

    Duchess has been with me for almost 33 years. She is registered with AQHA as Ma Dear and is sired by Pasamonte Paul (TAAA) and out of Pretty Bar Dear by Classy Bar. I bought the beautiful chestnut filly with the wide eyes and great hip in 1968 at the Birdtail Ranch Production sale in Simms, Montana in what was rather an impulse purchase. The rest, as they say, is history. I didn’t know I was founding a dynasty.

    Duchess was bred to run, so my husband and I scraped together the money to put her in training in 1969. AQHA races were few and far between in those days in Canada, but she ran five races and did very well. She set a new record at 400 yards in High River Alberta and won an Exhibition race in Victoria. The owner of the facility where she was trained thought she would make AQHA Champion and in what was to be the first of many offers, he approached me to sell Duchess. I knew I could buy two horses for what I could sell Duchess for, and we could have used a financial boost, but I declined. Would I ever be able to replace her with one as good? I didn’t want to try.

    What I really had in mind for her was barrel racing, but I needed to get some of my investment back first, so in 1970, I bred her to a good stallion in Alberta, War Fly. She produced a beautiful filly in 1971, which I sold. Then I began the barrel training.

    She took to barrel racing like she was born to do it. I had ridden a variety of horses around those cans and for the most part, worked hard at getting the most from them. Duchess made it look and feel easy. She never wasted a move and she was a joy to ride. She flowed through the pattern with her great heart pounding, nostrils flaring and eyes shining. I ran her lightly in 1973 and went on the road in 1974. I expected the year to be a training year, but one weekend after another, she stacked up wins until we were leading the Canadian Cowboys Association, the Sask. Girls Barrel Racing Association and in the top ten of the Canadian Girls Rodeo Association. She claimed the yearend CCA Championship and was fifth in the CFR Finals, but she had developed bone chips and calcium deposits in her right knee and had to be rested, which dropped me to second in the SGBRA year end standings. Still, it was a very good year.

    I rested her all of 1975 and ran a few races in1976. My daughter, Cindy, rode her quite a bit and even barrel raced her. For Cindy (only seven when she started riding her), she slowed down, kind of catching her as she went around the cloverleaf. She liked the kids – teaching them was to be another career for her, one she could continue well into her old age.

    Now it was time to perpetuate the line. Coquette, Cajun, Majesty, Mahogany, Hickory, Willow, Sip. Motherhood became Duchess and she settled into an rather easy existence, teaching my children to ride in between her babies. Several youngsters gained the confidence to advance to other horses with some hours on Duchess’ back. She loves the children.

    Five of Duchess’ babies were fillies, but it was Mahogany who was the next link in the chain. This line was to be a strong maternal line. In 1987 when I moved to BC, I took Duchess, Mahogany and the new weanling granddaughter, Tamarac. Tamarac would solidify the next generation with filly after filly to carry on the "Duchess line" - Destiny, Kokanee, Promise, Whisper, Harmony and Silk. – all mares to carry on a tradition of soundness of body and mind that began with Duchess.

    Duchess was the center of attention at her birthday party on May 12th, as it should be, but the center of Duchess’ attention was Mahogany’s fancy bay colt, Duchess’ 2001 grandson. Also in the pen was the fifth generation of the line, a great-great granddaughter, a beautiful bay filly by Destiny’s side. Five generations living at Wildwood today that began with that one mare. We’re proud of that.

    There is a legacy of fine Quarter Horses carrying Duchess’ genes. In 2002, God willing, Mahogany, Tamarac and Destiny will be all be adding to the dynasty! As the song from Titanic goes, "The Heart Will Go On" when Duchess is gone. For today, though, she doesn’t look like she will be leaving us any time soon. Her eyes show some age, but also great wisdom and they still shine when my grandchildren are in the saddle and when the new foals nuzzle her. I suspect that’s what keeps her going.

    Anyone wishing to see Duchess and/or the video of her life, please drop in. We would love to show you this grand old mare and her family!