September 5, 2011
Two horses, one 500-hour award in the Horseback Riding Program.
It was 2005 when I first met Marilyn Wegweiser, and we hit it off immediately. Of course, riding through Yellowstone National Park and later the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming, there couldn’t have been a better, more relaxing setting for a bond to form over our common love of horses.
Marilyn navigated those trails on Blazin Bitzy, a beautiful chestnut cutting mare she had bought just the year before. “Bitzy” was 18 then and in fine form to help Marilyn as she hosted that AQHA trail ride in Yellowstone.
As Marilyn and I kept in touch after that ride, I loved living vicariously through her as she went on frequent wilderness rides through the mountains. The pictures she’d send showed vast panoramas that made me itch to go back to Wyoming. Of course, it was a natural for Marilyn to enroll in AQHA’s Horseback Riding Program, and she and Bitzy racked up hours and hours of saddle time.
If you’re not familiar with the Horseback Riding Program, it’s a pretty simple concept. Once you’re enrolled, you just log the hours spent riding, whether you’re trail riding, showing or training. If you prefer to drive your horse, those hours in a cart count, too. Awards start piling in at the 25-hour mark. AQHA also has an all-breeds Horseback Riding Program, and Marilyn has taken advantage of that, too.
To learn more about AQHA’s Horseback Riding Program and a special promotion geared to trail riders, visit www.aqha.com/trailriders.
In 2006, Bitzy traded her job as Marilyn’s go-anywhere, do-anything horse for a stint as a mother, giving birth to Bitzolena, whom Marilyn fondly calls “Lil Bitz.” The filly was a stunner – a chestnut with rabicano markings, short in height but long on personality.
Marilyn and I enjoyed trading filly stories, as I had one the same age who was also vertically challenged. Short horses were good, we decided.
But her emails and phone calls became colored with concern, and then sorrow, as Bitzy’s health increasingly began to fail. It’s so heart-wrenching to watch something like that unfold, knowing there’s nothing you can do to help. Not even Marilyn could help her beloved mare, and she had to say goodbye in January 2010.
As anyone with horses knows, there are both incredible highs and terrible lows. The bad times are tough to weather, but you have to know that better times are ahead. So it was with Lil Bitz.
When the time came, Marilyn sent her to a well-regarded reining trainer to be started under saddle. The mare had talent. When she came home from the trainer, Lil Bitz began new ventures, going on back-country rides with Marilyn – first being ponied from another, more experienced horse and then being ridden on her own.
Those hours, too, were logged in the Horseback Riding Program, and Marilyn recently reached the 500-hour level. What she had started on Blazin Bitzy, she was now continuing on her daughter.
That’s a pretty cool multi-generational milestone, and Marilyn agreed to talk about how much it meant to her:
“It means a lot. I’m getting older. I appreciate God’s gift of being able to ride. I wonder how so many people have reached 5,000 hours and think that I never will. Or maybe I’ll have the distinction of being the oldest living AQHA member to get there.
“I think about all the cool times I had riding Bitzy into places that scared me and how she always got us out in one piece. I think about how opinionated she was and how she always stopped at the top edge of a steep ‘down spot’ to indicate that maybe I should get off and lead her down. I did that enough that she would stop at all steep downs so I’d get off and lead. It was good for my waistline.
“Lil Bitz has her mother in her in all that matter-of-factness about the world. She is utterly fearless once introduced to something. She now crosses creeks, boggy spots, big rocks, dead trees, etc., without much more than a look to make sure it isn’t going to eat her. With time and miles, she’ll learn ‘hurry’ is not always the way to go up or down steep places! She has no idea she’s a small Quarter Horse (just the right size to get on easily) – because in her mind isn’t she as big as everyone else?
“I wish she’d be more curious about big game, as her mom didn’t miss a flutter of a camouflaged human at 1,000 yards and often showed me right where the people (or animals) were. We’ve seen some pretty amazing things, and two big mule deer bucks silhouetted in moonlight Friday night didn’t even faze Lil Bitz.
“Lil Bitz gets there fast, and I keep telling her we don’t have to hurry, but she sure walks on like no other horse I have ever had. I could get used to it, I guess. Maybe that will get us to the 1,000-hour mark sooner!”
Enjoy the journey, Marilyn … and congratulations.
Editor, America's Horse magazine