Poetry In Motion

Carolyn and Otis

When I first rode horses on a trip to Bandera’s Dixie Dude Ranch in fourth grade, I didn’t know that I had just changed my life forever. I instantly fell in love with these majestic, loving creatures, and I was hooked on horses from that point on. Soon after returning home, I found a riding stable in Bee Cave and started taking riding lessons and learning the basics of caring for horses. I was obsessed! I spent every spare moment out at the barn going on trail rides, bathing horses, braiding manes, helping with handy work—any excuse I could find to be around horses. I was drawn to their expressive nature, genuine love, and beautiful conformation. Being around horses and learning how to ride gave me the confidence I needed as I struggled in school with a learning disability. The one thing I felt I was good at was riding and caring for horses.

Fast forward three years to when I first met Otis, a bay off-the-track Thoroughbred with a unique white star and two white hind socks. Otis had a short-lived racing career and, like many off-the-track Thoroughbreds, retired from the racing world and entered the hunter jumper world. I instantly fell in love with his quirky personality and drive for jumping. Our bond grew stronger every day as he taught me everything I know about jumping. Although I was only ten, I knew he was the one for me, and he knew I was the one for him. I cried, and I begged, and finally my grandparents made my dreams come true by buying Otis.

Jumping Otis

As years went by and things in my life changed, the one thing that stayed the same was our bond and love for one another. Otis was by my side through thick and thin. We advanced to the point where we were jumping 3’9” – 4’ courses together, and it felt like flying. My grandfather always said it looked like “poetry in motion.” Otis and I were one, and together we could do anything.

As Otis got older, our riding began to slow. My passion for jumping was stronger than ever, and despite Otis’ continued love for jumping, it was time for my 27-year-old man to retire. That’s when I met the 2nd love of my life.  One year ago, Ace, a 17 hand Danish Warmblood, came into my life. Ace was the complete opposite of Otis—where Otis was smaller, fast, and alert, Ace was taller, fat, and slow. I was a little weary (and honestly a bit scared) as I hoisted myself on Ace’s back, but I felt that same feeling I had when I first started riding Otis 15 years before. After so many years, riding Otis had become second nature, something I found to be effortless and a joyful experience. Being on Ace was exhilarating and exciting, yet at the same time scary and uncertain. He didn’t yet trust me, and I didn’t yet trust him, but we were in it together.

Carolyn and Ace

I’ve spent the last year working and training with Ace, building trust through an unbreakable bond. He, like Otis, tries so hard and is so proud of himself when we successfully complete a course.  He acts like a lap dog, throwing his face into my chest for a head scratch, or feeling his way around my pockets for a much-deserved treat. We have come so far in just one year and there’s no telling how much further we will go together. No horse will take the place of Otis and the ease I feel when I’m on his back, but Ace, who is only 13 years old with his entire jumping career before him, was in need of his person, his partner to conquer the world with, and that person is me.

I’m not the first Texas girl to fall in love with horses, nor will I be the last.  Horses have a storied history in Texas, beginning with the vaqueros from Mexico who taught Texas ranch hands how to rope, ride, and understand cattle herds.  Horses are an important part of Texas’ rich ranching heritage and cultural identity.  As a horse-loving Texan, I feel especially fortunate to have found my place in the Hill Country Conservancy family.  Hill Country Conservancy works every day with landowners to preserve our ranching roots and to provide me and my boys a beautiful Hill Country landscape to enjoy with vast expanses of land to roam.   Hill Country Conservancy’s work will preserve, forever, this special place that Otis, Ace, and I are proud to call home.

About the Author
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Carolyn Stephens

Comments 6

  1. Beautiful told, Carolyn. You are absolutely correct that horses, including Ace and Otis, are and always will be a key part of Texas’s ranching history. I’m proud to work with you as one of your no-longer-rides colleagues!

  2. I enjoyed reading your story, and happy to hear there is a horse lover in the group. I have heard rumors that a portion of the Violet Crown Trail may be opened as “Horse Friendly Trails”, once it reaches the Hays County area and extends to Ruby Ranch… is this true?
    Is there anything I can do to help this dream come true?
    I enjoy riding the Slaughter Creek train, and often go to Mary Moore Ranch and Onion Creek area, but would love to see the trails near Bliss Spiller ridable again. I use to ride that land years ago before the fences and houses were built.

    Fingers crossed!

    1. Melanie,
      I sincerely hope we can include horses on the trail as we build the trail down into Hays County. When I was a planner in the Austin Parks Department, I had a hand in developing the horse trails at Mary Searight (she was a horse lover) and Onion Creek. So i understand the need for additional opportunities for horseback riding. It is a great Texas tradition and we have Carolyn to lead the way.
      Butch Smith
      Violet Crown Trail Manager

  3. Thanks for sharing your story and photos of your boys. The Hill Country is indeed a great venue for equestrian activities, especially Bandera County!

  4. Beautifully written, Carolyn. Your love for riding, jumping and for your “boys” shines right through. Happy you’ve found such a great fit at the Hill Country Conservancy.

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