On a quiet April morning, I’m greeted by the sound of Gina Fitch’s barn security system, a two-year-old Bernese named Padme. She recognizes me from the office and bounces around, barking excitedly. A few minutes later, Gina and Ellen Brunelle walk out from the house to greet me. Gina’s barn is cozy, immaculate, and, I find out later, built by her husband to allow her to keep her horses at home. (The horse girl’s marriage jackpot? I think so!)
The three of us stand around for a while, drinking coffee and talking. I had intended to share their stories separately but as the conversation flows, I realize how intertwined they really are. Not only do they work together, side by side in accounting, but Ellen also boards her two horses (Lego and Nemo) at Gina’s, and they ride together in the evenings and on the weekends.
Gina brings Gambler’s Grand Slam in from his paddock. His halter is embroidered with “Boba Fett.” She sees my confusion. “That’s what we call him. My family loves anything to do with Star Wars and Transformers.” Looking over at Padme, it starts coming together.
Boba Fett, a seven-year-old registered and certified Rocky Mountain horse, is light chocolate with a flaxen mane and tail. Gina brushes out his long mane as he stands patiently on the crossties. “Funny enough, I didn’t know he was the horse for me until I spent time with him. I was new to the breed and had never ridden a gaited horse before.” Having never heard of the Rocky Mountain breed, I’m intrigued.“How I first heard about the breed was from a SmartPak customer who just purchased a Rocky”, she explains. “She raved about what wonderful trail horses they were and how incredible it was to ride one.”
After doing her own research, Gina knew she had to have one. So just over a year ago, Gina and Ellen flew to Indiana to meet Boba for the first time after seeing his photos online. They spent the weekend with his previous family, giving Gina plenty of time to fall in love with him. Boba is well behaved for his photo shoot and seems to enjoy the spotlight.
Ellen joins us outside with Allegro (affectionately known as Lego). We do some group shots, and it’s clear that Boba and Lego spend a good deal of time together.
Lego is Ellen’s twenty-six-year-old Connemara/Arabian cross. They have been together for fourteen long years. “We found out about Lego through a 4-H and horse show friend. My dad and I went to look at him on the last day of seventh grade.” She rode him that day and jumped her first 3-foot fence. “I’d have to say that I realized, mid-air, that he was meant to be mine. We both have the same daredevil/fun-seeking personality and really clicked.”
Ellen, once a competitive hunter/jumper, now sticks mostly to trail riding with her old friend. “I’ve owned him so long that we’ve had a chance to do 4-H, horse shows, galloped down miles of back country roads in my quiet hometown, summer camps. Last summer, I got the chance to go on a new adventure that we’ve never been able to do before when Gina and I went horse camping!”
I stop her at camping, my interest piqued. I need to know more about this. According to Ellen, it’s Lego’s new favorite thing! I listen to Gina talk about the other people they meet when camping, how they share stories around campfires, they trail ride together down tree-lined paths, and it sounds remarkably pure.
“I love camping with my horse,” she says. “I feel like it’s going back in time when things were simpler and the horse was such a huge part of everyone’s lives.”
They go for weekends, leaving cell phones behind, and I can definitely see the appeal. For Gina, camping with her horse represents what she loves most about riding. “When you’re out there nothing else matters but you and your horse. You feel him and he feels you and you act as one. It’s a true place of happiness for me.”
Ellen, bringing both Lego and Nemo (her eight-year-old Morgan) over for the ever-complicated two-horse, one-person shot adds, “Life gets really busy, and it’s nice to know that my two horses are my constant.”
Both Gina and Ellen talk about their horses and riding with such love that I can’t help but feel fortunate to get to witness this firsthand. They set the stage of their trail rides so vividly that I can almost see myself as a part of them, perhaps someday I will be…