At 35, “Candy” decided it was her time to go. She had taught nearly all of us at West 66 & Co. how to whip and ride and so much more. She spent her last years with the Snyder family where she helped Melissa step up to faster horses and 1D competition. Throughout her life, though, Candy won more than most horses could ever imagine, and she made lots of dreams come true. Last year, I wrote this story for a journalism class, and I think right now it’s a fitting tribute to our old girl.
Chelsea Toy on top of Image's Candy at the 2001 Canadian Nationals with trainer Ginny Bowman by their side. Candy placed in every single one of the 15 classes she entered that week, and Ginny won All-Around Cattle Horse of the show, along with Oldest Horse at the show at 25.
By Chelsea E. Toy
Ears pinned, the old mare bangs at her stall door as she watches the horses in the stalls around her jump on to the horse trailer early on a Saturday morning. She quickly paces a circle and kicks at the back wall of her stall. Candy’s owners are leaving for a horse show, and 34-year-old Image’s Candy wants to go, too. Her owner looks over and says “not this time, Candy,” but that fails to satisfy the horse’s desire to run, as she bites at the air and screams an old, shrill cry as the trailer pulls out of the drive way without her.
She was never the fastest, and certainly never the prettiest, but most of the time she was the best. As a two-time world champion roping horse that has also competed and won in nearly every other Appaloosa performance event, the horse deserves her retirement but resents it each day.
Though the horse’s looks leave much to be desired, Candy’s attitude has set her apart throughout her life. As Appaloosa contest events are run horse-against-horse, Candy rarely could allow another animal to cross the finish line before she did. She didn’t need her riders to do too much – with her, all that was necessary was to kick hard and stay out of her way. She was a teacher – a tough, bossy one at that – but her students learned to ride hard and fast. Teaching generations of kids the ins and outs of barrel racing, pole bending, roping and more, Candy did it with every bit of heart and intensity she had.
Candy has spent the second half of her life in the hills of western Pennsylvania teaching children how to ride hard and win, while bringing to each barn a presence of a wise western woman who isn’t ready to be put out to pasture. After her move to the East Coast, Candy soon taught each owner what true attitude was all about, while continuing to win titles on a national level.
Ginny and Paul Bowman purchased 16-year-old Candy at the Appaloosa World Show in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1991. Ginny happened to be showing there, and she and Paul stopped to see the auction of top horses at the World Sale. They noticed Candy enter the arena, advertised as a two-time world champion roping horse and a top youth horse. She was as unimposing as she could possibly look – a bay with a sparse black main and even sparser tail that she felt the need to rub out from time-to-time. She had flakes of white through her coat and around her nose, with a common head and constantly pinned ears. A 1975 mare that had moved from Oregon to California to Texas in her life while winning accolade after accolade, Candy strangely attracted little attention at the sale. Her then-owners declared no-sale, and Candy left the arena. Though Ginny hadn’t come to the Worlds to buy another horse, she knew they would soon need a horse for their son, Beau, who was ready to move from walk-trot to 18 and under youth classes.
The couple followed Candy’s owners to the stall barn after the sale. Candy’s owner, O.J. Martin, said he would rather put her out in the field for the rest of her life before he let her go for any less than $2000, and Ginny and Paul decided they couldn’t leave Fort Worth without her. Given everything that the horse had already won and what they thought she could teach Beau about riding, they met Martin’s $2,000 price. When the World Show was over, Candy jumped on the Bowman’s six-horse trailer and headed to her new home in western Pennsylvania.
She came home to a barn full of western pleasure and halter horses. Candy had no cattle to chase, but she did have a boy in his early teens to tote around. Beau began showing Candy the summer after he got her on the Appaloosa circuit in their versions of pole bending and barrel racing – the Nez Perce Stake Race and the Camas Prairie Stump Race. “If I did everything right, she would win,” Beau said. “She wasn’t the fastest, but in head-to-head competition, she couldn’t stand to let anyone out run her.”
While Candy was push-button in the poles and the barrels, her true talents lay in the Appaloosa’s rough and tumble version of musical chairs on horseback, the Rope Race. In this event, all of the horses entered in the class line up behind a starting line at the bottom of the arena. Hanging from the ceiling at the other end of the arena are enough ropes for all but one of the horse and rider pairs. When a whistle sounds, each horse and rider team charges down to the end of the arena and fights for one rope.
Though the run down and subsequent battle for a rope is always exciting, it’s behind the starting line that Candy really made her mark. Beau soon learned that he could use Candy’s attitude to his advantage to push other horses over the starting line, effectively disqualifying that horse and rider. Beau consistently placed in the top three in the nation in Rope Race on Candy, and he won a Canadian National title in the event on her in 1997. He also won the youth steer dobbing and the pole bending. Soon, though, Beau turned 18 and was ready to move on to bull riding and other dangerous rodeo events. “Candy taught me everything I know about riding hard,” Beau remembered, which has carried over into his bull-riding career.
At the time, Candy was aging but still not slowing down. Ginny decided that the horse would stay on at her farm and work as a lesson horse. Ginny knew Candy could be counted on never to jump or buck, and, being an old roping horse, Candy always stood where she was told and did not move unless specifically asked. These characteristics made her a perfect choice to teach young children the fundamentals of western riding.
Every day, Candy would tote children around in circles in Ginny’s small arena. She was a quick judge of how much each rider knew, and then she would perform accordingly, going slow for the beginners and having more energy for the more experienced rider. She’d never go faster than what was asked of her, and sometimes she would go even slower. She forced kids to learn how to make a horse do what they asked, because if they didn’t, she would refuse to move for them. To compensate for Candy’s lazy attitude, Ginny would have to pick up a whip to make her go so smaller children could learn how to ride a jog and a lope. Each time Ginny picked up the whip, though, Candy would pin her ears and snake her neck at Ginny, and then continue on. From time to time, though, an older kid would have to get on Candy to make sure she didn’t actually come in after Ginny when she picked up the whip.
As Beau began to date, he brought girlfriends home who wanted to learn to ride and even to barrel race. Candy again came out of retirement to run and to win at local shows with these beginners on her back. In 2000, Ginny again took Candy to the Canadian National Show, where she rode the horse to Top Cattle Horse honors after winning both the Open Rope Race and the Open Steer Dobbing classes. A youth rode Candy in the 13 and under classes, placing in every class she entered. Candy even placed third in the youth reining class, something Candy had never competed in before. At the age of 24, Candy was awarded the Oldest Horse at the Show prize as well.
After her Canadian National performance, Candy spent another four years enduring children bouncing on her back as they learned to ride. She stood in her stall miserably as younger horses loaded onto the trailer every weekend to go to the shows that she loved, kicking and pounding at her door as she watched. As Candy turned 28, though, Ginny’s barn became over-horsed and feed prices were getting high. At the same time, Sue Snyder was looking for a starter horse for her eager six-year-old daughter, Melissa. Melissa had ridden ponies and was always very aggressive, and she needed something fast enough to compete in local shows.
With few options left, Ginny called Sue and asked her if she wanted her daughter to win. Sue said yes, and Ginny offered her Candy to make that happen. Though Sue worried about Candy’s age, the horse’s record with children solidified the deal. Ginny took Melissa into her outdoor arena to try Candy out around her barrel pattern. Candy strutted up to the starting gate with Ginny holding onto her, and Melissa was afraid. When Candy took off at full-blast, Melissa simply held on and let the horse do the work.
“When Candy ran to the third barrel, I let go of the reins and Candy turned the barrel and ran home by herself,” Melissa said. Soon, Melissa was taking Candy to shows and winning. The first time Melissa took Candy through the poles, Sue led Melissa into the arena, and Candy’s excitement had Melissa near tears. By the time Melissa got to the first end pole, the six-year-old was all smiles.
Melissa was named the Hi-Point Pee Wee at Circle D Saddle Club in Vandergrift, Pa., on Candy in 2003, but Melissa’s use of the old horse was not limited to barrels and poles. Sue would take Melissa to team pennings where Candy would cut and sort cattle while Melissa held on tight. Melissa also trail rode Candy regularly to keep the horse in shape to perform on the weekends.
Now retired for two years, Candy was Melissa’s stepping stone that got the her used to a hot horse, Snyder said, as now Melissa runs another Appaloosa mare named Roxy, and the pair places in the first division of the youth at large barrel races. “She taught me a lot, like how to ride,” Melissa said, giggling. “She’s still cranky, and she still really wants to get out and run and show.”
As Sue and Melissa pull down the driveway on to a horse show four hours away, Candy makes her last efforts to get someone to take her along. She throws her back legs into the air, almost as to show Sue and Melissa that she can do it. Still pounding at the stall door with her hoof, she calls out a cry that’s gotten raspier with age. “We’re going to have to take her to a show soon just to walk around to keep her happy,” Sue sighed.