Monday, May 14, 2018

Bella Strega - Jewel of The Texas Khanate

 About 20 years ago (the exact date of her birth has been lost through time and changes of ownership) a pretty little bay filly with a small white star was born from the pairing on an Arabian and a Saddlebred. She was dubbed "Miss A." for her terrible attitude and even as a two year old, had a reputation for trying to murder the vet or farrier when they had to do any type of routine work on her. When I met her as a foul tempered three or four year old, she belonged to a woman who was boarding her and an off the track thoroughbred named Tonka who I later bought and rode for a while. He and I never managed to form much of a bond and he went on to become the eventing mount of a teenage boy. When I bought Tonka, Miss A was sold to a couple who really had no business owning horses and were not prepared for an angry, and untrained mare. They had visions of show ring glory for their fancy bred National Show Horse mare but no money for proper training. Miss A spent much of her time in a 10' by 20' stall where she lunged at anyone walking past and would bite if you didn't get out of the way fast enough. To say she was mean, was an understatement.

 Around 2001, when she was about four years old, she was started under saddle by a friend of her owners. Ground work seemed to progress well but a falling out between the woman starting her and the owners stalled her training for a bit so I was asked to step in and finish her. I was in my early twenties at the time and was hesitant to take the job because I knew the owners weren't great with actually paying on time. I agreed to work with her in trade for a sidesaddle and cash. I got the saddle but never saw any money from the deal. Angry Miss A turned out to be surprisingly easy to work with as long as the owners were not present. She never offered to buck when I started riding her and had a very willing attitude under saddle. I could do just about anything to her, including handle her feet but she still had to be sedated for the vet or farrier to work on her. I wish I had photos from back then but there are none that I am aware of.

 When the owners could not pay, I quit training her. She was green broke at the time. I believe the woman rode her less than a dozen times and only at the walk. I would see them take her out of her stall on occasion to turn her out with their other horse, or watch the husband "work" with her on her manners (this involved mostly screaming at her and trying to hit her while she tried to stomp him into the ground). I was pleased every time she managed to kick him successfully. At some point during this time, Miss A foundered. Her owner's dreams of show ring glory seemed unlikely now, so she was mostly ignored in her stall. The pain in her feet made her attitude worse, but it slowed her down a bit when it came to attacking horses or people walking past her stall.

A few years later, my family moved our horses away from the boarding stable when my mom finally fulfilled her dream of owning property to keep them on. In 2008 Miss A showed back up in my life unexpectedly. Her owners were several months behind on their boarding fees and asked to move their three horses out to our property. I was against the idea since I knew they would not pay but my mom felt sorry for them and allowed them to bring the horses out. The three horses (a gelding, Miss A, and an old appaloosa mare) were thin, lacking in vet or farrier care, and the old mare was crippled from an injury. Miss A was sound but her feet were in bad shape. They arrived on May 21, 2008. The check for their board bounced as soon as it was deposited and the woman who owned them promptly died unexpectedly the next day. We paid to have them updated on everything and after several months of non payment, the three horses became ours through a stableman's lien. I started training Miss A to drive with the plan of selling her to recoup some of the expenses from rehabbing all three horses.
Living in a pasture with other horses did a lot for her attitude. She became much easier to work with on the ground and remembered a lot of her early training with me. I had always had a soft spot for the mean witch mare and renamed her Bella Strega. I joked with my mom one day that she had never given me a pony for Christmas and came out to find Strega with a big red bow on her head as my Christmas present that year. So much for selling her, she was mine forever. I rode her a lot for a few years and then my mom died in 2010 from cancer. I rode less and less after that due to a bad marriage and having to be the only provider for my family. For several years, Strega and the rest of the herd were just pasture pets. every now and then I would find enough time to throw a halter on and take her for a little bareback jaunt around the pasture but that was about it. I was working full time at my day job and also putting in several hours a week sewing for the custom clothing business I had with my ex husband. Strega was used in a photoshoot with a gown I had made in 2011. Even though she had not been ridden much then, she behaved beautifully with a model who had never been on a horse and a strange flappy dress brushing up against her sides.

She was starting to get swaybacked due to genetics and lack of exercise. Certain lines of Saddlebred horses are prone to this and its gotten much worse over time. Her life as a pasture ornament continued for a few more years and her attitude continued to soften. She was never the horse that would come looking for affection but she would tolerate it when forced on her.
Strega was brought out of retirement in August of 2017. I had kicked my ex husband out and picked up a few new hobbies, one of which was archery. I had found an old cheap fiberglass Scythian style bow that belonged to my mom and started learning to shoot it with a couple of friends of mine who were heavily into traditional archery. John and Rob had both done some riding when they were younger, and after watching a mounted archery demonstration one day, we decided that we needed to learn to ride and shoot.  Strega seemed like a good match for John so I paired them up. After a few rides, we decided to see how she would react to the bow. She was surprisingly calm about the new weird things we were doing and took to it immediately.
This was the first day a bow was shot off of her in September 2017. We started her off just standing and then progressed to shooting at the walk. Soon after, she was happily cantering alongside the driveway where we had a target made from a feed sack stuffed with old clothes. We were hooked on this new adventure and started The Texas Khanate soon after. We put together a 90 meter lane, cobbled together more targets, and started riding and shooting as often as possible. I started training Alpo while John and Strega built a genuine bond. In March of 2018, they competed in the South Texas Archery Riders International Competition and took first in the Polish course.
Photos by Georges Schemagin 2018

 This was Strega's first time being asked to ride anywhere aside from home and she performed beautifully. She is about 19 or 20 now, swaybacked, still cranky and once foundered but has finally found her calling as an archery horse. As long as she is sound and happy, she will continue on her adventure but no one else gets to ride her since she and John have formed such a great team. Some day she will go back to her life of leisure as a pretty pasture ornament but she will always be the jewel of the Khanate.
These photos were taken on May 13, 2018 to show the custom clothing and leather armor made by Ananda Keator of

John's velvet bow case was made by Rob of The Flying Hun Archery and Leather. Strega's bridle was custom made for her by John. He rides her bitless with an Australian saddle with a built up keyhole pad and is shooting a fiberglass Turkish bow by Alibow with bamboo arrows.

Monday, May 7, 2018

New practice date scheduled! Information can be found on the Facebook page here:

If Facebook isn't your thing, we are holding a practice on June 24 at Little Moon Farm in Needville, Texas. Start is at 10 am and goes until 2 in the afternoon or longer if there is enough interest. We do not have loaner horses but we do have loaner archery equipment and will help you get started.

If you are bringing in horses, please make sure to have a current negative coggins on hand. Riders of all skill levels and all ages welcome. No archery experience necessary. Minors must wear a helmet and anyone riding at practice must be a current member of the Mounted Archery Association of the Americas. We will be doing ground archery as well.