Kissing Sally Falls had a spectacularly unsuccessful racing career. She retired after two races. Sally finished in last place for her first race. In the second race, she passed one horse to finish next to last. That horse had stumbled in the homestretch, allowing Sally to leisurely lope by him. Her race trainer told me that Sally pranced and preened all the way back to the shedrow — she was so proud of beating one horse to the wire. He sighed and told her, “Little girl, you need to pass ALL the horses before you can prance like that.”
Sally came to LOPE shortly thereafter, her track career over by age two. She was a bright shade of bay, with the tiniest hint of a star on her forehead that looked like a smudge of sugar. Sally was petite, sleek and completely convinced of her awesomeness. Her vanity was renowned at the farm. Sally flirted with every gelding, refused to step in mud (because icky) and adored extended grooming sessions. Her feminine looks and self-centered poise soon earned her the nickname “The Prom Queen” at our farm.
Sally was part of every major milestone for me at LOPE. I took her to a Ray Hunt clinic in 2006, an experience that changed my perspective on horses and on life. During the clinic, Sally (like all good teachers) made sure I understood just how much I needed to change and grow as a rider. Sally and I made much progress at the clinic, thanks to Ray and Sally’s quite vivid communication style.
A few months later, Sally and I performed together at an equine expo event. Sally’s role was to wear racing tack and look adorable. But when we entered the arena, a malfunctioning microphone and poorly fitting blinkers combined to convince Sally that there be monsters there. Her sudden fear and my reaction to it created one of the largest turning points in my life. The aftermath of that event inspired me to write a book about LOPE and the horses.
Beyond the Homestretch included an entire chapter devoted to Sally (titled, The Prom Queen). The book’s final chapter ended with a description of our equine expo experience together — and the significant life lessons that it taught me. As part of the book promotion, I provided author photos for the back cover and for a media kit.
Sally posed with me for the photos, her feminine face and sweet expression adding that supermodel flair that I could never accomplish alone. “Our” author photos soon found their way into several magazine and newspaper articles about the book. I’m convinced that Sally’s face piqued reporter interest — and that she was responsible for most of the media attention.
Our most famous appearance together was in Oprah Magazine. The photo shoot at the farm involved professional makeup, a renowned Austin photographer and lots of weird light fixtures. While I grimaced through approximately 5 lbs of makeup, Sally glowed with natural beauty. The camera loved her. Tom captured my favorite image of the day on his phone, a quick shot of Sally and I glamming it up together between formal poses.
Sally became my favorite mount, my “go to” ride when I wanted to relax and have fun. Sally could be spicy under saddle, in a playful, “girls just want to have fun” way. We had many great rides together. Sally was the first horse that I ever worked cows on (she thought they smelled bad). I rode her at my first Buck Brannaman clinic — and she accompanied me twice to Tom Curtin’s winter camp.
For me, Sally was like a best friend from kindergarten. We shared so may experiences together (many of them dubious) and helped each other through our different life stages. When I was growing up, most of my friends were boys (I was one of those tomboy types). Whenever I was with Sally, I felt like I was part of a girl posse — where anything could happen, like hair braiding or mascara experiments or unwise amounts of white wine.
A few years ago, Sally began to show muscle atrophy in her hindquarters (possibly from an old impact injury from her youth). It became clear that she needed a lighter job, with a less athletic riding schedule. I changed how I rode her, going for shorter rides at leisurely speeds. But Sally would keep trying to ride the way we used to — she didn’t understand why we had to go slow now. I soon realized that Sally needed a new owner. It was a painful decision, but the right one.
It turned out to be the best thing ever for Sally. Because then Sheila adopted Sally. Her job was to be Sheila’s companion horse and pet. Sheila’s job was to be Sally’s most adoring fan and devoted caretaker. They soon became best friends forever, with Sheila tending to every little thing that Sally wanted. Sheila and Sally become fixtures at Graymar Farm. Sally was groomed, fussed over and hand walked by Sheila. Every holiday brought a new outfit and photo opportunity for Sally. She loved the Christmas ribbons, the Valentine hearts, even the birthday hat (but the Easter bunny ears crossed the line and weren’t appreciated).
All of Sally’s delightful quirks and habits came into full play at Graymar Farm. She was the undisputed queen of the mare pasture there, casually bossing the herd during her binge sessions at the round bale. Sally had a fondness for splashing in water. It was a passion fraught with consequences (she never could accept that her front legs weren’t a good fit for tall troughs0. Sheila solved that dilemma by giving Sally her very own “splashing” trough — one that was only several inches tall and allowed Sally to wade risk-free.
Sheila dressed Sally in the brightest colors for her lead ropes, halters and blankets. Always pretty, Sally became gorgeous under Sheila’s devotion to brushing her. Sheila and Sally shared long discussions at the barn and in the pasture (with Sheila doing most of the talking, while Sally nodded and waited for compliments). They were a wonderful team, their days full of affection, humor and water-related adventure.
Everyone loved watching how happy Sheila and Sally made each other. They were a perfect pair — and it was hard to imagine one without the other nearby. Sheila never thought she would own a horse (especially such a special one) — and Sally was living proof to her that childhood dreams do come true. As Sheila once said, Sally was her Sistine Chapel.
Earlier this month, Sally was diagnosed with diagnosed with THO (Temporohyoid Osteoarthropatchy), a condition that was affecting her balance and motor skills. Despite dedicated care, her condition worsened this week. Sally peacefully passed away yesterday morning. It was Valentines Day, a holiday especially associated with Sally, her sweet heart and her fondness for wearing heart-shaped chapeaus. Rest in peace, Sally. You were much loved and you will live on in many people’s hearts. Especially mine.
“in a world
— Sanober Khan