When the St. Louis National Charity Horse Show’s Saddlebred Week begins on Sept. 25, at least one competitor in the Saddle & Bridle Shatner Western Pleasure Championships will feel like a winner before she and her horse even step into the ring.
Lisa Gaboury and her American Saddlebred gelding, Ro and Me’s Gypsy Moon, took a slightly unusual route to St. Louis. Gaboury, an agriculture teacher and Future Farmers of America advisor at Heritage Middle School in Deltona, Fla., found Moon in 2016 at Saving Grace for Equines in Ocala, Fla. It was serendipitous for both horse and rider. A few months earlier, Saving Grace’s founder, Joy Rodak, had bought Moon out of a group of slaughter-bound horses. When Gaboury paid her first visit to Saving Grace in October, she had been riding hunt seat and Western pleasure for more than a decade but was rekindling a dream from her youth: to show a Saddlebred. The chestnut gelding and the schoolteacher were a perfect match to turn that dream into a reality.
“Joy said, ‘With your history of Western pleasure with the Quarter Horses, I think you should look at this horse,’” Gaboury recalled. “She took me down the barn aisle, and there was this plain, red horse with a giraffe neck. I thought, ‘Where’s his white? He’s just red.’ I like red, but he doesn’t even have a flaxen mane and tail. He’s just red.
“He was kind of gangly-looking, but he was in your pocket right from the beginning,” she continued. “When I say ‘in your pocket,’ he follows me everywhere. So I went home and talked to my husband and said, ‘You know, I think this is something I can do by myself, and we could keep him at home.’ So I went back and rode him, and about two weeks after that I ended up adopting him.”
“I really wanted to go to a school that had equestrian teams, so I chose Morehead State University,” Gaboury explained. “When I went to Morehead State, I was introduced to the American Saddlebred by Tammy Adams, who was my riding coach. She put me on my first Saddlebred my first year in college, and that particular horse, Sky, was also one of the first to qualify for the Shatner Country Western Pleasure Championships. I just loved them. They’re a magnificent breed, and I loved all the different disciplines you go do with them. I fell in love with the versatility of the breed and with the group of people around the Saddlebred.
“I got spoiled at Morehead State University, because we had $50,000 horses that were donated to the program, and so I had the experience of riding really nice horses on the central Kentucky circuit. When I moved to central Florida in ’92, the only Saddlebred barns were down in the Tampa and Wellington area. As a teacher, I couldn’t afford to have a horse in training and drive three hours to ride. So I switched back to Quarter Horses and hunter jumpers so that I could keep riding. That dream was still there, but financially it wasn’t an option.”
It was on a trip to Louisville, Ky., in 2015 that Gaboury first heard about a Saddlebred facility in Ocala, Fla., just 90 minutes from her home in Lake Helen, Fla. That December, she drove to Saving Grace for Equines for the first time. The rest isn’t just history; it’s also bright prospects for the future.
“This is his thing,” Gaboury said of Moon’s talent for Western pleasure. “I have never had to teach him to slow down. The first time I rode him, he just liked to jog. His canter, or lope, was always very slow. He can look like he’s going to jump out of his skin, but he’s just very composed. If something sets him off, he just gets right back to work. He loves it. He puts his ears forward, and he likes to be handy—he loves the turn on the haunches. And it was very easy to teach him to neck rein. I never had to hold him back or teach him to go slow, he just did it.
“When I first decided that Western was the route I would take, I kept telling everyone that St. Louis was my goal. Joy asked me why St. Louis was so important to me, and I told her that when I was at Morehead State, in 1988 or 1989 my college roommate qualified one of the horses we had at school for the Shatner finals and got to go to St. Louis. I remember Mr. Shatner starting the Western classes back in the ’80s for those horses who might not necessarily have been those big three-gaited horses. I just remember always loving it, and, as a Western pleasure rider, I was like, ‘This could be my thing.’”
In 2018, Moon was the American Saddlebred Horse Association’s Region 8 Country Western Pleasure Champion, and as his competition career has advanced, he’s also picked up fans, both on social media and at shows. “Now he’s got a little following, especially here in Florida,” Gaboury said. “The little girls are always like, ‘Where’s Moon? Did you bring Moon?’ Everyone wants to see him and give him peppermints and let him lick them or drink their Gatorade. He really is a very special horse.
“He and I have such a bond,” she added. “With all the horses I’ve ever had, I’ve never had an attachment like this with a horse before, and him to me, as well. He does anything and everything to please me. When we first started showing and he was green, we would look to each other to kind of trust, like, ‘Are you going to get me through this show?’ We’d kind of be asking each other that, and we did this together. I know a lot of people and trainers think that sounds crazy, but you can just see it.”
At shows, Gaboury and her husband, Scott—a police sergeant with Edgewater Police Department—keep a box of Moon Pies on hand for visitors to their stalls. Their stable name, 410 Farm, also honors Scott Gaboury’s late father, a Vermont State Trooper who died in the line of duty and whose number was 410. During Saddlebred Week, the Gabourys’ set-up—including stall drapes that feature the “thin blue line,” the box of Moon Pies, and a pillow that says “Love You to the Moon and Back”—will be at the St. Louis National Charity Horse Show, where Lisa and Moon will complete their joyous journey from Saving Grace to the Shatner Western Pleasure Championships.
“We’ve worked really hard to get there, because, I’m not going to lie, as a police officer’s wife and a teacher, we’re scraping and scrounging to get there!” Lisa Gaboury said. “Everyone knows the story of how he’s gone from rescue to show ring. I’m proud that he’s a rescue, and I’m ecstatic to say that it’s been a group effort to help me get him to where he is, from the Morgan horse trainer, Tom Johnson, who worked with us, to the different people who helped ship me places, to the people who gave me stuff when I couldn’t afford it at first. It’s overwhelming.
“My goal is not necessarily to win anything,” Gaboury said of her trip to St. Louis. “I’ve already met my goal. My dream was to go to St. Louis. I’ve been talking about it for two-and-a-half years, and to finally have gotten there is pretty exciting.”
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