I was at a luncheon hosted by Georgetown breeder Chip Dalton and found myself
in deep conversation with an energetic elderly lady named Tuke Shoemaker with
sparkling eyes who hails from the Belton area. Tuke (pronounced Tuki) tanned
and fit, described with an engineer’s precision how she’d designed
a trailer and then commissioned to have it built. I was fascinated. By mid-fall,
I’d arranged to visit with her for a few hours and learn more. An active
TETRA (Texas Equestrian Trail Rider Association) member, she also runs a very
active riding program. She was the founder of the Fort Hood Hunt and Saddle
Club at Fort Hood, Texas in the early 1970’s, and was a founding sponsor
of the Hood Pony Club (a chapter of the United Stated Pony Club). Not only
was this woman a modern-day National Velvet, but she was Dale Evans, Bill
Shoemaker, and Scheherazade all rolled into one.
Two themes have run through Tuke’s life - horses and children - making her a lifelong riding teacher. She grew up as an Army child and married a career Army man. Her whole family including parents and siblings rode. She laughed and recalled seeing a picture of mules pulling a wagon with the caption “Antique School Bus” and related that that is how she actually was taken to school. “In fact, my brothers and I would argue over the one family bicycle but each of us always had our own horse,” she said. Her military lifestyle afforded her the chance to travel the world, and experience horseback riding in many different countries and cultures.
“Prior to WWII”, Tuke explained, “the Army was very much horse and mule powered.” It was during the summer of 1940 that the Army switched out of horses and into trucks.
In 1947, she was living with her family in Germany and was
taking dressage lessons with a German, Count Von Rothkirche. Germany was trying
to make a comeback in the equestrian competitions. Of course, German horses
had to be salvaged from various situations after WWII. Some soldiers had saved
their mounts by hiding them on farms; other horses had been sequestered in
countries far and wide. The Count was keen on campaigning a particular 17
hand high warmblood stallion named Artos and was giving Tuke lessons on the
steed. A big competition was slated to qualify horses for future events and
breed recognition. The Count asked that Tuke ride for him in the trials that
would include horses from all over Europe. When the endurance phase came up
Artos was snorty, which was unusual for him. The grooms smeared Artos’
nose with eucalyptus to keep him from smelling the mares. While the owners
and riders were partying the night before the endurance ride, Tuke has often
wondered what activity took place in the stables. When the course turned toward
home, Artos saw and must have scented a mare that had started the course before
him. Artos started snaking. Tuke explained that Artos switched into pure instinct
mode and began squealing and pursuing the mare while lowering and weaving
his head. After seeing Artos take jump after jump at full speed chasing the
mare, the crowd knew what was happening and they began to cheer Tuke’s
efforts to control the ride. The rider on the mare rode aggressively to stay
ahead of the stallion. At the end of the course the stable hands assembled
a straw corral to corner Artos, and with the mare out of sight, Artos was
pulled to a stop. When Tuke dismounted she promptly sat on the ground; her
legs had turned to butter. In spite of all the excitement, both the mare and
stallion finished the course with clear rounds. The next day in the jump ring
(another story) Artos was a gentleman as usual.
Tuke stated, “I have had the opportunity to ride many stallions as the desert people do not castrate their animals. I have never experienced another passion break, but once in a lifetime is one time too many. My team in Bonn, Germany was made up of riders in order of go: France, US, Sweden and Denmark, teammates I will always remember. It was my first and only international competition, but every phase is forever burned in my memory.”
During her vast equestrian experiences, one of the most exciting was as a young married woman in Iran. She had taken a day ride on an Arabian stallion named Moustag. His name highlights his courage, which proved to be a necessity on this particular day. “Moustag” means “day mouse” indicating a courageous mount as only a brave mouse would venture out into the daylight. They were in the desert and on their way home when they were overtaken by a serious sandstorm. She and horse instinctively knew that if they didn’t find shelter soon they might die. In the far distance she could see a caravanassari which is sort of a walled community built around an oasis. She turned her horse to the caravanassari and they made a long run for it in an effort to outrun the storm, which flanked them and was beginning to flail and pelt them with sand. What concerned her was that the gate stayed closed. She was not sure that there would be enough time to make it to the protection of the back wall of the oasis. As they got nearer and very close, suddenly the massive tall doors swung open for her and the people shouted “enshallah!” All along, the occupants inside had been aware of her and her plight and were waiting for her. The horse had run for his life and was breathing so hard and irregularly that Tuke feared the horse would develop “the thumps.” Tuke was given tea while two strong jugglers helped the distressed horse by lacing their massive arms under the horse’s barrel and lifted and released in rhythm until the horse could regain his breathing pattern. Tuke always keeps Moustag in a special place in her memory.
Another time while in the Middle East, she was able to travel with the Ghasghaie tribe during the spring migration. She saw a pregnant young mother riding a mare without a bridle. She had two small children, one child in front and the other behind as the trio made their way to the water hole. The small family bathed and the mare stood close by, then everyone gathered up their things and headed back up the bank.
While stationed at Fort Hood, Tuke and her husband bought a 100-acre ranch in the Belton area in the 1970’s. Although they were temporarily stationed elsewhere, they retained the property. She would leave her horses on the ranch, except for one hunter named Itch, and rent the ranch out to other military families that were horse/livestock oriented. She liked renting to people with competition horses because she knew they would take care of horses.
“I think every child should ride, just as I think every child should be taught to swim,” Tuke said. Riders need to learn how to think and move with the horse. Kids don’t have to be school smart as it doesn’t matter to the horse. When you’re in a mounted partnership, it’s sort of like an equal opportunity to ‘get in trouble,’ — with a no jump too high or ditch too wide feeling. The horse is a great common denominator. “My goal is to produce a confident rider on a happy mount,” she said. “I love to watch the kids’ courage grow with their love of the horse.”
On the subject of horse whisperers, her favorite was around in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s. His name was Monty Foreman out of Colorado. Tuke remarked that they all have their own translation of Xenophon, (the ancient writer of the first known book on horses and how to ride).
Tuke is adamant about one subject — that of euthanasia of horses in Texas. Tuke would like to see horses that need to be put down get a current Coggins test and a veterinarian’s statement giving the reason for their destruction. A database of this information should be kept. This would give the Texas Animal Health Commission the chance to track diseases and disabilities to improve horse health as well as help prevent horse theft. Processing plants are a business we need to keep in Texas and they need to be kept humane and honest. Tuke urges folks to lobby their representatives for a responsible method of humanely handling euthanasia for horses in Texas since the problem is a rather large one.
After being a fox hunter and event rider for most of her riding days, Tuke was surprised how much fun she could have on a trail ride. She is a member of TETRA (Texas Equestrian Trail Riders Association). The goal of TETRA is to open public and private lands to trail riders and to help maintain the trails.
On the subject of breeding in the United States and after traveling all over the world, she said, “In this country we don’t always watch what we are breeding like we should. The saying goes, you can have something too poor to breed, but you cannot have something too good to breed.”
“The racing industry has done much for other horse interests,” she observed. Tuke explained that by the racing industry’s need for expensive diagnostic machines and more sophisticated vet care, such techniques and machines have become more common place making it far easier for the average horse owner to have access to such things.
To have had the chance to visit with a person of Tuke’s vast knowledge and experience proved to be fruitful. In fact, as I drove home after our interview, I found myself wishing I was once again that little kid saddling up a horse for a riding lesson, not somewhere else, but under her tutelage instead.
She also left me with one of her favorite quotes:
Look back on our struggle for freedom
Trace our present day strength to its source
And you will find that our pathway to Glory
Is strewn with the bones of the Horse. - Anon.
For more information or if you would like to contact Tuke,
you may call her at 254-698-3201.
You may contact the author, Ingrid Edisen at 512-217-2397.
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