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It’s Never Too Late to Enjoy Life

(The following story originally appeared in the Tierra del Norte AHA newsletter. It is reprinted with the permission of the author. Shelly Stevens)

What started out as doctor's orders has turned into a twenty year passion for Richard Cavanaugh. The 76 year-old dynamo is a familiar presence at many Arabian horseshows. His perseverance and patience as he works to master the Trail course has been an inspiration to many. But at one time he was told that he would be lucky to walk normally again.

After being diagnosed with a blood disease that ultimately affected the use of his legs, Mr.Cavanaugh's doctor suggested that he start riding to strengthen them. His wife, Chris, had heard about Frank Evans of the Buckeye Ranch, newly relocated to Rancho Santa Fe from El Cajon. She explained the situation to Mr. Evans, and he went out and found two Tennessee Walkers, Echo and Image. Mr. Cavanaugh would arrive at the ranch on crutches and have to be hoisted up onto Echo. Both the Cavanaughs would then hit the trail for a long ride. Mr. Evans watched Mr. Cavanaugh ride off with a little trepidation, and suggested that some riding lessons were in order. Eventually, after Mr. Cavanaugh's health and riding improved, the Cavanaugh's accompanied Mr. Evans to an auction and purchased their first Arabian, Bay Society+//(x Bey Shah) as a wild and rambunctious 3 year-old.

Bay Socieiy+// was a handful, but Mr. Cavanaugh says that this is when he really began to enjoy riding. He credits his success, and that of his horses, to Frank Evans and Lou Roper. “Mr. Evans knew more about horses than anyone I ever met, and Lou's patience and ability to teach helped me succeed. I wouldn't be doing this if it weren't for them”,' he says. Under the tutelage of Mr. Evans and Lou, Mr. Cavanaugh progressed until he was ready for his first show. One taste of the show ring and he was hooked. “I love competition” he says with a grin. A few months after that he was off to Scottsdale and hasn't let up since. The number of Arabians the Cavanaughs own has grown to eight, including Personality+// (x Cognac) and their Varian-bred stallion Mosqof Fame V+/ (x Fame), who stands at the Roper Ranch. Their most recent acquisition is Crocodile Rock, Mr. Cavanaugh's reiner. Yep, Mr. Cavanaugh's new project is learning to ride a reining horse. "It's the need for speed! Trail is my favorite, but reining is great!” he says.

When asked what it is about the Arabian horse that he enjoys so much, Mr. Cavanaugh replies "Arabians can do anything and they're beautiful and intelligent, and I like a little bit of 'hotness' in a horse”. He has seen a lot go on in the show ring for the last twenty years, and wishes it could somehow be less political. He believes that the judges should not be competitors themselves. Mr. Cavanaugh does note that the quality of the horses just gets better and better.

Mr. Cavanaugh just may be 'The Hardest Working Rider in the Business”. He rides four or five times a week, making the drive to the Roper Ranch in San Marcos from Rancho Santa Fe. And don't forget, he has a least three horses to ride! But he says he doesn't know where he would be if he didn't ride that often. "The minute I get on a horse, I forget about everything else”, he says. He feels that the horses have helped him to handle a lot of stress.

Mr. Cavanaugh's list of Regional and Scottsdale Championships and wins is impressive. What still eludes him is a National Championship. This year in Kentucky he'll be trying on both Personality+// and Mosqof Fame V+/. “I plan on riding forever”, he says with a smile. And anyone who knows Mr. Cavanaugh has absolutely no trouble in believing that.

(Editor’s Note: At Kentucky, Mr. Cavanaugh came close to his dream this year with U.S. National Top Tens)

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