Selika Laszevski is in fact so little known, many historians question her existence at all.
The portrait here was taken by Felix Nadar in 1891, Paris, France. The photo is thought to be of Lasveski, but it is not certain. Some historians speculate that this photograph was taken of an unknown model and Nadar attached a story to her to promote his work.
Whether fictionalized or not, the story goes that Laszevski was a 19th-century equestrian, an écuyère of the Haute école, or equestrian of the high school of dressage. High school meaning of the highest level in classical dressage–the disciplined “equestrian ballet” that has its origins in the military, going as far back as Xenophon’s On Horsemanship, one of the two works of literature on horsemanship by the Greek soldier Xenophone who lived c. 430 – 354 BC.
Although little is know of this equestrian, a short film has made and produced about her by award-winning writer-director Sybil Mair Sybil Mair. The film titled The Adventures of Salika was released in September of 2017. It is a coming of age story about an African princess who must forge her own way in the world after being displaced by war. She ends up in France and makes her way to the Haute école.
Velma Bronn Johnston knew more about pain and suffering than most of us.
Born to Joseph Bronn and Gertrude Clay in 1912, Velma, at eleven years of age contracted polio and was confined to a cast and hospitalization for several months. The disease left her physically disfigured, and the subject of ridiculing and cruelty by her schoolmates. Velma consoled herself with writing and drawing and taking care of the many animals on her parents’ ranch, the Double Lazy Heart Ranch in Reno, Nevada.
Velma had a particular love of horses, as did her father, who, as an infant came to the West with his parents in a covered wagon. It is said that during the during the arduous journey across the desert, his mother, for whatever reason, could not provide milk for him, so resorted to feeding him the milk of a Mustang mare–an act that saved his life. Later in life, Joseph Bronn, to help support his growing family and keep his ranch in operation, ran a freighting service. Many of the horses he used to pull the wagons were Mustangs.
While many of her peers made fun of Velma for her disfigurement, Charlie Johnston, a neighbor, became smitten with her. The two married and eventually took over Velma’s father’s ranch. To make extra money, Velma took a job as a secretary to insurance executive Gordon Harris and worked for him for the next forty years. Unable to have children of their own, Velma and Charlie also opened their home and ranch to many of Nevada’s youth, where they taught them how to ranch and care for animals.
One day, in 1950 while driving either to or from work, (accounts vary) Velma was following a stock trailer and noticed blood oozing from the bottom of the doors. She followed the truck and found out that the wild horses inside were on their way to a slaughterhouse. The blood came from a young foal who was being trampled to death by the frightened older horses.
During that time period, wild horses, many of them Mustangs, were captured and slaughtered for pet food. Their capture consisted of rounding them up with airplanes, and then once they were in a more cohesive group, trucks would chase them and the men hanging out of the windows or in the bed of the truck would lasso them to the ground. Horses who were more difficult to rope, were sometimes “hamstringed,” or shot in the back of the legs, rendering them unable to run. Then, the perpetrators crammed the frightened animals into stock trailers and took them to the slaughterhouse.
Velma’s witnessing of the gruesome scene as she traveled to or from work instigated her lifelong pursuit to stop the cruelty toward Nevada’s wild horses.
She began in the early 1950’s and succeeded with the 1955 bill in the Nevada State Legislature that banned aircraft and land vehicles from capturing wild animals on state lands. It was then she earned her nickname, “Wild Horse Annie.” But, Velma had a long way to go. She became a passionate speaker and made it her mission to save wild horses and burros throughout the nation. In 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was signed into law.
She also established wild horse refuges in the southwest. During the rest of her lifetime, she kept vigilant watch over America’s wild horses and called to task anyone who did not obey the laws she helped put into place. Wild Horse Annie worked hard to promote the idea that wild horses and Burros were “integral to the landscape” and seen as “living symbols of the pioneer spirit of the West.” She came up against many who wanted to silence her, and some even threatened her life, but Velma soldiered on.
After the death of her husband, Annie lived out the rest of her life with her mother. She died at age 65 in 1977 from cancer.
Building a better relationship. It’s something we all should strive for. In our marriages, with our kids, friends, family, co-workers, employees, the list goes on. But, often in our busy lives, we are so focused on getting things done or achieving things, that we don’t focus on our relationships. Through time and neglect, those relationships begin to sour or drift away.
A couple of years ago, I saw this happening in my relationships with my horses and I knew I had to fix it.
I grew up in New Mexico with horses in my backyard. I spent much of my youth with my favorite horse, Flying Mok (I don’t know where the name came from). We covered miles of trail along the Rio Grande and spent hours in the arena. When not riding, I would sit on a large branch of the cottonwood tree that shaded his corral and just watch him eat. I participated in some horse shows and took home my share of ribbons, but the main objective was to have fun, and we did, and our relationship proved it.
As an adult, after college and more financial stability, I got back into horses via my teenage daughter who needed a hobby and a sport. I took her to one of the local barns and her love affair with horses began and mine was resurrected. She wanted to focus on showing, so we did. It was something we enjoyed together – a mother/daughter bonding experience that softened the angst of her teenage years. When she went to college, I was left with some very lovely, very expensive horses, so I decided to go into showing full boat. My love for horses and my competitive nature fit together like a custom-made glove and I was all in.
My horses and I did very well for several years, but after a while, it seemed like my whole life became all about the next show. Sometimes I’d go to shows twice a month, often traveling far from home in search of the rainbow of ribbons. After a while, I noticed that my horses didn’t seem to be making much improvement, their neurosis and fears increased, and I became more and more frustrated. It wasn’t fun anymore.
I’d been introduced to Natural Horsemanship via a Parelli Horse and Soul Tour some years earlier. I enjoyed the demonstrations and respected the training methods and philosophy the Parelli’s espoused, but I didn’t have time to embrace the philosophy. I had to prepare for the next show!
After more years of showing, anxiety, and frustration with minimal improvement, I finally realized that my love affair with horses was dying. I decided to look at this Natural Horsemanship closer. I had to nurture my relationship with my horses because those relationships and spending time with my horses had always been my “soul food” and I was starving.
I ventured to the “mecca” of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, the Colorado Ranch Campus, for the first time in 2014, for a four-week course. I took my horse Chaco, who had been my greatest challenge to date. Chaco was energetic, athletic, spooky, unpredictable, uncomfortable with contact, and quite frankly, a bit scary to me. Other people may not have felt the same about him, but that didn’t matter. He was scary to me, and our relationship had miles to go.
What I learned in that four-week course assured me with absolute certainty that Natural Horsemanship was the path I needed to pursue, to better myself as a horsewoman and as a person. I learned that like people, horses needed to be treated as individuals. They have fears, quirks, moods, aches, pains, and NEEDS that I had been ignoring. I’d been so focused on achieving better scores, more ribbons, more awards with my horses that all I’d done was damage the relationship.
Three courses and two years later, I am a different horsewoman. I have a long way to go, but I am becoming more confident, more patient, and more understanding of my horses’ NEEDS and they, in turn, are starting to enjoy being with me. I can tell when I get out of the car and they come to greet me. I can tell when they are so willing to be a partner that they ask questions and trust me with the answers. I can tell when they are calm, connected, and responsive when I am working with them on the ground or under saddle. The love affair is reborn.
In the first book of my historical mystery series, Girl with a Gun, one of the sub-plots centers on the relationship between a woman and her horse. The protagonist, the not-yet-famous Annie Oakley, has a special bond with Buck, a golden horse with a midnight-black mane and tail. While Buck doesn’t exactly help her solve the murder, his relationship with Annie carries her through some tumultuous times and proves to be one that she cannot live without.
In my book series, I’ve created the ultimate horse/human relationship with Annie and Buck. It’s something I will strive for and work toward as long as I have my equine friends with me. I’m taking a break from showing for the time being, but when I return, it won’t be about achievements and ribbons. It will be about building a better relationship and that is a guaranteed win.