When it came time to share the story of our most recent featured rider, Laura, I wasn’t sure what the total of the story should be – Out of the Woods. It’s the name of the first horse Laura has owned, the name of her business and signals her love of Taylor Swift.
Between recording this interview with Laura and getting it up on the blog, Shazam became critically unwell. What started as an impaction colic, quickly become something far more sinister and required Shazam to be hospitalised for ten days while the vets pinpointed the exact problem and treated Shaz. This has left Laura with a massive vet bill, she is a responsible animal owner and what happened to Shazam could in no way have been forseen. If you would like to help Laura out you can donate via Go Fund Me (gf.me/u/w7rxvy) or alternatively place an order through Out of the Woods Goods.
Hailing from Canada, Laura is the oldest of three children in her family. From an early age, she was ‘that’ horse obsessed girl. One of her earliest horsey memories was of having backyard pony rides at her eight birthday party. But a combination of factors seemed set to keep her out of the saddle: a nasty allergy to horses which was minimally relieved by medication; her families commitments and the lack of any stables near her home.
Fortunately, in her teens, the discovery of a stable just 10 minutes from her home and outgrowing her allergies gave her obsession the opportunity to flourish. Two months worth of lessons for her 16th birthday, cemented Laura’s future as an equestrian. With a driver’s license in hand, Laura found a part time job and took up regular riding lessons.
While she was initially a bit embarrassed to be riding with much younger children, her passion triumphed. She describes riding any horse that she could get her hands on one summer riding as many as 7 different horses at 4 different barns. In hindsight Laura acknowledges that this maybe wasn’t the smartest decision, given her relative lack of experience. But she came out of the experience unscratched and shortly after this she secured her first lease horse, Smoke.
Fast forward to the current day and Laura is the proud owner of two horses who are the centre of her world, Griz and Shazam. Having only recently welcome Shaz to the family, Laura joked that she still has to remind herself that she has two horses!
Griz (aka Out of the Woods) is an ex quarter horse sprinter, with $60 000 in winnings to his name. Destined for the slaughter house, Griz was luckily rescued by Laura’s boss a rehabilitation vet. Laura describes Griz as a ‘medical anomaly’ who came to them in less than perfect condition.
Although neither Laura or his previous owner know his full history, they suspect that a starting gate accident ended his career and left him in pretty bad shape. His nose twisted at a remarkable angle to his forehead, leaving his face partially paralysed. Remarkably he has full feeling in his face, is able to eat and drink normally. The only signs that make his injury obvious to an onlooker are one eye that only closes about half way and a floppy ear. With his rehab done, Laura’s boss decided that it was time for Griz to find a new home, and with the her current lease arrangement coming to an end he ended up with Laura.
When she met him in August 2015, given that Griz’s owner was a highly accomplished dressage rider, Laura went in expecting a school master. But what she got was something entirely different.
“The first time I tried him we were changing out the bridle, and he got a little bit spooked. And he ran down the road with two bridles attached, in between his legs, just completely freaking out! Down the dirt road, past all these other acerages, and my parents are there too! And I’m like ‘Yeah, this is the horse I’d like to try’. But what was really cool is that after he was just a mess of flying leather down the side of the road, he just stood there and let us unbuckle everything and pull everything off. And then I got on him… He was not the trained horse I was thinking, but I really liked the feel of his gaits, and I saw him as something that I wanted to work with.”
In early April 2019 Griz reared and flipped over, leaving Laura and her coach feeling that his back was bothering him, despite significant maintenance work. When a reduction his workload didn’t seem to help Laura started to keep her eyes peeled for another horse.
Enter Shazam, a 17yo, grey percheron x thoroughbred schoolmaster, a horse who her coach had trained a little while she was in school. Even the three hour drive down a highway that Laura doesn’t particularly like wasn’t enough to put her off trying him. The connection between the two was instant, and the decision was made to bring him home just three days later.
Already Laura has found that Shazzy’s lateral work is a highlight while the changes and centrelines require a little work. She laughs, “His centrelines are awful. You turn down centreline and it’s a trainwreck.” Talking to Laura you can just tell how much joy Shazam brings into her life. Laura plans to spend the winter getting to know Shaz and learn his buttons and then make their debut as a partnership at third level next year.
Despite having two horses, Laura is quick to point out that school always comes first. There are times when she has to be ok with knowing that she won’t make it out to the barn that day. Because studying has to be a priority, she has found unique ways to learn. For instance, in the lead up to an exam, she will cut cue cards up into four smaller pieces and fill them with details that she needs to remember. She will also recite her notes to Griz whilst hand walking him. She jokes that Griz is probably one of the most educated horses she knows, having learnt about some quite complex scientific topics, “yeah he’s going for his PhD in the next couple of years”.
Out of the Woods Goods
Laura is an incredibly hard worker. Over the school break she works at a local vet clinic to help fund her horses during school time. During the term she makes handmade halter, bridle and rug tags. After having her limited edition Asmar Equestrian All Weather Rider Jacket stolen and seeing fellow barn mates mix up their rugs, the idea to handmake rug, halter and bridle tags was born and so was Out of the Woods Goods. She ships across Canada and the US. The business has now grown to the point where Laura is able to pay for Griz’s rather large feed bill.
Despite being on a tight budget in order to afford her horses whilst studying, Laura is one of the best turned out equestrians I know. Her top tip is to buy used! “I love finding a good deal, and have had good success at consignment stores, both equestrian and non-equestrian specific. Facebook groups are another great way to save money and find exactly what one could be searching for. The power of social media! Also, do it yourself! For example, blinged out polos are much more expensive than plain Jane, regular polos. I’ve spiced up a lot of my items with some dollar store rhinestones and fabric glue. Sometimes a bit of hand sewing can go a long way too.”
Paleontology or Vetrinary Science
When she is not in the saddle or at the barn Laura can be found studying. In fact sometimes she can even be found studying in her horses stable with them. Since the age of six it has been Laura’s dream to become a vet, however gaining entry to vet school in North America is more competitive than getting into Medicine. Due to geographical restrictions, there is only one school that Laura is eligible for. They take 32 students a year from a massive 500 applicants.
Not one to give up easily Laura is going to try once more to be accepted into vet school, but she has a very exciting back up plan. In a twist of fate Laura’s back up plan is to study paleontology, something that Laura laughingly tells me was her first passion, being able to recite all of the dinosaurs from a young age. At first glance it may seem as though veterinary science and paleontology are worlds apart, however through examining the horses bones we can actually learn a lot about the diseases these animals had. For instance some dinosaur bones show signs of arthritis.
If this is the path that her career takes her down, she plans to complete a thesis examining the evolution of the horse’s spine and gait! A clear deviation from digit reduction and the transformation of horses teeth from browsers to grazers, where the vast majority of research has focused so far.
“The thing with paleo that I kind of love and kind of hate is that the answers are there, you just have to find them. And by find you literally have to find them in the ground or dig through museum collections.”
With the passion she exudes and the commitment she shows I get the sense that ultimately it won’t matter what Laura ends up doing professionally.
You can follow along with Laura, Griz and Shazam’s adventures on Instagram @wannabedressagequeen13
You can find out more about Out of the Woods Goods at https://www.facebook.com/outofthewoodsgoods/