From pack horse to show star |

From pack horse to show star

Naomi Havlen
Emily Alvarez, 13, guides Bonnie Blue over a rail Sunday at the Strang Ranch arena in Missouri Heights. Once a pack horse for a local outfitter, Bonnie is making a name for herself in competitive events. Mark Fox/The Aspen Times

Gary Hubbell knew he had something special soon after purchasing Bonnie Blue, but he never guessed the pack horse would one day outcompete show horses worth 20 times what he bought her for.But Bonnie is a little workhorse who fought her way to the top, besting the pack at the Cozy Point Summer Horse Show and surprising people who knew her history.”After the show someone said, ‘Your $800 packhorse just beat out $1.3 million worth of horses to win that grand championship,'” said Hubbell, owner of OutWest Guides in Marble, where Bonnie got her career start.Hubbell first bought Bonnie Blue, a blue roan who stands just 13 and a half hands high, for $800 as a workhorse for his outfitters operation, but he discovered after breaking her in that she was “too excitable” to work as a dude horse. She spent three years as a pack horse.In a string of pack horses, she was good at following, but Hubbell said she wasn’t adept at leading.

“She’d spook on anything – a robin flying out of a tree, a stick or a rock,” he said. “But she was athletic and had a light, sensitive touch. I knew there was a place for her where her athleticism would be appreciated.”Hubbell contacted his friend Dave Alvarez, the head golf pro at Ironbridge Golf Club in Glenwood Springs. Alvarez’s daughter Lindsay, 20, trains horses when she’s not working to get her bachelor’s degree in biology at Mesa State in Grand Junction. She’s also been riding since she was 5 years old and showing horses since she was 7.Both Dave and Lindsay Alvarez went to Marble to see horses that Hubbell wanted to sell and picked out Bonnie Blue immediately.”She said, ‘I can make a hunter/jumper pony out of that one,'” Hubbell said. Lindsay said she remembers being attracted to Bonnie’s color right away – as a blue roan she is a mix of gray and white that almost gives her a bluish tinge.”I took her to my barn for a one-week trial, and after seven days of riding I can learn her personality and what she might be capable of,” Alvarez said. “Usually training takes about six months, but I was swamped with work and had Bonnie for about a year. It’s a lot of work – trail riding in the mountains is quite different from jumping fences in the show ring.”

But Bonnie Blue quickly took to the training. Alvarez said she looks for a certain amount of spirit and heart in the horses she trains, and Bonnie had both.”I put her over the craziest jumps in the first week, and she acted like it was nothing – she really had a desire to do it,” Alvarez said. “That’s why I chose to take her on as a project. Sometimes it’s like having kids who can’t talk back to you.”Alvarez said she has to guess when to push a horse along in training and never thought Bonnie “had that much in her.” She put her in a couple of shows in the Grand Junction area and she did well, but the final proof of Bonnie’s surprising talents came about a week ago.The Cozy Point Summer Horse Show is part of a series of shows put on by the Colorado West Hunter/Jumper Association, which is based in Aspen. Alvarez and Bonnie Blue placed first in two jumper classes, and Bonnie was named Grand Champion in her division.Minutes later, Alrvarez’s little sister Emily, 13, rode Bonnie in walk-trot classes, where they were judged on posture, and took two second places out of 11 other horses.

“She’s not a big horse – most good jumpers are 16 and a half hands,” Alvarez said (hands are equal to four and a half inches). “She’s only 13 and a half hands, so she can’t jump as big, but she’s got speed and desire, and that’s all that really matters.”Hubbell and Alvarez tried to sell Bonnie Blue locally, initially for a $17,000 price tag – a standard price for a horse like her, Hubbell said. When no one bit, Dave Alvarez purchased Bonnie for Emily. The horse is now staying at the Stang Ranch in Missouri Heights.”I was just thrilled [when her father purchased Bonnie for Emily],” Lindsay Alvarez said. “When you spend a year training a horse and put all of your blood, sweat and tears into an animal, it’s hard to watch them go when they sell.” Because of her experience in the mountains, Hubbell said, Bonnie is a horse with an easygoing temperament. He and Alvarez are hoping this is a formula that will work in the future – he currently has tree other horses in Marble that he thinks might have the athleticism, talent and color to follow in Bonnie’s footsteps.”She’s a sweet little mare,” Hubbell said. “A lot of people will say ‘You can’t take a dude horse out of a pack string.’ Well, yes we did.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is

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