The individuals that affect me most are the ones I tend to appreciate the least. Of course, the people I'm with and the places I inhabit are very important to me, but the horses are the ones for which I sometimes forget to be thankful. In celebration of Thanksgiving, I'm taking this opportunity to show thanks to the animals that continue to help me through my year.

First of all, I'd like to thank my friend Gorfen for giving me an interesting glimpse into the world of timber racing this spring and for his devilishly cheerful attitude. Carrying me around several point-to-point courses was a challenge for such an experienced racehorse, and for the most part, he tried his best to stay underneath me.

Next, I'd like to thank Oscar for also successfully taking me through a timber race this spring and for giving me my first sanctioned ride this fall. Because of his lack of ambition when racing, as well as a generous owner, Oscar is now my faithful fox hunter. No fence in the hunt field is too large or trappy for Oscar, and he has an exceptional radar tracking system for groundhog holes. I wholly entrust my helmet-covered hard head to this very careful individual.

Martha is next on my list, and I would like to thank her for taking care of my working student this year. Martha, a tiny thoroughbred mare, has an ego and the heart of the bravest stallion, with matching talent as well. To take her rider from pre-novice horse trials to the biggest two-star event on the East Coast in a short time is quite an achievement.

Thanks to Billy for showing me how disappointing and versatile a horse can be. After surviving two major head surgeries and colic surgery last year, Billy enthusiastically continued to carry me to international-level eventing success. Because of a problem with nagging cartilage damage, he no longer can compete at the upper levels of eventing, a sport he loved and in which he excelled. A career change was imperative for Billy, and after a respectable finish in his first timber race this fall, there is hope for him over timber next spring. He also has, thankfully, taken to fox hunting like he was born to hunt, opening up several avenues for our future together.

Of course there is Otis to thank, my delinquent 4-year-old event horse. Otis has given me hope for the future and reminded me how much fun a young horse can be. Although Otis is not blessed with a lot of common sense, he is game to try anything I ask of him. Most of the time Otis does not complete his tasks in the most graceful manner, but they are completed nonetheless with good humor. I also thank Otis for reminding me that not every horse appreciates a full body clip.

This Thanksgiving day I hope to enjoy the Virginia countryside by horseback. I'll certainly be grateful to whichever horse I'm riding and remember to appreciate each individual as I muck out their stall. I hope the general horse public also remembers to thank their four-legged friends on this occasion and take the opportunity to enjoy some time around the stable this holiday season.

Questions, comments or suggestions? E-mail Julie Gomena at jagomena@crosslink.net.