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  • Writer's pictureKathy Troxler

The Story of MK Highlander - Part One-He wasn't always called "The Professor"

MK Highlander+

(Empyrean x KJ Kambara)

He was always pushing the limits of good behavior...just a little bit! He is the smartest, fastest thinking horse I've ever trained, and that didn't make him easy. It made him a challenge. But he was so worth it! He taught me a lot!

I think every horseman/trainer has a few horses that define them as trainers, and Highlander was one of mine. Very few professional trainers ever get the chance to work the same horse for as long as I did with Highlander. We owned his sire and we were leasing his dam from CSU (we later owned her). I started him when he was 3 years old (the CAHC 1994 Fall show was his debut...he placed 4th out of 9 in the Western Pleasure Junior Horse), and my last class on him was in 2009 at the CAHC Estes Park show where we won the Open Trail with a score of 75. So Mike and I were his exclusive trainers for 18 years, and managed him for two owners. We first sold him to Mitch Irwin and Lisa Kemp in 1995. As I recall it, Highlander was supposed to be Mitch's horse (I'll explain Lisa's nickname of "horse hog" some other time) and it was Mitch that rode Highlander to his first blue ribbon in western pleasure (actually 2 of them!) at the Southern Colorado Arabian Horse Breeders show in Pueblo Colorado 1995.

Mitch Irwin and Highlander winning their first blue ribbon in Pueblo, CO 1995

1995 was the year Highlander competed in his first trail classes as well. Looking back over the results, it wasn't immediately apparent that he would develop into a horse to be reckoned with in that division. He usually placed in the middle of the pack during the early years. But I really liked all the ins and outs involved with mastering the skills that it takes to have a great trail horse, so we just kept at it.

And while I showed Highlander in the majority of his open classes, Mike did get into the act as well. The picture below is proof of that, as well as of the fact that, yes, at one time Mike had pony tail and he has ALWAYS been one to rock the colorful shirts. Of course, his collection is much larger now. However, I believe Dev Cook gets the credit for his first "wow" shirt!

Highlander and Mike, Western pleasure Junior Horse, CAHC Estes Park horse show.

Lisa and Highlander, Region 8 Trail AOTR.

I'm not certain, but the class shown above may have been the class where Lisa and Highlander successfully executed a raised, fan shaped lope over in perfect stride...while managing to be on the incorrect lead. Unfortunately, as amazing an athletic feat as it was, performing the manuever as a counter canter did not earn them extra points from the judge! But I was very impressed that he pulled it should have been impossible.

Eventually, like really great horse owners, they realized they were ready for some new challenges and knew that Highlander had the skills to take another new rider and teach them as he had taught them. They moved on to another terrific horse, but Highlander (bless his heart) stayed with us. We were confident that there were more adventures in store for him. Below is a video Mike put together when we were trolling for buyers.

MK Highlander approximately 2004

And I was right! The real adventure was just getting ready to begin!

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