The Arabian horse community has been recently devastated by the passing of Dick Ames. Much loved and ever respected, Dick has touched the hearts of many. One woman in particular feels she owes much of her Arabian horse journey, and subsequent trajectory of her life, to Dick.
“This is a story of true grit and determination; hard work, lots of tears, sacrifice and eventually reward. A story of a girl who worked her way up the ranks from 4-H to Class A and then Youth Nationals all by herself. A girl with a heart so big filled with the love of horses. Not many know my story. They think I was just the girl who rode with Dick Ames one year. Or they remember that time they sponsored some youth riders. When in all reality the Ames family saved me, and they never knew it.”
Once a girl, now a woman, her name is Steffani Burton. As we remember Dick, she shares her story and the incredible and far reaching impact his willingness to take a chance on her years ago, has had in her life.
“I started riding when I was six-years-old. My older sister took lessons, so I figured I needed to as well. I took an instant liking to it, and it wasn’t long until I needed my own horse. So my parents found an old show horse through my trainer Mary Linder, and with $500, a Purebred Arabian horse named Tonde Zarf became mine. He was 21 at the time and pretty much carried me around the ring. When the announcer would say walk, he’d walk, he knew exactly what he was supposed to do. At 14.3hh he was a great horse, but I eventually needed something more for the 14-17 age group…and I needed a little more height too. We ended up with another Purebred Arabian named Top Contiego+. I fell in love with him after we went to see him at P and H Horse & Cattle Co in Almena, Wisc. He was out of my parent’s price range, but they made it happen anyway. He was already a National Top Ten Western Pleasure horse, and I wanted to push myself, have more competition and set my sights on breed shows.
I had been picking up the free back issues of Arabian Horse Times at the MN Horse Expo by the dozen. I had stacks at home I’d pour over for hours. I especially loved when I’d get an August issue which highlighted the winning riders at Youth Nationals that year. I dreamed of having just one set of those roses to drape over my horse. Someday I thought, and Tigo just might be the one to get me there. We enjoyed great success at both 4-H shows and Class A shows for two years. Many blue ribbons, high point horse of the show trophies, and Championship victory passes throughout Region Ten and Six. My favorite memory of our journey was Region Ten when it was in Milwaukee. We had a great show, coming home with two Championships in my Western classes. I remember pointing out Cedar Ridge Arabians to my mom; they were always stationed at the top of the hill right by the arena entrance. I said, “Look mom, that’s Cedar Ridge. I’m going to ride with them someday.” And as all good moms do, they say ok knowing full well we didn’t have the kind of money to support that. After all, I was one of three kids and most importantly they were an English barn. Little did I know how that statement would take me full circle.
On the morning of April 5th, 2000 my world came crashing down. It was a Wednesday morning, and we were awoken at 5:15am by a phone call from Mary. Tigo was ill. He was backing in his stall in a circle, clearly uncomfortable, with golf ball sized lumps on his stomach. His legs were quickly swelling, and he had a football sized welt on his neck from where he was given a routine maintenance shot by my vet. We had been watching the neck welt since it arose, but we were assured by our vet that it was just a muscle swelling from the shot, and he’d work it out in the pasture moving around. Clearly he needed help and fast, so we loaded him up in our trailer and made the two-hour drive to Anoka Equine. Vets there were shocked he even made it alive. He had barely any oxygen left in his blood, and his white blood cell count was dangerously low. They put him in quarantine as they were trying to figure out what was wrong. At this point he was on his deathbed. He wasn’t eating or drinking. His legs had swollen up so badly that his skin was splitting from the pressure, and he was oozing blood. I left him there that day not knowing if I’d ever see him alive again.
He miraculously made it through the first night, and I was there the next day staring at him through that little window. My dad worked night shifts at the time so he would pick me up in the morning on the way home from work, and he would drive me down to Anoka. My dad would then sleep in the truck, and I would sit there with Tigo at his stall all day long. Then we’d drive home each night and do it all over again the next day. It took the veterinarians over a week to figure out what was going on with him, in which time they had to resuscitate him more than once to save him. We didn’t have cell phones at the time so there was no way to get a hold of us to get the go ahead to put him down. He ended up having a rare condition called Purpura Hemorrhagica. It’s known as a condition of hemorrhage and edema that is triggered by an allergic-type reaction or an improper immune response. His case was the worst they had ever seen, and they’d never had a horse survive it.
I spent the better part of April as a staple at Anoka Equine, mostly sitting with my horse in his stall all day, talking to him, reading to him, doing school work. Going to school didn’t matter. I was a straight A student. They say that’s what saved his life. He had his person there by his side every single day. I just wanted my best friend, my show horse back. We took him home later in the month where I spent almost every day at the barn dressing his wounds. All four of his legs were complete raw skin due to the dead skin falling off after all that pressure. It was horrible, and after all that work, he was left with so many scars that he was never able to show again, and I was in a world turned upside down, a broken little girl...for a long time.
I was able to show a few horses that my trainer had while I was working on Tigo’s legs. It was just a few shows, but that was fine for that summer. By the next summer, when he still was not moving right, we knew he was officially done. The summer of 2001 I was able to loan a horse, Ferladinns Magic. We did great at local shows, Class A and Region Six that year. We even went to Youth Nationals with him where I made one cut. I was so happy with that green ribbon only to overhear some stranger say, “That’s just a junk horse; he’ll never make the Top Ten” as I was coming out of the arena. That was the first time I remember feeling out of place, like I was never going to make my goal, or like I was never going to be good enough. I wasn’t able to show him after that so there I was again with my “junk horse” green qualification ribbon and a shattered heart.
Then the Ames family offered a scholarship, and I saw a chance to show again. Just maybe they’d pick this small town girl who spent every Friday night not at the football game but riding her horse; who rode the bus to the barn four days a week; and who spent Saturdays there when her parents worked eight hour days. So, I wrote my essay, had my best friend film a shaky video in an uneven grass arena/field on whatever horse I could find, kissed the envelope and sent it off. It was my last chance and last year of youth eligibility.
The night I got a phone call from Kevin Price changed the entire path of my life.
I was a senior by then, so I was able to take half days from school with educational release that I used to drive down to Cedar Ridge. Under the tutelage of Mark Bucher, we went to Scottsdale where I didn’t know what to expect. As I was laying out my show clothes, Lollie wanted me to have something a little more flashy so she took me to The Hat Lady and told Terri to get me anything I needed. I couldn’t believe the generosity. They were such a giving family, and they took such good care of me from day one. I showed Black N Style to Champion in both Stock Seat Medal and 14-17 Stock Seat Equitation that show. Wow. I was on cloud nine even though that class ended just after midnight because the day ran so long. Sahara Sands that year brought me a Reserve Championship in Western Pleasure ATR on Captain Hook as well as Reining wins. Region Ten brought me two Championships in Stock Seat Equitation on Black N’ Style and Reining ATR on Spirit Seeker, where I beat Dick on his own horse. I’ll never forget that giant smile on his face as we trotted out of the arena in Milwaukee that day.
Youth Nationals was unreal. Spirit Seeker and I killed the Freestyle Reining class to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. We had such a good ride! They didn’t have enough time that evening to finish the other riders so I went to bed that night in the lead and had to wait a full 24 hours until the rest of the horses ran. It was agonizing, but seeing my mom and Lollie run out of the arena towards me after the final score was announced, I seriously could not believe it. I won a saddle at that show, and never in my entire life have I ever won anything like that.
Canada was the cherry on top of what was an absolute fairytale year for me. I went into that show with a new trainer, Brian Wellman, but took everything I learned and laid it all on the line. Black N Style and I were National Champions in 14-17 Equitation. I can STILL hear the announcer in my head, with his clever little saying. “Your champions this year rode well and did it with style, they are Black N’ Style and Steffani Burton.” I think I even tearfully thanked the judges as I trotted past them.
I left that show with a full heart - full of love, appreciation, and thankfulness. I’m so thankful for the lifelong friendships I formed and the sense of family Cedar Ridge Arabians graciously offered. I never once felt out of place. I felt like I belonged. Everything I had worked for came true. All the long hours, all of my heartache; it was all worth it. It was all because of the Ames family. After it was all said and done I was nominated for the APAHA Junior Working Western Rider of the year. I didn’t win, but I was thrilled to be included on that list.
Since then I’ve taken a 13 year break from showing. I went to college, started a family and found a second job that pays for showing horses. My oldest daughter, who is five, shows with me, and we have a blast. I’m thankful for everything all those years ago, even the struggle. But most importantly I’m thankful for the opportunity. I am back into showing today because of Dick. Because he took a chance on a nobody, shared his world with me, mentored me and showed me what can happen if you keep your nose to the grindstone. I will be forever grateful for knowing such an incredible man.”
Dick changed the lives of Steffani and countless others. The outpouring of sadness from the Arabian horse community is a tribute to how vastly he was loved. Our condolences are with the entire Ames and Cedar Ridge Arabians family at this difficult time. Though he is no longer here, Dick left behind a legacy and will forever be remembered among the best horseman the breed has seen.