A Gift Horse Named GEORGE
Horse and Rider|Winter 2020
When April Freeland found herself horseless, she learned the importance of never looking a gift horse in the mouth when a horse named George came into her life.
NICHOLE CHIRICO

April Freeland’s show career was just beginning, but before she could get a true taste for competition it quickly came to an end. As she was going into the show pen at her second horse show, she felt something was off with her horse Gota Rolex On Mpulse and decided a visit from the vet would be necessary to see what was going on. The vet check went from bad to worse when it was decided they would need to do an MRI on “Benji.” That was when April was delivered the bad news and found out that her horse had the navicular disease and would probably never make it back to the show pen again, leaving April without any idea how she would ever get to own or show another horse.

Fate Happens

When April first heard the news of Benji, her heart sank. Her family’s budget was tight and being able to go out and buy another horse was out of the picture. She thought for sure that her only shot at the show pen had come and gone before she could even have a chance to truly know what it was like to compete.

“After I had been told I would never be able to ride him again I was devastated,” April said. “We had just bought Benji and that was such a stretch for us to even get him. I knew I couldn’t just turn around and say it’s OK, I’ll find something else to show. I really thought this was the end of my story.”

But her trainer, Wes Wetherell, had a different plan. The day after finding out the bad news, a horse Wes had trained for a short amount of time as a 3-year-old unexpectedly showed up at his barn. The owner had his papers in her hand and asked if Wes would be able to take him as she could no longer care for him.

As the horse backed out of the trailer, he was hairy, out of shape, gangly, and had a huge head, but for some reason, Wes knew he had to take this horse in.

When April first started riding George, competing in a Western event like horsemanship seemed like a far stretch due to how large he was. But after years of practicing at the barn, they not only had the chance to compete in horsemanship, they also made the horsemanship finals at some of the country’s top events.

“Before the MRI even happened my gut feeling told me Benji’s results would be bad, and when this horse showed up on my property it almost felt like God was telling me I had to take him in,” Wes shared. “I just had this feeling that this was going to be April’s next horse.”

That day April showed up to the barn, still grieving over the prognosis of her horse when Wes pulled a mysterious horse out of a stall and told her to saddle him up.

“I took one look at that horse and thought no way,” April laughed. “He was not very cute, he was huge but had no muscle tone, and looked like he’d been living in a pasture. When I was riding him, Wes told me to extend the trot to see if the hunter under saddle would be a good event for us; I didn’t know how to post at the trot and knew nothing about the English and just immediately was like I hate this.”

Teri Freeland, April’s mom, also remembers seeing George for the first time.

“My first thought when seeing him was that’s the ugliest horse I’ve ever seen,” Teri said laughing. “He looked like a cross between a giraffe and a Clydesdale. He was skinny, out of shape, and certainly didn’t look like any of the show horses in the barn. But then I felt a tug at my heart and thought maybe he just needed a little love and a chance to prove himself.”

It wasn’t until the drive back from the barn when Teri told April Wes’ plan of giving her this horse.

April excitedly showing off her 7th place ribbon she and George won at the AQHA World Championship.

“Once my mom shared the news with me, I sat silently in the car, wondering if it was the right call,” she said. “And then a George Strait song came on the radio and something hit me, and I knew I had to take the chance on this horse.”

Before April could even get home, she was on the phone with Wes telling him she would take him. But she had one stipulation: They needed to change his name. While April liked his registered name, Ben Lopin Slow, his barn name was Benny, which reminded April too much of Benji. She was instantly inspired by the George Strait song that came on the radio in the car and decided from now on his name would be George.

Rough Beginnings

April and George’s venture into the show pen was by no means an easy one. George, who came to the barn out of shape and only working occasionally as a kids’ lesson horse, had never really been shown before, and April was a rookie in the arena herself.

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