Louisville Magazine

APR 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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104 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 4.19 of horse behavior," Williams says. "Who knows if they were riding them." But what's indisputable is the connection painted in sensitive lines on cave walls: Even that early, horses had captured humans. e sprawling collection of misaligned pages in a three-ring binder lands on the glass-top table with a slap. "You can't make fun of me," Mary Rose says as she offers what she calls "her manifesto." It's a scrapbook bulging with pictures. e cover is a photograph cut into the shape of a floppy heart. It shows two horses nuzzling. Inside are artifacts in the life of little Mary Rose: an armband from the Shelbyville Horse Show, a family outing that birthed an obsession; a photograph of her dad with swept-back dark hair, holding a toddler with chubby legs atop a pony. In the image, Mary Rose looks skeptical, and the horse in the fairgrounds attraction looks miserable. A second photo shows another pony ride and a bigger girl with brown hair tumbling down her back. Her legs — no longer chubby — don't reach the stirrups, and she holds the saddle horn, not the reins. But she beams at the camera like she's on the parade ground passing the judges. On every page, anonymous horses strike supermodel poses, heads held high, manes tousled in the wind. It's little-girl horse porn. For a few years, young Mary Rose carried that scrapbook everywhere. "I just wanted to be able to look at it any time. I would just stare at all those pictures, wish I was all the people in those pictures," she says. Lots of little girls catch horse fever, and Mary Rose was a little girl of intense interests to begin with. One more couldn't possi- bly matter, her mother, Sandra Sawicki, thought. "She loved space at one point. She had a big space notebook," Sawicki says. "She didn't end up being an astronaut." After the family attended the horse show, Mary Rose's father found a riding teacher for her and her younger sister. It was like scratching chicken pox: It only got worse. e lessons weren't enough. As soon as Mary Rose was able, she helped in people's barns to get more horse time. "It was a way to learn without paying for lessons," she says. When she was 15, a friend invited her to work with Phyllis and John Tate's horses, about halfway between Crestwood and Simp- sonville. Even as a 15-year-old, Mary Rose exuded poise and self-confidence, Phyllis says. "She knew where she wanted to go in five years, 10 years. She was very goal-orient- ed, with a work ethic that was just absolutely incredible," Phyllis says. Plus, Mary Rose knew horses. "Any horse in my barn was putty in her hands," Phyllis says. Any horse except Callie. Callie is a Paso Fino mare with a fair dose of what Paso Fino people call "brio." She likes to be the boss. e breed association brags that Paso Finos are "the smoothest riding horse in the world." ey move like giant windup toys. But you had to earn that from Callie; you had to be able to stay onboard. After watch- ing the stubborn teenager hit the dirt with every try, Phyllis finally called the guy who had trained Callie. Could Brett Cissell give the teen some pointers? "Brett is as close to a horse whisperer as anyone I've ever seen," Phyllis says. "When Brett trained Callie, the first couple times he came, he walked into the stall, leaned against the wall, pulled down his hat and crossed his arms and waited." Phyllis thought, "I'm paying this guy to stand here?" He was waiting for the horse to be ready for him. Brett calls Callie "very light," which means it doesn't take much to get a reaction from her, for good or ill. In general, Paso Finos "are geared a little hot," he says. When Phyllis called about Mary Rose, Brett wasn't keen on the project. In his experi- ence, giving lessons is babysitting accom- panied by horses. He asked Phyllis, "Is she pretty into it? Because I don't wanna just sit out there." While he chatted with Phyllis, he could see the young girl trying to work with Callie. "She thought she was pretty hot stuff, I could tell that right away," he says. "I kind of look out of the corner of my eye, and here's the horse rearing up, and her sliding off the back. I laughed. She jumped back on and tried to act like it didn't happen." He liked that grit. But with the grit came attitude once the lessons began. "I'm saying, 'Lighten up,' and of course I'm getting, 'I am!'" Brett says. en Brett rode Callie. "It was like somebody flipped a switch," Mary Rose says. "e horse was all of a sudden light and calm." To rub salt in the wound, he had Callie spin, barely touching her reins as she executed one difficult maneuver after another. A decade later, Mary Rose still sounds a little indignant. "I was like, OK, I don't know what this dick wad's doing, but I want to know what he knows, because it was like night and day. I was just positive that horse was going to buck (him) off. I was positive! And then (he) got on and it was perfect." Brett was a seasoned horseman by the time he was recruited to teach Mary Rose. His parents put him on a horse for the first time when he was two or three. As a kid growing up in Fern Creek, he often rode bareback because he was too little to saddle his pony. "So I would just pull him over to the fence and jump on his back," he says. He got into competitive barrel racing in high school and college, before traveling all over the country cowboying, training horses, running farms. When he returned to Kentucky around 2004, he was in his early 30s. "Back then, I was kind of like: have saddle, will travel," Brett says. "I was going places and training here and training there. I liked it because it kept me a little bit freer. e money was OK, and I didn't have to clean stalls. I didn't have to take care of horses. I just kind of show up, ride the horse, and go." en came the call about the kid and Callie. Brett gave Mary Rose lessons for the rest of that summer. ere was immediate tension, Phyllis says. "Mary was brought to tears several times because he would yell at her," she says. "I think Brett was much harder on her than he would have been with anybody else because he recognized her potential." e following spring, he began taking 16-year-old Mary Rose with him to start young horses under saddle. He'd pick her up at Phyllis' — as far from her Crest- wood home as Mary Rose was allowed to drive, about 10 miles. ey'd work horses all day, and he'd throw her five or ten dollars from whatever he was paid. at way, while he taught, he got the second pair of hands he sometimes needed. To Brett, she was just a kid — a kid who told him about her dates. And then, suddenly, she wasn't. It hit him the night of her high school graduation. He was a guest at her parents' home after the Highlands Latin School graduation ceremony, and Mary Rose was heading off to prom, which took place on graduation night. "I remember having this sinking feeling," he says. "She got dressed up to go to the prom. She had on this black dress, and everybody was kind of joking around saying, 'You should wear your hat.' So she put on her black cowboy hat and "I was taught as a kid: ey bite you, you pop 'em. at's what most people learn," one veterinarian says.

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