Holly Ray ’92 Brings Horse Beyond Injuries to Blue-Ribbon Days
by Anisah Hashmi '11
July 1, 2011
Twist N Twirl with Holly Ray, is undefeated for the year-end award in Paint English pleasure and has received 12 championship awards in this class alone.
Like many little girls, Holly Ray ’92, spent a week each summer at horseback-riding camp, where her love for horses grew. She daydreamed about horses and read whatever she could in her free time. She was determined to own a horse someday.
But first, she spent years realizing other aspirations. At Dickinson, Ray pursued a degree in biology and went on to study veterinary medicine at University College Dublin, Ireland. She became a veterinarian and, since 1998, has owned Champion Animal Hospital in Warren, Ohio. As the only doctor in a high-volume companion-animal practice, Ray is under a lot of pressure to ensure her four-legged patients’ needs are met. To escape the demands and stress of her job, Ray returned to that early love, riding.
One day, she told her riding instructor about her lifelong dream of owning a black-and-white Paint horse. Paint horses must conform to a strict bloodline and have a predominant coat color with at least one contrasting area of solid white hair of the required size and some underlying unpigmented skin present at the time of its birth, according to the American Paint Horse Association.
Ray’s instructor happened to know of just such a horse that recently had been blinded in one eye and was for sale. Twist N Twirl had suffered his injury at the hands of a rough trainer but was able to continue in reining, a sport that puts ranch-type horses through their paces. Despite the efforts of several veterinarians, the severe damage to Twist N Twirl’s eye could not be reversed.
Nevertheless, Ray fell in love with the horse and worked to overcome his visual challenges. “When I ride, I find that I have to use more communication with him, through subtle cues given by hands and legs,” she explains. “He tends to need a lot of reassurance, especially if ridden indoors.” While she always tries to let him know where she’s standing, Ray has suffered a few broken toes. Throughout her nine years of working with Twist N Twirl, she has noticed his fear of shadows and his abnormal depth perception in dim lighting.
Regardless of his disability, the 17-year-old gelding continues to win awards in Western and English riding competitions. Over the years, he has won 23 year-end championships and 22 reserve championships, including halter, Paint English pleasure, Paint Western pleasure, open hunter, open Western, ladies Western, bridle-path hunt seat and open English pleasure. Ray and her horse also have participated in barrel racing, a timed speed event based on running a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels.
“He’s always compensated for [his disability] extremely well,” she says. “He must trust me a lot because he never gives me any problems and has always done what I ask of him to the best of his ability. Most importantly, we enjoy our strong bond and find fun and satisfaction participating together in the various events. My dad taught me that the only people who lose are those that sit on the sidelines and don’t take a chance at following their dreams.”
Twist N Twirl has won many awards for his classes under saddle, but he’s also won the hearts of many people with his engaging personality. “He knows he is handsome and will prance around and arch his neck when he knows people are watching him,” Ray says. If she is wearing a hat, he will pull it off and toss it to the side in jest. “One time during a competition, he was bored, and as soon as the judge walked up to examine him, he started making faces and hung his tongue out. The judge did not look impressed.”