July 16 • 06:57 PM

A mix of luck and courage

Winning a horse raffle, meeting 'Traveling Trainer' changes Attica woman's life

After being injured in an accident with a horse years ago, fate and courage carried Jeanne Lueppen of Attica back to a lifelong love of horses after she won ‘Meins,’ a 2-year-old Appaloosa in a raffle. photo by Catherine Brakefield.

June 25, 2008
Jeanne Lueppen never wins anything. So when the Attica woman entered a drawing in 'Horse Illustrated' for a free Appaloosa and heard nothing, that didn't surprise her. After all, her life had become a patchwork of disappointments. She was 19 when her horse reared and fell over backwards on her. She had the wind knocked out of her again in 1996 when she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia disease. However, Lueppen was determined not to allow her past, nor her present misery, to govern her life.

Fibromyalgia is from three Latin and Greek words: 'Fibra' means fibrous tissue of the tendons and ligaments; 'myos' means muscles and 'algos' means pain. Fibromyalgia lives up to its name with constant pain in the tendons, ligaments, and muscles that makes the simple mundane tasks of everyday life a challenge to accomplish.

"I'm in constant pain," Lueppen says, "there is nothing I can do about it. I just can't let it get me down."

And to help uplift her, Lueppen relied on horses. Though she had a bad equestrian experience years ago, Lueppen says her love for horses never left her. She even took a job at a stable just to be around horses.

"I could go up and pet them and muck out stalls," Lueppen says, "but I just couldn't get on them."

While working out at Curves in Imlay City one day she told a lady she wanted to take riding lessons, but her past accident and handicap made some instructors unwilling. The lady recommended Ann Marie Lavallee, or the 'Traveling Trainer' as she is often referred to. Lueppen remembers the day well.

"It was just after a snowstorm," Lueppen says. "I walked through a half foot of snow to meet her."

Lueppen was unsure what Lavallee's reaction would be after she explained her phobia and handicap.

"It was hard finding an instructor that would work with me," Lueppen says. But Lavellee said to her, "If you're willing, I'm willing."

"That's what she said. So I started taking my riding lessons in March, 2005," Lueppen says. "Not all of it was pleasant, but Lavallee knew when to push and when to back off. She's really good at reading what needs to be done."

Little by little with Lavallee's professional support, Lueppen gained confidence and courage for the next challenge awaiting her.

Lueppen had forgotten about the contest she entered in Horse Illustrated. You can just imagine her surprise when a lady phoned from the Appaloosa Museum in Moscow, Idaho and explained that she had won the raffle.

"I first thought it was a prank call," said Lueppen.

Her Appaloosa horse, E Arrow Bonds Butty, was a yearling, just eighteen months old, unbroken and located in Washington State.

Lueppen explains that because her husband, Klaus, was traveling due to his job, he was afraid that this young horse would be too much for her to handle, he wanted her to sell him and buy an older horse.

"We have three dogs, two cats and now a horse," laughs Lueppen. "My husband puts up with a lot."

Jeanne Lueppen with ‘Traveling Trainer’ Ann Marie Lavallee, who helped Lueppens overcome her fear and get back in the saddle. photo by Catherine Brakefield.
Lueppen and her husband discussed it and decided to give the horse a chance and see how he worked out.

Lueppen contacted a hauling company in Texas who happened to be in Oregon at the time. He had one vacant stall left. It turned out to be a four day trip for the little Appaloosa, Lueppen says, but he came off the trailer nice and calm, like he'd been on a vacation.

"All he knew how to do was ride in a trailer," Lueppen laughs. "All the horses I ever rode were trained. Now I'm learning with him. It's pretty cool."

For Lueppen, it has been an experience she wouldn't trade for anything. Lueppen nicknamed her Appaloosa, "Meins" which means "this is mine" in German. Lavallee got Lueppen used to the Appaloosa utilizing the round pen. At two years old Lavellee began training Meins for the saddle. Then, it was Lueppen's turn.

"I'm a large lady," explains Lueppen. "I'm a lot bigger than Ann Marie and Meins was so skinny, it was like trying to straddle a fence rail. When I got on the first time he'd move one leg at a time."

Still, there was a lot more to learn about caring for a horse.

"Ann Marie is one of those trainers that want owners to be 'hands on,'" Lueppen says. "That made a big difference."

Meins is now four years old, a rich dark bay that stands 15 hands high. Lueppen has taken Meins to Mio, camping at Fort McKinley near the AuSable River. Lueppen rode him 12 miles with Lavallee's group of equestrians and slept in a tent. Though it was a chilly 30 degrees that night, she's excited about the next outing.

Lueppen is quick to say that she couldn't have accomplished this without her trainer.

Lavallee, located in Dryden off of Dryden Road, is a graduate of the University of Findlay, Ohio and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Equestrian Science. As well as training horses and giving lessons, she is a 4-H leader for the Dryden Hoof Hikers.

Lavallee has tackled horses which some professionals have turned away. One case was the Fell Pony stallion, "Littletree Highwayman" nicknamed "Ned."

"I've watched her work with this stallion that people were telling her would be impossible to train," Lueppen says. "She took him to the stallion expo in March and it was great. She was riding the horse everyone said couldn't be ridden."

For Lueppen, there wasn't a doubt in her mind that Lavallee could train that wild little stallion, performing the impossible, for Lueppen had experienced the miracle herself. Now that Meins has come into her life, there isn't a day that goes by that Lueppen doesn't look forward to. Not even fibromyalgia can place a dark cloud on her enjoyment with Meins.

"Yes, I have a handicap, but when I get on Meins, I don't have to think about it," Lueppen says. "I can get on with my life and enjoy it."

Lueppen is not planning to show or compete with Meins, at least not this year. She says she just enjoys "meandering around" and doing trail rides.

"I'm an old lady with a young kid," says Lueppen with a chuckle, "but Meins and I are both learning and Ann Marie Lavallee has made it doable for us."

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