Secret Lives of Horses: Weekend at Bernie’s

by Nancy Johnson

Bernie giving lessons

Although his name suggests a shorter stay, Weekend at Bernie’s isn’t going anywhere according to Jocelyn Thomas.  Jocelyn, who is the owner of Dancing Horses Equestrian in Williston, says she bought the now 26-year-old Selle Francais gelding about four years ago. Jocelyn had put the word out among other local professionals in the Aiken area that she was seeking a nice horse for her husband Steve to ride. In a typical example of the Aiken horse community working together, Cathy Gomez from Wagener reached out to Jocelyn describing Bernie as a perfect horse for the job.

 “I bought Bernie specifically as a husband horse to surprise Steve when he came home from serving in the military in Kuwait,” Jocelyn explains. Strictly a pleasure rider, Steve was eager to ride Bernie, “But when he got back from his tour oversees, he was ill and not able to ride. Then, as soon as he got healthy, they shipped him out again,” Jocelyn explains.

Since Steve couldn’t ride Bernie right away, Jocelyn began using him in her lesson program and with kids in camp. “Everybody loves him,” she says. “He’s quiet and well-broke, making him an excellent school horse, but he still is a little sassy.” 

She doesn’t know the details, but Jocelyn was told that Bernie had shown extensively at the big horse shows in his youth. “He still loves to jump, so I leased him to a Pony Clubber, Sebastian Howard, who wanted to start eventing.” The pair competed in 2020 and 2021 in the Tadpole division at Stable View’s Eventing Academy where they were always in the top ribbons.

“Unfortunately, we just discovered that Bernie has a heart murmur, so I don’t want to take the chance of him eventing any longer,” Jocelyn says sadly. “He’s not happy about it either,” she adds. As Bernie likes to have a job, Jocelyn is using him in lessons. “He’s especially good with some of my adult beginner students who are just learning to canter,” she notes.

Steve, who recently retired, insists that he still plans to ride “his” horse and Jocelyn will be keeping close tabs on them both. “Bernie has a home with us for the rest of his life,” she says. “I just want to be sure he’s happy and has someone to ride him because he is one of those horses that must have a job, even if it’s a small one. I’m so thankful Cathy let him step down to a lesser job with me.”

Aside from his recently discovered heart murmur, Jocelyn says Bernie has not had any health or soundness issues since she has owned him. “It’s amazing that he’s so sound because his legs look like they are all screwed on at different angles,” she says with a laugh. 

“I wish I knew more of his early history,” adds Cathy. “When I bought him from a friend in Georgia, they were just showing him locally, but supposedly he had done the ‘Big Eq’ prior to that. He’s branded, so I am guessing he was imported, but I’m not certain.” She describes him as a handsome horse and looking more the “older warmblood type with a lot of bone.” When she had him, she even rode him sidesaddle. “He looked great in sidesaddle, but I was just getting to the end of doing sidesaddle myself, so I only rode him aside a few times for fun,” she says. 

Cathy explains the background of his name. “When I got him, I didn’t get any papers or show record. He was just Bernie. I always loved the movie Weekend at Bernie’s, so that’s how he got his current name.” Shortly after buying him, Cathy showed him in some hack classes at the Aiken Horse Show in the Woods and had hoped to hunt him. However, even at 20 plus years of age, Bernie turned out to be quite a handful jumping. “He was such a nice horse to be around, and he’d be so quiet; until he saw a fence! Then he’d just barrel on,” she says with a laugh. 

Seeing his propensity for jumping, Cathy ended up showed him some in the local jumper shows, mostly at Stable View. “He was already in his early 20s, so I just did the 2’6” jumpers, but he did quite well, and it was a lot of fun,” she recalls.

“What was so funny about Bernie is that at home he was so slow and quiet, he looked like he could have shown in Western pleasure, but when you took him someplace, he’d light up like a Christmas tree. The horse you had at home was not the horse you were going to ride at the show or hunt,” Cathy explains, adding, “That’s why even though I bought him to hunt, I decided the jumpers suited him better.”

Because Bernie was always quiet at home, Cathy realized that the job Jocelyn wanted him for, being Steve’s horse on the farm, would suit him better than the excitement of hunting, giving him something easier to do as he settled into old age. “I was so happy Jocelyn had a good spot for him. I’ve seen him recently with her students and he looks great and very content.”

The Secret Lives of Horses is a regular feature in The Aiken Horse newspaper, telling the story of a retired horse in the Aiken area, 20 years or older. Do you have an older horse that needs his or her story told? Email us!. Secret Lives is sponsored by Triple Crown Nutrition, providing nutrition beyond compare.