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Smoke em All the Sightless broke the Guinness World Record for Blind Horse Gymkhana Sunday night at the Desert Empire Fairgrounds. With his abundant love and trust for owner Britney Swenson, Smoke races across the field to an incredible victory. / Laura Austin Photo

Smoke breaks the Guinness World Record for Blind Horse Gymkhana

By Laura Quezada News Review Staff Writer–  Love and trust propelled Smoke ‘em All the Sightless (Smoke) to break the Guinness World Record for Blind Horse Gymkhana at the Desert Empire Fairgrounds and Event Center on Sunday, November 19. Yes, you are reading that correctly: Smoke is totally blind.

Britney with Smoke just before breaking the record. / Laura Austin Photo

Twenty-six-year-old Smoke lives at Pegasus Training Stables in Yermo, California.  Britney Swenson, Owner/Operator of the stables, met him about seven years ago when he was a one-eyed horse who lost an eye to cancer. He had always been skittish, even when he was sighted. He had been rescued from an abusive environment 17 years prior and had never left the property.

Laura Austin Photo

Swenson immediately fell in love with him but was unable to interact with him due to his skittish nature. In 2019, his previous owner passed away. Her husband was selling her horses and was unsure what to do with Smoke. Swenson told him, “I will take him and give him a good home. I will rescue him. I’m a trainer; I will retrain him and see what I can do with him. I love him.”

She immediately began working with him, and in a month, she was able to mount him and start training him. “He’s a very skittish horse. Everything was spooky. But he really almost instantly bonded with me and not only trusted me, but he loved me, which is kind of rare for a horse. Sometimes, you know they do, but his skittishness was pretty extreme. So that was awesome and quite a delight and he would automatically put me on his side with no eye. He realized, ‘Okay, you’ve got my back,’ so to speak.”

Smoke also bonded with another horse, Jake. Swenson took the two horses out on trail rides to build Smoke’s confidence and was soon able to take Smoke out on trails alone. About six months later, she decided to take him to a semi-local Gymkhana event. She had never attended such an event, but her friend told her, “It’s kind of fun and the best thing about it was there’s going to be a ton of people and horses, he gets to go in an arena, there’s music, there’s all different kinds of exposure than he’s had. So I thought. ‘Let’s try that.’ He trusted me and everything that we had done leading up to that point. He’d already been like, ‘Okay, I’m good to go.’

“I pulled him out of the trailer. He wasn’t fazed by the other horses, by tractors going by all these new and exciting things. He was like, ‘Okay, what are we here to do?’ And we ended up winning in our division, the high point for that day.” Swenson becomes emotional, and through tears, she continues her story. “ When I got home, I called the previous owner’s husband, and I just wanted him to know how well he was doing.  I said, ‘I took him to a competition today and we won a trophy.’ He started crying and said he really thought no one was ever going to want that horse and he had actually dug a hole in his backyard with his tractor and was going to shoot Smoke and put him down before I came along.”

Unfortunately, after about two years, Smoke needed to have his second eye removed, once again from cancer. “He is a paint horse with what’s called a bald face; he has white all over and it covers the blue eyes. They are more prone to get cancer in the eye.” They tried a few treatments to no avail. In November 2022, the vet allowed Jake to accompany Smoke into the operating room. The healing process was difficult, with some complications, but after about a month, Smoke was given the go-ahead to start activities again.

Laura Austin Photo

Under direction from Swenson, Smoke made it back into the arena. He has trouble with balance, but they prevail.  She tells us, “He still really doesn’t have great balance. But what is amazing is that as I start riding him, we are so in tune that he really melds into me and lets me guide him, and he gets so much confidence from that. It gives him more good balance. I don’t know really how to describe that.” She also says, “He has blind faith in me, pun intended.”

They love the arena in Ridgecrest at the Desert Empire Fairgrounds. “The people who run that club do an amazing job taking care of the facility and that’s why it’s one of my favorite places to compete. The best footing for my horses, which is, you know, safety for the animals always first.” On Sunday, Swenson let Smoke take the lead. “We were going as fast as he could go. He’s an older horse, so we don’t go super fast. I let him pick the pace. I don’t really need to push him or ask him for more. You know, I don’t use whips. I don’t overly kick him, none of that stuff. He hears the judge say, ‘Ride when ready,’ which is giving you the all clear to go and he knows, ‘Okay, I’m ready to go,’ and that’s what we do now.”

For those not in the know, Swenson describes Gymkhana in a simplified version for us, “There are 13 different obstacles set up in the arena, and you go in and run these obstacles, and you guide your horse around. They’re set up for different patterns, for skill and speed. So that is the main focus: the skill and speed.”

David Leighton of the Ridgecrest Gymkhana Club helped coordinate Sunday’s event. He tells us, “I’ve seen her ride many, many times. And every time, it felt remarkable. The accomplishments that they’re doing are remarkable. One other tidbit to add to this was that he ran our 2022 to 2023 season here, and he received a high point award for Future Champion Adult Division and was unanimously voted the Horse of the Year for that season. I think I felt the same excitement and anxiety that she (Swenson) was feeling because it meant a lot to us here because he’s chosen to come and participate in our shows. We all, as a collective group, accepted her and adopted her as one of our own.”

Pegasus Training Studios is located near Calico Ghost Town in Yermo, California. Their motto is:  Where horse and rider soar together. Our goal is to bring riders and horses together as a team. Smoke has his own Facebook page:  Smoke ‘em All the Sightless.