Taken from the April 1992 Edition of the Arabian Horse World Magazine--by Rosalie Carvalho
About Sissy Goodwin...
Sometimes Dreams Really Do Come True
On May 8th, 1952, a girl was born to Juanita and Bernard French in Louisville,
Kentucky. The ninth child in a family that grew to sixteen, Sissy came into the
world with some strikes against her. Her family was of meager means, and Sissy
was afflicted with a genetic disability called arthrogryposis, resulting in severely
clubbed feet. The doctor told Sissy's mother that with so many other children at
home, she would not be able to take care of a handicapped child who would
never be able to walk. With these clouds on the horizon, would this little girl ever
dare to dream of a bright happy future?
Sissy spent most of her nine years at Kosair Shriner's Hospital in Louisville,
where she had a total of nine surgeries and wore casts and braces in between,
often having to lie still for many weeks. "It all seemed so unfair," Sissy recalls.
"Why wasn't I like other kids? Why was I the crippled one?" The bedridden child
dreamed of having good legs, and galloping along on the back of a beautiful
Arabian horse, like Walter Farley's Black Stallion.
At the time, it didn't look as if Sissy would ever walk, let alone ride and handle
horses. But after experimental and drastic surgery, Sissy did gain limited use of
her legs. "I have never been able to tap dance, or wear high heels, or even run
more than a couple of steps...but I have done many things they never thought I
would," she says.
As a teenager, Sissy worked in a stable, mucking stalls, just to be around horses
and get an occasional ride. During those years, Sissy saw a picture of the
Arabian stallion Fadjur, and fell in love with the beautiful bay horse.
A move to California at the age of 18 brought Sissy closer to Arabians. Pedaling
down the road on her bike, her feet slipped off the pedals and she fell flat on her
face in front of a car. Little did she know that one of the young men sitting in the
car, Ken Goodwin, would one day be her husband. "Ken still tells everyone that I
fell for him the first time I saw him," Sissy relates. After several years of
marriage, Ken decided to give his young wife a special treat. He knew she loved
horses, and made special arrangements with his aunt for a visit to her ranch. He
didn't know what kind of horses his aunt raised, but loaded his wife and family
into the car and went to Stockton to meet his aunt Marge. The year was 1985,
and perhaps you have guessed that Aunt Marge is Marge Tone of the Jack Tone
Ranch, owner of the fabulous Fadjur.
|Sissy was saddened to learn that Fadjur--her dream
horse--had just had just died a few months before her visit,
but Aunt Marge had many of his sons and daughters,
grandsons and granddaughters, and Sissy's spirits lifted as
she walked through the barns. One young stallion,
Fadjur's Gusto, captured her attention. He, too, had a
disability; one of his eyes had been injured, and he was
partially blind. "Each time I passed his stall, he'd stick out
that beautiful head, and I wondered, perhaps, if he was
dreaming of running with the wind in his mane. I wanted
him instantly, but I thought to myself, 'What are you
thinking of? You can hardly walk, and you want to take
home a stallion?'"
Marge Tone, in her wise understanding of humans and
horses, saw a future for these two together, and six months
later, Fadjur's Gusto belonged to Sissy and Ken. "When
we tried to take Gusto home, I had second thoughts--it
took my trainer friend, Mellany Harris, two hours to load
him into the trailer. Where was that kind face? He seemed
so wild now." With assurance that Gusto could return to
the Jack Tone Ranch if he proved too much for Sissy to
handle, the stallion stepped into his new life. Says
Mellany,"With Sissy's handicap, 'Goose' had to be
extremely aware and careful of where the handler was at
all times--quite difficult for
Fadjur's Gusto and Sissy
|a stallion, especially with mares present. But I knew he was catching on when
my sister visited with her small son, Justin, who has Down's Syndrome. We all
panicked when Justin came up missing. Guess where he was? In the stallion's
stall, hugging his front legs. Our hearts stopped--Gusto had only been with us a
few months, we didn't know how he'd react. And, as if the situation wasn't bad
enough, my sister started to clap and yell to get her son's attention--not knowing
that was Gusto's cue to be fiery. You can't imagine the confused look on Gusto's
|Here was this four-year-old hugging his
legs, while my sister clapped. The horse
would look at us, and back to the child,
then back to us--but he didn't move a
muscle. We finally quieted down the
mother and got Justin out of the paddock,
and as soon as we were on the other side of
the fence, Gusto let loose like a coiled
spring, dancing around just as the clapping
had signaled him to do. "Gusto learned
faster than any horse I've ever trained,"
Mellany continues. "I used basic dressage
training, with liberty tips from Pat Parreli
clinics. This, plus a lot of adaptation for
Sissy, has resulted in a well-trained horse.
I believe Gusto's wonderful attitude is
50% breeding and 50% training."
Fadjur's Gusto and Mellany
|When Mellany left to get married, Sissy's worst fear came true: she and Ken were
left alone to handle their stallion. "Ken and I attempted our first breeding alone,"
Sissy recalls. "Ken, being stronger, handled Gusto, and I took the mare, rearing
and pawing and nearly striking Ken. 'Don't let him do that!' I shouted, and Ken
yelled back,'He can't help it!' 'Phoey!' I answered. 'He can too help it.' I took
Gusto, and I circled and circled with him, scolding him until he quit pulling on
the lead. Again we approached the mare, and again he tried to rear, dragging me
along with him. I backed him half-way to Nebraska, and kept it up until he quit
putting even the slightest pressure on the lead. Then we tried again. This time,
Gusto stood quietly while I washed him, then bred the mare real nice and quiet.
Ken was amazed.
"Another time, Gusto became frightened and made a dash for his stall. He didn't
see me standing in the doorway because I was on the side with his one bad eye,
and I sure couldn't get out of his way with my slow legs. On just about his last
stride, I screamed bloody murder,'GUSTO!' That horse literally pivoted on his
hind legs and turned full circle to miss landing on me. I got my first look at a
horse's hooves above my head. I also got my fist assurance that Gusto would
never deliberately hurt me. And ever since, we've figured out how manage both
our disabilities, while using our abilities. Can you believe it: a crippled lady and
an Arabian stallion?"
Fadjur's Gusto now has his own large stall and paddock, where the "quack
patrol"--three fat ducks--go marching through single file at any time of the day or
night. A friendly chicken or two may lay an egg in the hay next to Gusto's stall.
These often go into his grain to make his coat shine. Gusto has his own harem
now, including the Wheeler-bred mare Mystre, who produced and elegant bay
colt, Fad La Re. Gusto's foals have great legs, level top lines, lots of spunk, and
of course, that classic Arabian head.
The fiery son of Fadjur seems to know that Sissy's feet are slow and her balance
poor. Because the tendons in her legs have been removed, she cannot put her foot
in the stirrups and swing up on her mount like many of us do. So Gusto steps
close to a picnic table and waits while Sissy mounts. Likewise, the gentle stallion
walks carefully and obediently when giving riding lessons to children and old
ladies, and he's working on his second level dressage with his trainer, Mellany
Fadjur's Gusto and Sissy Goodwin are proof that you can have your fiery
stallion, performance horse, and family friend all wrapped up in one silver
package. They prove, too, that dreams really do come true.
Sissy in her "spare time"
|Today, Sissy continues giving riding lessons
to children and "little old ladies" on her
stallion, whom she refers to as "Guss". His
liberty rides at the fairgrounds show the
cowboys in Red Bluff the fantastic
disposition the Fadjur breds are most
famous for. In her "spare time" (joke) she
sells her hand made rope work and horse
tack to local tack stores. Many people have
purchased the famous "IDF" halters from
the tack stores, not knowing exactly where
they came from, including Robert Wagner.
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