Indomitable spirit keeps equestrian dream alive for 86 years
Life doesn’t always follow according to our plans. If it did, Gitta Matsoukas, would have owned a horse, and learned to ride, a long time ago. She had discovered at an early age that she had a deep and abiding love for animals – horses in particular.
If life did follow Gitta’s plan, her father would have purchased a horse for Gitta when she was 15. He was looking for the right horse when the idea was interrupted – interrupted by World War II. You see, Gitta grew up in Germany and there was no ignoring an interruption of that magnitude. The only thing WWII couldn’t interrupt was the dream that she would one day own and ride a horse.
At 86, after that and other interruptions, Gitta is, at last, fulfilling that dream. She has purchased a horse – Susie – and is taking riding lessons at Meadowsweet Ranch in Spring Grove. The mere idea of owning a horse, however, seemed miles and miles away when the world was erupting in flames around her.
The war changed everything. Gitta and other children were evacuated to the border. There, she attended school camp where field trips occasionally took the students to a nearby stable. She remembers the hayrides, pulled by a team of four horses.
At least those horses were up to the task of a wagon full of children. She remembered seeing draft horses pulling wagons for brewers and other businesses. Those horses were often forced to struggle against mighty loads.
“They had to start getting going and the hide would almost bust on their shoulders they tried so hard,” Gitta said. “And they were whipped … and they slipped. It so bothered me.”
After high school, Gitta did manage a few riding lessons. But, that was interrupted, too, as her focus turned to teaching. At the age of 26, Gitta put her dream on hold again and migrated to the United States. There, she worked as a secretary until marrying at 34.
Her husband, (first name?) Matsoukas, started a chemical company and Gitta went to work in the family business. Along with growing the business, Gitta and her husband raised two children. As the children approached adulthood, Gitta began to think again of making her equestrian dream a reality. Then her husband died and the dream was shelved again.
Gitta and Susie
No one can doubt the intensity of Gitta’s love for horses. War, migration, career, family and death – not one of these dampened her determination to fulfill that dream.
Is her appreciation for owning and riding a horse today greater because of the long journey she followed to get here? Who knows? What is clear, however, is that destiny may have toyed with Gitta’s dream all these years but it never forgot her. In that light, Susie even seems the perfect horse. Susie, after all, is 28.
“That’s pretty close to 100 in people years,” said Kathy Boettcher, owner of Meadowsweet Ranch and Gitta’s riding instructor. And that means that, next to Susie, Gitta is more than young at heart.
Boettcher describes Gitta as an extremely sweet-hearted person – always smiling, willing to try anything and always positive. If there is any negativity she sees in Gitta it is in the way Gitta is sometimes hard on herself about her progress as a rider.
“Sometimes, she’s too hard on herself. She gets frustrated with herself,” Boettcher said, though she smiled as she added, “which is not allowed.”
What it shows is that, for Gitta, riding a horse isn’t as simple as throwing a leg over the saddle; it goes much further – to learning to ride properly. You could say that she is driven to do so. She’s even cracked a rib falling off a horse but that never gave her pause about continuing in the pursuit of her dream.
“It’s not to impress somebody,” she explained. “It’s to have a good understanding with my horse. If I’m going to enjoy a ride, I’d like to think my horse is not just a beast of burden … that we could inspire each other.”
Boettcher said that Susie is a good choice in this regard. Maybe she’s mellowed with age or, maybe, she was always this way, but Boettcher described Susie as possessing a sweet temperament like her owner.
“She (Susie) is a sweetheart,” Boettcher said. “I don’t think she has a mean bone in her body.”
However, Gitta admitted that, on occasion, she can raise her voice, though, meeting her, that’s hard to imagine. Susie may also have a coarser side.
“She’s might snap at other horses,” Gitta said. “But, with me, she’s never, ever tried anything naughty.”
A stubborn but determined student
Whether Gitta does raise her voice from time to time – only Gitta is saying. However, she definitely has a stubborn streak. For instance, she refuses to wear a helmet while training with Susie. And there is only one reason she wears a helmet while out on trail rides.
“I tell her I won’t take her out on the trail unless she wears a helmet,” Boettcher said.
In spite of her instructor putting her foot down on trail rides, Gitta speaks very highly of Boettcher. She described her instructor as extremely patient and understanding. Boettcher also goes to any length to share a lesson with Gitta. For instance, when teaching how to turn the horse from the forehand or the hindquarter, Boettcher brings the demonstration to life.
“It’s not as easy as it looks if you haven’t done it,” Gitta said. “These are subtleties. Kathy even goes down on the floor and plays horse to show me.”
The lesson, regardless of what she’s learning, is that it’s a matter of finesse.
“In time, I’ll get it,” Gitta said, suggesting she has yet to achieve success in this arena. But, for anyone else looking on, it’s hard to see Gitta as anything other than a incredible success already.