If you think you’ve seen a horse riding through the streets of Cortland recently, you may not have been hallucinating.
Saturday morning provided one such sighting, as Sarah Sujkowski was riding Thunder, her 9-year-old Tennessee walking horse, down Groton Avenue.
Sujkowski grew up in Cortland, but until recently she lived in Scott, on the south side of Skaneateles Lake. Two months ago, she and her husband, Marcin, and their two teen-aged children moved to Cortlandville.
Because Sujkowski tries to avoid driving, Thunder is becoming a regular in the area of Rex’s Pasta off Route 222 in Cortlandville.
“This is Cortland’s newest citizen,” Sujkowski said of Thunder.
Sarah Sujkowski chats with Ed and Ardie Kowalski on Saturday. Sujkowski, who moved to Cortlandville two months ago, regularly rides her horse through the streets of Cortland.
Sujkowski rides bareback, and Thunder is unshod. Sujkowski trims his hooves herself, preferring the work to the $100 farrier fee that comes every four to six weeks for refitting a horse’s shoes.
“Whenever’s there’s grass, I go on the grass to save his hooves,” Sujkowski said.
She’s gone on longer rides with Thunder before. Last year, she rode more than ten miles to Cortland from the Scott area for the Dairy Parade.
In the dozen or so rides she’s taken since moving to Cortlandville, she’s varied her routes, sometimes riding by SUNY Cortland and the Cortland City Water Works, sometimes taking different loops off Route 281.
Sujkowski is a horse and dog trainer. She’s had 12 horses in 14 years: She buys them wild and sells them tame.
She’s dealt with some rough ones: In 2005, a horse kicked her in the face. Sujkowski lost a tooth, and now has a titanium plate in her jaw, and she’s got a long scar under her chin.
Thunder himself wasn’t so calm when she got him a year ago: He had a tendency to nip, and he jammed her finger pretty bad.
Not anymore. Sujkowski demonstrated that Saturday morning to Ed and Ardie Kowalski, who just had to pull over and see what was going on.
“I’ve never seen a horse in a Burger King parking lot before,” Ed Kowalski said.
Ardie Kowalski said she has always been afraid of horses, ever since once tried to nip her when she was younger. Sujkowski showed her how friendly Thunder was and encouraged her to get closer.
Sujkowski also trains dogs, such as her dog Ranger, a Siberian husky you also may have seen around, because Sujkowski walks him without a leash.
This tends to concern then amaze people, she said, but she thinks there’s nothing so mysterious about how well-behaved Ranger is: He’s just properly trained.
“If I can train a husky to walk off leash, you can train any dog to walk off leash,” she said.
For Sujkowski, a member of the Grace Christian Fellowship, it’s a spiritual and philosophical matter: “God gave us dominion over the animals,” she said. “And that means we have to be their leaders. We need to learn to speak their language more than they need to learn to speak ours.”
Sujkowski was on her way Saturday to tend to a third animal: Her 17-year-old cat, who was in poor health and scheduled to be euthanized that morning. “Seventeen years is a good life for a cat, and I didn’t want him to suffer,” she said.