Author Archives: carrotplease

When Horses Are More Than Just Horses

This is a really hard entry for me to write, but as I went to sleep last night, I knew it had to be done.  I’ve written about this horse before so the story may be familiar to some of you.  Hope you don’t mind.

MIAMINEEDSAHALO dueled for a half on a short lead, widened around the turn, drew off through the stretch under a drive.

Miamineedsahalo, Mikey as he’s come to be known, was three years old. It was his first win in six starts. In the history of cheap claiming races at Charles Town, it was an everyday occurence, the kind of thing most people noticed only long enough to check their tickets and cash their bets. It also changed the world. I realize that might sound a little dramatic or overwrought, but it really did.

See, some horses (and people, too) seem to exist at junctions. They are joiners, connectors, and without really trying set great things in motion. That night at Charles Town, when the little brown horse shoved his head down and drove to the finish, he was connecting with a person who is just like him, director of CANTER Mid Atlantic (then CANTER West Virginia) Allie Conrad.

Me and Mikey, photo by Allie Conrad

Me and Mikey, photo by Allie Conrad

For us volunteers and friends, what happened that night has reached a sort of mythological status – it’s part of CANTER’s creation story, and as such some of the details (since none of us are there) may be wrong, and may have grown in significance in our minds.  And that’s OK, I think, because the ripples that were sent out that night have grown and grown into something huge and wonderful.  Up until that time, CANTER was a listing service.  Allie’s fated introduction to her amazing boy Phinny (Phinny’s story is also sort of amazing, and also was one of those moments where the world altered course a little bit.  I think Allie is a magnet for those moments, or just has a gut feeling for recognizing them when they happen, and the courage to take risks when they come along) is what started her involvement with CANTER.  Her meeting with Mikey would shunt her along an entirely new path.

Mikey, with volunteer Laura Muncy and trainer Stefany Wolfe

Mikey, with volunteer Laura Muncy and trainer Stefany Wolfe

Mikey didn’t just win a race that night.  The little horse, with his slightly roman nosed head, broad chest, and compact build, did it with a broken bone.  Somewhere around or coming out of the far turn, there was a stumble, or a mis-step.  A moment where his stride faltered ever so slightly, and it may or may not have been apparent that something was wrong.  What actually happened was that he broke a small bone in his ankle, and kept on plugging.  It might have been endorphins and adrenaline, and overwhelming instinct that kept him running,  but those of us who have gotten to know Mikey tend to think it was something bigger.  Mikey, for his small stature and short little stride, has the heart of his ancestors.  He has will, and an almost stubborn nature, and even though I wasn’t there, I feel… no, I know, that it was heart and will and determination that carried him forward that night.

Hasn't Had Grain in YEARS. Really!

Mikey, proving that TBs can be easy keepers

People who romanticize Thoroughbreds and racing talk about heart a lot.  People who haven’t been around horses tend to dismiss that because they’ve never experienced it.  But we know better – we know it when we see it, we know it’s what elevates even the most common bottom-of-the-barrel claimer to something pretty amazing.  And we know that within each thoroughbred lies a little spark, a will, and the fighting spirit of long gone ghosts like Man O’ War or Secretariat.  They don’t always bring it out at the track, but every Thoroughbred has it.  Mikey had it that night, and his determination caught Allie’s attention.

Giving Me the Stinkeye

Regal bearing, small package

She also knew something went wrong, and it didn’t take long to find out how badly.  I don’t know all of how this went down, but I know that Mikey was going to be sent on, his connections not wanting to do the rehab work (unwilling or unable to see the greatness in his effort), and his life was very much at risk.  That couldn’t happen.  And when she sobbed to her then-boyfriend John that he couldn’t, just couldn’t, go to the killers, he agreed and helped her to buy him.  For a couple hundred dollars, Mikey’s value was recognized and cherished, and his life saved.  Allie had met a horse who would inspire great work, and came to know that this man who she loved, she really, really loved, and that he would be her soul mate and partner forever. 

Allie with Mikey, 2014

Allie with Mikey, 2014

Mikey became the first horse CANTER brought in for the rehab/retraining program.  So what if he would never leave us?  For CANTER, he is our Secretariat, our class clown, and our best friend.  Volunteers would help Allie with his daily care, giving him attention, wrapping his legs, and simply offering him love and recognition while he was on stall rest.  At this point, I hadn’t even become involved with CANTER, I knew of it, and knew Allie, but stopped by to meet her while I was searching for a new boarding farm for my horse.  I met Mikey too, then, and didn’t yet know much about him or that he was one of the most special beasts on the planet. 

Mikey photobombing an attempted portrait of the chestnut horse

Mikey photobombing an attempted portrait of the chestnut horse

Taking Mikey in led to an expansion at CANTER Mid Atlantic.  Soon, horses were coming in, and finding a soft place to land where there might not have been one before.  Later, CANTER would expand even more, adding the Delaware program, taking even more horses, and getting a really amazing training program going, ultimately finding great long-term matches for hundreds of horses.  Would this have happened without Mikey? I am sure it would have.  But he was one of the sparks.

Best Horse Ever

Best Horse Ever

Years later, after spending time with horses who were with us because Mikey got us started – Klondike, Rosey, Archie, all the goofs out at the ranch, we pulled up to Happy Horse Hill and grabbed Mikey out of the field.  At that time, you might not have even known he was a Thoroughbred.  He was rotund, looking rather like a pregnant Quarterhorse (perhaps a cross with a morgan or mustang, too!).  He was short, with a long, western style mane.  He was one of our wild brumbies, mugging you in the field and stealing your hat, or letting you hop on bareback for a ridiculous ride to the gate.  His personality was what would kill you.  He was hilarious – he loved attention and treats and had a way of communicating exactly what he wanted in ways that were impossible to miss.  Namely, he wanted you to brush right there, just so.  And he wanted to stay with you, forever.  Every time we’d go to bring him in, he was the horse who would call to us and come running. Getting him back out in the field after  a grooming session often took multiple people.  So we took him at his word, and brought him in for some work.

Mikey pretending to be a western horse.

Mikey pretending to be a western horse.

He came with us to Southwind, where we started riding him (which he loved, despite some stiffness and mechanical lameness from his old injury).  We rode him western, we took dressage lessons.  He approached every new thing with the same head-down-and-determined way he won his last race.   Sometimes he would shake his head about, reminding you “forward please!” and to get your leg on.  He very much enjoyed his horsey yoga sessions with our dressage trainer, grunting and whuffing with pleasure when a little lateral work released some stiffness or tension in his body.  He didn’t much see the point in jogging out on the trails – preferring long-reins meandering, or an all-out run through the hayfield.  Mikey was the horse that brought you back to childhood – he was the opinionated pony that you had a blast with no matter what you were doing.  He was the poster child for us, the horse that kept us happy and kept us going. 

Mikey visiting the spa

Mikey visiting the spa

When I had my first experience with euthanasia, and stood cradling a horse’s head in my arms – a horse who would be dying far too young, at three – it was Mikey who reassured me after.  All along, he’s played comforter for all of us, particularly Allie, reminding us all that things are OK.  When things are hard emotionally, or when there’s stress over how things are going (whether worrying about money or logistics or whether it’s all worth it), Mikey’s been the constant who could always cheer us up and make us feel good about moving forward.

Mikey helping with a Christmas photo shoot.

Mikey helping with a Christmas photo shoot.

So for something to be wrong with Mikey, it’s like the world tilting on its axis.

Allie got a call several months ago that something was very wrong.  It turns out that something was EPM – he had major neurologic symptoms, and is having trouble controlling his hind end.  True to form, he was frustrated and angry at things not working right, and Allie had some hard thinking to do about balancing things like prognosis, budget, and what was really in his best interest. Because he’s Mikey, and because he occupies such a huge space in our hearts, Allie went ahead with some treatment, which seemed to have a positive effect for a while, and gave him a good quality of life as he moseyed around Allie’s farm.  But more recently, he’s taken a turn for the worse, and it’s become apparent that there is only one right thing to do, and that is to free our most gallant, courageous, sweet friend from pain and difficulty, and let him go.

Mikey waits at the gate

Mikey waits at the gate

Mikey came into Allie’s life almost ten years ago.  As we approach a decade of taking in horses after their racing careers and finding them new homes and lives, please take a minute – to thank this wonderful horse, thank the universe for bringing him and Allie together, and also to think about the horses who have changed your own lives for the better. May they all stroll through fields like these forever.

Magical Mikey Strolls Through Horse Paradise

Miamineedsahalo, March 28 2001 – March 10, 2014

A Visit To The Funny Farm

Last weekend, my darling SO said (after disappearing most of Saturday on a bike ride and then being too sore to move the rest of the weekend) “next weekend is all yours, spend as much time as you want out with the horses.”  Well twist my arm and whack me with a sack of oranges, why don’t you?  So Saturday I left my darling little monkey with him almost ALL day while I went out to revel in some beautiful springy weather and inhale copious amounts of horsehair.

I was smart, and remembered to stop at a tack shop on the way for a proper shedding blade.  And tack cleaning supplies, since my saddle has not been cleaned or oiled since before bringing it over there (so around a year and a half now. Yikes! No wonder it squeaks so much!).  On arrival, my first order of business was to take my camera and wander out to get Most Amazing Bay Mare from the field.  In no time, I was inundated with bunches of curious, sweet TBs, all nosing and jostling for attention.  I also noticed some new guys, which is always fun.  I didn’t save all the pictures on here, but here are a few.

Corcho

Corcho

Above is sweet Corcho, who came to us from Jess a while back since he needed some time off before getting into work.  He was a pretty chill dude and was very happy to receive some chin rubbins and scratchins.  Unfortunately, poor Corcho, who mostly wanted to chill out and get rubbed down by himself, was soon joined by a couple others.  Most notably, the mare Devon.

Devon is like the Mikey of the giant mare field.  If she sees a person, she immediately has to know what they’re up to and get in their face and visit.  She will follow you all around the field (and I cannot overstate the size of this field. It’s HUGE.) without losing interest. “Whatcha doing? Whatcha doing now? How bout now?” is pretty much what I imagine her saying at all times.  So she came over to see what was so interesting about Corcho

Devon intrudes

Devon intrudes

Pretty much every time I tried to visit with ANYONE in this field, Devon had to get in the middle.  ME ME ME ME MEEEEE!!! Poor mare.  We really need to find her a job soon.

Devon and Her Minion

Devon and Her Minion

Not that she’s alone in this.  Her friend the chestnut mare is almost as bad.  The both of them kept following me around, intruding on my attempts to give others attention and love, for about a half hour before they finally decided to go back to eating.  I will say both these mares are truly stunning, beautiful individuals, but their personalities are basically just like Mikey and Truckee – a pair of troublemakers and attention hounds. 

040613_newguy

New Dude

I’m not sure who this sweetie is. I know I should know this, but I don’t, which is what happens when you don’t spend a whole lot of time out there and horses come and go.  He has a seriously adorable face, and was very sweet, though. 

At this point, I decided it was really time to get the show on the road and grab my favorite bay mare for a ride.  And of course, I realized she was in a small group of four horses clear at the other end of the field.  Did I mention how huge this field is?  It’s HUGE. Almost half a mile from one end to the other (I checked via google pedometer!).  And the hill is pretty crazy big, too.  But as is their way, when the TBs saw me coming, they immediately started making their way over to me, because they love to visit. 

Hi!!!!!

Hi!!!!!

That’s Crazy.  I think.  And I’m posting that picture because I wanted to explain the reason I don’t post more pictures – ninety percent of the photos I take end up being extreme closeups of eyes, noses, and ears, where it’s impossible to even identify whose nose is whose.  Pictures that are not extreme closeups of eyes, noses, or ears, are generally taken while I’m frantically backing me up as cute TB gets closer and closer and closer.  Like this one, of my favorite girly girl?

040613_goodgirl

Good Girl!

Yep, I was walking backwards pretty quickly there.  At this point I put the camera down for a bit, so I could grab her and bring her in. 

To prove that I read, and try to learn, and stuff, while I was riding I was thinking of a couple short snippets I read on Jess’s blog.  Things about going forward, how much leg it really takes to get these guys coming up over their backs, etc.  So while I was up, I really wanted to think about getting her powering along with her back end a little more.  She has great cruise control and a good go button, but I tend towards sticking with the comfortable speeds, instead of asking for them to work a little more.  With my neck strap on and hands held still (see? I really have learned, really!) I asked her for just a little more power at the trot than I had been asking for.  And it’s kind of amazing, because while it felt awkward at first, as I kept it up (while focusing almost completely on keeping my hips weighted evenly in the saddle and body straight, a major hardship for me), I could feel the quality of her movement changing a little bit.  At first it felt a little like running, but after a few minutes I could feel more of a pushing sensation, and I felt like there was more out in front of me than usual (instead of curling her neck, she started to stretch a little bit).  That was enough, so we stopped (neither of us is fit), and walked around a bit.

Continuing to remember Jess’s blog (and probably forgetting a million other things while focusing on some small random point), I added leg and tried to work on a more quality walk, instead of meandering around.  And wouldn’t you know, you can actually FEEL it when they try to lift up and use their back and belly more?  The walk almost starts to feel circular, and connected.  And yes, the sheer amount of leg it takes is pretty amazing. 

That’s about as far as I was really able to go, since I’m a year and a half into my no-riding-lessons plan to achieve mediocrity.  But it’s neat to feel a tiny bit of progress, or achievement, or something.  Yes, we did walk slightly better than last time!  I want a gold star!

After getting pretty girl back out to her field I wandered out to visit the horses in the other gigantic field (this time about .35 miles across) to see some of the boys.  I had it in mind to grab the one I’d nicknamed Possum. He’s been there a while and he seemed like a chill dude, so I thought I’d go for a record and ride two actual horses.  On my way out, I met a new guy who is related to good old Truckee.  For now I’m just calling him Truckee Two, because they look EXACTLY alike, except new guy has a star.

Truckee Two

Truckee Two

The resemblance is more apparent from the side, but I didn’t upload that picture. Oops!  Unlike Truckee, this guy isn’t totally in your face and business, but he’s new, so give it time.  After a few minutes of scritchins, I walked on down the field, where once again the beastie I wanted was at the complete far end.  When I was about halfway there, I heard a little whinny behind me – turned around, and there was Truckee Two, following me.  Too cute!  I waited for him to catch up and we walked the rest of the way together. 

Possum

Possum

I found Possum lounging around near the back corner of the field.  And soon, I’d find out exactly how chill he actually is.  He was fine to catch, but within minutes, I realized just getting back to the gate was going to be difficult.  This guy did not.  not not not. want to go anywhere.  About every ten feet, he’d stop, and just stand there, with a pleasant look on his face, and say “nope. I just walked three steps. We’re done.”  It was almost comical – I felt like I was training my horse to lead again.  A couple times the only way I got him going again was by asking him to move sideways, then sideways the other way, again and again sort of like a sailboat tacking to go against the wind.  About 80 yards from the gate I found nothing worked. Nothing.  He was not going anywhere.

At this point, I was just being stubborn.  We’d just taken forty minutes to come back across the field, I couldn’t stop now! 

Fortunately I was saved by some other boarders.  Possum spied a few horses coming back from a trail ride and a lightbulb went on, and we slowly made it down the rest of the hill as he realized he wasn’t being led off into some horseless no man’s land. Or no horse’s land. Or whatever.

Once out, he got lots of treats and a good grooming, which he really enjoyed, and I got to inspect him a little closer.  He’s a good deal bigger than the mental picture I’d had in my head – for some reason I thought of him as around 15.3, but he’s probably 16.2 plus, and will look bigger as he gets fit and builds topline.  He has good bone and huge feet, and the look of a real athlete.  He was very easy to tack up and once there was a bridle on he led perfectly fine away from the other horses to the little ring.

He was not thrilled by the mounting block, but a few sniffs and some reassurance was all he needed.  He was great, stood for mounting (not sure I should ever be surprised when this horse stands for anything), walked off reasonably smartly, and had no issue going by the flapping laundry hanging on the line or the little road cones in the ring or anything. 

The next four minutes, though, had me huffing and puffing like I’d run a 5K.  He is very similar to how Archie was in the beginning, before we’d really installed a go button.  He’ll trot off great for you, but then every step gets progressively slower, and slower, and slower, until it is all you can do to keep him trotting.  It was taking a great deal of energy from me to keep him at any consistent rate of “speed.”  Strangely (and thankfully), getting him into the canter wasn’t too terribly hard (mostly voice and getting off his back), and he picked up both leads perfectly fine, but again, staying in the canter for any length of time took more and more energy.  I was almost embarrassed that I only rode him for a few minutes, but I could check off all his boxes – stands at the mounting block, good brakes (exceptional brakes, actually), good steering, walks, trots, and canters both ways, calm and non-spooky.  But seriously, my legs are KILLING me today and it’s two days later.  I am sure he’ll be a different horse when he’s fit and whoever is riding him gets the go button in there (Archie sure was – it’s actually the kind of ride I really really like because on those types I never feel awkward or weird about adding more leg or asking for more go).  And I think he’s very fancy.  But it was such a 180 from riding GG that it made me appreciate her so very much more! 

At this point, I was pretty done.  I grabbed my horse and pulled some hair off him, gave him a treat and put him back.  When I got home and found kidlet needed a nap, I was seriously grateful as I was in the same boat. :)

Handsome Boys

Handsome Boys

 

TGIF!

Just a reminder to those on MD’s Eastern Shore or with quick access to it, Wicomico Equestrian Center is hosting a fantastic benefit show tomorrow (Saturday, April 6) at Winterplace Park in Salisbury.  For more information see their facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/TFAWP

showflyer

In other news, I’d like to showcase one of our current trainer listings right now – she is just lovely!  Unfortunately there is a bit of a bias towards tall horses – it always seems 16 hands is the magic number for people to pay attention to a horse, 16.2 is better, and if the horse is approaching 17 hands or taller, watch out!  But this blogger has well learned the value of a smaller horse.  A more compact beastie is easier to judge distance on, a little easier to adjust, often more likely to be sound and stay that way, and easier to get on from the ground when you’re out in the middle of the woods and need to get off for some reason. 

So I’d like to introduce Drink and Dial, a 5 YO mare owned by some very nice people at Charles Town (seriously, I try not to be all full of favoritism for our trainers, and objective as possible when people ask if people are “good” or not.  Most of them really are good people if they’re listing with us. Really.  But these folks are wonderfully nice and sincere, and always put their horses first).

Drink and Dial

Drink and Dial is a granddaughter of Langfuhr and Dynaformer (by Roberto, one of the horses I like to see in sport pedigrees, though I’m not exactly a bloodline expert).  She’s raced 16 times and even won her last start.  The catch, of course, is that she’s quite short.  Our volunteer says she’s 14.3, officially a “hony.”  So, go ahead people.  Prove me wrong!  Prove to me that not everybody wants a 17 hander! Show me the love for the little ‘uns!

Her full listing is here.

 Lastly, very excited that tomorrow I’ll be making a visit out to the CANTER farm to visit the horses on R&R.  I’ll do my best to take photos.  Have a great weekend everyone!

Just a Quick One Today

Awww.  What do we have here?

To be fair, I find this picture totally appealing.  But as I’ve mentioned in the past, I am a big fan of sorta derpy looking geldings with big heads.  Not that this guy has a huge head by any means, but it’s not a delicate, typey thing, is it? 

Include The Native was owned by the same folks as a couple other horses I’ve shown here recently, and was part of the same group as Brassy Self (the chestnut I posted a few days ago).  Like Brassy Self, he found his way to Katie at Top Notch Eventing, who said “he looked like a long-backed QH” in that picture!

Katie sent this picture of him before she sold him on, and sure looks like he’s a nice athlete!

Nate_027

Anywho, it turns out I have quite a list to tackle now.  Poking around I found a bunch of horses, and also randomly ran into one on COTH the other day.  I also ran into the girls who own Robb That Glitters, formerly known as Lily, now known as Zoey, who had been in our retraining program.  So many horses to update about, so little time!

OMG The Pressure!

Looks like someone posted a link back to this blog on our facebook page. So I went, rather suddenly, from getting about a dozen hits a day to hundreds and hundreds. I had visitors from Argentina yesterday.  Usually my most International audience is Canada. Not that Canada isn’t AWESOME (it totally is. I LOVE CANADIANS!!!) but getting hits from across the ocean, and from another continent is pretty ego-boosting.  It’s gratifying, but now I feel some pressure. Like, I am DUTY BOUND to find you more pretty thoroughbreds who are awesome even though they might have been overlooked due to the realities of track photography. The problem is, we don’t really get a lot of updates about horses that have sold off our track listings. Finding them is often just sheer dumb luck, being on the right horse forum at the right time when someone asks for a pedigree review, or just happening to be at a local event and recognizing a name.

So while I troll the internetz to find more horses to bring you, I thought I’d go back to one I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before here (pretty sure – but now I can’t find the blog entry, which is alarming given my general competency at finding-things-online). 

Here is the photo we took of a chestnut mare named Isabella G:

Here’s the thing.  It is clear to me, and probably to a lot of people, that the above mare is actually very, very nice.  Strong, smooth back and loin, long pelvis, beautiful build and harmony in her proportions.  But if you only glance at this photo (especially the small thumbnail sized one that you see on our main listings page), the quality might easily escape your notice.  She is standing on the dreaded drainage slope, so she looks downhill.  We’re on the wrong side of the sun, making her backlit and making it hard to see details.  She’s in the process of shifting her weight, and her right front is not fully weighted, making something look just a little funny about her knee and ankle.  Her back legs are a little too beneath her, like she is about to back up.  So it’s easy, when skimming, to miss details like that beautiful shoulder, so well suited for jumping. 

Looking at track pictures is definitely a developed skill :)  You have to sort of tilt the earth, look at the parts individually, then put them back together in your head.  But mostly, you just have to give it more than the nanosecond it takes to process whether the thumbnail looks nice or not.

Catherine, Isabella G’s new owner, posted some newer pictures on the bloodline brag since I last looked, and her quality is just a little more apparent here.

isabellaconf

She’s definitely more mature, with different muscles than a racehorse, and a more substantial overall look, but the parts are the same :) 

And clearly, the girl can perform!

isabellajump

Can’t jump at all, can she?

Just... OMG. *want*

Just… OMG. *want*

Photos by Shawn McMillen Photography 

Keep On Dancing

I find I’m having a lot of fun looking up horses from old listings.  It’s nice to be reminded that even the ones you worry about end up landing in awesome places.  This next horse, Keep On Dancing, was another on my worry list, if only for the urgency with which he was sent to us to be posted.  His price was extremely low ($500), and his picture wasn’t great.  Those two things serve to scare people off (paradoxically, when it comes to buying OTTBs, many of the same people who think that $3000 is just too high a price usually assume that one priced under $1000 has something wrong with it.  It makes pricing these guys hard, especially when trainers need to move the horses quickly).   We took this listing for an assistant trainer who was a little worried about where her charge would end up, and this is the picture our volunteer got:

What a face!

By far, not the worst photo we’ve ever gotten, but he’s standing on a slope, making him look downhill, and well… a lot of people would probably skim past this one pretty fast, especially given his height (around 15.1 at the time) and the low price “suggesting something was wrong.”

Enter fate (if you can call long-standing business relationships fate).

An extremely well known and well regarded Area II event trainer and expert-in-picking Thoroughbreds named Phyllis Dawson (Team Windchase) found this guy on one of her visits to the track (on her site, she explains that she has purchased over 300 horses from his trainer, all told).  When we were told he was sold, the assistant trainer who notified us didn’t know this was where he was going, and was still worried since he just sort of disappeared one afternoon.  But a TB going to Windchase has just got the golden ticket – that horse is going to get the great care, great retraining, and will probably find an amazing new home and new competitive career as an eventer. 

Not long after, I randomly stumbled onto his ad on the Windchase website, where he was looking… well… fabulous:

hubba hubba hubba

Keep On Dancing didn’t just turn out to be pretty, though.  He actually turned out to be pretty good at his new job.  Sold to Penny Lynch, he was soon eventing and they were doing well enough to be USEA’s Area 2 reserve champions in Beginner Novice. 

“He’s got the best brain in the world, and he’s calm and quiet, and very easy to get along with.  He LOVES to jump, and he’s probably the most honest horse I’ve ever had.  He may be green, and he may get distracted at times, but show him a jump, and he’ll get to the other side from whatever distance, whatever angle, whatever!”  (from the USEA Area 2 website)

Because I was curious to see if she had anything more to say, I contacted Penny, who definitely loves gushing about her lovely “Danny”:

“He’s just about as perfect as he can be for me at this time in my life.  I feel extremely lucky to have found him.  He’s got THE best temperament a horse could possibly have, and that never ceases to surprise me since he’s a Thoroughbred.  I describe him as my Quarter Horse in a Thoroughbred body.  He’s as quiet and as bombproof as they come.  Sweet, affectionate — sometimes a bit of a comedian!  He has an excellent work ethic, and absolutely LOVES to jump.  But he’s also the type of horse that you can ride every day, or ride twice a month, and he’s always the same horse….  Very steady, very easy-going, very willing and happy to please.
 
Anyway, as you can probably tell, I could go on and on and on about my Danny.”

Of course Penny didn’t see the sale photo that had been on CANTER’s page since she bought him from a third party.  But she did say she probably wouldn’t have gone to look based on that photo. Moral of the story?  GO LOOK! 

To complete this entry, I did also want to get the point of view of Phyllis, who is the one who actually picked this fine gentleman up off the track.  I don’t think she saw the photo either, as I mentioned, she has a long standing relationship with his race trainer and frequently gets horses out of that barn to retrain.  But I was curious about why someone with her experience would pick that particular horse to bring home.

Phyllis said a lot of things – looking at basic conformation (good basic proportions and uphill balance), that it’s often like a lottery “because it’s hard to know what you’re really getting,” and pointed out that being a retrainer/seller of horses makes it a bit easier to buy at the track than it would be for an individual looking for a “perfect” horse. If a horse doesn’t turn out to be suitable as, say, a high level prospect, she can work on it and sell him as an amateur or lower level prospect.  People looking for one personal horse may not have this flexibility.  But one thing she said about Keep on Dancing in particular was that he seemed like a “good soul.” 

This is sort of an intangible thing, but one thing I think it’s really important to remember. A lot of people get caught up in looks, details about conformation, etc,  but the thing that MOST of us need before any of that is a good brain. 

To pontificate for a sec – most of us are not Boyd Martin.  We do not need a horse capable of Rolex.  “Fancy” is nice, but tolerant, kind, and willing are going to get us a whole lot farther in the long run.  OK, done with pretending to know what I’m talking about for the time being :)

A Golden Ray of Sunshine

 Next up in the parade of misfits to beauties is a lovely chestnut named “Brassy Self”  This horse was listed on our trainer listings a while back along with a bunch of other horses.  We of course had limited time and had to take most of the photos out in the field.  To add insult to injury, our volunteer listed fourteen horses just from that farm that day.  And as sometimes happens on the farms, the person showing her around mis-identified a few of the horses (this doesn’t happen very often at the track, but sometimes does on the farms, where the horses are not in numbered stalls and there are a lot of them!).  So some of the pictures got mislabelled and it took a little bit to get that sorted out.  In any case, here’s the only photo we were able to get of the really nice “Brassy Self”:

Cute, but not a lot to go on in this picture!

Cute, but not a lot to go on in this picture!

For some reason, on the farm, getting horses stood up for us seems to be difficult. Some trainers and owners are happy too, and will even brush them off and give us cookies and milk (true story – my first farm visit ever involved cookies and milk. And I got to play with cute TB foals – win!) but a lot of the time they have to get back to the track or are in the middle of other work, so we have even less time to get photos than we would at the track.  The result? A lot of pictures like this.  We know the horses are lovely, but it’s hard to explain to the rest of the world.

So anyway, what has this handsome guy been up to? Learning to event, of course!  He found his way to Katie Willis at Top Notch Eventing in Virginia, where he’s now on their sale page, showing off a lovely jump and nice forward going attitude.  Here he is schooling in Aiken:

This jumping thing is easy peasy!

There are some other fantastic photos and video on Top Notch’s sale page – go take a look! This guy sure looks great!

Spring is Springing

Finally!  Despite a weird snowstorm on Monday, I think it might be spring.  And with kiddo getting older and more self sufficient, hopefully that means more horse time for me.  Miss Lumpyhead is doing great – I recently took her on a trail ride that went way longer than I anticipated and exposed her to all kinds of things – puddles, car traffic, lawnmowers, big huge loud dogs on ziplines (that scared me more than it scared her), and various other weird little obstacles and things that required her to think.  She was a champ, though I think I overdid it a little and kept her out a little past her tolerance point. On the way back we ended up leaving the group behind because she was getting worried about being held back and was happier at a forward walk.  Lovely mare. I tried to take helmetcam video, but had the camera on the wrong setting so instead just got a load of pictures of the tips of her ears. oops.

In other news, I wanted to get back on track here and showcase some before/afters, and horses whose sale pictures were horrible yet actually are really really nice.  One of the things we run into a lot on our trainer listings are photos that just DO NOT do the horses justice.  This happens for a lot of reasons – the ground at the track is not level ANYWHERE – it is all sloped for drainage. If you are not super attentive, you may not even realize the horse is standing in a hole. 

Fantastically wonderful horse with great conformation, standing on the slant. He’s really NOT downhill! Really!

The horse handlers aren’t great at standing them up, in a lot of cases, even if you explain how you want the horse to look. They will often encourage the horse to hold its head up really high or turn and look at you.

Make sure that head’s up now! No, seriously, this horse has a pretty decent neck, I promise!

Then we have the more nuanced things like proportion, lighting, perspective, which our volunteers rarely have time to think about because we only get a few minutes each time and the horses often think they’re going out to work or do something interesting, and “standing pretty” isn’t on their list of interesting things to do.  So we take what we can get, and do our best, but the result is that a lot of our pictures come out… well, not terribly flattering to the lovely horses we see in front of us.  The sad part is the end result of this is less interest in certain horses.  People often decide whether a horse is even worth a look based on a split-second reaction to a photo – even when a good eye can see the nice conformation and build of a horse in an awkward position, that immediate gut reaction is often what makes or breaks a person’s response to that horse. 

Needless to say, we’re trying to improve. :)

But I thought it would be fun to find horses who had horrifically bad track listing pictures and see what they’re up to now, and how they look.

First up is a lovely horse who I admit I was a bit worried about way back when.  I got the photos and description and just thought “oh no.”  He was a bit special looking, and the photos weren’t doing him many favors.  I thought for sure he’d sit on the listings forever.

You totally want this, right?

He’s got a range of things not going for him in that picture. He has a droopy lip.  His neck is skinny.  He’s standing in a very tight, weird, sort of hunched way, and the perspective of the photo isn’t right.  While folks like me (who like big ears and plain heads) find a lot about this horse to be endearing, let’s face it, it’s not the most flattering pic in terms of finding an immediate buyer.

But something crazy happened with this horse. He actually was sold pretty fast.  I’m not sure who he sold to initially, but I found him later while wandering through the bloodline brag on the RRTP website (a way I’ve found a bunch of horses that we posted on our trainer listings now that they’re in new careers).  If you’ve bought a horse off the track, I highly recommend posting it there so we can stumble onto you later (or just email us.  But post it there too). 

After being bought off the track, his buyer, from what I understand, hopped on him once, stuck him in a field, and put him up for sale. And then he was purchased by the lovely Heidi Wardle, who is a great area event rider.  She’s since sold him, but I thought I would link to his old sale page anyway so people can see how nice he cleaned up.  He doesn’t look fundamentally different if you look closely, just much better muscles and presented beautifully.  But I’m thinking a lot more people would be interested in this horse:

http://www.teamwindchase.com/Joey.htm

(sorry to make you click the link, but I didn’t want to steal pictures. :))

For more on how Heidi found Joey, what he looked like when she got him, etc, check out her blog entry introducing him:

http://takeachanceinva.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/introducing-joey/

(I also really recommend reading along on her blog anyway. It’s a good ‘un.)

The Further Adventures of Spectacular Miss Lumpyhead

Us Walking, With My Horrific Equitation

Nice to know all my bad habits survived a break intact!

So last weekend I got another opportunity to hit up the CANTER farm.  My own horse (he lives there too) felt that ignoring me was better than getting treats, even, but fortunately the CANTER herd is full of horses that WANT LOVE.  WANT LOVE NOWWWW!!!!

Since no existing girths in the world fit my horse, and dealing with his shenanigans is pretty stressful anyway, I went out to the big hill and came back with miss perfectpants.  I think one of the reasons I think very highly of her is that, like Canes Palace, she doesn’t get tweaked about coming in.  For some reason, in the herd environment, our mares usually get a little herdbound at this farm (which usually goes away after they leave and get into a routine, so we don’t really worry about it).  But this filly really could not care less.  She gave one little whinny to her concerned herdmates who followed us to the gate, then was all, “curry, please.  Oh yes.  Right THERE. Thank you, servant.” for the next twenty minutes while I groomed her.

Interesting factoid about the farm where we keep these guys: the other boarders are mostly trail riders.  They don’t just trail ride for fun, they train for it.  And they train hard.  They think up all kinds of wild scenarios and then prep for them.  So instead of having a dressage ring set up, or a course of jumps, or whatever I might be used to, I found the ring set up for Trail Obstacle Training.

I’m not sure when you might actually encounter a 6 foot ladder with a rake and festive holiday flag propped up in the rungs.  Nor am I sure when you would encounter plastic lawn chairs with craft store scarecrows in them.  But the point is, there was some serious bombproofing material in the ring.

And what do I say when there’s lot of good, flapping, six foot high reasons not to ride an ex racehorse with two rides under her belt who hadn’t been touched in a month?  Of COURSE I’ll get on, YAY! I haven’t ridden in AGES THIS IS A FABULOUS IDEA!

 Sometimes it’s a wonder I’ve survived into my thirties.

Anyway, since I’m obviously still here I guess I can skip a lot and say it went really well.  She gave everything the stink eye once, I told her it was fine, and so she decided everything was fine.  She walked through the whole obstacle course with me on the ground, including letting me hold and wave the flag, and also letting me pull a kids’ wagon with a lunge line.  She didn’t understand why we would want to do such a thing but decided to humor me, I guess. 

Once on, she was her usual (I say that like I know her well, with two other rides.  Heh.) good self, nice and comfortable, forward, happy.  As you can see in my above picture, I still have some bad habits when I ride – painfully aware of this (more aware, in fact, because I am also physically weak), I mostly rode on a long rein, and spent a great deal of time holding mane as my hands are rather undependable.  After riding through the obstacle course I had her step over a very tiny jump that had been set up with a number of odd things underneath it.  Again, she sort of asked “why? you people are weird.” and then did it anyway.

She earned high praise from a boarder, who was impressed that a racehorse with no retraining would be better at the obstacle course than her well broke and experienced trail horse. 

:)

Because that isn’t enough, and it was a beautiful day, I decided she’d be fine to take up the hill on a little hack.  She didn’t disappoint.  She did get a little nervous once we were out of visual range of her field and comfort zone, but at least the “when in doubt go forward” component of my brain is still there, so we just went to work a little bit.  We trotted across the top of the hill, down a slight slope (she’s very wll balanced, downhill is no trouble!), through the middle of a cornfield, and cantered up a gentle slope on the other side.  On the way back she jigged a bit when I wanted to walk, so it was leg yielding* and “hey, engage!” for a little bit, which she did very nicely.  Usually I feel more comfortable on those first rides if we have a buddy, and I think she’d have been dead calm in that scenario, but she was absolutely wonderful either way.  No spook when a bunch of birds took off under her feet, and she was absolutely sensible even when nervous.

I felt confident enough that I rode most of the way back with no stirrups, even though she was just ever so slightly jiggling until she got back in her comfort zone.  If there’s one thing I do well, it’s the “I’m a sack of flour” type riding needed for these moments. :) 

I love this mare.  I love them all, really.  Wait till you see some of the horses relaxing out in those fields.  They are all so nice, and so sweet!  Next post will be a phototour of the new group :) 

 

*I call it “leg yielding,” but I’m pretty sure my dressage instructor would hang her head in shame.  Either way, it was “leg on, move sideways” and it more or less worked.

Good Things Come in Small (and Lumpy) Packages

Well Hello there!

Bet you all thought I was dead!  But I am (slowly) emerging from the haze of new-motherhood with an itch to get back down to business. Sadly, a move to the other side of Maryland means that my visits and interactions with CANTER horses will be few and far between (*sniff*).  So I will probably be using this space to highlight really cool track listing horses that I see in the course of getting them posted to the website.

Even with the geographical difficulties, I did manage to get out to Funny Farm over the weekend to check on my horse (fat. Very, very fat) and take a look at the CANTER horses.  I had anticipated a ride on the Rotund Grey Horse, but unfortunately his love of delicious grass, and airfern metabolism, means my tack doesn’t come close to fitting him.  And as he is prone to theatrics (or rather, “panicked airs above the ground”) when girthed too quickly, I didn’t want to even try when it became clear that to get his girth on the first holes would take all my strength.  Instead, I gave him some twizzlers (me = enabler) and threw him back out in the field, much to his relief  (beast doesn’t even miss me).

So there I was, on a gorgeous day, no baby in sight, fields of green and blue sky above, dressed in the only pair of riding pants that fit and my half chaps… what’s a girl to do?  Why, try out an OTTB, of course!  It’s really the best, most sane idea, for a lady with shaky riding skills to begin with who has only ridden once in the last year, right?  Totally.

So who do I choose?  One of the really amazing 17 handers that came in recently?  The stunning dark bay mare who looks like Zenyatta?  The friendly, but a little bit thin gelding that just wanted hugs when I went out to the field?  Nope. Not me.  I went for the goofy one instead (don’t I always?).

The story on this little lady:

Image

is that I’ve felt a certain affinity for her since she arrived.  Not because I like short horses, or mares (give me a tall doofy gelding, please!), but because someone once had the audacity to call her ugly.  I mean, look at her!  Her hair flows like the coat of a mountain yak!  Her head has the noble shape of a baby goat, and, well, under that warm coat lies a body with the sumptuous curves of Kate Moss.

Of COURSE that’s the horse I pick! I want THAT ONE!!!!!  We’ll leave aside that she is somewhat short, too – maybe a titch taller than the lovely Calabria Rose herself, but not by much.

So here I am coming out of the field with the above beastie (to be fair, she is shiny now, with a shed out coat and ample, ladylike waistline), wondering a little bit what was wrong with me.  Normally I anticipate that mares at the farm will be a little difficult if brought in by themselves.  They get really used to being with the herd and typically are more anxious about separation than the boys. But filly was fine.  She was not entirely sure what my deal was, but she was fine.

She didn’t want to stand still for brushing and tacking – mostly because she seemed eager to see everything.  Surely there were interesting things everywhere, right? Once tacked up I gave her a more serious looking-over.  Sure, her head is a bit lumpy, but she has a lovely, kind eye.  Her conformation is actually quite good – she has a nice shoulder, broad chest for her size, nice legs, and a truly excellent (IMNSHO) rear end.  Her hip and SI joint line up very nicely, and she has a good amount of topline muscle for a horse who has been out in a field most of the year.  Her neck is a bit scrawny, but a little riding and mane pulling and she should look much spiffier.

I brought her over to the ring and led her around a little bit, testing to see what she thought of the word “whoa” and seeing that she gave nicely to the bit just from the ground.  All systems were go, so I brought her to the mounting block (which, after trying to eat, she decided was no big deal at all).  Here’s where a year of no riding really catches up with you – my mounting skills, honed over years and years of dedication to the sport, have apparently left me completely, as I managed to kick her in the butt instead of swinging my leg over.  Nice.

Fortunately she didn’t care, and just stood there waiting for me to settle in.  Good girl!

She proceeded to take me for a VERY nice ride.  Within minutes, I had discovered she was lovely under saddle.  On smaller horses, I typically feel uncomfortable due to shorter strides – I feel like I am posting too fast to keep up, or I have trouble asking the horse to go forward because it just feels too fast to me.  I like a long, slower stride normally, so the smaller horses can be a challenge for me.  Not this one.  She may not be huge, but she rides like a big horse – she is comfortable and takes up the leg, and her stride is long and comfortable.  She is not a “kick along” type of horse, but seems to have cruise control – you set it and just go along for the ride, pretty much.  Never once did she rush, and even though the circles and things I asked for were probably new to her and she got unbalanced, she never leaned, popped a shoulder, or got quick.  She is wonderfully flexible for a horse straight out of the field and I really didn’t feel like I was riding a fresh OTTB at al.  She was easy in both directions and seems to have a certain sense for self carriage (I wasn’t trying at anything fancy, really – my riding is way too rusty right now!).   I know I always get excited about them but it took me a while to wipe the smile off my face.

Of course, when you only ride once every six months, maybe it doesn’t take much to bring that smile out.

Or, I’m right, and this little girl is going to be AH-MAY-ZING. 

She is smart, she is sensitive, but she is also forgiving and tolerant.  She is much more athletic than I initially expected, and I think will be an absolute blast to jump eventually.  My prediction? Awesomest horse ever.  Mark my words.  :)

Image

(OK, I give up. It keeps pasting in there sideways. Just turn your head. ;))