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


18 responses to “When Horses Are More Than Just Horses

  1. I’m SO very sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this loving tribute.

  2. God speed

  3. My deepest sympathies to Allie and all the wonderful people that brought him kindness and love.

  4. I am sorry for your loss, but happy to know that Mikey had people who cared for him dearly. Hugs.

  5. What a wonderful tribute to Mickey and to my dear friend, Allie. Thanks for sharing this touching story.

  6. I am so sorry that you are losing Mikey so young. He has had a wonderful life with you. What an amazing little big horse. How many horses have gone on to new lives after the track because of Mikey? Well done, Mikey.

  7. I am so sorry for your loss. I am also very happy you had him in your life for the 10 wonderful years you were blessed. You will never get over the loss of Mikey, you’ll just learn how to live with his absence. I’ve lost several since I started taking in Thoroughbred Rescues, and I’ve loved everyone of them and cradled their heads when we needed to euthanize them. I have a very high spirited rescue gelding that is my rock so I really know how you feel. I send my deepest sympathies and much love and prayers to you Allie and of course to all those who loved him and will feel his loss.

  8. My heart breaks for you. How lucky we all would be to be around a horse like him. God bless you all and the work you do, and may Mikey’s spirit live on forever in your hearts.

  9. Hugs to all of you, and may Mikey always be a part of you.

  10. I am so very sorry for your loss of Mikey. My heart is breaking as I read this, after recently traveling this same path, with a very similar story: big-hearted, stoic, goof-ball horse stricken with a horrible disease. May you find comfort knowing you did what was best for him, and joy in the many happy memories.

  11. While I have only “met” Allie over the phone, I have appreciate the great work she has done. While Mickey may have crossed his ‘rainbow bridge’, the ‘bridge’ he has created has benefited countless numbers of his kind. How many living things on this planet can claim to be “force multipliers”? Godspeed to Mickey and to Allie

  12. erin isaachsen

    Thank you for sharing Mike’s story; I’m so sorry he had to leave you so soon…

  13. So sorry for your loss. I just had to euthanize my special OTTB mare about 5 weeks ago. I love hearing about his engaging and comic personality. They get in your heart, and make you a different person.

  14. Pingback: Kelly Utter: When Horses Are More Than Just Horses | Eventing Nation - Three-Day Eventing News, Results, Videos, and Commentary

  15. I am so so sorry for your loss of Mikey. My heart is breaking for all of you. I will tell my own Canter alumni how much I love him and give him an extra treat this evening.

  16. That was one of the absolute most wonderful tribute I have ever read. I’m crying but grateful to have read it.

  17. Beth Crouthamel

    This brought tears to my eyes. I’m so sorry. What a lovely tribute to a brave, courageous horse. My heart goes out to Allie, and you, and everyone who were ‘his people’. Many, many hugs to you all. He may not be here physically anymore, but he will live forever in your memories and your heart. Thank you, too, for everything that you and your organization does.

  18. RIP Mikey. Thank you for being part of the inspiration for this incredible program.

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