The Maker's Mark Secretariat Center is a non profit facility located in the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY. We are dedicated to reschooling, and showcasing the athleticism of the off track Thoroughbred so that they can go on and become ambassadors for the breed in second careers. We are also committed to educating the public about these wonderful horses: We welcome visitors of all ages, interns, and volunters . This blog publicizes unofficial updates on our horses and our programs. For more information, visit www,secretariatcenter.org or www.facebook.com/makersmarksecretariatcenter








Sunday, July 27, 2014

LOVE: The greatest of all-Formaggio




It was only a photograph, but I loved what I saw: A well built dark bay gelding, 16.2, no markings. Definitely a handsome hunk. But the difference between aesthetic appreciation and emotional connection is always in the eyes. And Formaggio’s  were big, brown, and kind.

 “I’ll take him!” I said without hesitation.

Formaggio arrived at the MMSC a few days later.

“Look at those huge eyes!” the interns exclaimed. 

“All Italians have magnificent eyes,” I responded.

“He’s Italian?”

Of course. His name means ‘cheese’ in Italian." The girls smirked.

“Ok. I’m teasing, but he does have the biggest eyes, doesn’t he? Very expressive, very dark, very ‘Latino.’ And he’s beautifully bred too, by Dynaformer out of a Danzig mare. There's Roberto in his family, Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector, Ribot, Herbager.
Oh the lovely Herbager!!!” 
Herbager, my childhood gold standard


(I had met that stallion at Claiborne in 1973 when I was a child visiting my grandparents. My older brother took a photograph of him for me which I kept pinned to my bedroom wall for many years thereafter. Talk about a handsome hunk with beautiful eyes! Herbager was my gold standard.)

It was the first of April. Formaggio’s last race was just two months before, an $18,000 claimer on the dirt at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana. It was a lucky day for Formaggio. He won the race and was claimed back by his old owners. After 30 starts, finishing 50% of the time in the money, and garnering a career total of  $179,197, Formaggio had earned his retirement, they thought.

I heard about him when the owners’ bloodstock agent showed me that picture. Formaggio had had two months out to pasture, just being a horse. I was told he was sound and was asked if I thought he could have a new job.

“How old is he?”

“Seven.”

“Any old injuries?”

“He stepped in a hole in a graded stakes race at Kentucky Downs in September of 2011 and tore a part of his foot off. He had a lot of bumps and bruises and we gave him almost a year off for the foot to heal up and grow out before returning him to the track in August 2012. He got claimed about nine months ago and was doing alright, but when he started dropping down in class, his owners wanted him back. They thought he had worked hard enough.”

I knew that Formaggio most likely would be stiff and have a race track brain. I also knew after I had had time to evaluate him that if I told his owners he needed to be permanently retired, they would do so, placing him for life on a lovely farm in Kentucky or Virginia. All TB owners should be like that!

I studied Formaggio’s face in the photograph. His eyes said it all: Kind, personable, attentive. Maybe he would thrive in a second career which did not involve leaping tall buildings in a single bound? Perhaps with older, timid rider or as the first horse for a child? 

The day Formaggio arrived, we put him in the hitchcock free-jumping pen to see how he moved at liberty and how he would handle the “questions” of ground poles. Just as I suspected: Very matter of factly, crooked, stiff and jammed in his shoulders and back. I could deal with that.

The next day we took him in the arena and led him towards all of our bomb proofing contraptions: the high and low bridges, the water fall, the teeter totter, the liverpool. I had never seen a horse act the first time out as he did. Thoughtfully he examined each object, analyzed it for safety, tested it with a foot or his nose and once assessed, dutifully marched forward. “Tack him up!” I said.

Carolyn our head rider hopped up on him and walked, trotted, and cantered him without incident.“See if  you can ride him over the bridges,” I instructed.

Formaggio not only went over the bridges, he went over and through everything! Again, stopping momentarily, assessing, then proceeding as instructed.


“Lord have mercy!  This horse is a US Marine!,” I exclaimed. “Unbelievable! What a work ethic! What a commitment to safety! What a seasoned brain and a willing attitude!”

Yes, he had all that, but he also had an accumulation of battle wearied joints and muscles. We found a cut on the bulb of his right foot that had not healed properly and was plagued with proud flesh that needed to be exorcised. Dr. True dealt with that. He also flexed and x-rayed him for a baseline assessment. Formaggio’s joints didn’t look too bad, but he was stiff and sore on them. We decided to help him transition to a new career by injecting both hocks and the left front ankle to give him immediate relief. 

We also put him on joint surfactants and had him regularly adjusted by the chiropractor. He got acupuncture and Chinese herbs to help alleviate stiffness. We alternated far-infrared and magnetic blanket treatments. We devised a training program to help loosen up and develop new muscles: stretches, circles, bending, alternating with gentle hill work and trail rides. He had good days and bad days, but overall the trajectory was positive. No matter how he felt, however his attitude was always the same: dutiful and studious. It was clear he wanted to serve. He appreciated the attention and was very, very sweet. I decided we would stay the course, despite the accruing expenses. I have made a commitment to being Horse-Centered in all that we do. There was nothing really wrong with Formaggio that Mother Nature and Father Time couldn’t heal. So be it; let go and let God. Formaggio’s person will come.

Several potential adopters tried him as the weeks passed: First a young woman who had had a reconstructed ankle that she needed to protect after a terrible car wreck. She was seeking a Steady Eddy. Her vet turned Formaggio down because of the proud flesh on the heel. Next came a middle aged lady looking for a reliable trail horse. She felt he was too stiff to be able to enjoy long rides on him. A little girl tried him but couldn’t get the right lead on him, so again, he was passed over. Then came another beginner rider, this time a grown man who rode Formaggio both in the ring and on a trail ride.

“I am so sorry” the man acknowledged afterwards, “Formaggio is a wonderful, kind, gentle horse, but I am just not in love.”

“No worries.” I said. “Love is crucial. That’s why you have to come ride my horses here at the MMSC. I want you to be head over heels in love. My horses deserve that. Be patient. When the time is right, you’ll find the right horse for you.”

Two weeks ago, the Pony Club Festival took place at the Kentucky Horse Park. This National Championship happens every three years and brings together more than 4,000 Pony Clubbers from a across the country. The Horse Park was inundated, and the MMSC was the beneficiary of  the overflow of  competitors in between classes and clinics curious about who we were, what we did, and the horses we had available for adoption. It was fabulous! There is nothing that I like doing  better than highlighting the versatility of off track Thoroughbreds, bragging about each individual horse on campus, and seeking perfect matches for them.

Two sisters came with their mother from Georgia. The older girl, a lean, leggy 17 year old, was in the market for another OTTB to bring along in eventing as they one she was currently competing was accruing some age. The younger one, 9, a fairly new rider, didn’t have a horse yet but her parents were thinking of  getting her one.

“Not a Thoroughbred, though,” her mother told me right off the bat. “They can be high strung and crazy.”

“Yes, they can,” I acknowledged, “but so would you be if  you were put in a high stress, unnatural environment as a teenager. Think: Iraq, Afghanistan and all those young troops… Thoroughbreds need some detox time, acclimation to a new world and job. Then they need to be carefully selected for attitude. If you pay attention to all those things, there is no reason why some Thoroughbreds can’t be excellent mounts for the right child in the right circumstances. I have one here now that might be perfect for your daughter.”

Little Anna starting popping up and down like an enthusiastic Golden Retriever puppy.

“Who!? Who!?”

Her mother looked at me skeptically.

“I am not kidding.  This horse is a Marine.  Thoughtful, duty oriented, sweet.  He would do his utmost to keep your daughter safe.”

“Yes!  Yes! Yes! Please Mom, can I try him?,” said the bouncing Anna.

Her mother agreed to fill out an application for both girls and to bring them back to ride. Her older daughter would try several horses, and she would let her younger daughter sit on Formaggio.

They returned that afternoon. The older girl tried a few horses but none were quite right. Anna rode Formaggio. She bounced around on him at the trot, and he just tried to move underneath her to keep her on board. She then tried to get him to canter by posting faster and faster and he did as instructed: trotting faster and faster, his ears moving back and forth like radars searching for messages.

“Sit down!” We hollered to her from outside the arena, and as soon as she did, Formaggio picked up the canter.  

When Anna dismounted, I showed her how horses greet one another, by blowing in each other’s nostrils. We ran the stirrups up and I asked her to let go of the reins and walk away. Formaggio followed her. When she stopped he halted and nuzzled her.

Anna was smitten.

But of course, it was a family decision. All the information in our “baby books,” the records we assemble for each horse detailing what we know and all that we have done during the horse’s stay at the MMSC, had to be reviewed. Their trainer needed to be consulted. A vet check if so desired had to be scheduled. I told them to take the time they needed to decide. People had looked at him before and turned him down. I knew that with continued faith and hope, at some point, someone would fall in love with Formaggio. 

The next day I got a call from the mother.

“Well?” I asked.  “Have you made a decision?”

“Oh goodness,” the mother said. “Yesterday Anna walked with a friend up to the MMSC after hours. They found Formaggio in a field and called to him and the other horse. Formaggio came right over to Anna and put his head over the fence. She said she blew in his nose like you showed her and told him she loved him. She said he blew back and told her he told her he loved her too! Then she asked him if he wanted to go home with her and he shook his head vigorously up and down three times. Yes! Yes! Yes!  'Mom,’ she told me ‘he wants to go home with me. He says he loves me. And God says so too.’”

I laughed. “Oooo, that’s tough competition!  You against Anna, Formaggio and God!”

“Yeh, I know. But I am still am worried about the stiffness that I read about in his baby book. Is he ever going to work out of that?”

“I don’t blame you for worrying, and I don’t know. All I can say is that he is steadily improving and I'd recommend continuing the kinds of things we are doing: supplements, stretches, gentle steady work, chiropractic and see how far that takes him. What I know for sure is that Formaggio is kind, thoughtful, and will do his utmost to keep your daughter safe. There are no perfect horses, especially for bargain prices. You and your family will have to think about all that I have told you, decide what you can live with and what you can’t live with out, and then let me know.”

I had to wait another two days before I got the news.  

Well?"

“We want him! Anna is in love.”

I smiled. Have faith in the original owners that they would do right by Formaggio no matter how his story unfolded here at the MMSC.  Hope that the amazing team of staff, interns, volunteers, doctors, therapists, as well as my Horse Centered Reschooling Program could make enough of a difference for Formaggio so that he could find a new home. Wait for love.

And there it was: Anna loved Formaggio,and Formaggio loved Anna. And, as we know, of the three-Faith, Hope, and Love-love is the greatest of all.

Cheery bye,
Susanna





Tuesday, July 15, 2014

HOPE (part two) or How to Eat an Elephant

Sometimes when confronted with a problem, a challenge, or just a plain big old mess, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s the “how to eat an elephant?” dilemma. In fact, it’s tempting not to start. To assume the “it’s hopeless stance.” 




It would have been easy to say “no” to Bawana Jake.  After all, he had been living out full time with a herd for the last three years. He had old injuries. He only knew how to be a racehorse. Horses that are competitive at the track often have a tough time transitioning into riding horses.  They like to run. They get excited about going to work, and working fast. And they are set in their ways. Why not just leave him there? I mean, who, in their right mind, wants to eat an elephant?

The MMSC is all about putting the interests of the horse first, however. Horses are social animals. They like to please. They’re task oriented. Thoroughbreds, in particular, have a stellar work ethic. Not only that, horses are generally healthier when handled and exercised daily than if left to their own devices in a large field. I am of the opinion that if a horse is “response-able,” the responsible thing is to do is to try to give it a new career. Besides, it takes the horse off the former owner’s payroll, making room for a retiree that really can’t go on to a new job. Last but not least: Jake had a bum like a washer woman and the look of an eagle. That combo, provided he could stay sound, was reason enough to take him on.  

Jake arrived at the MMSC on February 25, sporting, as I said, the “Cro Magnon” man look. Not knowing how far we would get with him, or if he would would get anywhere, in fact, I decided we would start with the problems we could see. On February 26, the clippers, scissors, and mane comb came out. So did the weight tape and the measuring stick. His fetlocks and ears were trimmed, his mane was pulled. He got a bridle path and lost his goatee. He was vigorously groomed. It was too cold for a bath, but we started addressing his rain rot with spot washes and sprays. We put him on SMZ
(sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprimtablets, a broad spectrum antibiotic for bacterial and some protozoal infections.  

We had decided to do an informal feed trial—nothing scientific-all observation based, selecting two feeds based on ingredients and cost. We split the herd in half and recorded all their weights and took pictures of them upon arrival. Jake was put in the Nutrena trial group. Two scoops of Safe Choice twice a day. He ate it readily.

The next day, the dentist came. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the most innervated joint in the horse’s body and if its articulation is limited due to uneven teeth, it is guaranteed that the horse’s locomotion will be affected.






Not only that, for those of you who believe in the validity of acupuncture, there are six different meridians that  converge on or very close to the TMJ. These include channels that travel to the front and hind legs as well as to large organ channels. Chances are if the TMJ is out, the sacrum and pelvis will be too and a maybe a lot of other things as well. So, the moral of the story is: If you want a horse to be balanced in its movement and to minimize training injuries, setbacks, and generalized maladies, then do yourself a favor: LOOK IN THE MOUTH. Whether you use electric or hand tools, tranquilize or not, both of which have pros and cons, DO use a speculum,and a strong light. Study the teeth, the palette, the gums, the sides and the tongue. The mouth is the key stone.

Jake’s teeth hadn’t been floated in a while.This isn’t surprising. Retired horses don’t need to be maintained as regularly as those in work. His teeth were rough. Some sharp points had ulcerated the sides of his mouth.We gave him some bute, and let him heal up for the rest of the week.

The next step was to get x-rays to see where we were with old injuries. While we waited for an opening in our vet’s schedule, we started with Natural Horsemanship ground work in the round pen. I like to let a horse work at liberty from the get-go. When you are attached to a horse with a rope or lunge line, you have the advantage. At liberty you get to see a horse’s true colors.  

Jake was interesting. He was herd bound, which is not surprising given his three year hiatus in the field and somewhat right brained, meaning he acted before thinking. That’s a typical response for timid horses: Take flight; process later.

But Jake wasn’t timid. He was Alpha in the field, laying down the law, deciding which horses were in his clique, which were out, eating first, determining where and how fast the herd needed to go. So the issue, in my mind, was trust.  

Clearly human interaction was either scary or irrelevant or both. That needed to change. Beginning in the stall, entering his space deliberately, slowly and respectfully. Allowing him to approach the handler first. Blowing a greeting of hello in his nostrils and waiting for his warm breath to come back. Keeping close watch of where and how he liked to be groomed. 

In the round pen it meant yielding shoulders and hindquarters, determining direction and speed, establishing the fact that humans can be part of the herd, albeit odd looking members, who must respected and trusted as  worthy leaders. I decided we needed to go much more slowly with Jake, and hoped by taking our time with every encounter, all ground work and each bomb proofing session, that we would have a better chance of bringing him to the right place, whatever that place was going to be. 

As soon as we got his rain rot under control, we body clipped him. How surprising o see the sculpted muscles underneath all that hair and after all those years! Then we had him adjusted by the chiropractor and got some age old kinks out.




Dr. True came to examine Jake, flexing all joints, taking x-rays. Luckily we had access to the X-rays from 2011 to compare the current ones too. Remarkably, the joint had remodeled; the bone had smoothed out considerably, all courtesy of Mother Nature and Father Time.

“Go on with him,” Dr. True said.

“And jump him too?”

“Sure,try it. He’ll let you know what he can and cannot do.”

So we started training in earnest.

 Long lining and lunging first. Then, a month after his arrival at the MMSC, under saddle. It was funny and touching to watch him those first few times under tack. Clearly, he  thought he was back at the track!  He jigged, skedaddled and pulled at the bit at the trot, going faster if Carolyn, his rider, leaned forward, slowing down when she made her torso more vertical. Cantering had to be done in a two point. If Carolyn sat down, he gave repeated gentle crow hops until she removed her posterior from the saddle. “Girl, you need to learn how to ride!,” Jake seemed to say. We all laughed.





Every day as he got stronger and lither, more settled, more trusting and learned to travel from behind, using that prodigious posterior for some truly impressive propulsion, my hopes rose. With his creamy caramel coat starting to sport an impressive copper sheen, his top line emerging, and his right brained behavior beginning to abate, I hoped that he would be ready several weeks hence during the Rolex Three Day event.

Then our acupuncturist popped the bad news:

“He’s got EPM,” she said.

EPM (Equine Protozoal Myletis) is not something you want your horse to have. It’s a degenerative neurological disease caused by a protozoa that is found in the feces of opossums. It can wreak havoc in a horse, affecting its locomotion, destroying is muscles, eating away at its nerves. Most horses have been exposed to it; some come down with it; a few of those are successfully treated.

“NO!!” I exclaimed. “EPM!? He shows no overt symptoms.”

“EPM can be dormant for a long time. Most horses have been exposed to it. There seems to be a link between it and stress levels.

I knew that. I had had horses that had it, some of which I had treated the conventional way with drugs with very guarded results. I had even lost one. Lately, I had had much more success treating it with acupuncture by injecting the horse’s own plasma into specific EPM acupuncture points. It seemed that stimulated the immune system.

“What are his chances of a full recovery?”

“Good. But, as always we will have to wait and see. We’ll recheck him in 30 days. You will want to put him on Chinese herbs too, they will help” and she handed out a bottle marked “Sinking.”

Talk about sinking! It was hard to keep one’s hopes up with that news. And I thought I was well on the way to devouring the elephant! Turns out there was a lot more of the beast left. 

Would my hope for this horse last?

(Cheery) Bye,
Susanna





Sunday, July 6, 2014

HOPE, part one

So in the last blog you learned how Reggie has been a real draw on my faith stash. It’s a good thing that faith is like a perennial, sometimes blooming, other times dormant, buried deep. But it will resurge; it always does. Reggie will find a home and a job; this I know for sure.

Hope, on the other hand, is ephemeral, like a soap bubble or a dandelion in the feather stage. One waft and it’s gone. To remain hopeful you need to commit to living every day in wonder. We know how to do this when we are children. As we age, we get rusty. Pretty soon we forget altogether.

That’s why I am a big believer in creating a hope chest. For those of you 
who are too young to know what that is, it’s a collection of housewares—linens, silver, china—that a young maiden of yesteryear would assemble in anticipation of getting married and setting up a new household. It wasn’t, of course, a guarantee that a handsome swain would come and propose. It was assembled in advance in the event such a fellow were to materialize. Think Boy Scout motto: BE PREPARED. Now my hope chest doesn’t have tangible stuff in it. I stock mine with daily unexpected marvels:  The low rumbling nicker of
my Andalusian stallion when I step out of my door; the sighting  of the blue heron fishing in the creek that runs in front of my house as I drive out to work; the unbroken traffic run of green lights that takes me without stopping to the four lane highway; the blooming of a new rose at the entrance of the MMSC. My hope chest is full of all those unexpected, heart warming sights and incidents that occur all the time around all of us, that so often we fail to notice, let alone to appreciate. Each is a gift that provides me with assurance that even in a world of chaos and woe, miracles abound.

There are a few horses I take on every year at the MMSC without a clear vision of what they will be able to do in a second career. I suppose that shows my occasional lack of “cents-ability.” These horses arrive with baggage—physical, emotional, mental. I know that at the time, but for some reason—a look, a feeling, a connection I get from them, I accept them despite their issues. For horses like these, I need a hope chest jam packed with positive expectations.


Bawana Jake loved to run and had a phenomal back end for doing so.  Look at the hip-butt-stifle-hock angles here!
Bawana Jake a 2006 gelding by Forestry out of Starship Miss is the perfect example of a hope chest horse. Fast and competitive, Jake liked to rush to the front and hold on as long as he could. He had nine starts, 1 win, 3 seconds, 1 third and a total earnings of $44,719. Then in October of his three year old year, he bowed a tendon. It took stem cell PRP injections and twelve months of layup, before Jake could return the track, to do what he loved to do: race. But a few short months into 2011, he rebowed the tendon. Worse, he fragmented his left knee. This time, there was no doubt. His racing days were over. He was put out to permanent pasture on a farm in Kentucky.

I often visit that farm to look at possible candidates for the MMSC. I remember seeing Jake a few times over the past two years. He knee was huge and he had a pronounced limp. Such a shame, I thought because he had an eager, proud look and an absolutely superb hind end. He would have made a fine sports horse, I thought.

This February I went to that farm to scout for horses. In the bunch that was shown to me that day was a wooly coated chestnut. He was rough looking, but he spoke to me. I walked up to him, stroked his neck, then gently reached up to his face and brushed back his forelock. His expression was smart, soulful, and self assured. I stepped back and took in the whole picture, the nice short back and…the exquisite rear end!  

“I’ve seen this horse before!,” I said.

“Yes, you have,” the farm manager replied. “He had a knee injury, and a bow…but, he’s sound!”

“What! This is the horse with the knee?? Sound?  No way!”

“Yup.”  

The handler walked and trotted Jake for me. There was no head bobbing or toe dragging. The steps were even. And the reach and propulsion with his hind legs were remarkable. 

I picked up the knee and felt it. No heat or swelling. Full range of motion. I couldn’t believe it.

“He’s a nice horse,” the farm manager told me. “He could use a job. Probably would make him really happy too.”

I paused and looked at Jake again. He had gone native in the three years that he had been turned out. But underlying the shaggy appearance was a balanced horse with ideal hip to stifle to hock angles, decent bone and feet, and an expression in his eyes that I just couldn’t say “no” to. 

“Ok.” I said, knowing full well that an unknown path lay ahead. “I’ll take him but I’ll need new x-rays to see what he can and cannot do safely. And if he doesn’t stay sound once he starts training, he will have to come back.”

Jake arrived at the MMSC on the 25th of February. After the sleek new entrants recently delivered straight from the track, it was a bit like welcoming Cro-Magnon man to Buckingham Palace.



“Doesn’t he have the most magnificent hind end you’ve ever seen?,” I said  cheerfully to my staff as their eyebrows raised skeptically when he stepped off of the trailer. “Look at his bum!  It better than any one else’s here—two and four leggeds included!!”


They may have sniggered. I can’t recall. What I do recall is that they didn’t see what I saw: Jake four to six months down the road, sleek, focused and happy. It was a beautiful image. 

I never had unwavering faith that that image would realize itself. He was a seasoned, dedicated racehorse who had loved his job, who had old injuries that seemed to be resolved, but one could not be certain. Whether he would concede to going slowly and whether he could sustain training were to be determined. How would his story unfold? Would it have a happy ending?

I had no idea.

All I had was hope.  

Cheery bye,

Susanna


What’s in your hope chest?



Sunday, June 29, 2014

FAITH

We covered some rugged terrain in the last blog, skirting the border between fantasy and fact, exploring the bizarre terrain of quantum reality, bounding over the towering virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. It was a wild ride. But there’s a method to my madness. I wanted to explain, (and probably justify) the curious mixture of vision, drive, and credulity it takes to run a non profit organization for reschooling Thoroughbreds. 

I am speaking from my own narrow perspective. No doubt all non profit leaders rely on those attributes. I just know that to do my job, I have to nurture dreams and work diligently and daily on realizing them. Actualizing a vision in an unimaginative, flaccid-willed, naysaying world takes faith. And faith, as anyone who has tried to keep a promise, practice a discipline, or stay on a diet knows, is fragile and fleeting. It’s the at times seemingly stupid unflinching adherence to the expectation of the imagined and the unproven. Faith is not for wimps.

Every time I accept a horse into the MMSC program, I have to draw from my faith stash. I see many horses that are racing fit—as tucked up aand leggy as super models—some gleaming with health, others showing signs of the wear and tear of their athletic campaigns, a tad mangy, with stiffened joints and dull coats. I seek out the inherent physics of their infrastructure. It’s just a matter of angles, clearly visible in the skeletal layout, and calculating the inherent potential for thrust, pull, and leverage.

I look long and hard at the expression in the horse’s eyes. Intelligence, magnanimity, courage, spunk, confidence, naiveté, those qualities or the lack thereof are evident. I watch how the horse moves, even or uneven, springy or scopey; how it acts in relation to its handler, to its surroundings, to its onlookers. I weigh my thoughts and impressions on any given horse, and then, last but not least, check in with my gut. After all, as I said in an earlier blog, logic should be on tap, not or top.

Every decision—whether I accept the horse into our program or not— takes a leap of faith. Racehorses change hands a lot. Paper trails can be hard to come by. There are lots of unknowns: injuries, habits, vices which might surface at the MMSC. Those slow down the reschooling process.  Sometimes they arrest the process outright. In either case I hear the silent daily “cha-ching” as expenses add up. As they do, my decision seems less and less “cents-able.”

Every year, there’s always one horse that taxes my faith to breaking point:
This year it’s Reggie.


Regiment by Indian Charlie out of Beaucette by Mr. Prospector was regally bred by Gainesway Farm and sold at the August 2011 Saratoga yearling sale for $450,000. He ran in two races, came in third once with a career earnings total of  $6,450. Last September, he strained the suspensory in his left front leg.  When I saw him in November, he had been hand walking for two months. The swelling was minimal and there was no heat but his owners had decided nonetheless to rehome him.

Reggie was a plain bay with a knot just below his eyes where he had banged his head on the stall door sill. His frame, although tall, was narrow and his eyes harbored a look of arrogance. On the  positive side his shoulder was nice, his hind end even better, and he had a beautiful ground covering walk. My gut told me he would be an athlete, an eventer in fact, and a good one at that.

He arrived at the end of February after healing up from castration. His first week was spent settling in, getting “spa treatment,” and being beautified from head to toe.

A week later, he began Natural Horsemanship games and bomb-proofing exercises and handled all with poise. The next week we started riding him.

I was impressed. He was a lovely mover, with lofty gaits and regular cadence. He had a nice jump, too. He felt great under saddle, naturally balanced and powerful. He still held a somewhat disdainful look in his eye, but he was always polite.

I was excited and called someone I knew in Virginia who was looking for such a horse. When she came in early April to try him, she fell in love, and wanted to adopt him. But I didn’t like what I saw: Reggie wasn’t himself.  His jaw was stiff, his poll locked. His lovely, lengthy trot was choppy.  

I ran my hands over him and could feel that he was out in his neck. He had a few ribs out too. I told the prospective adopter that he needed a chiropractic adjustment prior to any pre-purchase exam. 

That was the first test of faith. What ensued over the next 12 weeks defies reason. Whenever we scheduled a pre-purchase exam or a date with a prospective adopter, Reggie managed the morning of  to come up lame: A hoof bruise, a swelling of the old suspensory, getting cast and twisting himself out of alignment, discouraging any potential adopter from taking him home.

We x-rayed, we ultra sounded. We hosed. We poulticed. Nothing special showed up. We kept him shod, or at least tried to-he never kept shoes on for longer than 48 hours, whether nailed or glued,  steel or aluminum. He got hives, and then skin disease. He grew grumpy and impolite, pinning his ears whenever someone entered his stall, and flashing his teeth when groomed. Although not off anywhere, he was surly when worked. He bullied his four legged pasture mates when out, and glowered with contempt at his two legged handlers when in.

Every day, I grew increasingly dismayed by my inability to figure him out. My faith was waning. Should I call his original owners?  Send him back? I couldn’t!  He was too nice. I had to hold on and figure out what was going on. Every test of faith was an opportunity to grow.

Shortly thereafter our acupuncturist discovered a nascent case of herpes, which although pesky, was treatable.With oral lysine, herbs, and soothing baths, Reggie, started to come around. The intermittent flaring up of the left front suspensory abated too, which the acupuncturist said was a common and curious symptom of herpes due to the placement of meridians. But he still refused to keep shoes on and came up constantly with bruises and gravels.

“Why do you keep pulling off your shoes, Reggie!?!!,” I sputtered out loud to him in exasperation one day. The next instant, a picture of how his shoes needed to be placed on his feet flashed into my brain. I picked up his right front foot. What I saw there was very different from the picture in my mind.  When I shared the information with my farrier, he scoffed, “Ok.  I’ll do what you say but it won’t work.”

 Reggie hasn’t lost a shoe since.

Intrigued by  this experience, I started asking Reggie if I might come in his stall when I opened the door. When I did he welcomed me politely.


I told everyone in the barn to verbally ask his permission for things—to pick up his feet, to be groomed, to stand still. Without exception, and without being touched, he responded with no recalcitrance. The more we experimented, the more Reggie surprised us all with his seeming ability to understand.  So we took this experiment into the riding arena, and there, too, we got responses. The old Reggie was back!  Sound and training better than ever. His expression grew less contemptuous. I even got a friendly nuzzle every so often.

Emboldened by this, recently I decided to pop the question.

Slipping into his stall, (after being granted permission of course), I asked quietly. “Reggie,Why are you always lame on pre purchase exams or when a prospective adopter comes to try you?”

The image of a male rider flooded my brain.

I suddenly realized that everyone who had tried Reggie thus far had been female.

“A guy, Reggie?  You want to go home with a GUY?

He lifted his head from his hay and stared unflinchingly at me.

“Ok! Ok!  I’ll find you a guy.”

He put his head down and went back to eating hay.

I stood with my back against the stall wall, looking at him and let out a sigh.

“OMG!!!…. Am I nuts?”

“Absolutely not!,” my gut resounded

“Most likely,” sniggered my brain.

Wow! If I am to believe what just happened, I am supposed to find Reggie a guy? How am I going to do that?

No idea. 

 Let go and let God, I guess.

 Isn’t that what faith is about?

OYE! 

As I said, faith is not for wimps!!!!

Cheery bye,

Susanna










Monday, June 23, 2014

Wild Ride



Horse people,  grab your safety (a.k.a. your S.O.S/OH SH!&*T!) straps.  

The rest of you, fasten your seat belts. 

We are going on a wild ride. First we will  lope through the 17th century; then gallop through the weird world of quantum mechanics; leap over the three theological virtues of FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE, and pull up at that most idyllic of places, the MMSC barn.

Ready? 

 We’re off!

It’s 1605.  Queen Elizabeth has recently passed away. Her first cousin twice removed, King James I is on the throne (working on the King James Bible, by the way). Shakespeare has just written Othello. A bunch of venture capitalists are collecting funds to set out for the New World where they will found a colony and name it Jamestown. France is ruled by Henri IV;  Spain by Philip III. His subject, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra publishes a raucous, ribald, spoof of chivalric literature: Don Quixote de la Mancha that will become an instant success and an international classic down through the ages.

We all know the story: Crazy old man sets out on a nag accompanied by a fat peasant astride a donkey to live the life of a medieval knight, righting wrongs, defending church, country, and virginal ladies. Trouble is he is about 200 hundred too late.The Age of Chivalry is dead. Nobody crusades any more. Instead, they slog along trying to defend their status, their savings, and their stuff.
 What most of us don’t know either because we’ve never read the book, or we read it so long ago when we were young and naive, is that this is a scathing satire of sheer genius on just about everything in Spain in the early 17th century: Society, politics, religion, culture. Cervantes was the John Stewart of his day. Observant, clever, naughty, and really, really funny.

But it has a deeper level too: To Dream the Impossible Dream level. It’s the tale of clashing realities. To Don Quixote, windmills are giants menacing the countryside. Sheep herds churning up dust clouds are Moorish armies on the march to be conquered. He is not delusional. He is on a noble quest of service and purpose. Yet he slams time and again into the pedestrian backdrop of daily living.

Those who think out of the box are familiar with these collisions. Fantasy against reality.

That’s where quantum mechanics comes in.

It is 1900 and Max Planck develops a “theory of quanta,” rocking the foundation of the three hundred year old Newtonian world of physics. In 1905, Albert Einstein publishes his special theory of relativity. Six years later, the nucleus of an atom is found, followed in 1915 by Einstein’s proposal of a general theory of
relativity. In 1924, matter waves are discovered. Schrodinger comes up with that pesky “thought experiment” leaving us all wondering if the cat in the box is dead or alive or both.
Over the next six decades, the world of quantum mechanics explodes with neutrons, positrons, masons, quasars, quarks, all bursting out of the minds of the 20th century physicists. And the world is getting weirder and weirder. Matter is both a particle AND a wave. Time speeds up or slows down, depending. Age may not be chronological but simultaneous. And reality may not exist on its own. 

So the tree falling in the forest only makes a sound if someone hears it? Maybe so. It also could be that the tree only falls if someone perceives it having done so!

“No phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon,” said Princeton professor John Wheeler, who worked on the Manhattan Project and later coined the term “black hole, those matter hogs in space. Hailed as  a “physics super hero” of the latter 20th century, Wheeler totally blew apart the Newtonian idea that the world existed in a defined, objective way. Instead, he argued, that the universe was subjective and interactive, and advanced the theory of genesis by observership

Another way of saying this in a more intelligible, albeit “woo-woo” way, is: Read The Secret, the 2006 bestseller that talks about the Law of Attraction. The premise of this book is that we can contribute to the creation of a physical reality by what we direct our minds to. “Thoughts become things, choose the good ones.”

Still with me?  I hope so. I know all this takes a real leap of faith, which is why we are going to quickly hurdle the three theological virtues faith, hope and love heralded by Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 of the Book of Acts. 

You need all of those virtues to run a not for profit for used luxury items, i.e. Thoroughbreds. Faith because you must stay steadfast in your belief that you can carry on no matter what. Hope, because it buoys you with a much needed cheerful expectation of all good things to come. And love, because, well, you just want to do your part, unconditionally and selflessly for a cause bigger than yourself--helping these amazingly beautiful, vulnerable animals who cant do it without you.

Which brings me to the MMSC. Thank you for your patience while I took you on the unorthodox and seemingly “unhorsey” ride.  But it my mind, all of these subjects have everything to the MMSC, and I wanted you to know that.

Sure we may be like Don Quixote trying in our small way, one horse at a time, to change a horse’s world, an adopter’s world, and maybe sometime, the racing world.

Or we might be like quantum physicists determined to influence the creation of our reality with good thoughts and positive imagined outcomes.

And we need to approach the reschooling of every horse with faith, hope and love every day. But, sometimes that’s not so easy. I have, for example, a horse in the barn right now that’s really testing my faith. I’ll tell you about it…in the next blog. 

Cheery bye,

Susanna

To dream ... the impossible dream ...
To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To love ... pure and chaste from afar ...
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ... 
This is my quest, to follow that star ... 
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ... 
To fight for the right, without question or pause ... 
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ... 
And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest, 
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm, 
when I'm laid to my rest ... 
And the world will be better for this: 
That one man, scorned and covered with scars, 
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage, 
To reach ... the unreachable star ...