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








Monday, August 25, 2014

The Importance of being

I just came back from vacation. I went to a rustic log cabin on Sunshine, Deer Isle in Maine’s Penobscot Bay that my Swiss grandparents bought in the early 40s along with fifty acres for $1000. Hastily erected ninety years ago, possibly more, by lumberjacks logging the dense surrounding pine forests, this “hovel” as these structures were called, has one main room with a hearth on one side of the central chimney and a wood stove on the other. Both smoke, although not as badly as in my grandmother’s day. She had to cook, flashlight high in hand, wearing goggles. 

Today we have a newer wood stove, (circa 1970?) with tighter seams.Not only that, we have electricity! After twenty five years with no indoor plumbing or lights, my grandmother finally convinced my grandfather to join the twentieth century. Electricity was installed. The ice box was ousted for a refrigerator. The pump on the sink gave way to a faucet. The outhouse, with its scenic woodsy view was replaced with an indoor bathroom, and I’ll never forget the installation of the telephone, which, on rainy days, provided many hours of entertainment eaves dropping on island biddies on the party line swapping rumors and recipes.

A few years ago, a cell tower was installed on nearby Swan’s Island, so it is possible now to get calls on one’s smart phone, but service is temperamental. There’s no internet service or television at The Cabin. It’s a great place for new books, old clothes, long walks, big meals (cooked on the wood stove of course!) and sleeping late.

It had been over four years since I had been on vacation. Yes, I had gone to England for a week last year with my son to check out colleges, but our days were crammed with tours, interviews, and workshops. We did take an afternoon to visit the Warner Brothers' Harry Potter studios (fascinating!). But other than that, the week was full court press. And full court press is my modus operandi.

So being rammed into park, figuratively and literally (we had no car), made me as restive as a racehorse just off the track, which, is, of course, the point of this blog. Horses are creatures of habit. Although instinctually social and nomadic, they acclimate to race track mores and schedules readily. They get used to being cooped up alone in stalls 23/7, let out only for daily workouts, and, if lucky, occasional hand grazing. They understand the competition, the travel, the lifestyle. The longer they race, the more ingrained the demands of the job sink in. Many truly love what they do. Take them off the track and their world falls apart. They get ulcers. They go off their feed. They run the fence when turned out until they drip with sweat. They injure themselves on seemingly nothing. When they are finally ready to be turned out with other horses, all hell can break loose. They fight at first, then play. If they are young, as most are, they play hard, coming in with their sleek coats marred with teeth and hoof marks. Hematomas too. And scrapes and cuts everywhere. Desert Wheat, a seasoned winner of over $750, 000 that got adopted this year, used to force all his herd mates to race him, wreaking havoc in a field and terrorizing the younger horses who had retired at a much younger age than he. We finally cured his Terminator" behavior by putting him in a field with a mare that using a full blown battery of double barreled kicks, whipped him into shape “right quick like,” as we say in Kentucky.

Racehorses need time to learn to be just horses again. That’s why the ideal scenario is not to take them directly off the track and immediately reschool them for new careers, but to give them let down time, ideally eight or nine months. But once a horse’s career is over most owners want it out of sight, out of mind, and off the payroll. That’s why a let down farm is on my strategic long term plan for the MMSC.

The first week in Maine I was like a newly retired racehorse, the epitome of antsy, unsettled by the lack of demands, appointments and communication.
I repeatedly walked to a promontory overlooking the beach to check for cell service, messages, and if lucky, emails. I returned the voice messages that I did get as I could. I laid fires and cooked on the wood stove. In the morning, I swept the pine needles from the floor and shook the rag rugs outside. I dead headed the nasturtiums and watered the flower boxes. I kept the wood boxes full. I emptied the tinder box from the stove. At low tide, I fed the gulls leftover bread. I picked wildflowers and arranged them in jars. I dealt with insomnia by reading into the night. The first few days, I walked down the road to my mother’s house where she lives year round, to get online. She had installed DSL a week before our arrival. I got to use the internet once, then the DSL blitzed out completely. Three days later, the land line in the Cabin stopped ringing, its ringer simply giving up the ghost. The dial tone disappeared intermittently as well. Was the Universe trying to tell me something?

I thought a lot about the horses at the Center and what their let down must feel like to them, both mentally and physically. Within 72 hours of a slower pace, my old injuries made themselves known-my damaged joints, the old soft tissue tears, the stiffness and arthritis. These things take a back seat to my busy brain when I am at the Center. Eliminate the daily grind, though, and they surge to the fore!

No wonder some horses, while seemingly sound enough when they arrive at the Center, fall apart physically when they first get into our program. Take, for example, MMSC summer arrival Taylor Said, winner of several hundred thousand dollars in eleven races, with an athletic body and a competitive mind. I thought with groceries and spa treatments, he would find a new home as an eventer in record time. But no sooner had we gotten him adjusted, then one pesky issue after another popped up. Pretty soon, like a house of cards, he was fully laid up, and his training was set back six weeks. The same was true for Jay Z (Jazz Fest), Reggie (Regiment), Link (Kalinka), and Maine (Maine Avenue). Older horses, like Forgmaggio, Bordeaux Bandit, and Nowheretohide had, in addition to their physical wear and tear, deeply engrained habits—bolting, star gazing, trying to flip the bit  under their tongues, and of course, no right lead. Really young ones like Harlan (Colonel Harlan) had baby brained track terror flash backs. We had to start from scratch with him. 

All these setbacks tend to ruffle me. After all, I am hounded by the “ka-ching” effect of daily expenditures on every horse, most of which will never be recouped with their adoption donations. That’s why horses with more scope, like Wordsworth, have higher adoption fees. The have to pay their own way, as well as the ways of many others that simply can’t. 

The second week of my stay in Maine, various members of my family—siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews arrived. I was busy again, but this time it was a relaxed busy, a vortex of dinners, laughter, hugs, and fireside chats. By now I had spent time wandering around the forest, climbing rocks, hanging out on the pebbly beach. Like the horses, I had accumulated my fair share of scratches, bruises and bug bites (right.) I went on an overnight kayak camping trip with my sister and her two children (left). When night fell, we paddled out into the bay to star gaze and to create milky ways of photo-luminescent plankton with our paddles and hands in the inky cold waters. I was utterly and fully present and savored the phenomenon of just BEING. A day later, I returned to Kentucky, calmer, wiser, ready to continue the MMSC crusade.

On my vacation I was reminded that learning to give up schedules, habits, and jobs if you are a horse or a human takes time. And it takes the time it takes. Cabin Time. Kayak Time. Horse Time. Honor that. For with horses, as with people, it is only  when we learn how to BE that we can truly BECOME.      

By the way, the DSL reinstated itself at my Momhouse at 9 PM on our last night. And the dial tone came back that night at the Cabin, too. Coincidence?  Or God acting anonymously?

You decide!


Cherry bye,
Susanna







Monday, August 11, 2014

CONCENTRIC CIRCLES

“The original idea for the MMSC was fantastic in both senses of the word,” I often say when asked about the genesis of the Center. “Fantastic in that it is an amazing idea, and fantastic in the sense that the plan was full of fantasies.”

The idea was to have a showcase facility for reshooling and adopting out off -track Thoroughbreds at the Kentucky Horse Park that receives about a million visitors a year. It would be staffed with a director and a barn manager. The rest of the work would be done by volunteers. The horses would come directly from the track and get adopted at the rate of 100 or so a year. All the adoption and rescue agencies would work together to find donated horses, and willingly send their best, soundest exemplars to the Center. Somehow, although it wasn’t clear how at the time, it would be funded.




It’s true. The KHP is the perfect location for a facility that showcases the athleticism of TBs in new careers. But a staff of two to care for and train all the horses; keep the campus in perfect shape; handle every phone call, as well as the billing, fundraising, and marketing; in addition to shepherding around the KHP visitors who regularly drop in? It can’t be done. I’ve tried it. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

 Add volunteers and interns, and the equation may get better, but learning curves, the work ethic bar, and weather factors always skew the outcome. Sure, everyone wants to ride, but riding is very different from training. It’s the difference between attending a class and teaching it. And Thoroughbreds, as smart as they are, can learn the wrong way just as quickly as they can the right way. Not good. Besides, liability insurance  is a nightmare. Even when taking care of horses, mucking, grooming, and hand walking, you are not likely to hear volunteers whistling while they work. After a few stints, they fade away all together. As for the unglamorous MMSC tasks (Weed-eating anyone? Taking out the trash? Cleaning the bathrooms?), you have to pay someone to do those things, or do it yourself.

Next was the thought that 100 horses a year could be adopted out directly from the track. First of all that’s a huge number of horses on a limited MMSC campus: Ten stalls, 15 acres of paddock. Then do the math: you would have to adopt out 1.92 horses per week every week, spring, summer, winter, and rain of shine, Polar vortexes, or epic heat blasts none withstanding. No time off for holidays. Vacations either.  Not looking so fantastic.

It’s also idealistic to think that you can take racehorses directly from the racetrack and find new homes for them immediately. Horses are nomadic herd animals. At the track they are isolated and sequestered. It’s a counter instinctual high stress life with a high energy diet and a highly demanding schedule. A bit like combat for young soldiers. Ask a young vet
coming back from Iraq to go directly to Wall Street to work on the floor with no down time, and he or she will probably dash for cover under a desk every time the stock exchange bells clang.








The same is true for former race horses. They can suffer from post traumatic stress, as well as muscle soreness and other injuries. They will be worried when learning different behaviors to adapt to a new job. Some adopters are experienced trainers and know how to help racehorses make this transition. Most, however, are not. That spells a colorful mess for the rider—“Green on green makes black and blue,” goes the saying. It also  sets the horse up for failure and the often unfair designation of “crazy Thoroughbred.” Far better to let them have four to six months off turned out in a field, just learning to be horses again. Not to mention giving them the time they need to heal should they be sore or injured. Now and again, a few ex-race horses, make the transition directly from track to MMSC, but those are the exception, not the rule. They must have been social workers in their former lives.

But the most fantastical—as in the sense of F A N T A S Yidea of all is that other adoption and rescue organizations would relinquish their finest horses to the MMSC director to retrain them, showcase them and find them new homes. From a marketing standpoint that makes no sense: Give the “competition” your best asset? From a human nature standpoint, it’s far fetched as well, unless you are talking about a group as noble as the twelve disciples and even they, we know, had their failings! Add to this the phenomenon that horse people rarely agree on how to train or care for a horse, AND the fact that most horse people these days are female. Oooo! Cat fight time!  


Finally, it can be rightly said that most women in the rescue/adoption field are passionate…to the point of psychosis. I know this first hand.  I am one of them. For all these reasons, initially the MMSC had a tumultuous time finding its way, its voice, and its role in the vitally important crusade for aftercare for former Thoroughbreds. Those times, thank goodness, are behind us. 

In the ten years the MMSC has been open, much as changed, not only within our campus, but also in the industry as well. Aftercare as a word has entered our vocabulary. It’s an ongoing discussion among industry leaders. Adoption and reschooling facilities are popping up like spring crocuses. So are organizations trying to tackle the issue: Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, Retired Race Horse Project, Thoroughbred Incentive Program and so forth. It’s an exciting time.

Call it a tipping point. Call it the 100th Monkey Effect or the Butterfly Effect. Call it what you will, but most important call your friends together to add vigor to the pressing need for solutions and change.

That’s why I have approached several  of my colleagues recently about coming together to “complete each other as opposed to compete against one another.” We have met twice in the last three months. The first time we met we talked for the first hour about the issuest those of us who are down in the trenches are struggling with (funding, injuries, bias against mares, lack of education) and the second hour we dreamed about what the ideal racing industry would look like. We drew concentric circles around all the stakes holders who were response-able: the adoption agencies like us, the trainers, owners, racetrack officials, and fans, and talked about ways to share the responsibility of aftercare amongst us all.


Most recently we talked about ways to work together as individual organizations: starting with a joint adoption facility fundraiser. We settled on a mass tack sale to be held on the Kentucky Equine Humane Center on September 13 from 9 to 1. We will all collect donated tack.(*If youd like to donate tack, please contact us at mmsecretariatcenter@gmail.com) We will work together, and we will all benefit. We talked about hosting a much bigger fundraiser in June 2015. We discussed what we thought our coalition stood for. We tried to come up with a name:  C. A. R. E -the Coalition about Rehoming Equids-was the first acronym to surface. We knew we could do better with a little more time and thought. We assigned homework to help educate us about what is going on within the industry and across the States. We scheduled another meeting date. We adjourned, excited and, I believe, rejuvenated. United we stand, divided we fall. 

It’s all about throwing that first pebble in the water, isn’t it? Just pick it up. Toss it in, and watch how its circle widens then replicates itself in ever bigger concentric circles. Imagine what would happen if more of us tossed in our thoughts on aftercare! If we took action, how might our mutual efforts intersect? Don’t these magnificent sentient horses deserve a second chance? Let us vow always to complete one another and not compete with one another! Now, go ahead, volunteer at an adoption agency, or send a check to one, or call your representative or Senator, or petition racetrack officials, or contact the Jockey Club, or the NTRA. Just toss your pebble…

Cheery bye, 

 Susanna





Sunday, August 3, 2014

Hope Springs Eternal

When Jake came to the MMSC in February, I wasn’t sure if we could find him a person and a new home, but I hoped against hope that we could!



I had had other horses with EPM during my six year tenure at the MMSC, so I wasn’t flummoxed with Jake’s diagnosis. I first battled this degenerative nerve disease in the early 90s with one of my own horses. I treated it as my vet recommended with the anti-protozoan drug Marquis and stopped working my horse for a while. He recovered and went on to a successful competitive career.


I had had about six horses with EPM at the MMSC prior to Jake. The first one, a lovely gray gelding, came down with it about six months after he was adopted. The distressed mother of the young girl who adopted him called me and gave me the diagnosis. I tried to reassure her by saying that my own horse had had it and  had recuperated.  

“Give him the drug Marquis and then give him rest for a while,” I told her. 

“That’s what my vet says to do. But it’s expensive,” she replied.

“How ‘bout if I call the person who donated the horse to the Center and  see if she will cover that cost for you? She’s a super responsible person who cares deeply about her horses.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful! He is the apple of my daughter’s eye! And he is really not doing well! He can’t back up and he wobbles.” 

“Ooo, that doesn’t sound good. I’ll get right on it!”

I called the former owner, a very avid Thoroughbred breeder and an extremely knowledgable horsewoman.

“I’d be happy to pay for it,” she replied after I explained the situation, “but it would be better to treat the horse with herbs and acupuncture.”

“Acupuncture? Herbs? Really?”





“I know this absolutely brilliant man, Dr. Marvin Cain. He started the International Veterinarian Acupuncture Society, studied acupuncture with Chinese masters and was the first person to chart out meridians and acupuncture points in horses. He treats EPM successfully using the horse’s own blood serum injected into certain key acupuncture points and then follows it up with herbs. I don’t know if there is anyone in the adopter’s area that knows how to do that, but I think it works a lot better than Marquis. And I would pay for it.”

I promptly relayed to the mother what I had learned.

“Which treatment would you prefer?”

“I’ll talk to my vet and get back to you,” she replied.

The vet had never heard of the procedure. The adopters decided to use Marquis. The original owner payed for it. In three months the horse was dead.

It was almost two years later before I had another horse at the MMSC diagnosed with EPM. The little mare had been with me for almost six months, and uncharacteristically she kept getting worse in her training rather than better. At first the signs were subtle: lethargy, grouchiness, sensitivity. I had her examined, flexed and  x-rayed. We injected joints. I asked several vets about whether she could have EPM but was told that she would need a spinal tap which was difficult and costly to do and not even conclusive. To try to strengthen her back end, therefore, I put the mare on hill work and trotting ground poles.  Still, she got clumsier, her transitions sloppier; unable to maintain the canter or cross cantering; pulling rails behind when jumping, or just refusing to jump at all.

I remembered the lovely gray gelding and called the acupuncturist. Sure enough, the mare had EPM. She had suffered a fair amount of damage to the central nervous system. It wasn’t clear how much she would recover, or, for that matter, if she would recover at all. I started the acupuncture and herbs treatment. I also called the person who donated her to the Center. She reclaimed the mare and continued the treatments diligently. Today the mare is alive and a happy pasture pal.

From that point on, whenever the acupuncturist picked up EPM, I started treatment.  Every horse that has had it since, has not only recovered, but thrived. I expected Jake to do similarly.

The day he was diagnosed with EPM was the first day we had ridden him. After his three year hiatus on the farm, Jake started his training reactive, distractible, and very out of shape. So we had decided to go slow: lots of natural horsemanship, bomb proofing, long lining and groundwork. I was keen to have a solid partnership built on the ground before trying to move on and up-in the saddle. Given that we had only ridden him once, a week off work was not going to set him back much if at all.

Work under saddle started up on April 9. Improvements in attitude, coat, flexibility and balance was noticeable almost on a daily basis. By April 24, the week of Rolex, the huge international event that draws competitors and crowds from around the world, Jake was so much better that we felt we could show him to any interested adopters. He got a lot of attention. He had, after all, the best hind end on the premises, four and two legged creatures included. And as he gotten stronger in training and with treatment, he had begun to show off how well he could use it, both in the arena and in the field. It was plain to all who saw him: Jake was extremely athletic.











Everyone was told about Jake’s issues:  a bum knee, bowed tendons, and EPM. I knew that most would be scared by that laundry list but I hoped against hope, that maybe someone would see what I saw in this special horse. A few people did ride him and commented on how lovely he was, but left it at that. One person, however, liked him so much she wanted to come back and try him again.

I had watched this person ride Jake and was struck by how accommodating he was to her, and how hard she worked to communicate with him. Those were the seeds of a very fruitful relationship. But Jake came with baggage and I was determined to find out if this person both understood and accepted that. I asked her if we could meet before she tried him again.

She came to the MMSC booth the next morning and we walked all round the vendor fair together for almost an hour. I found out a lot about her:  She was hard working, conscientious, compassionate. She also had “rescuer” syndrome. By that I mean she had a compunction to take care of anybody and anything putting her own needs last. I asked her if she had that tendency, and she confessed that I was right.

“Do you do that because they need it? Or because you need to be needed?” I asked.

She looked at me, startled, eyes wide and stammered, “Errrr…both, I guess.”

“Rescuing animals or people is a noble thing,” I continued. “I admire you for all that you tell me you have done. But sometimes our motivation for doing so  is a result of our innermost self telling us we don’t deserve anything better than something broken. If that is why you want Jake, I can’t let you have him.”

She stopped walking and looked down at her dusty boots.

I continued. “I am here to tell you that Jake is an amazing horse, truly athletic, truly magnanimous. Yes, he does have issues, but he is incredibly special and he deserves to be adopted and appreciated not for his liabilities but for his assets, which are rare in a horse. I am also here to tell you, that you are an intelligent, capable woman who does lots of good work in many ways and that you deserve a good horse.”

She left me at the booth. I didn’t know if I would hear from her again. But, about a week or ten days later, she and said that she had thought a lot about what I had said, and that she wanted to adopt Jake.

“Because you deserve a really nice horse, right?  Not because he has issues.”

“Right. Because I deserve him. I can come pick him up next week.”

I was elated!



Jake had progressed so in his health and training in a mere six weeks that we felt he was ready to go to a small show in  May.  We were so proud of him! He got ribbons in every class! Even in the beginner cross rail class!

The next day as I watched Carolyn ride Jake he seemed tense and back sore. “He is not himself today and he’s not breathing right,” she said. I couldn’t hear much from the ground, so I got up on him myself.  Yes, he was back sore and tense, stiffer to the right than to the left, but stiffness can happen at any time, especially to seasoned racehorses. But what was disturbing was the raspy rattle when he breathed. 

I popped off. I checked his nostrils. No mucous. His respiratory rate immediately went down. 

“Let him cool out, and then take his temperature,” I told Carolyn.

When I heard later that it was normal, that he was cleaning up his feed, and that he showed no signs of being sick, I said, “Call Dr. True and tell him to bring a scope. I want to know what’s going on with the larynx.”

When Dr. True scoped him he found a flipping palette and a languid left arytenoid which was slow in retracting over the wind pipe, hence the rattling noise when Jake moved.

“Will he need surgery?”

“If it gets worse.”

For once I was utterly discouraged by my decision to take this horse on.

“With fitness it may improve, though,” he said, trying to pick my spirits up. “So keep working him.”

I did. I also kept him on the herbs. And I called the prospective adopter and told her why Jake’s departure had to be postponed. 

“Will he get better?”

“I hope so. Our acupuncturist told me that a partially paralyzed larynx was very typical with EPM. I want him to finish this third bottle of herbs first. I want to see if we can improve his breathing with increased exercise. I want him to have a left lead canter departure that’s better balanced and less explosive so that you will be safer. And, if and when he is better, I want you to come back and try him again to make sure you still want him.”

Finally,  in mid June, he was ready. His canter was balanced. His immune system was strong enough for the long trailer ride as well as for him to adjust to a new home. His breathing was greatly improved. We rarely heard the rattle.  Now we just had to see if  his person still wanted him.

Jake and his new person Susan.
The adopter made the 9 hour trip down to the MMSC and rode him again. Jake was relaxed and balanced, stretchy and slow, a perfect joy to watch and to ride. His breathing was quiet and normal. I, on the other hand, was holding my breath.

“Do you still want him?” I asked, when she quit riding.

“Oh yes! I want him!”

“Because???”

“Because hes a wonderful horse!

And?

“And I deserve a horse like this!!!”

“Those were the very words I hoped you would say!” I replied, smiling.  “He’s yours!”

She squealed with delight.

Ah me! Just when I thought all hope had been lost, it springs eternal. AMEN!

Cheery bye,

Susanna

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