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, December 14, 2014

MMSC Family


The Minnesota titans did return for Sips n’ Saddles on September 19. They had wanted to come back four days before the event to help. I welcomed that. Over the weeks, I had become really fond of them. I also knew that when the Titans wanted to do something they did it in a BIG way. Extra hands and BIG ones at that would be very welcome. But as fate would have it, Jeffy and Nick’s grandmother died that week.

Jeffy was contrite and said they couldn’t be there early as planned because they needed to attend the service which was two days before our party.

“I am so sorry about your loss!,”I told him which I knew, even though she was very old, was traumatic. “But, tell me Jeffy, do you think will you be able to come at all? I was so hoping that you would tell your and Noah’s story at the event.”

“You BETCHA!,” he boomed in a his endearing way. “We will leave right after the service and drive ’til we get to you.”

I knew Jeff well enough by now that I needn’t worry. He would be there.

Nick, Jeff, and Lauren
stuff goody bags for guests
Stanley Tow-Arnett
And on the morning of the party, bright and early, there they were: Jeffy, Lauren, Mr. and Mrs. Nick Tow-Arnett, and Stanley, their clever, cute cocapoo who sported a green saddle pad with a small jockey aboard. They went right to work: Tieing together bunches of carrots for guests to give to the horses. Lifting tables and setting them up. Stuffing gift bags with the various goodies that we had garnered including bags of hand made horse treats that they had made themselves. The idea and the recipe were Lauren’s, who, although smaller in stature comparatively, is mighty in influence. It was Lauren who had inspired Jeffy, then Nick to get horses. Lauren who had spotted the big gray mare Jess, and who had come back to make sure the fit would be right for Jessy. Now Lauren had comandered the Titans in the baking and packaging of three hundred bags of  “Lulu’s” horse treats named thusly because Lulu was once her nickname.
Lulu’s horse treats



I don’t remember much about the blur of preparations. My attentions were required on so many fronts. Yet I do recall how grateful I felt for my Minnesota team. They certainly knew how to defend their quarterback! I also remember coming into the foyer and bumping into a legend in a wheelchair: Ron Turcotte, Secretariat’s jockey, who had come by the MMSC before the party to wish us well. It was an awestruck Nick who rolled Ron out to the Secretariat statue so that we could commemorate the moment. (Jeffy who was running errands for me, was SICK that he missed the visit! But we brought Noah out so that we could get a photograph of Ron and he together.)

“Who’s the big guy?” Ron asked me quietly.

“He’s a retired football player,” I murmured. “Played for the Seattle Sea Hawks, and the Dallas Cowboys.”

“And the girl?”

“That’s his wife. She’s a professional volley ball player."

“Wow!,” said Ron. “That’s something!”

It takes an athlete to appreciate an athlete.

Nick and Jessy with Ron Turcotte

All of a sudden, it was time for everyone to get changed. Jeffy, Lauren, Nick and Jessy disappeared, returning a short while later buffed and beautiful. 

“Are you still ok about speaking to the crowd tonight?” I asked Jeffy as we stood outside Noah’s stall.

“You BETCHA!”  

“Pictures?,” the photographer who was hired to document the party asked.

“Sure!” Jeff replied, slipping beside Noah. It was amazing to watch the two of them together. Their connection was unmistakeable. Not just to me.

“I don’t know much about horses,” the photographer said later, “but there seems to be some kind of special bond between that guy and that horse.”




“It’s because they both have suffered,” Louise, Noah’s owner who had come for Sips ’N Saddles offered. “They understand each other. They are healing each other.”

I couldn’t have said it better. Noah and Jeffy were alike in temperament and in histories: Firey warrior athletes with broken bodies and HUGE hearts, both in need of a new arena.


Jeff, who had not met Louise until now, positively glowed in her presence. For much of the party, he sat next to her. It made me happy to see that.  Louise had taken a big leap for Noah, and an even bigger one for Jeffy. When the time came for his talk, and we led Noah into the tent under the bright lights, Jeff rose from his seat beside and took hold of  Noah’s lead rope.

“This is my guy, Noah, “he began. “He’s a true athlete who always tried his hardest, always gave his best. He made over $200,000! He ran in the Kentucky Derby! He’s had injuries. He’s had hard times. I have too. I made it to the NFL. I wasn’t the best athlete. I knew that. So I had to train more, and I had to work harder on technique. Sure there were others who could run me over in the first quarter, maybe the second, but by the third quarter and definitely the fourth, they were done, and I was still standing.”

Jeff talked about all the things he had done to patch his broken body together: Acupuncture. Herbs. Massage. Surgery. Homeopathy.

“Susanna’s done all that for Noah, too. I can relate! It’s like he and I are the same person! The day I met Noah, there was no question in my mind Noah felt what I was feeling. This was my first encounter with any horse who acted like Noah did. I gave him a hug and he just stuck his face into my chest and didn't move it. He didn't care that other people he'd never seen were around him; he was solely focused on me. After that encounter I wanted Noah to be my horse more than ever. The next day was our big day to see what Noah thought of me and whether or not Susanna would consider giving me a shot. Noah and I had a connection and the rest is history! From the time Noah comes home with me to the day he passes, I’d sell everything I own before the thought would ever creep into my head about us not being together.

I not sure what Noah and I will end up doing, but with our personalities, it will probably be something that people tell us it isn't possible. The MMSC is amazing in the fact that they give ex-racehorses a second chance to prove their worth. Not only that, but they gave me a second chance to prove my worth too. Words cannot express how grateful I am to Louise, to Susanna and to the MMSC who gave me that chance, just like they have done for so many horses. For me, having a horse like Noah is a dream come true. Thank you!”

As he led Noah out of the tent and back to the barn, I looked around the crowd. People were wiping their eyes.

The next morning, the Titans were back. It was Nick’s turn to show me what he had learned. I knew which horse he wanted: My other favorite in the barn: Wordsworth, a horse that I had tracked for six months or more, telling the owners how much I would like to have him should he not make a good racehorse. I inquired about Wordsworth regularly from the moment I saw him on a sleeting day in December of his two year old year. 

“You can’t have him yet, Susanna,” I was told. “He is a half brother to Bernardini * (a stallion that stands for $100k). We are hoping that he is going to be a big racehorse.”

“Well, he is going to be big,” I retorted, which seemed obvious as he stood 16.3 as a two year old. “But, I doubt he’ll be  a racehorse.” He didn’t have the look of a racehorse. His body was ponderous and his eye too gentle.

Seven months later, I squealed with delight when I learned the owners concurred with me. (“The fastest he could run three furlongs was 40 seconds!!!,” I was told—thirty six seconds being a baseline for most horses.) Although unsuccessful at the track, I was expecting this big horse to excel in other arenas. With his good looks, his movement, and his easy going temperament, Wordsworth, I hoped, could be a huge ambassador for the MMSC in a hunter show barn.

From the moment we posted his pictures on our website, the phone rang and the emails poured in. But like all horses, he wasn’t perfect. He had an old capped hock, that would never bother him physically but which was unsightly, nixing him from huter equitation or in hand classes. He did move well but when it came to jumping, he was an oaf. Granted, he was young and had know idea how to lift his big body. Finally, he lacked the temperament for eventing.

What he did have was size (by the time he was three, he was 17 hands), and a kind, docile disposition, both things that Nick, as a big man, and a beginner rider would need. So I chucked my aspirations for “Ambassador Wordsworth,” and decided to let Nick try him. 

Once again, I was floored by the Tow Arnett boys’ athleticism. Nick who is a practitioner and instructor of Escogue sports training and pain relief has remarkable posture and balance. He is totally in tune with his body, knowing every part of it which he can name and control individually. He also knows how to move his body in relation to another body in motion, a skill which is essential in riding.
Nick’s posture on Wordsworth was exemplary.
“That comes from blocking in football, Susanna” he told me. “You have to be able to mirror and/or predict how your opponent moves in order to successfully stop him.”

Wordsworth followed Nick like a puppy after their first ride.
Nick, who had been riding even less time than Jeffy, rode with a military correct seat. He trotted. He steered. He circled he. He stopped. Wordsworth loved him. The adopti0n was a done deal.

“He’s yours,” I said.

Nick gave me a huge smile, and when he dismounted, a high five and a hug.


Jeffy, who was hanging on the rail, opened the gate and patted Nick on the back.

“Jeffy,” I approached him and said, “I am so grateful that all of  you have come into my life. Each one of you is so special. I am really going to miss not seeing you.”

Jeffy gave me his adorable Shrek-like grin and wrapped his arm around my shoulders.

“That means we gotta start planning your trip to Minnesota, eh Susanna?”

I smiled. “I guess,” I replied.

“You gotta come see where Noah and I live, Wordsworth and Miss Jess, too. You can stay with us. After all, we’re family now, right?”

I wrapped my arm around his waist.

Yes, Jeffy. We are, I thought, MMSC family!

Cheery bye,

Susanna

MMSC Family
Left to right:  You Jest and Jessy, Wordsworth and Nick, Noah and Jeffy, Louie and Lauren








Sunday, December 7, 2014

YOU JEST!

No. Jeff was not going back to Minnesota with Noah in his trailer. At least not this time. He had proved to me that he would be the right owner, but neither he nor Noah were ready for each other yet. Nevertheless Jeff, Nick, and Lauren had not come to the MMSC in vain.

Shortly after Jeff’s first visit in July, when I sent him back to Minnesota with the conditions that he had to fulfill before he would be eligible to adopt Noah, I received a text from him.

“My brother Nick wants to know if he does all the things that you’ve asked me to do if he can adopt a horse, too,” Jeff wrote.

“Sure,” I responded, “but only if he takes up belly dancing, like you said you would!” 

After I had seen Jeff ride the day I met him, I told him that he would have to work on suppling his back.

“You can’t just bend over at the hips as you do when you are facing a defensive line on a football field. You have to bend from the waist and fluidly glide with your hips like a serpent doing a figure eight. All the while you need to keep your upper body still. See, belly dancer-like…”

I demonstrated for him.“Now, you do it!”

To everyone’s surprise and amusement, Jeff gave it a try. Belly dancing is not one of the athletic endeavors at which Jeff excels.

Nick tried it too. Just for fun. He was inherently more supple than Jeff, I noticed. So, when Jeff asked me this question, I thought, why not let Nick have a try too?

Jeff texted me right back.

“He says he will do everything! Belly dancing too!!!”

“Excellent! Tell he will get extra points for dancing in costume!”

It didn’t surprise me that the Tow-Arnett brothers wanted to learn to ride together. There are three boys in the family. Nate, the oldest, is an iconoclast, but Nick, the middle child, and Jeffy, the youngest, have always been joined at the hip.

“So you are learning to ride because your younger brother is doing it?” I asked Nick as one point.

As a boy, Nick was very serious about being
a cowboy or an indian. And he treasured his
Breyer collection!
“Well yes! But well… NO! I have always loved horses. When I was little I regularly dressed as a cowboy or an Indian. At one of my birthdays, my parents staged a “pony party” with a live horse. I had a Breyer horse collection that I played with all the time. But I was interested in sports, too, and as I grew older, I got really involved with school athletics. But now Jeffy’s girlfriend, Lauren, has gotten Jeffy into horses, and that has sparked my early interest in and love for them.”

It made sense. Another sport, like all the others in the past, that the brothers could do together. Except now there was Lauren too. And Nick’s fiancée, Jessy, the lanky professional volleyball player.

“After our trip to the MMSC the first time, Jessy could not stop talking the whole way back to Minnesota about her “horse twin,” You Jest,” Nick told me.

You Jest was a 16.3hh, six-year-old gray mare that had come to the MMSC on June 25.
A granddaughter of the talented sire Distorted Humor, she was nick named “Joker” by her former owners. She started twice as a three-year-old, and although she had a lofty canter, it wasn’t speedy or ground covering enough to be a successful racehorse. Steady and kind, she was given to the North American Racing Academy, which was started and run by Hall of Fame jockey, Chris McCarron. At the school, Joker’s life was a lot like the one she had known on the racetrack: Jogs, gallops, breezes. Coming out of the starting gate. Long hours in a stall. But it was lower key as well. She did have some turn out in small paddocks. She was ridden out on the greens. And she never raced. It’s similar to training with the National Guard but never going to battle.

As it turns out, Chris had come to a point in his life when he wanted to step aside from the day to day demands of the racing school. He needed to scale back on the number of horses he had. I had a prospective adopter who was keen for two things. 1. A MARE. 2. A GRAY. Taking Joker on seemed to be good for both Chris and me. Yet there was a problem that gave me pause. Joker had cataracts in each eye and was suffering from an active case of uveitis. The cataracts I could live with. They were small, and indeed, if they ever worsened could be surgically removed. The uveitis, however, was trickier. Uveitis is the inflammation of the uveal tract in the eye. It can be caused by trauma, parasites, or be viral or bacterial in nature. It is also suspected to be caused be an auto-immune disorder. Colloquially, it is called “moon blindness.” It’s painful, intermittant, and there is a 50/50 chance that a horse will go blind in time.  

That’s not an enticing diagnosis for any prospective adopter. I knew that. But Joker had kindness and intelligence in her face and was a LOVELY mover. I  knew the opthamologist who was treating her, and discussed the prognosis for Joker. With the continuing medication and vigilance, the mare could be fine forever. So I decided to take a chance on her.

The first thing I did when Joker came to the MMSC was to take a poll amongst the interns as to whether we should change her name. The opinion was unanimous. She deserved a new name because she was feminine and graceful.  She wasn’t the trickster type either.

As I like for all nicknames to be reminiscent of the registered names, the name “Jess” was selected by the MMSC team.  And Jess she became. But she did not become the horse of the prospective adopter who was seeking a gray mare. That adopter felt that Jess’s canter was “too big with too much suspension,” to be a fun trail riding horse, so she passed.

Lauren, Jeffy’s girlfriend, had noticed Jess online however, and was keen to see her when they first came to the MMSC. Maybe Jess would be a good mount for Jeffy?  She was big, quiet, and kind. But Jeffy only had eyes for Noah.

Jessy, Nick’s fiancée, was another story. She couldnt take her eyes off Jess. She asked me a lot of questions about her. She was keen to hear about the uveitis. She lingered by Jess’s stall. I asked Jessy if she had any experience with horses. She didn’t. But “Miss Jess,” as she dubbed her, was “so sweet, so beautiful.” At the time, I didn’t think much of it. After all, I had just met Jessy, and I didn’t know anything about her passionate side.

Nick had met Jessy seven years prior. She was on the same volleyball team as the girlfriend of one his buddies. He told me that from the onset one of the things that he loved about Jessy was that she was passionate about everything that she did. “You can see that watching her play volleyball!” he said. “She is such an amazing person who is driven to help others. She makes me laugh every day. We have fun together doing nothing. I love how she loves people the first time she meets them, but most of all I love that she loves God more than me.

When Jessy and Nick met, it was instant chemistry.
 They dated for seven years before marrying this past August.

Finally after years of Nick’s playing for the Sea Hawks and the Dallas Cowboys, and Jessy’s multiple forays in other countries as a professional volleyball player, they were ready to get married and start a life together. The wedding date was set for the last weekend in August.

Seeing Jessy’s interest in You Jest, Nick, Jeffy, and Lauren concocted a plan: “What better wedding gift than ‘Miss Jess?” Nick explained. With Jeff and Nick both learning to ride and wanting to get horses of their own, with Lauren’s knowledge of and passion for riding, Jessy needed to be part of that team effort and that group excitement, Nick reasoned. “Also," he told me, “I just LOVE surprising Jessy, and what better wedding surprise could I give her than her first horse!”

It was four days before Nick and Jessy’s wedding. Jessy was totally focused on effecting the last minute details of the event. Nick used that as an excuse to “stay out of the way.” “I’ll go with Jeffy and Lauren to the MMSC to see how the Noah project is coming,” he had told her. He had already cleared his plan with me. Lauren would come down and try Jess. If she liked her, Jess would go back to Minnesota and live in the same barn as Lauren’s horse, the barn where Noah, and, in time, whatever horse that Nick adopted would stay. Lauren was to oversee Jess’s training in the coming months. Jessy was to take lessons as the brothers were. They were to keep in touch with me about the uveitis. Nick was going to keep everything thing a secret until their wedding day when he would present Jess to his bride right before they stepped in the church together.

“Call me when you get back to Minnesota to let me know that all is well,” I told the boys.  “And send me pictures of Jessy’s face when she sees her present!"


“Oh, we will!” said Nick. “And we will be back for Sips ’N Saddles, cause remember, I'm going to need an MMSC horse too!”

Cheery bye,
Susanna

“Jessy almost ‘passed!!!’" Nick told me when he presented 
her with You Jest, who was also wearing a veil, 
in honor of their wedding day,


Sunday, November 30, 2014

HOMEWORK

As soon as Jeff and his clan headed out the driveway, I picked up my cell phone and sent the photos I had taken of him to Noah’s former owner along with the missive: 
I need to talk to you about Nowheretohide as soon as you are free.”

My phone rang shortly thereafter.

“Hi!,” said Louise’s cheery voice on the other end of the line. “What’s up?”

“Did you get the pictures I sent of Noah?”

“Yes.“Is he ok? Who is that guy? He’s so big!

“Noah’s fine. But I have a story to tell you. Do  you have a minute?…”

“Sure.”

“Well, it’s a strange tale, but the guy's a football player from Minnesota who has his heart set on adopting Noah...” and I described to her Jeff’s visit the day before, my sending him away, only for him to come back an hour later to make a second plea.

“He was so keen to talk to me again that I obliged him,” I said.  “As I listened to his arguments and as I watched him speak,”  I told her,  "I became intrigued by him, by his passion and his persistence."

“I decided to let Noah have a say. I told Jeff to come back today so that I could see them interact at liberty in a round pen."

“Is Noah sound yet?  He can’t be adopted by anyone if he isn’t sound!,” Louise said , worried.

“Noah is almost sound. Or I should say almost “even.” He is still a little weaker on the left stifle but you can hardly see or feel it. The consistent work, herbs, and acupuncture have really made a difference. I’d give him a few more weeks on this regime. Then he ought to be good to go.”

“Well, he is not to go anywhere until you think he’s ready.”

“Oh, don’t worry!,” he won’t. “None of my horses do, and ESPECIALLY, not Noah!”

“Can Jeff ride?"

“Not, really,” I replied. “And Noah’s a hot horse! My plan was to use the round pen to show Jeff that they had nothing in common, but in less than two minutes Noah joined up with Jeff and followed him around like a puppy dog! So my next strategy was for Jeff to experience, in a safe way, how excitable and strong Noah could be to ride. But, that plan back fired, too. Noah was a perfect gentleman! It floored me and all of us who work at the Center. We couldn’t believe it!”

“So what did you do?”

“I called Jeff into my office afterwards and told him that he had won me and Noah over, but that there were two more hoops he had to jump through.

“And those are?"

"Number one: I had to call Noah’s former owner and get her approval. Number 2: He had to go home, ride five days a week, taking at least three lessons a week, do the reading assignments I gave him, and to call me every Sunday.”

Louise laughed.

“Oh, I told him he has to lose weight, too! 

“You think he’ll do all that?”

“I have no idea. We will have to see.”

“Well,” Louise said thoughtfully. “I’m ok with this plan, but only if and when Noah gets sound.”

“No worries. And let me tell you, if he does get Noah, your horse will have fallen into a tub of butter because this guy knows all about healing modalities: Massage, magnets, acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy—he’s done and does them all himself!”

After we hung you, I dialed Jeff.

“HELL-oooooo!,” Jeff boomed.  

“You on the interstate?”

“Yeah!”

“I’ve  got good news.”

“Yeah????”

“I just hung up with Noah’s former owner. She’s given you the green light-so long as Noah gets 100% sound, which I think he will….”

‘AWESOME!!!,” he belted.

“But you have to do your homework! You hear me?  Lessons? Reading? Call me? And LOSE WEIGHT!’

“YOU BETCHA! “

“Well, ok. Congratulations. I want to know who you select as a riding instructor and I want you to buy Sally Swift’s book Centered Riding. Read the first chapter. Look for paralells in football. I’ll expect a call from you every Sunday. We will talk about your lessons and your reading. Plan on coming back in five or six weeks.”

Jeff did everything I asked of him, leaving me a message the very next Sunday.

“Hey Susanna, it’s…JEFFY!”

“Jeffy?” I thought. How does a man that big go by ‘Jeffy’?!

“I am calling you you to give you the weekly update. I rode five times this week.…” 

And so began our regular phone calls. He started, as I had reccommended, on a lunge line, learning to master his balance and developing an independant seat. Every week, he shared his experiences with me: "I cantered today on for the first time. It was absolutely AWESOME!”  He did his reading. We discussed similarities between football and riding. I found myself looking forward very much to our calls every Sunday. Not only was his enthusiasm infectious,  but he had interesting observations and discoveries to share every time we talked.

“I am shocked at how similar riding is to football!,” he told me. “I had no idea how technical riding is. I mean trying to get a horse to go in a straight line is so hard, let alone in a round circle!  And cantering, well, cantering is so technical it was out of the picture for me for a while!” (Not that long I thought. Maybe three weeks on the lunge line?)

I was fascinated to hear of his comparisons to football. 

“Making sure you have "soft eyes” that technique that Sally Swift writes about, using your peripheral vision in addition to being able to focus on the thing in front of you reminded me of playing center. I needed to be able to take in the entire field and defense, while at the same time see and block the 300 pounds breathing down my face!”

Jeff told me about the importance of body stance/position in football and how, just like in riding it was the keystone of success.


“Sally Swift talked a lot about being balanced, loading one foot, shifting your weight in the direction that you want to go. Well in football—especially at the higher levels—your body stance, your posture and your balance are the building blocks for the offensive lineman. Offensive line coaches talk a lot about that. That was a concept I could really understand.”

“And if you are a wide receiver or a tight end or a running back or fullback you really need to have soft hands when catching the ball. That’s just like in riding!  You need soft hands so you have a happy horse and you are not jerking him or balancing yourself on his mouth.”

“Oh, and I have also found out first hand, that when you don’t employ correct technique, you fall off your horse. In football, if you don’t have the right stance, you will get knocked on your back!”

We laughed about that.  

“Yup, that pesky law of gravity will get you, won’t it, Jeffy?  Ever had any injuries?”

The list was impressive and included, along with the usual list of bruises and muscles strains, torn ACLs and MCLs, four screws in one knee, five screws and a plate in an ankle, a serious bone infection, and a dislocated heel.  And who knows how many concussions? No wonder at 28 Jeff had decided to hang up the football towel and to pursue an MBA.

“Why football, Jeff?”

“I started playing sports from a very young age:  Flag football, hockey, baseball, golf and soccer. When I was younger I was sure I would become a professional soccer player. At age 10, I played against Brazil and Egypt on the U10 USA Cup.”

“In third grade I went out for tackle football and after two practices, I quit. Soccer was my future. Then I got older, and by the time I was in 6th grade I weighed 206 pounds. It became increasingly evident that soccer was not in my cards! I was constantly getting yellow cards and red cards for running people over or for for them touching me and falling down.”

"So I moved on to golf and focused on becoming a professional golfer. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school that I found a sport that I was exceptional at based on what God has blessed me with: Football!"

"From high school I walked on to the University of Minnesota football team. When you are a walk on, you have to prove that you deserve to be there. So I worked longer and harder and more than my teammates. They’d quit and I’d stay in the gym. They’d take days off, I would train. After college I signed a contract with the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”

When people tell me I cant do something, I am so competitive, I’ll DIE just to prove them wrong.”

I knew something about that.

In the last week of August, just five weeks after his first visit, Jeff came back to the MMSC. He looked totally different.  He sported quadriceps revealing britches (“They are just like football pants,” he said), paddock boots, half chaps and an expensive helmet. He was thiner. His hair was short. What hadn’t changed was his excitement about seeing “his guy Noah,” and clearly Noah was happy to see him too. When Jeff came in his stall, Noah nuzzled him then stuck his head on his chest.

“You ready to ride?” I asked.

“You BETCHA!”

“Need a lunge rope?”

“Nope!


And he was right. Jeff rode Noah beautifully. They walked and trotted, circled and serpentined, halted and backed up. Jeff was so balanced  he could even do something he had envied his girlfriend Lauren for just several weeks prior: He could ride with both arms outstretched in front of him.




I was impressed.

“Go around the world,” I said, wondering if Noah would act up at all.

“What?!”

“At a stand still. Swing your leg over his hind end. Then to one side, then over his head. Don’t worry, I’ll hold Noah.”

And he did. Noah never flinched nor moved.

“OK. Now go back the other way.”

He did.
“Now lean back on his rump.”

“Now touch his ears.”

Now jump off!”

All of which he did.

“Well?” Jeff asked.

“That was amazing!” I replied. “I have never seen anyone make so much progress so quickly.”

Jeff stretched his arms up in the air.

“Can I have him?”

“Well yes…and no.”

“Huh?”

“Well, yes, because I think you have earned it and yes because Noah clearly has chosen you. But no, because you are still a bit green and Noah’s canter is still a little disorganized. It’s getting better thanks to his rider, Alicia, but it’s not confirmed yet.”

Jeff looked disappointed.

But, I brought a trailer with me!


“Don’t worry. He’ll be yours. You two just need a little more experience. I want to send you both off with every chance of success. Besides I would like you to come back to tell your story with Noah beside you at our fundraiser, Sips ’n Saddles on September 19.”

“I can do that!” Jeff said.

“And your trailer won’t go back to Minnesota empty, either. There will be a horse in it in....just not Noah!”

Cheery bye,
Susanna




Sunday, November 16, 2014

Noah’s Decision


“Jeff was in there a really long time,” Nick told me when the Minnesota titans came back to the MMSC the next day.

“He was,” I said, remembering Jeff’s relentless drive to get Noah.

“The three of us were watching from the truck and figured that so long as a little blond woman didn’t come flying through the window, things were going okay!”

I laughed. “Your brother doesn’t like to give up!”

“Yeah,” Nick agreed with a chuckle. “He’s pretty persistent when he sets his mind on something.”

“I can see that. I am convinced that he is too big and too green for Noah, but in the end, I figured we ought to see what Noah thinks before I sent you all packing back to Minnesota.”

“Good deal!”

Hmmm, I thought. We’ll see. I didn’t expect any miracles. I was convinced that Noah would show Jeff quickly what a crazy whim it was to adopt him.

Jeff couldn’t wait to see Noah and made a beeline for his stall.

“I’m back, buddy!” he called to him through the stall bars. Nick, Nick’s fiancé Jessie, and Jeff’s girlfriend Lauren stood in the grooming aisle, while Jeff crooned on.

“OK. Here’s the deal,” I announced. “Horses are prey animals. They protect themselves by fight or flight. They are safer in groups, thus the herd is organized in a hierarchy. Jeff, we are going to put you and Noah at liberty in a round pen together and we will look for two things. 1. Can you communicate with him? And 2. Can you get him to respect you? Ready?”

“You bet!” said Jeff, who practically danced out to the round pen on his toes he was so excited. 

I led Noah into the round pen and turned him loose. He ambled off, smelled the remnant droppings, then went to the wall and looked out at his buddies in the paddocks beyond. I handed Jeff a carrot stick (a 4-foot long stick with 2-foot rope attached used to direct a horse without touching it) and launched into what I thought was a precise offense of words explaining how to use it.  

“You’re on your own,” I said and stepped out of the round pen.

Jeff shot me a look that reminded me of my own son the first day I left him at kindergarten, the kind of doubting expression that pierced my heart.

“Hey, buddy,” Jeff said turned towards Noah. Noah glanced at him briefly then trotted away. 

“Noah, my man. C’mere!”

Noah ignored him.

I had to help Jeff! So I gave him more instructions. Jeff tried, but was lumbering. Then a light when off in my brain. As a football player, Jeff’s primary language was physical, not verbal!

“Hold on! Hold on!” I said as I came through the gate into the round pen.  “Here’s what we’re going to do. You and Noah are on one team. I am on the opposing one. Like a quarterback, you have to call the plays and get Noah to work with you. Except that it’s different. I am Team PUMA, and if I get to Noah before you do, I eat him. That’s how it works in the prey-predator world. Get it?”

Jeff nodded.

“Ready! GO!” and I dashed at Noah’s hind end and tried to herd him in the direction of my choice. Jeff deftly cut me off, sending Noah cantering in the other direction. So I flipped around and came at Noah from another direction. But again Jeff was quicker than me.   

Breathless, I stopped. Jeff did too and Noah walked right up beside him. 

“Guess it’s kinda crazy of me to think I could outrun an NFL player, eh?”

Jeff gave me a huge, Shrek-like grin.

“OK.  See if Noah will follow you now. Don’t look at him, just walk away.”

Jeff did, walking slow then fast, changing directions, starting and stopping. Noah was right behind him every step of the way.


“Ok. Time to tack him up!”

“You’re gonna let me ride him?”

“Yup. You passed the first test. Let’s see what Noah says when you are on his back.” I was certain that Noahs behavior under saddle would change Jeffs mind. To set the stage, I asked Lauren, a very accomplished rider, to ride Noah first. It didnt take her long to agree with my conviction that Noah was the wrong horse for Jeff. 

It was Jeffs turn. I put Noah on a lead rope and commissioned Catherine and Lauren to follow close by. We went over to the mounting block. “You’re going to take care of me buddy, right?” Jeff said to Noah.


Jeff awkwardly climbed onto Noah. Although he sat with an exemplary straight back, his toes were pointing down, and his hands were held high and out before him if he were water skiing.

I was glad I was at the end of the rope as I expected Noah, ever willing to move forward FAST, would lurch into a rapid trot and leave the top heavy Jeff behind in the dust. But Noah did nothing of the kind. His ears flipped back and forth as if trying to comprehend the incoming signals, and when he couldn’t get the information he needed, he did something very uncharacteristic - he stopped.

I gave Jeff a few pointers and in a few minutes I felt comfortable in unhooking the lead rope. Nonetheless I stayed close, just in case. Jeff did his utmost to steer, turn, stop.  How Noah made sense of the cacophony of conflicting messages, I’ll never know.  What I do know is he was a perfect gentleman!

I kept giving Jeff explanations of where to put his hands, legs, seat, and weight, but Jeff would overdo every action that I requested, leaning too much, striving too hard, making too drastic a change. 

“Jeff, get off that horse and let me show you something,” I said. “Now this is going to be very unconventional, but as you are so in tune with your body, I figure that this will be the most effective way to get my point across. Pop down on all fours, please!”

“Huh?”

“Yes, all fours, I am going to let you feel what Noah feels.” So Catherine held Noah, and Lauren, who was in the arena with me to keep Jeff safe, stepped aside.

Jeff was so tall on all fours, that when I straddled his back, I still had to stand on tip toes.  

“It’s really simple. A horse will move under your weight,” and I moved my hips, shoulders and head alternatively to the right then the left. “Feel that? Good. Which way are my hips turned now? My shoulders? My head?”

Jeff answered correctly every time.  

“Good. Now let me show you how to stop a horse with your seat alone,” and a squeezed my thighs tight.

“Whoa! For a little lady you are strong!!” he sputtered as I held his rib cage in a firm grip.

I popped off of him. “A horse is so sensitive that one rarely has to squeeze that hard. I just wanted to be clear about how effective you can be without the use of reins. Now get back on.”

And so he did. And in a matter of moments, his riding was transformed. He was both lighter and more effective with his seat. His heels went down. His leg fell into alignment with his upper body.


“You want to try trotting?”

“Sure!” and without further ado he nudged Noah into a trot. I held my breath and followed closely, expecting Noah to feel the unbalance and break into a canter. To my surprise, Noah trotted steadily and calmly, stepping beneath his cargo when Jeff teetered a bit.

“Try a circle.”

And they circled.

“Change direction. Rise up and down with every beat, that’s called posting.”

It was amazing to watch. Jeff was a brilliant natural athlete. But more startling still was Noah. He trotted around as if he were carrying the King of England.  Proud. His neck gently arched even on a light rein. His ears pricked. 

“That’ll do,” I called. “Go in and work with the girls to untack him and turn him out and after that come into my office and talk to me, please,” I told him.

About twenty minutes later he knocked on my door.

“So can I have him?”

“No.”

“NO! Why not? Didn’t I do ok? Do you think Noah didn’t like me?”

“You did fine and Noah loved you. I am truly surprised in both instances.”

“So?”

“You’ve jumped through my hoop and Noah’s too but you have two more hoops to clear successfully.”

“And those would be?”

“The first is I have to get the owner’s permission. Noah is extremely dear to her. She wants the very best for him. Because you convinced me to let you try, and because Noah accepted you, I am willing to approach her, but only under certain conditions.

“Which are?”

“1. You go back to Minnesota and ride five times a week, taking three lessons a week under the instructor that I approve of.

2. You read the books that I assign you.

3. You call me every Sunday to tell me what you have learned and how your lessons are going.”

“Done!” he said enthusiastically.

“And there’s another thing. You are too heavy. They say that a horse should only carry about 20% of its weight, so with tack your total weight should be around 220 pounds. Now there is leeway with that number depending on the amount of bone the horse has, the length of its back, the condition and fitness level its in, the athletic endeavor you chose to pursue, the age of the horse, and of course, its attitude and heart. Nevertheless, taking all those variables under consideration, you have to make a concerted effort to lose weight - 25 to 50 pounds.  Are you willing to do that too?”

“I will do whatever I have to do to get Noah,” Jeff said quietly.

“Even take up belly dancing?”

“Belly dancing?”

“You are incredibly stiff in your pelvis and hips. To be a good rider you need fluidity and range of motion in those areas.”

“Yeah…right.”

“It’s just a suggestion,” I said with a smile. “But seriously you need to do stretches. Maybe do some yoga. You are really tight in your lower back. Now, it’s July 9. Can you come back in about six weeks to show me what you have learned?

“Nick and Jessie are getting married in late August, so I’ll try to come before then.”

“Good,” I said, and on an impulse I added, “Here, take this shoe of Noah’s that I keep on my desk for inspiration. If and when it comes time for you to adopt Noah, you can give me the shoe back. If you aren’t able to adopt him, you get to keep the shoe.”

“You’ll get the shoe back,” he said with steely determination.

“We’ll see,” I answered, cocking my head to one side and evaluating him with narrowed eyes. “We will see. Remember you have two very tight hoops still to jump through. So…” I rummaged through the top drawer of my desk. “Here’s a four left clover for you. Good luck! You’ll need it.”
Cheery bye,

Susanna