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, or

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Second Annual Sips ’N Saddles

You haven’t heard from me in two weeks. If you read my last blog you know why: Blitzkrieg! I have only overseen two big parties in my life: My own wedding and the first Sips ’N Saddles last year. Both of those were wonderful and flawed. I had hoped that number three would be the charm. No goofs or glitches. Big crowd. Impressive demo. Amazing food, drink, music. Time to visit with every guest.  Lots of money raised for the cause. In short…perfect.

But like a race horse that stumbles out of the gate, I had had a bad start. The perfect band, booked months before, dropped out three weeks before the party. And two other well established horse themed fundraisers for very worthy causes were being held that same night. We had sent out five hundred invitations already. Who would come to Sips ’N Saddles #2?  Should we cancel? I asked the board.

“ABSOLUTELY NOT!” came the response. 

Marching orders received, I flung myself into battle. I worked long days for three weeks straight—including Sunday, September 14 when I normally I would have written a blog entry.  The next Sunday, September 21, just 30 hours post party, my spirit was willing to attempt a blog post, the flesh,  however, was hopeless. Instead, I self medicated with a prescription of my mother’s old Russian hairdresser, Zaneida— a  “vwee-spat-sa” order. This prescription calls for the following:
  • A prior declaration to all in your family that to restore your mind, body, and soul, you have to “fill yourself up utterly with sleep.” You are not to be disturbed. But you are to be served should you need something.
  • Sleepwear attire: P.J.s, nightgowns, oversized T shirts, or nothing at all. Your choice. 
  • All day napping alternated with reading. Preferably no TV or talking on the phone.
  • No blog writing.
I highly recommend vwee-spats-ing, generally several times a year, most especially after a blitzkrieg effort (such as Christmas, for example). It works.

My silence thusly explained, let me sum up the party for you:

Angels come in all ages such as beloved
Enid and Tom...
The weather could not have been more spectacular. Mid 70s. Cloudless, cerulean skies. A little breeze. The tent placement, parallel to the arena this year, was ideal. The Holly Hill Inn catering coordinator Donna and her staff worked with the precision and fluidity of a Swiss watch preparing the food and drink, serving it silently and seamlessly. A legion of angels arrived from far flung places, (Minnesota, New York,Virginia, to name a few) to help. They were of all ages (high school students to retirees) and surged to the fore to do anything necessary: setting up tables, stuffing gift bags, grooming horses, vacuuming the office, bundling up carrots for the horses, sorting tickets and more.I was humbled by the outpouring of assistance, but sadly, I didn’t have any time to savor it. Before I knew it, I had to shed my dirty jeans, toss some water on my dust streaked face, slap on some make up, and slip into clean clothes. Show time!
and species! Stanley (and his jockey) brought good cheer
and kisses to all!
Guests were greeted at the door by handsome young valets to park their cars and pretty servers holding trays with bubbling glasses of Kentucky “champagne,” (Makers with apple cider). They streamed through the office, to the outside tent, where the bluegrass band, Newtown, played songs about Kentucky, horses, heartbreak and bourbon. There were games to play, and horses in the barn to visit.
I couldn’t resist getting my picture taken with all the handsome swains of X-Press Valet!
Take your cookies when they are passed! I say!

The demonstration illustrated the facets of the Horse Centered Reschooling Program®.  Horses were good… and bad. Some bucked and shied, as young horses will do. Some had jitters, too. But all behaviors were welcomed as a way of describing what we do and how we do it as well as the issues we face, and the solutions we have to come up with to reschool these horses so they can go on to second careers. We bomb proofed the horses dressing them up in costumes and took them over obstacles.

We showed off a hunter prospect, a dressage prospect, a polo pony prospect, a Western pleasure prospect. A former adopter brought back her horse that she is training for eventing. One seasoned campaigner, Bordeaux Bandit, a nine year old gelding which last raced the May, was ridden bareback, with a rope around his neck.  

Having the Ians--Ian Cole of Darby Dan (left) and my son Ian Thomas (right) and my husband Jim and daughter-in-law Elaine (not pictured) as well as
dear friend and Hall of Fame Jockey Patty Cooksey (right) at Sips N’Saddles 2 were
highlights of the party for me
Bids were made at the silent auction and over 40 items were purchased. The live auction was successful too, raising for us twice as much money as it did last year. At party’s end, gift bags were handed out. Guests left in good cheer.

So all, in all, it was a big success! So many things went well. But perfect?… No. There were glitches and goofs for sure. Just different glitches and goofs from last year. I made notes so 
Board member Louise Riggio (second from left) and friends

we don’t repeat them at Sips ’N Saddles 2015. The next day, I checked in with board members to get their take on things and their suggestions for improvements. I made more notes. So be it. Good. But not perfect. But, as Zaneida, my mother’s Russian hair dresser always says ”Perfection is death.” Zaneida knows her stuff. I need to remember that.

This said, there was an absolutely perfect moment in the day. I was zooming around campus , in the barn out of the barn, to the tent beyond the tent, talking to the caterer, the light men, the volunteers, Tony my Tiger about the arena and the campus, the sound system, Cat-erine about the horses, the demo, the demo props, to office manager Lori about the innumerable unexpected things cropping up at the last minute. Zipping and buzzing, tired I blitzed into the office and almost tripped over a small  bespectacled man in a wheel chair waiting in the foyer.

I stopped and focused on his face. I knew it well. I seen it in newspapers and books a lot. Since 1973, in fact. I had met him twice before. The last time was four years ago at the World Equestrian Games.

“MR. TURCOTTE!!!!,” I exclaimed.  

He looked up at me, smiled, and opened up his arms for a hug.

“I have to be at the Secretariat Festival in Bourbon County tonight.  But I thought I’d come by to check up on you, Susanna, and to wish you luck with your party tonight.”

I was flabbergasted.  Ron Turcotte! Secretariat’s jockey! He remembered me! He made time before the Secretariat Festival in Bourbon County to visit and show his support for the MMSC!

“Oh, THANK YOU!” I said, hugging him. THANK YOU!"

That, my friends, is better than perfect.  

That is GRACE. 

Cheery bye,

Ron Turcotte with the MMSC stature of Secretariat

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Blitzkrieg.  That’s what my first week back after vacation was like. 
We all know that returning to work after time off is like an oafish airplane landing. You hit the tarmac unwittingly, slam bouncing hard, brakes straining, tires screaming. It’s not comfortable or reassuring. You wonder how long the pilot has been flying for a living. Clearly, not long, you conclude. Thank God you’re on the ground!

Blitzkrieg or “lightening war,” is a term coined by the Germans in World War II. It was the name for a sudden fierce military attack of coordinated land and air force offensives designed to stun and quell the opponent. (Millennials think “Shock and Awe” tactics in the US-Iraq war of 2003.) You come in fast and from a variety of directions. You hit hard. You wipe out quickly. (Or so you  hope!)

Anticipating an onslaught of memos, phone calls, invoices, and requests facing me on my first day back from Maine, I decided to make a preemptive strike. I returned to Kentucky on a Saturday and fired up my computer. With fifteen  hours of MMSC counter offensive efforts logged in before I even set foot in the office on Tuesday, I assumed I had a decent handle on the situation.

One should know better at my age. Those who ASS-ume prove themselves to be just that. Self assured donkeys. The stack of papers that faced me on my desk made me draw a quick breath. I had expected the usual stuff: Adoption applications, profit and loss reports, phone messages, donations to record and acknowledge. I also knew with the final quarter of our season drawing nigh, and our annual fundraiser, Sips ’N Saddles on the September horizon, that my “to do” list would be in balloon phase. I didn't anticipate it being Hindenburg size, however and fit to burst.

“Where’s Tony?” I asked our office manager, Lori, noticing that our farm manager and his circumspect dog, Tank, weren’t anywhere in sight.

“He announced that he was taking some time off this week,” Lori said.

Hmm. Does one announce things like that? I didn’t remember his asking for time off? How could I have missed that?

Lori stated that she, too, needed to vamoose. Knowing how she always gives 110% and knowing that she had some stressful things going on at home and espying her frazzled expression, all I could do was sputter, “Ok,” forgetting when I did so the upcoming Monday was Labor Day and the day after that was a board meeting. Clearly I was not fighting fit.

The next day, the reality of having 50% of my platoon MIA, hit me full force. My infantry was gone too: Interns had gone back to college. Volunteers too. Summertime was over. The air smelled of September. I had forgotten how quickly the fall lobs itself upon us.

It’s hard to get from A to B on a day  even when fully staffed (me; Lori the office manager; Catherine the barn and media manager; and Tony the campus and farm manger). Slice the staff in two. Subtract the interns as well as our head rider, Carolyn, who was starting school, add four or five horses laid up with issues that require time consuming treatments and what you get is a very long day in action. As it is, you are lucky to get from A to a.

In addition to the depletion of troops, several fracas had taken place in my absence:
  1. The band that we had booked in May for our only annual fundraiser, Sips N’ Saddles on September 19 and which we touted on our invitations canceled.
  2. I found out that two other horsey fundraisers were occurring in Lexington on the night of Sips ’N Saddles. One to raise money for cancer research, colloquially named “the Betsy” after a beloved local horsewoman who lost her life too soon to this malicious disease, and the other celebrating... guess who? SECRETARIAT!!!!


I remember learning about the term blitzkrieg from my Dad. He is a biographer and historian. He also was in the Navy. He has written about many wars in his numerous books. Inherently, battle tactics don’t float my boat, but when my Dad talks or writes about them, I am on board. That’s because he wields the written and spoken word with force. As a child I remember watching his eyes narrow and focus as if zeroing in on an important target when talking about battles of yesteryear. His jaw tensed as his lips launched a fusillade of precise words. I marveled at his blitzkrieg use of language!

My mother could unleash an offensive like that too, but her tactics were different. She could fell an audience with her deployment of charm, humor, and metaphor. Her critics during her Reagan years complained that she left the President in a romantic haze after their debriefings. I don’t doubt it.  As a story teller, she could blow Scheherazade away.

With the examples of my parents very much in mind throughout that intense first week back, I inventoried the present campus assets I had to work with: Catherine; Britanny a former intern who stepped to the plate to volunteer when she could; Jackie, who signed up for a leadership project this semester; the MMSC board; local fans and well-wishers; my ability to strategize, and I, hoped, a fledging talent for blitzkrieg English myself, that was perhaps genetically predetermined, although more likely acquired by osmosis at home. Clearly we had resources and could and would fight back.

And we did. We attacked and cleared out the piles on my desk. We got the horses treated and trained. We welcomed all visitors and adopters. We attended all meetings on the schedule. We booked a new band. We sent out another 300 Sips N Saddles invitations to people we had overlooked on the first mailing. We made new improved plans for our life-blood fundraiser, and I know it will be more fun than ever! We prepared for and had a good board meeting. We logged in many hours. (Which is why when grocery shopping on Labor Day weekend at 8PM, I found after unloading the top items in my cart that all the rest were not mine! I wonder who got my stuff--heavy on the gluten/lactose free stuff-- poor soul?!)  Forget about weekend time or Labor Day, but with intense effort we survived. Not only that, we thrived.


How so? 

Because in life when under assault, we get turned upside down. We have to rethink our priorities,  redirect our efforts and reach out for help. We grow stronger.

I am not a fan of blitzkrieg attacks, but for these reasons, I do acknowledge that they can be instrumental in the long run. 

So what would happen, I ask you, if we all took a “blitzkrieg” approach to solving the aftercare issue? We could join forces and launch a brilliant offensive from the ground (those of us in the trenches who care for-literally and figuratively Thoroughbreds) and from on high (the industry leaders themselves). Would we win the war for the Unwanted Horse?

It’s something to think about. And, I hope, someday to work towards.

Cheery bye,

Sunday, August 31, 2014


On the 8th of August, you might remember that I had a meeting with my colleagues in the area who are in the unwanted horse/rescue/rehab/retraining and adoption business (Concentric Circles,  August 11). The first hour we shared and delineated our struggles: Funding woes, injured horses, lack of education both of when to retire horses and how to retrain them, and a strong bias against mares. It’s the latter I want to talk about today-MARES. Why the bias?  True or false? If true, can it be fixed?  If false, what can we do to dispel it?  What’s been my experience with mares?

Oh, that’s a lot of ground to cover! The gist, I suppose, is yes, I have run into that bias. Mares are much harder to adopt out than geldings as a rule. (Stallions are not allowed at the MMSC.) The general perception is that mares are more difficult to train than geldings because they are moodier (they go into heat every 17-18 days),  more sensitive, and more territorial. 

That can be true.  But some mares are very even keel, patient, and kind. Some geldings, moreover, can be egotistical rogues or fickle divas. The reality is that each horse has its own “horse-ona” (as opposed to persona) which is why training is so ceaselessly fascinating. The variations of  equine temperaments and behaviors are infinite. That said, I would agree, that very generally speaking, mares can be challenging to train as they can be quicker studies than geldings, tend to get their feelings hurt faster, and are slower to forgive. They also can be extremely defensive about their territory. Like mothers of all species, they are hard wired to be titans when it comes to protecting their young.

I was once in a psychologist’s waiting room, and I peeked over the counter and spied a cartoon, entitled Human Brain Hard Wiring tacked to the wall above the officer manager’s desk.  On the left was a picture of a simple on/off light switch the caption underneath which read “his.” On the right was a drawing of the control panel of a jet airliner. That caption read “hers.”

The brain hard wiring in horses is similar. It would need a third illustration however, one for geldings, the castrated males. It, too, would be a light switch. But it would come with a dimmer. Stallions can be a like handling an unruly laser beam. You have to know what you are doing when you are around a stallion. How to train it. How to deal with its libido. How to keep the peace, at all costs. Mares can be like dealing with fire. So given the fact that horses weigh a lot, are super strong, and their defensive mechanisms are flight then fight all of which make them dangerous to mere measly humans, it is not surprising that geldings, whose spectrum of reproductive behaviors has been dimmed, are more attractive candidates for adoption. 
So, you might wonder if I ever take in mares into the MMSC program? You bet! While they may be slower to move, it has been my experience that a good mare is priceless. It’s sort of like that verse in Proverbs 31:

A good wife (read “mare”) is hard to find and worth far more than diamonds.
Her husband (read “human”) trusts her without reserves and never has reason to regret it.

 Hope, my first horse
My first horse was a mare. For as long as I can remember, I had wanted a horse. Starting at a very young age, I asked for one every Christmas and birthday and had to hide my disappointment in the well intentioned gifts of horse calendars and horse books I received instead. My parents who were intellectuals (i.e. resided in ivory towers and not in stables or barns) and writers (i.e. meaning a family financial diet of feast or famine), had neither the understanding nor the discretionary income to realize their daughter’s aspiration. When I graduated from college, I went to work in New York City, where I languished until I got up the gumption to follow my dream and find a way to live with horses. I ended up in Kentucky, and within the first year, was given my first horse, a 15.1 two year old Thoroughbred filly. She was green broke. Her one saving grace was that she was a bay, not a chestnut. As the physical incarnation of my unwavering belief in having a horse of my own one day, I named her “Hope.”

Hope made me see stars—figuratively at first, literally, a little later.  She was my beacon that called me morning and night to feed her, care for her, ride her. She was my “Dulcinea,” that inspired me to improve my riding and to quest for money by freelance writing about horses in addition to my day job on the breeding farm so that I could buy her things, pay for lessons, clinics, and horse shows.  She was my inspiration, my responsibility, my confidante, my handkerchief, my B.F.F.  

My B.F.F.
She also put me in the hospital. Nobody witnessed the first bad accident. It was speculated that while riding out alone, we hit a slick patch of ground. She fell and kicked me in the head whilst scrambling to get up. I don’t remember this as I was severely concussed. Thank goodness I had had a forboding dream the prior night, and so for the first time ever when riding her, I donned a helmet before heading out on that ride. That portent saved my life.

Hope was handy, quick, and athletic. She was also sensitive, temperamental, and down right witchy every 18 days when she started to develop a follicle and came into heat. She discovered all kinds of  incredible maneuvers to unseat me, the most creative of which was  crouching low and darting out from underneath me, her head suddenly replaced before me by her rump, leaving me, in karate stance on the ground, horseless.

She came up with new ideas on a seemingly daily basis to communicate to me who was in charge of our little herd of two. She pranced, she jigged, she bucked, she baulked, she paced and cross cantered, pinned her ears and clamped her tail. My friends dubbed her “HOPE-less.” And throughout it all, I loved her and learned…a lot. 

Hope gave me an uncanny sense of balance as a rider. She taught me to break requests into pieces and to ask for and to work towards one positive outcome at a time. Make the right way easy and the wrong way hard, she said. She taught me that it is more important to listen than to talk, that force and bullying result in resistance and resentment, that being in the NOW is the only state of being that means anything. It’s in the present that we can make changes, find our joy, and make our cherished memories.

Happy memories
Despite the many, many mistakes I made with Hope, she put up with me, assuming the role of teacher, disciplinarian, coach, advocate, and devoted friend. I think only a mare can multitask like that. 

These days, when I look for horses for the MMSC, I look for soundness first, then, saneness, and then sex. Last I look for “pretty.”  Mares are slower to find homes but they do go in time. Nobody wants an ugly horse male or female.

This summer, we have been working with two mares Tidings (top) and You Jest (below). Tidings is a cute, compactly built  15. 2 hand four year old. Like Hope was, Tidings is agile and quick, temperamental and opinionated. She gets cysts on her ovaries when she’s in heat and she makes the world know all about them. She has a healthy sense of self, is balanced on her feet, can turn on a dime, swap leads, speed up and slow down in a nano second. If she were a person, my guess is that she would excel on the New York Stock Exchange floor. As a horse, however, I think polo is the right field for her.

Suzanne Farell
You Jest came from the North American Racing Academy where she acted for the last few years as a teacher to aspiring jockeys. Her life, while not as demanding as if she were actually racing, was not all that different. She galloped on the track, breezing every few days, breaking from the gate. Riders perched high over her back but crouched low behind the neck, making a cross with the reins and taking a firm hold on the bit. “Jess” is tall and rangy. Her longed legged strides are metronome even, and mesmerizingly smooth. She is always genial and keen to please. She will offer her best even when she doesn’t understand or is in pain. You never know when she is in heat. Jess is a combination of the peerlessly lovely ballerina of yesteryear Suzanne Farrell (right) blended with the compassionate Florence Nightingale. Jess could be competitive in a new job, but where she always will excel, no matter what she does, is being somebody’s best friend. 

So mares or geldings? Which is preferable? Who knows. It’s like salt or pepper, night or day, Yin or Yang. We are blessed with both. And it always works out when we bring a horse into our lives for all the right reasons—to learn, to grow in both our horsemanship and in our humanity—the perfect horse will appear for us, whatever sex it may be.

Cheery bye, 
The great race mare Zenyatta

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,

Monday, August 11, 2014


“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 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, 


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 hes a wonderful horse!


“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,