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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Racing in the Blood: Joe and Dandy

Most adopters come to the MMSC seeking a horse that can be an ambassador for the breed in a new equestrian discipline at any level from Pony Club to to the Olympics. Occasionally, however, we get a few like Joe Buscher. Joe wasn’t looking for a competition horse. He liked what he had heard about our program. It tickled him that we were in Lexington, the Thoroughbred Horse Capital of the World. And he was impressed that we had Secretariat in our name, one of the greatest racehorses in the twentieth century. Joe came to us because he had racing in his blood.

Busher, 1945 Horse of the Year
Born into a family who had deep roots in Thoroughbred industry, Joe’s grandfather, Joseph Henry Buscher,was a widely respected trainer in Louisiana who lived with his wife Josephine two short blocks from the Fair Grounds Race Track in New Orleans. When his grandfather dropped dead on the backstretch from a heart attack in the early 1940s, the track’s owner at the time, Colonel E.R. Bradley named a yearling filly, Busher, in his honor. Busher was Champion two year old filly of 1944; and Champion three year old filly, Champion Handicap Mare, and Horse of the Year in 1945. She was elected to the US Racing Hall of Fame in 1964 and is ranked fortieth in The Blood Horse’s Top 100 Race Horses of the 20th Century.

Joe’s maternal step grandfather Alva Troutt was a trainer, as were Alva’s two brothers, Noble and Clyde. Joe’s grandmother, Edith, was a cook at the track kitchen. Joe’s father worked for a time in the mail room at the Fair Grounds, and his uncles, Bob and Vern, worked as grooms and exercise boys for Marion Van Berg and Warren Wright. Joe’s childhood memories include hearing the mid-stretch call of the races from his grandparents’ porch; climbing the patrol tour with his Grandpa Troutt to watch the races; visiting his grandmother in the track kitchen; meeting jockeys and trainers;
and hanging out in the stables. He read the racing results in the paper every day. He watched every race he could on television. His mother, who worked at a book store, often brought him The Blood Horse and the Daily Racing Form to read.

Despite the deep family involvement in racing, however, none of his relatives was keen to see young Joe follow in their footsteps. “They all did everything they could do to keep me away from a career at the track,” says Joe.

The first in his family to finish high school and to attend college, Joe studied accounting at Southeastern Louisiana University and graduated in 1970. He worked as a CPA in New Orleans, was chief financial officer for three Louisiana hospitals, and then was general manager for New Orleans
City Park.

But racing was still in his blood. So throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he had racehorses that ran mostly in Louisiana at the Fair Grounds, Jefferson Downs, Evangeline Downs and Delta Downs. He won a few and lost a lot. Eventually, when he couldn’t take the heart break and the expenses any more, he got out of the business. He and his wife moved to Tennessee leaving Thoroughbreds and the racetrack behind.

They bought 45 acres and named it Buscher Ranch. They built a barn, and put up fencing. They got some pleasure horses, none of them Thoroughbreds. Until one day, when Joe heard about the need for loving forever homes for off track Thoroughbreds. This got his blood racing again. He came to the MMSC shortly thereafter, looking for a Thoroughbred to care for and love.

Dandy's first ride at the MMSC
One of the requirements we have at the MMSC is for the future adopter to come to the MMSC to try the horse/s of interest to see if the fit is right. It may seem like a silly practice. But the horse should have its say in the matter. Besides, it makes good fiscal sense, for if the horse doesn’t get along with the adopter, it will be returned to the MMSC, guaranteed. Another reason for this practice is that quite often, when potential adopters come, they end up going home with a completely different horse than the one that originally piqued their interest on line. It’s a karma thing.

Joe came to the MMSC besotted with Studio Time, a gray gelding we had had on campus for awhile. But I told him that before he stepped in the barn, he might want to start with baby books to get some background on the horses that we had available that might suit him.

“Will you look at this!!!” he exclaimed as he studied Dandy’s Noble’s book. “Storm Cat! Blushing Groom! Raise A Native! Roberto! Bold Ruler! Nijinsky II! Majestic Prince! This mare is ROYALLY bred!”

Dandy's Noble at 1 week old
Indeed, Dandy’s Noble was royally bred. She was a lovely mover, had a huge hind end, and was sensible and kind to boot, all qualities that would have made her a nice event horse. But Joe wasn’t looking for that. He wanted a horse that he and his daughter could practice their Natural Horsemanship with and to trail ride English or Western. They looked at several MMSC horses and rode a few, even Studio Time. But it was Dandy, with her smarts, good looks, and willingness to please that won them over. She seemed happy with them too.

Recently I checked in with Joe to see how Dandy and he were faring in this wretched weather we have all been battling. Dandy is doing better than Joe. She gets brought in at night to a clean stall and is turned out every morning, is fed twice a day, gets blanketed, pampered and tons of love. Joe, on the other hand, is weary of breaking ice, mucking stalls, having numb fingers, cold toes, and aching older joints.

He doesn’t have to do this. With eight other pleasure horses, he certainly didn’t have to take on another horse, and a Thoroughbred to boot!

So, why?

Joe and Dandy
“I love the heart, determination, athleticism, and competitiveness of the Thoroughbred. This mare ran at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga, not Delta Downs, Evangeline, and the Fair Grounds! She won her second race in New York and led every step of the way against other top horses. She has Majestic Prince, the 1969 Derby winner, and one of my most favorite horses, Secretariat, and Native Dancer in her blood lines! She’s a horse I could only dream of having. I believe God created the Thoroughbred to be one of his most noble and elegant beings. I feel honored to walk in my barn and see this wonderful Thoroughbred every day.”

Ah yes! Joe has racing in his blood!

Cheery bye,


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Melissa and Fly

On January 18, I  had the honor of being the guest of Melissa DeCarlo Recknor, former Adoptions and Volunteer Coordinator at the MMSC, and her wonderful husband, Russell at the Mid South Eventing Association year end awards dinner. Melissa had earned first place in beginner novice senior horse trial division and second place in beginner novice senior combined test with her MMSC graduate, Fly Lite.

Melissa and Russell

I wanted to be at the ceremony to show my appreciation for what Melissa and Fly had done together to raise awareness about the MMSC specifically and about the athleticism and value of off track Thoroughbreds in general. I also wanted to be there to show my admiration for her commitment to a tough and talented little mare. 

When Melissa (or “M” as I often called her) approached me in the late summer of 2009 about adopting Fly Lite, the small (15.1 on a good day) and willful nine year old chestnut by Fly Til Dawn out of Feodalite, I thought for a bit and meted out my response carefully. 

Fly always knows where her admirers are.

“If you do that, M, be prepared. Fly will make you cry. She’ll make you mad. She’ll tax your patience. You’ll want to give up on her, and if you do, that would be ok. But if you stick with her, she’ll teach things that take several lifetimes to learn as a horseman and as a human being. And if you want to show her, it will take about three years before she settles and you truly see results as a team.”

Melissa came to the MMSC in 2008 first as a volunteer. When she graduated in from the College of Music at the University of Kentucky the following May, I hired her to help in the barn and the office. I liked what I had seen:  She was a smart, quick, talented, compact bundle of spitfire with a ton of heart, like Fly Lite in two legged form.

Fly came to the MMSC before Melissa with a checkered past and an uncertain future. After a short bit in training at the track, but not showing promise, she was sold as a sport horse.  She proved to be a challenge there as well and landed, at age five, at the New Holland auction in February 2005, a sobering destiny ahead.

Enter Jo Deibel director of Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue who is the regular and indefatigable angel of mercy for so many horses who end up in these dire straights. She noticed Fly’s cute face and clean legs, and using Fly’s tattoo, located her breeder, Barbara Rickline. Together she and Barb rescued Fly and placed her with friends in the racing industry to see if maybe Fly wanted to be a racehorse after all. Alas, she didn’t. ( 

So Barb and Jo found an adopter, who after two years of dealing with Fly’s authoritarian attitude and antics, felt that maybe New Holland was the right route for the feisty little mare after all. Once again, however, Deibel stepped in, this time contacting the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and pressing for a solution. Because the MMSC was managed by the TRF at the time, Fly arrived at the MMSC in November of 2007.

When I became director in 2008, I inherited a band of tough horses. I had a chronic rearer, a bolter, a malcontent that bit, struck out, and had broken one MMSC volunteer’s arm. There were  several unthrifty, nervous and mistrusting horses right off the track, and then there was Fly. 

Petite and well proportioned with a copper coat that gleamed like a newly minted penny, Fly had “mojo.” The best thing about her, however was her eye, a clear window to a “horse-ona” that bespoke of  a smart, self possessed individual that was several steps ahead of the crowd, and yes, “creative” in the sense that she was always assessing her impact on those around her. Think DIVA with a political sense, i.e. the love child of Hilary Clinton and Lady Gaga.
Riding her was an experience. She was agile as a cat, sensitive and reactive, and because of her conformation, quite naturally balanced. She also could jump… if and when she wanted. Impatient, high strung, and unwilling to suffer fools AT ALL, Fly had to have an ever changing scenario of requests and challenges. If not, she’d toss her head, pace, pull, or as a last resort, dump you. No endless drilling of leg yields or cavalletti for her. If you wanted to get along with her, it had to be interesting and it had to be on her terms.

Fly got adopted that summer to a lovely person and a good rider but unfortunately was returned to the MMSC about the time we were shutting down for the winter. I put her in a foster home and decided that I’d have to be even more selective about her adopter when she came back in the spring.

Melissa was the protege of an A show hunter barn in New York. She rode with impeccable form. The trouble was she didn’t understand the “function” part of the equation "form follows function," and wasn't well versed in how to use her seat, legs, and hands to train a horse, especially not a hot Thoroughbred mare. And she was scared to ride outside of a ring.
Melissa and Fly in 2009

I had tried to steer Melissa towards a young, affable gelding, something reliable and steady, a horse that might make a nice show hunter down the road. I thought his temperament would be a compliment to her ever  percolating, exacting one. But as I said earlier, although M is small in stature, she’s a titan in spirit, and when she decides to do something, one had best get out of her way!  Physically, she and Fly were a well matched, eye catching elegant pair. Temperamentally they were very similar, which could be the best thing that ever happened to Melissa (to Fly, too, for that matter), for, we only can truly ride our horses once we intimately know and have trained our difficult selves.  This is one of the great gifts that horses give to us. On the other hand, the two of them had all the ingredients necessary for the perfect storm. It was clearly a match made in heaven, but I suspected that there would be a whole lot of hell to go through to get there. It occurred to me that if Melissa was really going to adopt her equine alter ego, I had to do something to help them survive each other.

So I proposed that Fly become the MMSC mascot.
Fly, as mascot, loved greeting MMSC visitors.
Melissa had done a lot of showing and was interested in doing more. MMSC horses came and went to new homes so quickly that we rarely had a chance to take them to the show ring which was unfortunate because we wanted to show off their versatility. It would be wonderful to have an MMSC ambassador.  I would pay all entry fees, and cover the costs of clinics too, to help the the pair get ahead. It was a win/win/win situation. M got to keep her horse at the MMSC and ride it during working hours. The MMSC had a very pretty horse and rider team that would be regularly seen off campus promoting our program. I could keep an eye on both of them and make sure that the two didn’t implode.

Implode they did, however. There were outbursts of  frustrated tears and rage. There were refusals and low scores and humiliations and eliminations when they first started showing. My heart sank with every one of them. It was hard on Melissa. Fly didn’t look too happy either. I kept telling M that it took time to gain the experience and the trust, but if ever she felt she had hit a wall with Fly, it was ok move on to another horse. M turned a deaf ear to me and all other naysayers. She simply dug in and dedicated herself to Fly and to mastering her own fears and inadequacies as a horsewoman

Although at one point I know she found dressage arcane, she reconsidered her position, both mentally about the discipline as well as physically about her seat. She bought an excellent dressage saddle and learned to ride long and sit tall.

She took clinics and lessons. She  worked on her jumping and struggled to overcome her own fear of riding outside of a ring. She started trail riding. Then she started schooling cross country.  She had professional event rider, Lara Knight, ride Fly in her first two events. And, then, one day, Melissa evented herself. I watched their first cross country run with my heart in my throat and met M on the finish line, holding my breath.

"And? How was it?"  I asked nervously.

'THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN!," she exclaimed, breathlessly excited and smiling.  Fly, prancing and shaking her head with exuberance and pride, clearly loved the cross country experience as well.

When M left the MMSC to pursue a career in her chosen field of music, she found a wonderful trainer in Whitney Morris with whom she boards. Carefully and systematically Whitney continued to build both Melissa’s and Fly’s confidence and experience. With Whitney's vigilant daily guidance, the pair starting trusting each other, showing regularly and, slowly, the ribbons started to float in. You can look at her results below and see just how far they have come.  And there is no telling where these two will go now, either!

Seeing M’s big smile when she walked up to the dais at the MSEA was sight to savor. I knew from whence they had come. I had had a good idea about how arduous their journey was going to be. I witnessed many of their trials. If M had given up on Fly, I wouldn’t have blamed her. But she didn’t. I can say for sure that these awards represented an Olympic feat of determination, hard work, courage, and faith from both members of a  truly 
winning team. It’s the kind of story between a horse and her girl that inspires us all. 

Cheery bye, 


Melissa and Fly Lite
- USEF Silver Stirrup National Reserve Champion, BN
- USEF Silver Stirrup Zone Champion, BN
- USEA BN Amateur, 8th place
- USEA Area 8 BN Amateur, Reserve Champion
- USEA Area 8 BN Rider, 8th place
- USEA Area 8 BN horse, 9th place
- MSEDA BN Combined Tests, 3rd Place
- MSEDA BN Horse Trials, 3rd place
- Jockey Club TIP Award at the Kentucky Dressage Assoc. spring warm up show (May)

- USEF Silver Stirrup Zone Champion, BN
- USEF Silver Stirrup National 3rd place, BN
- USEA BN Amateur, 6th place
- USEA Area 8, BN Amateur, Champion
- USEA Area 8 high point thoroughbred champion
- Jockey Club TIP Award at the KY Dressage Assoc. fall classic (October)
- 7th Area 8 BN Championships
- Midsouth Eventing and Dressage Association (MSEDA) 1st Placed Beginner Novice Senior Horse Trials
- MSEDA 2nd place- beginner novice senior combined test
- Jockey Club TIP Performance Award Program- 1st place Beginner Novice Combined Test Division
-Volunter Jockey Club TIP Performance Award Program- 1st place Beginner Novice Eventing Division
- Jockey Club TIP Performance Award Program- 2nd place Combined Test Overall 
- Jockey Club TIP Performance Award Program- 4th place eventing overall

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Clandestine Pipe

“ Let me start by saying I owe you an apology” a very contrite Tony, MMSC farm manager, said to me over the phone.

I had just read the text that our barn manager Catherine had broadcast to Lori, office manager, Tony and me as I was heading out the door for my first day back at the MMSC after the holiday. 


“Apologize for what?” I responded, confused. 

“For the pipe bursting.”

“That’s your fault? It was a clandestine pipe!”

should have known about it! I am, after all, the farm manager.”

“Well, we don’t have any plans or drawings of the building in our files, so its understandable  you didn’t know.”

“But I should have gone into the rafters before.”

“I see, in all the free time you have during your work days at the MMSC? And are you going to blame yourself for the polar vortex too? If so, that seems a bit cheeky. Anyway, I'm on my way."

When I got to the Center, the cascade from my ceiling had ceased. Lori and Catherine were mopping the water up into buckets. Tony had gone to Lowe’s to get materials to fix the pipe.  

I sloshed through the foyer, checked out the flooded bathrooms and kitchen, looked soberly at Lori and Catherine’s work spaces, and braced myself for what I might find in my office.

I wasn’t worried about the furniture or the computer. Those losses would be regrettable but replaceable. It was the artwork I cared about:

  • A  Raoul Dufy racing poster from a Parisian art gallery that my mother had given me on my birthday many years ago. It has hung on walls throughout my life ever since. 
  • The photographs personalized to me and signed by George Morris and Secretariat’s exercise rider the late Jim Gaffney. 
  • Photographs, the negatives of which are long gone, that my sister had taken of places in Europe.
  • Artwork from my two sons.
I never tire of looking at these things. There are plenty of times when I feel disheartened, weary, overwhelmed, inadequate, and, well, that I just can’t face another day of MMSC challenges. That’s when I quietly close my door, rock back in my chair, and slowly scan the room. I examine each thing on my wall, willing my mind to be still and open to take in the impressions and emotions that they evoke. It’s a trip down memory lane where the scenery is always the same yet constantly different. I always come away settled, renewed, and inspired. To me, it’s a priceless collection.

Miraculously, however, the pipe ran over the quarter of my office that does not have much artwork on it  A quick visual sweep of the room assuaged my fears.

I climbed the ladder placed beneath the gaping hole in the ceiling to see what was under the roof. I saw the broken pipe running from the back of the building where the kitchen and bathrooms are over my office to the front the MMSC. Turns out there is a faucet on the
exterior front wall to water the shrubbery!    I had seen the faucet before, yes, but never used it, and so out of sight, out of mind. It never occurred to me to ask Tony to leave that faucet dripping along with all the others when the polar vortex hit. What struck me, however, was the blast of frigid air in my face. Sunlight gleamed from under the eaves. It was  as if I had stepped outside. Patchy and thin strips of insulation laid on the ceiling panels. Plastic pipes were suspended a foot above the insulation reminding me of  open air city subway tracks. WOW! No wonder our office was so cold despite the furnace running full out all the time. And given their placement, how come the pipes hadn’t broken before?
Exposed pipes, unisulated ceiling particle board, air pouring from the eaves, no wonder!
I climbed down the ladder musing over my new perspective. I have been at the MMSC for six of its nine years. When I first saw it in 2007, I was dazzled, as many are, or at least should
be. It’s a beautiful place: simple, elegant, a real Taj Mahal. I didn’t notice when I walked past that the portico pillars were rotten or that the front door stuck, that the  exterior trim paint was peeling, or that the wires in the barn were not in conduit. These, and other imperfections became apparent to me after I had been there for awhile.

None of this surprised me when it did come to light. My husband, Jim, an expert in historic preservation who restored and ran the non profit organization Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill ( for over four decades, has taught me a lot about construction and particularly construction under financial constraints. From him I learned there is a best way to do things, an ok way to do things, and a bare minimum way to do things, all within code. 

In a not for profit business, it's very tempting to opt for the bare minimum way to do things (also true of reschooling horses!).  Infrastructure underpinnings lack glamour. People are much more likely to write a check for hay and feed for the horses than for a larger HVAC system, or 2X6 studs when 2X4s placed as far apart as possible will pass code. Hence the  MMSC’s minimalist ceiling insulation and the exposed pipes made sense. I get it. 

The fact that the MMSC exists at all is something to celebrate. Its location,  the Kentucky Horse Park is unparalleled. Its design and furnishings are lovely. The reality that enough donated money was raised to clear the site, build the office, the barn, the fencing, and all the features of this beautiful property is a tribute to how much people both within and beyond the racing industry love Thoroughbreds and want to do right by them. Bravo! And thank you!

The issue here is integrity, not in the sense of moral rectitude, but meaning wholeness, complete, togetherness. Are you going to build something that meets the minimum standards? The average standards? Or superlative standards? What does it take to achieve each of these levels in terms of money, effort, time? What are you willing to sacrifice to meet each goal? 

I am a born student. I loved school. Exams were fun.  A library is my favorite place to be other than a barn. I am wired in a way that minimum and average just don’t do for me. If I commit to something, even if it is just cleaning the refrigerator, I am going to give it my 150% best. It’s tiresome for those who work and live with me. So be it. That’s who I am. 

Excellence, however, comes at a price. And price brings up the issue of value. And value is subjective. Over the years I have fought for and argued about about the benefits of excellence (NOT perfection) in spite of the sacrifices it may require. I have wrangled with people with blind eyes and deaf ears. I haven’t always gotten my way. And I haven’t always needed to. Sometimes good or permissible is just fine. Especially, if I lower my expectations. 

But the truth is, you get what you pay for, and when you cut corners, you will end up paying at some point. That's why I am so grateful for the donated dollars that went for the unglamorous expense of insurance premiums. Thanks to the generosity of those of you who like what we dothe case of the clandestine pipe will end happily with new dry wall and carpets courtesy of our insurance company! Bravo! And thank you, again!

Cheery bye,

Sunday, January 12, 2014

First Day Back at the MMSC

The first day back at work after a vacation usually is a wash. Unopened mail. Phone calls and emails to return, lengthy “to do” lists, a sense of of bewilderment as to where to start. Yet your biological clocks are still ticking at their own pace: the sleep in, sip coffee by the fire, I’ll do it later, take a nap mode. It’s not unlike jet lag, but it doesn’t last as long. Generally I  can snap back into work warp speed within a day.

Not this time. The MMSC was even more awash than I was. Yes, the polar vortex came to Kentucky and froze many pipes in the Bluegrass including, one we didn’t even realize existed, in the ceiling above my office at the Center. When the temperature rose from negative to positive numbers after three utterly gelid, totally inhumane days, the clandestine pipe broke precipitating a Niagara Falls cascade in the ceiling  By the time we arrived in the morning, the waters had spread from my office to the main part of the MMSC as well as to the kitchen, bathroom and foyer and was advancing steadily into the library and conference room. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

So what do you do?  You put on your Wellies, roll up your sleeves, get out the mops, and dispense of the waters either out the door or into a host of buckets. You get on the phone and call your insurance agent as well as any kind of professional clean up crews who are armed with hearty employees toting massive suck-it-up-dry-it-out machines. You make a list of forlorn and sodden looking objects, you take pictures. And, most important, you laugh.

Smiling allegedly uses fewer muscles than frowning or at the very least, takes less effort—and you are going to need all your muscle power for mopping and cleaning up, so it makes sense to conserve energy, no? Then there’s that endorphin release thing. Far less caloric than downing chocolates. Moreover, I read last week in a health and wellness journal that one hour of laughter uses as many calories as one hour in the gym—about 120 to be precise. Nor can we overlook the team building morale lesson. Which means yes, you do catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar and/or A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Bring out the comedy and you will have happier help for a longer time.  And last but not least, in the scheme of eternity, it’s ridiculously inconsequential.

 Not Waterloo.

Just waters surrounding the loo. 

Catastrophes come and go, and our memories are short. Can anybody name the place and dates of the hurricanes of 2013?  The floods? Th fires? Tornadoes?  How about martial conflicts or random shootings?

I had a New Year’s Eve party this year and as a game I decided it would be fun to see how well current events stuck in the our information age bombarded brains. Guests pulled questions out of a basket asking about events in 2013 such as What film received the Best Picture Award? Who won the Super Bowl? The World Series?  When was the government shutdown and how long did it last?  Name two world leaders who died this year? People were generally clueless. Now, I assure you, my friends are not dolts. (Nor were they inebriated. We started at 6:30 and I dropped my personal ball at 9:30 figuring it was midnight somewhere, pushing them  out the door shortly thereafter.) Nor are they egg heads with their noses buried in Shakespeare, Sanskrit, or quantum physics, which might explain their modern day oversights.  No, my guests were charming,  smart, in-the -know-productive-citizen sorts. I figured answers would fly across the room  like buckshot. But no. Even the question Who won the Kentucky Derby in 2013 drew blank stares. And we all live in Kentucky! COM’ON MAN!!!

So you see, fretting over snafus such as a flooded office is a waste of time:  Worse really.  It can give you the wrong kind of wrinkles (frowning).  Make you fat( drowning your woes with chocolate), chase away your

friends and  help (company hates misery), and really is a waste of your precious time. Think of it in the scheme of eternity: Does any one think about Pompeii these days?   My advice is just get on with it. Clean up the mess. Laugh as you can. And focus on what is important: How are you going to prevent the scenario from happening again?  End of story.  

No, not really. The real story here is the clandestine pipe in the ceiling above my office.  Now that’s a tale!  It involves People Time and Horse Time, blind eyes, deaf ears, Value, and yes, the price of horses. How so?  You’ll see in the next blog post.

Cheery bye,


Monday, January 6, 2014


Today is my Dad’s birthday. He’s 85. On Wednesday my mother turns...well, let's just say a certain venerable age.  Tomorrow I will go back to work after a two week rest (if you call Christmas a rest!”). I am looking forward to it, the way I always looked forward to the start of each academic year with its new pencils, notebooks, classes, teachers, and expectations. For a precious moment, you stand at the brink of possibility. It’s like the beginning of a romance. Intriguing. Exciting. All roses and rosy, before the blooms droop and the leaves curl. Inevitably, they do, however. That’s where my mom and dad come in.

A great dad!
My father, Robert Kinloch Massie was born in 1929 in Lexington, Kentucky. At a young age, he showed an interest in history and, according to his third grade report card, “mesmerized his classmates with his retelling of the lives and exploits of famous historic figures.” Not surprisingly, he became a writer, a biographer, specifically, and has riveted his readers over the years describing the life and times of such formidable personages as Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, the last tsar and tsarina of Imperial Russia, as well as the international movers and shakers of the First World War. Currently he is working on a book about  Napoleon and Josephine.  When I was a teenager, I asked him why he was so fascinated with history. 

“People make history, not the other way around.  I want to know and to share  what characteristics and life circumstances mold the individuals who commit to and bring about the change that alters the world.”

I got it.  Be the change you wish to see in the world. 

My mother, Suzanne Massie, the daughter of a diplomat and born in the United States, has dual nationality—Swiss and American—and grew up with a foot on either side of the Atlantic. Genetics and geography aside, her heart and soul are Russian. She didn’t know this until her mid thirties when she and my father went to the U.S.S.R. for the first time. But once she realized it, she never looked back, immersing herself in the language, history, and culture of her adoptive home country. When we lived in France (1968-1972) , she traveled back and forth several times a year to the Soviet Union, compiling, writing and publishing her first book, The Living Mirror, Five Young Poets from Leningrad. She made many friends in Russia and became a student of the times, too many friends, and too good a student, in fact. Before long she was no longer permitted to enter the country.

For years she tried to go back, approaching anyone and everyone about getting a visa. I wish I could say that she never lost the faith. She did. A bunch. It was bleak at times. But I suppose one can lose faith from time to time, but perhaps not hope if one’s passion is great enough? Invariably after each spell in the shadows my mother would reemerge to try again, and again, and again. Until finally, Ronald Reagan was elected President and he started bandying about the moniker “The Evil Empire,” when speaking about Mom’s beloved country.

Mom and Reagan in the Oval Office
 That was it. The call to be the change she wanted to see in the world was clarion clear to her. Like a laser, she beamed her way right into the Oval Office. Over many meetings and several years, she talked to the President about the Russian perspective from the street up and the Kremlin down.
Mom and Gorbachev
 He listened. He asked questions.  He respected her and sent her on some private diplomatic missions, all of which she funded out of her own pocket.  She always came back to him with invaluable insights to share such as of the role of  Russian women in society or how the Russian orthodox church was rumbling beneath the crumbling underpinnings of the Soviet regime.  She brought him gifts from common Russian people.  She taught him Russian adages such as, ‘doveryai no proveryai,TRUST BUT VERIFY, which Reagan loved, used often, and is now known for. Reagan’s chilly perspective on the U.S.S.R. began to thaw. Summits were held.  Agreements were made.  The Soviet Union collapsed.

The message?  If you have a passion for something, stay the course. 

So here we are at the beginning of January, a  new year. 
It's one degree today!
Instead of new pencils, notebooks, classes, teachers, and expectations, I am faced with new projects, programs, events, horses, and challenges.  Great! Intriguing! Exciting! Sitting by the fire right now, drinking tea, sleeping dogs at my feet, the visions of 2014 in my head are rosy. There are so many things I would like to accomplish both for the MMSC itself, as well as for the movement of aftercare for OTTBs which is growing ever stronger with each passing year.
I have picked out a few horses which
Look for this special boy in February!
are currently in foster care as the first members of our Spring class. I can’t wait to start looking for more MMSC candidates. I have plans for a Master Clinic series. There’s Sips N Saddles 2014 ahead. I want to figure out how to build a covered arena. I need to start an endowment campaign. I hope to get accreditation from several important organizations. I’d like to help the Retired Racehorse Retraining Project, as well as other organizations working towards the same goals that I am. I am chomping at the bit!!!

What characteristics will I need to draw on or hone this year to get all of this done? What challenges will I encounter? What detours will I have to negotiate? How will I fare when the bloom fades on the rose of 2014? Will I have what it takes to stay the course another year? 

Thank goodness, I have ample passion for horses. But to help me stock up on faith for the year, I spent time with my parents’ two latest books over Christmas— Catherine the Great, Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie, 


 Trust but Verify, Reagan, Russia and Me, by Suzanne Massie to remind me of  what they taught me as I was growing up: Be the change you want to see.  Stay the course.  Thank you Mom and Dad! And HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you both!!

 As for the rest of you, HERE’S TO AN INTRIGUING, EXCITING 2014!

Cheery bye,  Susanna

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

'Twas the Week Before Christmas

'Twas the week before Christmas at the MMSC
It had been a good year, about the best it could be!
Fine horses, nice interns, kind helpers and guests
Prime board members, fun fans, with all we were blessed!

The year began slowly as a new corporation,
We had lots to determine about our formation.
What policies? What procedures? What programs? What staff?
Our address is stellar, but you do the math!

There’s farrier, feed, bedding and hay
and water and lights and people to pay.
Donors will tell you their free horses are cheap,
but the truth of the matter is the costs make you weep.

 So we rolled up our sleeves and all went to work
with a schedule so ambitious it was simply berserk.
Training, maintaining, sustaining our horses
took all of our time and most of our forces.

Still, we had to make room to scavenge for money
Because living without it isn’t easy or funny.
We tried all kinds of ruses and fundraising schemes
Some things we thought up still remain to be seen.

Adoptions were steady and then came the rain
Bad footing, thrown shoes were truly a bane.
Still we kept to our methods, we stuck to our guns
giving horses what they needed and waited for sun.

We went to our namesake, the great Maker’s Mark
and CEO Samuels ignited a spark,
Let’s do a party! he suggested to us
We loved the idea it was truly a must.

The date was selected, the party was named
Sips ‘N Saddles to highlight why we are acclaimed
From horses to bourbon we really got lucky
For there is no doubt we’re the best in Kentucky!

The party was grand, the bottles got dipped
The horses amazed, at the end we were whipped.
But the night was successful, and the coffers got filled
and our spirits were glowing, though our fingers were chilled.

Then the days grew short and the nights grew long
The temperatures dropped and the winds blew strong
And when at year’s close, all steeds found their people
Director Susanna wanted to shout from a steeple

“On, Poker! On, Promise! On, Cooper and Xin Xu!
The world is now watching. We’re counting on you!
To the top of your class! High over the wall!
Now jump away, stride away, show the way all!"

At the end of the year, the Secretariat Center
closed its doors, drained it pipes, and scaled down for the winter.
To take a few days off, to have a short Christmas rest
And give thanks for the many ways we’d been blessed.

We’ll be back next year with renewed vim and vigor,
Our plans will be grand, our hopes even bigger.
More horses, more interns, more helpers and guests,
New board members, new fans will put us again to the test.

To be the best we can be, to help what horses we can,
to highlight and herald that Thoroughbreds which ran
can go on to new triumphs in second careers 
winning ribbons and trophies and deafening cheers.

But its not only in arenas that these horses excel
with their grace and nobility in our hearts they do dwell.
So next year make a plan to put under your tree
the perfect ex-racehorse from the MMSC!

Cheery bye and Happy Holidays!