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, 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 fiancĂ© 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!”


“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! 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.”


“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.”


“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,


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Nowhere to Hide and Jeff

There is no better advertising than word of mouth. No better compliment than having a satisfied adopter come back for an additional horse or having a potential adopter come to the MMSC because they have heard good things about our horses, our ethos, and our adoption procedures.

Lauren and Louie
So I was really, pleased to hear that Lauren W. who had adopted a horse from us in early 2013-and a horse that had had many physical challenges to overcome to boot!—was so pleased with her “Louie” that she had told her boyfriend, Jeff, to come to us to find his “dream horse.”

To do what? I wondered.

“To be together, go on trail rides, maybe little shows, maybe not. Something quiet. Something easy. He has ridden Western maybe ten times, English maybe three.”

Ah yes! I had the perfect horse for him: Formaggio! A very solid citizen—a horse with the duty bound attitude of a US Marine. Big too, 16.3. Man sized. 

 A few weeks later, after Jeff’s application had arrived and been approved, I looked up from my desk where I was catching up on emails and saw a hulk of a man walking towards the arena.

“Catherine!” I called. “Who is that?”

She darted back out of the office and was back in a flash.

“That’s Jeff Tow-Arnett, Lauren’s boyfriend. Remember he and Lauren were coming in from Minnesota today to try horses?”

“But, but…he’s HUGE! I mean he looks like a pro linebacker! Thank goodness Formaggio is big!” 

Shortly thereafter Jeff, and two other titans, one male, one female strode into the office. They looked like gods from Mount Olympus; all three were over six feet tall and tautly muscled; the men built like mighty burr oaks, the woman like a lofty willow.

I caught a glimpse of the nymphlike Lauren standing to one side. 

“Lauren!” I gave her a hug.  

“This is Jeff,” she said, “and his brother Nick, and Nick’s fiancĂ©, Jessie.”

Jessie and Nick

“Welcome!” I said. “My goodness,” I couldn’t help myself from adding. “You two guys look like football players and you, you…”I looked at Jessie.

“We are football players,” said Jeff with a grin.

“And Jessie’s a professional volley ball player,” Nick offered.

Jessie was at least 6.2”, long limbs, long neck, long hair, long everywhere.  Both men had chests, arms, and quads like the granite boulders on the rocky coasts of MaineNick was taller with gentle brown eyes and military correct posture. Jeff, the more massive of two, had Samson-like curls grazing his broad shoulders and a winsome smile.

“Wow! That’s cool. So, Jeff, I hear you are looking for a quiet, dependable trail horse? Let’s go to the barn. I believe I have the perfect one for you!” His name is Formaggio.

“What about Noah?” he fired back.

“Well he isn’t totally sound yet,” I said, brushing the question off.

That was the truth. But that wasn’t the full truth. Noah still was very volatile under saddle although he and his rider, Alicia, were making in progress. A green rider would be totally wrong for Noah. Besides, I was a bit of a snob. A football player for MY NOAH???!!!

“Let’s just start with Formaggio, shall we?” I responded.

I sat on the bleachers watching Jeff ride. He was, as I suspected, as  green as grass. Bless dear Formaggio who carried him like the dutiful trooper he always was: Keen to follow directions. Careful of his cargo.

“Let’s tack up Noah for Lauren and send them both out on a little trail walk,” I told Catherine. “Do we have an intern who could go with them just in case Noah gets strong?”

As soon as they were ready and had exited the arena, I went over to talk to to Nick and Jessie.

“Who did you play for Nick?

“The Dallas Cowboys. The Seattle Seahawks. I also was in minicamp with 
the Minnesota Vikings one year and the Jacksonville Jaguars.”

“You done now?”

“Yup. I am going into sports fitness.”

“And Jeff? Who did he play for?

“Well, we both played for the University of Minnesota. Then he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then arena football in 2011 and 2013 for the Milwaukee Mustangs, followed by Tampa Bay Storm last year.”

“Is he done with football?”

“I think so. I hope so. He’s had a lot injuries. But he’s really persistent.”

“And Jessie, tell me about you? Who have you played for?”

“I trained with the USA National Volleyball Team and played in the 2011 Pan American Cup where we won the Bronze medal. I have played professional volleyball for 4 seasons in Puerto Rico, one in Vienna, and the last season, as Nick, said, in Azerbaijan.”

About that time Jeff and Lauren were back from their trail walk.

“How was it?”  I asked. “What do think about Formaggio, Jeff?”

Jeff and Formaggio

Jeff was nice, polite, but not elated, which is the expression I like to see when an adopter tries a horse. “It was good. He was good. I like him. But I am just not in love with him.”

“Oh, thats too bad because I don’t have another horse that would be right for you at this point.”

“He really had his heart set on Noah,” said Nick as Jeff and Lauren led their mounts back to the barn.

“Noah is not a good fit for him. He’s too green, and Noah is a die hard competitor.”

“I understand.  But he’s not going to take this well, “Nick said.

Not taking it well was an understatement. I was back at my desk when I saw Lauren and Jeff head for their truck. He looked like the darkest skies before Hurricane Katrina. His brow was furled. His ears were beet red.

“Are they leaving, Catherine?”

“Yes. They are headed back to Minnesota.”

“Ah, me. I guess I made someone mad. He didnt even say goodbye."

“Yup. He was pretty upset.”

“He’ll find another horse. Maybe even another horse at the MMSC. But I doubt he will want to come back.  I was too blunt.”

But an hour later, he was back! 

“I would like to talk to Susanna,” he told our office manager, Lori.

“O000..kay,” Lori replied slowly.

“Do you want to talk with Jeff?” she said, sticking her head through my office door, eyebrows raised, her tone foreboding.

“Sure! Send him in!”

In an instant his massive frame filled the door. Then he dragged a chair up to the front of my desk, and sat down with heft on it. He fixed me in a cross fire gaze.

“How can I help you, Jeff?””

He launched his offensive:

“You see, Susanna, Lauren had told me that the MMSC was a great place to get a horse. So I went to your website, and I scrolled down the horses and once I read Noah’s blurb, the search was over. I watched his videos. I learned about his injuries and all that you were doing for them—acupuncture, Chinese herbs, chiropractic! I have had all those things done to me!  I, like Noah, have fractured bones! I have had competed hard like Noah. Then when I heard you say on the Horse Channel video that Noah had a heart of gold and would do anything to serve even if it caused him to die, I thought of what my offensive line coach from
my senior year at the University of Minnesota said to the Philadelphia Eagles Scout who wrote me off because I was too small: ‘If I had 11 Jeff Tow-Arnetts I could rule the world!’  I knew that if I was a horse, I would be Noah. And besides, my parents were supposed to name me Noah, but in the end they called me Jeff. But I always wanted to be called ‘Noah’.”

The more he talked, the faster his words came. He leaned forward. He clasped and unclasped his large mitt-like hands. I could fill the heat of his passion “tazing" me from across the desk. I found myself intrigued by his earnestness, his persistence, by the massive  weighty cross on his chest. WHAT PASSION!  Is this what it was like to face an opponent’s relentless touch down drive ?

“Noah is not totally sound yet, Jeff.”

“I can wait til he is.”

“He still very much in racetrack mental mode.

“Can I adopt him and pay someone to continue reschooling him?”

“It make take a while.”

“I can wait.”

“It might never happen. Noah is a confirmed competitor. And you are too inexperienced. I am afraid you or Noah might get hurt.”

“I can get better. I’ll take lessons every day until I do.”

“How much do you weigh?”

“275 pounds”

“That’s too heavy for Noah.”

“I can lose weight!!!”

I sat back and took a deep breath. My mind was clearly against it. What did my gut say?

“Susanna, how do you know for sure Jeff is the wrong fit?

Inexperience. Size. Noah’s horsenality,” my mind shouted back.

Susanna, you say you are all about second chances. Are you truly? my gut returned.

I sighed. 

“Jeff, you make a very passionate case for Noah. I have reasons for thinking that it is not a good idea. But I honor the fact that you didn’t just head back to Minnesota in anger. You didn’t give up. You decided to face me again and you have done so making a worthy case for your desire. I am a person who has dedicated herself to second chances. If I am a truly honest about that, then you have made me think I must not impose my opinions on you. Can you come back tomorrow?”

“We weren’t planning on staying,” he told me, inching to the edge of the seat, his  eyes hopeful.

“Well, that’s too bad because I believe we ought to let Noah have a say about whether he wants to be your special horse or not.”

“WE WILL STAY!” Jeff exclaimed.

“All right. Be here tomorrow morning and we will put you and Noah in the road pen together, at liberty and we will let Noah weigh in. What do you think?”

“I’ll be here!” said Jeff, ecstatically. “AND Thank you! THANK YOU!” he said enveloping  me in one of the most massive, memorable hugs I have ever received in my life.

Cheery bye, 


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Nowhere to Hide and Alicia
I am a “heady” person. I was blessed to have a magnificent liberal arts education. There’s a wannabe professor in me. A book worm too. I have always admired and practiced Benjamin Franklin’s decision making process: the Pro and Con list. But the older I have gotten, the more I have learned that I should always, always, ALWAYS listen to my gut.
That’s hard to do in this culture. Why? First, because we revere brainiacs—Ivy Leaguers, alphabets trailing a last name (Ph.D, M.D, C.P.A., C.E.O, C.F.O, C.O.O…), smarty pants who invent things, control things, and who, as a result, make tons of money. Second, because we are in always in a hurry, always distracted. We scarcely have time to think straight with the brain that sits upon our shoulders, let alone take stock with our intuition. Third, we tend to belittle the gut—that site of indigestion, flatulence, and lust, that beloved anatomical area of woo-woo queens, psychics, and religious fanatics. C’MON MAN!
I’ll admit, in my youth, I often gave my gut short shrift when compared to my gray matter. The legal cap Pro and Con list was my go-to strategy for decisions. Not that my gut didn’t rumble. It did, but I definitely viewed it as trailer trash talk. Big mistake!  The head alone never set a true course. Indeed, my best decisions were the ones where I let my gut influence my brain—like leaving my job at Random House thirty plus years ago borrowing a car, and driving down the east coast, stopping randomly at horse farms in multiple states, until I found a job with horses in Kentucky.

That is why when I interviewed Alicia over Face Time this past spring as a potential summer intern and my gut endorsed her, I had to say “yes.” My head was not pleased. Alicia had submitted a decent application. She had good references, one of whom I knew. But I knew when I started talking to her, that she she was atypical.  Her demeanor was bizarrely static yet dramatically intense. I felt her unwavering trenchant stare piercing the computer screen. When I asked her questions, she began by blurting things out, then dove into conversation, rarely coming up for air. It didn’t take a M.D. degree to realize that she was very A.D.H.D. In a matter of minutes, in fact, she told me that of her own accord.
I asked her why she wanted to come to the MMSC. She lived many states away. She would have to find accommodations. Our internships were unpaid. 
“I want to come because I love horses. I have a hard time learning.  I am a crack baby and was put up for adoption. People have made fun and rejected me all of my life. But I have repeatedly been given second chances, by my adoptive family, by my schools, by my riding teachers. I want to give back to horses like those at your Center who need a second chance, too.”
Right then and there, my gut screamed:  “ACCEPT HER!”
“But, but, but….,” my brain whined, “you are not a licensed health professional! OTTBs can be unpredictable! Can you keep Alicia safe? Will she be accepted by the other interns? How much of your precious time will she take?”
“We look forward to having you as one of our interns this summer, Alicia,” I declared. 
She broke into the biggest, beaming smile that dazzled me like sunlight on fresh snow! I wasn’t sure how things would turn out, but I knew it would be an intriguing journey.
Starting in June, summer interns from high school to college age, from Kentucky and several other states arrived at the MMSC.  They were an eager rambunctious lot, like five week old puppies, full of play, and in need of instruction. 
“I am a very fun person,” I told the girls at the onset, “but I am DRACONIAN about certain things.
I was met with blank stares, except for Lydia, a recent high school graduate from Louisiana.
“What does draconian mean, ladies?”
“I know! I know!  Strict!!!”
“Excellent, Lydia. Yes, strict, harsh, relentless—a word that comes from the Athenian law scribe Draco, I suggest you google him-I warn you ladies, there will be a word of the day, every day when I see that you have no idea of what I have just said. I expect you to look them up, learn them, and use them correctly. You will be quizzed.”
“Now,” I continued. “Here is what you must know about this summer: Number one, you are a team. Work together, help one another. If you are finished with a chore, assist someone else. I abhor idle hands. Cell phones and texting are not allowed. Negativity and whining are unacceptable. The work is hard, yes, But it is a privilege to work at the MMSC. These horses have given of themselves as they can for the pleasure of human beings. Caring for them is an honor and a service, and a special gift that you give to them. If you have a problem, don’t gripe about it amongst yourself, come to me. I will set it or you straight. Each of you will be assigned or will be drawn to a particular horse. That is the one you will tend to. Together I will explain to you its needs and help you work through its issues. Questions?”
Alicia, of course, chose Noah. 
“I love his conformation!,” she told me. “He is the perfect example of what a Thoroughbred should look like! And….OH!  what a keen eye! What an amazing demeanor he has. He is so special!”
Oh, dear, yes, Noah was special! He was also my most deeply committed enthusiastically “racetrack-y,” horse in the barn! The one that had extensive physical and mental baggage!  For Alicia!? Alicia who has a very hard time staying focused? Alicia who can be utterly oblivious to the world around her when she is on a trajectory of thought or speech?
“YUP!,” said my gut. 
So Alicia was assigned to Noah. She oversaw his care, his treatments, and, yes, after I had watched her ride some of our quieter horses, his training.  
I spoke to our head rider Carolyn.  
“I want you to make time in your day to give riding lessons to Alicia and Noah.”
“You are kidding!  Alicia and Noah!!!? But he is such a confirmed racehorse!!!”
“No. I am not kidding. Alicia and Noah. They could be really good for each other. Arena riding only. Walk trot only. Be patient with them both. Teach them to slow down. I am counting on you to keep them safe.  And don’t worry, I’ll be keeping an eye on all three of you.”
And watch them I did, from the barn, from the conference room, from the side of the arena. The more I watched, the more I knew my gut was right. 
One day, I came into to the small MMSC kitchen whilst several of the interns were having lunch. 

“WHAT are you all eating???!!!” I asked, appalled. Their plates were littered with heaps of calorie/carbohydrate/chemical concoctions. I fished the boxes and cans out of the trash, handing them to the respective owners, and said, “please read aloud the ingredients.”
All of the meals had high fructose corn syrup near the top of the list, followed by multiple syllabic unpronounceable words, and a list of numbered additives. I peeked into their lunch boxes.  Alicia’s was by far, the worst. She had fodder for herself, and because she is good hearted and generous, enough for all the other interns and then some.
“Ladies,” I said.  “Do you see how hard we are all working to make our horses healthy, to cleanse them of all that has beleaguered them during their track days? From stress, to legal and maybe illegal drugs, changing hays and feeds, supplements, different riding styles, and the like.”
Quiet nods.
“You see the difference we are making?  You understand the importance of nutrition for well being. Why, oh why, then would you not treat your body with the same respect?”
“I don’t how to cook.”
“I don’t know what to buy.”
“I don’t have time to eat healthy.”
“Ladies, you will each bring in tomorrow a list of everything you eat at every meal over the course of a week. I will review this with you, and will show how you can still eat what you want but be healthy.”
And they did. And no student was more enthusiastic about my draconian measures than Alicia. She let me throw out her packages of cookies, candies, and sugar laden energy bars. She went to the health food store and bought organic meals and read me the ingredients on a daily basis with pride. She was so grateful for all my suggestions and instructions. She worked ceaselessly. She always was smiling. As the weeks passed, she interrupted less. She listened more. When she first came, she tended to tell “woe-is-me” stories about herself, as if her challenges somehow entitled her to a lesser standard of behavior.
“Alicia, stop giving your challenges prime time. We all have setbacks and problems in life. It’s the attitude and grace in how you deal with them that makes you memorable. Look at Noah. He’s a horse that has known adversity. But has he EVER stopped trying to serve, to please, to give his very best?”
“No,” Alicia answered, in a quiet and thoughtful voice.
When Carolyn wasn’t working with Alicia and Noah, I did. I explained that if she couldn’t maintain focus, if she couldn’t be a worthy leader Noah would take over and do the one thing he knew he did well: RACE. 

“Horses are hierarchical, Alicia. That means that the herd is based on a ladder of respect. You must learn to control your thoughts and emotions for the benefit of your horse.” Before long she was cantering and popping Noah over cross rails and he stayed calm. By summer’s end she was walking, troting, and cantering him in an open field.  What an amazing accomplishment! She had worked really hard, and done so with ceaseless enthusiasm. She had given her all to Noah and to me, and we both were better for it.
I had one more thing I wanted Alicia to learn from Noah before summer’s end. When she came to the MMSC, it was clear she didn’t think much about her appearance. Her clothes were utilitarian and formless. She wore no jewelry or makeup. She sported a baseball cap worn backwards. She wasn’t alone. All my interns were lackadaisical about their attire.
“Ladies,” I addressed the girls one day. “You all know that RESPECT is one of my five principles of horsemanship. You have all worked very hard on a daily basis to tend to every need of your horses. I commend you for this. But like many, many horse women, myself included, you tend to neglect to care for yourselves. You hair becomes a nest of tangles and hay by day’s end. Your shirts get streaked with mud, sweat, and green horse slobber. Your fingernails get blackened and broken. As the summer has gone on and each of you has gotten progressively more weary, I have noticed that you have spent less and less time on how you look at work.
“Now, in my opinion, our society puts too much emphasis on appearance  as well as revolting amount of focus on sexuality. I understand the desire to reject those messages. But the truth is, if you want to take part in the game of life, you have to learn the rules, and play by them. That way, when you chose to participate in the game, whether that means job hunting, or getting a loan, or making a presentation, you have a chance of winning. Think of it like readying your horse for a horse show. You don’t mind bathing and braiding it, cleaning your tack and your boots, right? You do that to get the upper hand on your competition. You do it because it makes you feel proud. Right?
“That is why next week, we are going to have a “class”at the mall. This means lunch, makeup, and pedicures- manicures. Please show up dressed smartly. Last but not least, I will expect a thank you note from each of you afterwards, not an email, but a handwritten one, because a handwritten thank you note is a gesture of respect that will take you far in life.” 

Alicia, second from the right was part of the marvelous group of Summer 2014 interns!
Alicia learned the joys of a pedicure!
It was a great day. And I cherish the thank you notes, Alicia’s in particular. It made me choke up.
I called Alicia recently to see how her fall semester was progressing and to ask her if she minded if I told her story in this blog entry.
“Everything is great!  I moved up from the Walk/Trot group to the Walk/Trot/Canter group on my equestrian team! I don’t mind if you tell my story at all. I had a great summer.  
“And what did you learn from Noah?”
“I loved Noah,” she said. “I wish I could have adopted him. He taught me a lot.”
“Like what?”
“Oh tons! I learned that you can have a wild and crazy side—after all he did- I do too—my A.D.H.D, makes me crazy, but in spite of that you can teach yourself to be calm and focused. Noah taught me to be relaxed on a horse. Noah taught me to push through adversity. Noah taught me to trust. Because I came to trust him, I learned to trust myself.”
“How about respect, Alicia?  Did he teach you anything there?”
“Oh yes!”He taught me to respect my emotions. He taught me to respect myself. He taught me to address my needs, “ she laughed her big sunshiny laugh and added,
“You would be so proud of me, Susanna! The other day I was looking at my toe nails and I thought, ‘I would NEVER let Noah’s toe nails look like this!’ So I cleaned them up and painted them!!!”
Oh Noah! You special, special horse! Thank you for all that you taught Alicia. Thank you, Alicia. for all that you taught me. And thank you, gut, for being my ever true inner compass. You always steer me right!
Cheery bye,

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nowhere to Hide
A special horse
Nowhere To Hide arrived at the MMSC in February
From the very first, I knew Noah would be a project. Given that off the track racehorses are a dime a dozen these days, my decision to take him may have seemed profligate. But I am committed to helping Thoroughbreds that can be ambassadors for the breed in any equestrian sport at any level. All racehorses need some reschooling and some physical therapy. At the MMSC horses receive both. No doubt I could adopt out a lot more horses if I didn’t invest the time to heal them physically and emotionally. Nor does my ethos of transparency make for quick “flips.” But so much of all that is good in my life has come about because of horses, I feel called to be their defender and champion whilst they are in my care.

In the long run, however, taking Noah on made “cents.” He was a lovely horse. He was service and people oriented. He had the support of his former owners. Yes, the expenses of rehab and reschooling would add up over the six to nine months it might take to ready him for a new career and home. But at eight years old, he was still a relatively young horse. He could live another twenty years or more. To retire him for life might cost, conservatively between five and seven grand annually. That could be $100,000 to $140,000 of accumulated costs for one retired horse! The argument that five to six thousand dollars spent now with the hope that this expenditure would get him off the pay roll and happily placed in a new home with a different job, seemed fiscally sound. I am very lucky that Noah’s owners agreed with me. I wish there were more owners who would support reschooling efforts not just because it is a noble thing to do, but because it is ultimately cost effective. And it would foster a treasure trove of popular good will, undermining the sensationalist value of druggie/neglect/slaughterhouse tales that threaten to ultimately alienate popular interest in racing. 

Besides most Thoroughbreds enjoy work. 

Noah certainly did. He liked to train. He loved to run. And he did so successfully for a long time. It made sense to me that he might thrive in a new career. 

It was a chilly, gray day in February when Noah arrived at the MMSC. Ribby, shaggy, and dull coated, he was, but his eyes shone with eagerness and kindness. It was touching. I didn’t know what the next few months would bring, but I was certain that this horse was special.

The first task was to address his physical state and assess his soundness. I called Dr. True and asked him to evaluate Noah with flexions and X-rays. I wanted fecal count and CBC (complete blood count) baselines.  I called our feed specialist from Nutrena, Rob Martin and asked him to give an opinion on Noah’s weight and condition and to recommend a feeding/supplement protocol. Appointments with the dentist, the farrier and the equine chiropractor/acupuncturist were scheduled.

None of the reports were earth shattering: Noah had been severely stressed and he needed time and TLC to bring him around. I had worried most about what the flexions and the x-rays would reveal. They too, held no big surprises. A few inconsequential chips in ankles, sore hocks, uneven on the right hind. Given the amount and intensity of his racing, his joints were surprisingly clean.

“Go on with him, Susanna.” Dr. True said. “He’ll tell you want he can and cannot do.” 

The chiropractor adjusted his poll, his neck, his withers, back and pelvis, and released the strain of lots of constricted muscles. “He has a spleen deficiency,” she added after finishing his acupuncture treatment. “That’s why his coat is so dull.” She prescribed Chinese herbs and put him on her schedule for regular check ups throughout the spring.

Within two months, Noah started to regain his muscle and his condition.

Within two months, Noah started coming around physically. His coat started to shed out and a silky undercoat appeared. His belly started to slim down and tuck up. His flanks and neck showed outlines of musculature in the making. I worried that he couldn’t seem to hold adjustments in his pelvis, that he was somewhat peg-legged in the left stifle. But he seemed happy.

I asked the interns to give him regular laser treatments. I asked his owner to rent him a magnetic blanket. We have a wonderful volunteer who donates her reiki services to the MMSC. She worked on Noah. Dr. True injected his hocks. We added Lubrysin to the joint supplement he was already getting.

We also worked him. From the first snowy morning in early March when we took him out to do natural horsemanship and bomb proofing, Noah was an exemplary student: Willing, smart, level headed. The one problem that we had with Noah was that he tried TOO HARD.  He was the kind of horse that would run on three legs if you asked him. When he first arrived at the MMSC, I thought he would make a lovely “little old lady’s horse.” It was apparent after the first week of riding him that Noah only wanted to do what he did well—
R A C E.  He wasn’t hot by temperament. He was a, noble minded, well mannered,  warrior-athlete. You had to love a horse like Noah.

And loved he was! Nick Zito trained Noah in his early years, and when Zito’s son Alex came to the Horse Park this May to help his mother put on a Thoroughbred Show, Alex made a point of coming up to the MMSC with his wife to see Noah.

“I always really, really liked Nowhere to Hide," Alex said. “He had a great personality. He always tried. The fact that he ran in the Kentucky Derby is pretty wonderful too. He just was a very special horse. I am glad he is here at the MMSC.”

Mr. and Mrs. Alex Zito came to visit old time favorite, Nowhere to Hide in May.

A month earlier, Noah’s former exercise rider had uttered almost identical words. “As an older horse, No Where to Hide moved from Nick Zito’s barn to my boss’ barn, where I am Assistant Trainer, said Stuart. He had a really big heart and a great personality. He was tricky to exercise because he always tried too hard. We would do two or three mile trot sets  and gallops the wrong way around the track to keep him fit. That’s because when you galloped him the right way, he was REAL strong. He’d give you his all. He was willing to run every time he set foot on the track.

“Not only that he was just such a level headed and kind horse to be around. You never had to worry with him. He’d take care of you. You could always trust him which is more than you can say for many of the horses, especially the older ones! Everyone in the barn loved him. You couldn’t not love him. I know you can lose horses in claimers and therefore I try not to get too attached to them, but when No Where To Hide got claimed in an optional allowance-claiming race. I was really, really angry. I came back to the barn and cried.”

“I couldn’t talk to anyone. My boss knew how upset I was and he assured me that the owners would claim him back. I tried to keep up with him as I could and when one day I didn’t see him showing up on any tracks, I asked the racing manager if he knew what had happened to him. I was told that the owners had gone after him and that he was at the Secretariat Center. As soon as I could, I had to come seehim again.”

I walked Stuart and his wife to Noahs stall. “Here he is.”  I stood back as Stuart slipped through the door.

“Hey Grandpa,” he said, his voice soft and warm, his eyes moist.

Noah pricked his ears, stepped up to him and pushed him gently with his nose.

“You’ve had a hard time, haven’t you Old Man,” Stuart said as he stroked Noah’s neck and kissed him on the cheek.

Noah laid his head on Stuart’s chest as if saying,”Nah, Im ok, Stu! No worries!” 

Why dont you adopt Noah, Stuart?"

Stuart wished he could but he felt that his nomadic life made it impossible.  “I know you’ll take care of him, Susanna.  You’ll find him a good home…right?”

“Yes, Stuart, I will take care of him. And I promise I will let you know when Noah finds his person. And beyond that, I will put you in touch with that person, so you two can be friends and you can go visit Noah in his new home.”

By the time June rolled around, Noah was starting to look respectable. He wasn’t 100 percent sound yet. And he still bolted when cantering to the left in the ring. Trail rides could be hairy—lots of enthusiastic head tossing and jigging sideways or a racy trot threatening a potent outburst of canter at any subsequent moment. Definitely not an old lady or even a gutsy kid horse yet! Noah knew and only wanted to be one thing: A racehorse. And not just  any old racehorse. A warrior/athlete racehorse. A fight to win/do so until your body breaks or your heart bursts racehorse. Push through pain. Make it happen. I dont know if that could ever be completely trained out of him or if you would even want to.

So who would be the right person for this special horse, the original owners', Alexs, Stuarts and MY special horse? And when, if ever would that person appear?

All I could do was wait, hope, and keep the faith. Loving Noah was the easy part.

Cheery bye,