Promise

In "Trust the Process," a blog I posted at the beginning of the year, I explained that it takes the time it takes for a horse to get reschooled and adopted out. You know, Horse Time.

In an even earlier blog "Looking at Horses, part 2," I wrote about going back to Normandy Farm, a place dear to my heart as it was the first horse farm in Kentucky that I ever visited many years ago as a thirteen year old girl.


The horse I saw on that bleak winter day and decided to take on as an MMSC candidate was  Promise. Beautifully conformed with a lovely high-set neck, very correct legs and an ebony coat, Promisei'llbehome (by Came Home out of Maddie's Promise, foaled in 2004) is a looker. (Take a peek at his picture in the left hand column of this page.) At the time he was also a stallion, and although he was gentle as far as stallions go, he still knew how to strut his stuff. Nancy Polk, the petite and somewhat frail owner of Normandy Farm, beamed when Promise pranced out of the stall of the famous Normandy barn with the Limoges porcelain cats positioned along the rise of of the slate roof. The pockets of  her puffy coat were bulging with carrots which she liberally shared with this homebred favorite.

Promise had had 33 starts and garnered $152,890 with 5 wins, 2 seconds, and 1 third. He ran in over 25 allowance races and one stakes race. He was trained by Hall of Fame steeplechase and flat race trainer (the only person ever to be named to the two, by the
way), Jonathan Shepherd. In 2011, when Promise was seven, Mrs. Polk decided that he had done enough for her and brought him back to the farm to retire. His career, although successful, was not outstanding enough to warrant standing him at stud, and his temperament, while occasionally a handful, was not  sufficiently rambunctious  for her to want to castrate him. So, Mrs. Polk turned him out in a paddock to graze happily for the rest of his years. Except, that he wasn't happy. He seemed bored to Mrs. Polk, in need of a job. Hence the reason I got a call.

We don't take stallions at the MMSC. With limited paddock space, volunteer help, and the public streaming through our doors, stallions are a liability. Besides, who, in their right mind is going to adopt a stallion? So Promise came to us in February as a gelding. But although anatomically lighter, he still was carrying plenty of baggage.

Seasoned racehorses take longer to reschool than horses that went to the track but never raced. Old campaigners have many trump cards and are wily about playing them. They are physically mature to boot. When you take on a horse like Promise, you're playing in the big leagues.

Promise let us know that from the get-go. Dancing to and fro from the barn to his paddock on his hind feet, front legs batting the skies, he showed off his mo-jo, scaring interns and volunteers with his antics. In the round pen, it took many more sessions than usual to convince him that he was not head honcho. And still, after many days of training he conceded begrudgingly. He didn't believe in a democracy or a republic. He was a dictator at heart.

Part of his issues, I am certain, is that he was uncomfortable. He moved like a barefoot man stepping on hot coals with small, elevated, quick and careful steps. His shoulders were jammed; his pelvis twisted. Not that he was lame. Just compromised. And he had been that way for a while. He had the musculature to prove it. It was going to take regular chiropractic adjustments and careful systemic exercise to help his body remodel.

But no matter how he moved, he was spectacular to look at.  In April he caught the eye of a local huntsman who serves as whip. He adopted Promise and spent several weeks trail riding him two hours a day through the countryside. All was well until one windy day on a hill top after jumping, Promise bolted. Riding 1200 pounds of out-of-control horse moving at almost 40 miles an hour over uneven terrain is scary at any age. When you are over 50, it's a near death experience. It didn't surprise me that Promise came back to the MMSC.

Bolting is one of those trump cards that ex racehorses sometimes play. They get the bit between their teeth, and no matter how hard you pull back, they're off. In fact, pulling back  gives them leverage and recalls their track days.  Bad idea. But, totally instinctual for most riders.

I deal with the problem by taking the bit away completely. Leverage too. No bit. No  hackamores. Just a side pull. I exercise my limited knowledge

of physics by putting into practice Newton's first law of motion, the law of inertia: An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Inertia sounds grand atop a bolting horse, and I work really hard to use my body weight as obtrusively as possible--squeezing hard with my knees and thighs and breaking up the straight trajectory with a one sided pulley rein drawn hard across the bony ridge of the horse's nose. Not pretty, but pretty effective.

Bolters are always surprised the first time you ride them without a bit. They surge forward with the intention of slamming down their Ace card taking over the game, but as soon as they realize that there's nothing to lean on they start decelerating. They open their mouths. Their tongues flail the air. Game over. 

Catherine, our barn manager fell in love with Promise from the moment he stepped on campus. (Oh dear, bad boys do have a magnetic attraction, no matter how many legs they have!)  And she has patiently worked with him from round pen to sidepull to reintroduction of a bit, to jumping, to trail riding, first at a trot and then at a canter in a big open field. Now the side pull is gone and he's traveling in a  snaffle and a figure eight noseband

He and she have good days and bad days. Sometimes he is grouchy. Happily, however those days are fewer and father between his soft and willing ones. It took a long time to build up his muscles in the right places, but he is moving ever so much better. He still is nippy (give it six more months for that testosterone to cycle out), and at times he sports that distant gaze in his eye of his early days. But he melts around Catherine, looking at her with real connection and affection. 

And, he has found his calling: Promise LOVES  to jump!  Now all we have to do is find the perfect new home for him. How long will that take?  It depends. We're letting go and letting God.

Cheery bye,
Susanna