The Minnesota titans did return for Sips n’ Saddles on September 19. They had wanted to come back four days before the event to help. I welcomed that. Over the weeks, I had become really fond of them. I also knew that when the Titans wanted to do something they did it in a BIG way. Extra hands and BIG ones at that would be very welcome. But as fate would have it, Jeffy and Nick’s grandmother died that week.
Jeffy was contrite and said they couldn’t be there early as planned because they needed to attend the service which was two days before our party.
“I am so sorry about your loss!,”I told him which I knew, even though she was very old, was traumatic. “But, tell me Jeffy, do you think will you be able to come at all? I was so hoping that you would tell your and Noah’s story at the event.”
“You BETCHA!,” he boomed in a his endearing way. “We will leave right after the service and drive ’til we get to you.”
I knew Jeff well enough by now that I needn’t worry. He would be there.
|Nick, Jeff, and Lauren|
stuff goody bags for guests
And on the morning of the party, bright and early, there they were: Jeffy, Lauren, Mr. and Mrs. Nick Tow-Arnett, and Stanley, their clever, cute cocapoo who sported a green saddle pad with a small jockey aboard. They went right to work: Tieing together bunches of carrots for guests to give to the horses. Lifting tables and setting them up. Stuffing gift bags with the various goodies that we had garnered including bags of hand made horse treats that they had made themselves. The idea and the recipe were Lauren’s, who, although smaller in stature comparatively, is mighty in influence. It was Lauren who had inspired Jeffy, then Nick to get horses. Lauren who had spotted the big gray mare Jess, and who had come back to make sure the fit would be right for Jessy. Now Lauren had comandered the Titans in the baking and packaging of three hundred bags of “Lulu’s” horse treats named thusly because Lulu was once her nickname.
I don’t remember much about the blur of preparations. My attentions were required on so many fronts. Yet I do recall how grateful I felt for my Minnesota team. They certainly knew how to defend their quarterback! I also remember coming into the foyer and bumping into a legend in a wheelchair: Ron Turcotte, Secretariat’s jockey, who had come by the MMSC before the party to wish us well. It was an awestruck Nick who rolled Ron out to the Secretariat statue so that we could commemorate the moment. (Jeffy who was running errands for me, was SICK that he missed the visit! But we brought Noah out so that we could get a photograph of Ron and he together.)
|Lulu’s horse treats|
“Who’s the big guy?” Ron asked me quietly.
“He’s a retired football player,” I murmured. “Played for the Seattle Sea Hawks, and the Dallas Cowboys.”
“And the girl?”
“That’s his wife. She’s a professional volley ball player."
“Wow!,” said Ron. “That’s something!”
It takes an athlete to appreciate an athlete.
|Nick and Jessy with Ron Turcotte|
All of a sudden, it was time for everyone to get changed. Jeffy, Lauren, Nick and Jessy disappeared, returning a short while later buffed and beautiful.
“Are you still ok about speaking to the crowd tonight?” I asked Jeffy as we stood outside Noah’s stall.
“Pictures?,” the photographer who was hired to document the party asked.
“Sure!” Jeff replied, slipping beside Noah. It was amazing to watch the two of them together. Their connection was unmistakeable. Not just to me.
“I don’t know much about horses,” the photographer said later, “but there seems to be some kind of special bond between that guy and that horse.”
“It’s because they both have suffered,” Louise, Noah’s owner who had come for Sips ’N Saddles offered. “They understand each other. They are healing each other.”
I couldn’t have said it better. Noah and Jeffy were alike in temperament and in histories: Firey warrior athletes with broken bodies and HUGE hearts, both in need of a new arena.
Jeff, who had not met Louise until now, positively glowed in her presence. For much of the party, he sat next to her. It made me happy to see that. Louise had taken a big leap for Noah, and an even bigger one for Jeffy. When the time came for his talk, and we led Noah into the tent under the bright lights, Jeff rose from his seat beside and took hold of Noah’s lead rope.
“This is my guy, Noah, “he began. “He’s a true athlete who always tried his hardest, always gave his best. He made over $200,000! He ran in the Kentucky Derby! He’s had injuries. He’s had hard times. I have too. I made it to the NFL. I wasn’t the best athlete. I knew that. So I had to train more, and I had to work harder on technique. Sure there were others who could run me over in the first quarter, maybe the second, but by the third quarter and definitely the fourth, they were done, and I was still standing.”
Jeff talked about all the things he had done to patch his broken body together: Acupuncture. Herbs. Massage. Surgery. Homeopathy.
“Susanna’s done all that for Noah, too. I can relate! It’s like he and I are the same person! The day I met Noah, there was no question in my mind Noah felt what I was feeling. This was my first encounter with any horse who acted like Noah did. I gave him a hug and he just stuck his face into my chest and didn't move it. He didn't care that other people he'd never seen were around him; he was solely focused on me. After that encounter I wanted Noah to be my horse more than ever. The next day was our big day to see what Noah thought of me and whether or not Susanna would consider giving me a shot. Noah and I had a connection and the rest is history! From the time Noah comes home with me to the day he passes, I’d sell everything I own before the thought would ever creep into my head about us not being together.
I not sure what Noah and I will end up doing, but with our personalities, it will probably be something that people tell us it isn't possible. The MMSC is amazing in the fact that they give ex-racehorses a second chance to prove their worth. Not only that, but they gave me a second chance to prove my worth too. Words cannot express how grateful I am to Louise, to Susanna and to the MMSC who gave me that chance, just like they have done for so many horses. For me, having a horse like Noah is a dream come true. Thank you!”
As he led Noah out of the tent and back to the barn, I looked around the crowd. People were wiping their eyes.
The next morning, the Titans were back. It was Nick’s turn to show me what he had learned. I knew which horse he wanted: My other favorite in the barn: Wordsworth, a horse that I had tracked for six months or more, telling the owners how much I would like to have him should he not make a good racehorse. I inquired about Wordsworth regularly from the moment I saw him on a sleeting day in December of his two year old year.
“You can’t have him yet, Susanna,” I was told. “He is a half brother to Bernardini * (a stallion that stands for $100k). We are hoping that he is going to be a big racehorse.”
“Well, he is going to be big,” I retorted, which seemed obvious as he stood 16.3 as a two year old. “But, I doubt he’ll be a racehorse.” He didn’t have the look of a racehorse. His body was ponderous and his eye too gentle.
Seven months later, I squealed with delight when I learned the owners concurred with me. (“The fastest he could run three furlongs was 40 seconds!!!,” I was told—thirty six seconds being a baseline for most horses.) Although unsuccessful at the track, I was expecting this big horse to excel in other arenas. With his good looks, his movement, and his easy going temperament, Wordsworth, I hoped, could be a huge ambassador for the MMSC in a hunter show barn.
From the moment we posted his pictures on our website, the phone rang and the emails poured in. But like all horses, he wasn’t perfect. He had an old capped hock, that would never bother him physically but which was unsightly, nixing him from huter equitation or in hand classes. He did move well but when it came to jumping, he was an oaf. Granted, he was young and had know idea how to lift his big body. Finally, he lacked the temperament for eventing.
What he did have was size (by the time he was three, he was 17 hands), and a kind, docile disposition, both things that Nick, as a big man, and a beginner rider would need. So I chucked my aspirations for “Ambassador Wordsworth,” and decided to let Nick try him.
Once again, I was floored by the Tow Arnett boys’ athleticism. Nick who is a practitioner and instructor of Escogue sports training and pain relief has remarkable posture and balance. He is totally in tune with his body, knowing every part of it which he can name and control individually. He also knows how to move his body in relation to another body in motion, a skill which is essential in riding.
“That comes from blocking in football, Susanna” he told me. “You have to be able to mirror and/or predict how your opponent moves in order to successfully stop him.”
|Nick’s posture on Wordsworth was exemplary.|
Nick, who had been riding even less time than Jeffy, rode with a military correct seat. He trotted. He steered. He circled he. He stopped. Wordsworth loved him. The adopti0n was a done deal.
|Wordsworth followed Nick like a puppy after their first ride.|
“He’s yours,” I said.
Nick gave me a huge smile, and when he dismounted, a high five and a hug.
Jeffy, who was hanging on the rail, opened the gate and patted Nick on the back.
“Jeffy,” I approached him and said, “I am so grateful that all of you have come into my life. Each one of you is so special. I am really going to miss not seeing you.”
Jeffy gave me his adorable Shrek-like grin and wrapped his arm around my shoulders.
“That means we gotta start planning your trip to Minnesota, eh Susanna?”
I smiled. “I guess,” I replied.
“You gotta come see where Noah and I live, Wordsworth and Miss Jess, too. You can stay with us. After all, we’re family now, right?”
I wrapped my arm around his waist.
Yes, Jeffy. We are, I thought, MMSC family!
Left to right: You Jest and Jessy, Wordsworth and Nick, Noah and Jeffy, Louie and Lauren