Horse Centered

Desert Wheat and the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center
The day was planned: Saturday. No adopters scheduled to look at horses. Lori, the office manager,  was off. Catherine, the barn manager,  was out of town. Tony, the farm manager, was overseeing a much needed barn cleanup with interns and volunteers. I really love the MMSC, but it is nice to get off campus every now and then and see what the rest of the world is doing. Given how quiet things were going to be, I planned to give myself a treat. I intended to stop in at the MMSC, check horses, emails, phone messages, applaud Tony’s crew, and then head to the first of two events I was really looking forward to.

The International Equine Alliance Conference was being held at the Alltech Arena at the Horse Park, a stone’s through from the MMSC’s front entrance. The schedule was loaded with interesting topics and speakers covering the myriad aspects of horse rescue, retirement and rehoming from OTTBs, to unwanted horses to feral herds. There were colleagues attending whom I had not seen in a while and others I was excited to meet.

In the afternoon I planned to wrest myself away to audit a clinic given by Buck Branaman at nearby Masterson Station. There are many excellent horse whisperers out there and to that I say“Amen!” Nobody knows it all and we all have something to learn about horses, people, and oneself every day along the way of one’s horseman’s journey. That’s why I started the Bucephalus Training Library at the MMSC which houses works about training by masters down through the ages from Kikkuli to Parelli and then some. That said, I have an especially deep seated admiration of and appreciation for Buck Brannaman. He's all about horses: Day after day, year after year, on the road, clinic to clinic,  helping one horse at time. No marketing hoopla.  What he does, what he says, how he acts, how he trains, how he lives is clearly Horse Centered. He walks the talk and that resonates with me. But I have never had the pleasure or privilege of seeing him at work in person. 

Until today. 

I live an hour away from the Kentucky Horse Park, and I spend the time to and fro on the phone with a list of calls I need to make and return. It’s the only place that I have no interruptions.

“I am interested in several of your horses,” Joan from Pittsburg explained when I reached her that morning. “I am in Lexington for the Buck Brannaman clinic and I wondered if I could swing by the MMSC briefly this morning to take a quick look at them. If I see anything I like, I will be back on another weekend to try them.

Pittsburgh is about a seven hour drive.  It made sense. 
“Sure,” I told her. “Come on!”
 I’d be just a tad late to the International Equine Alliance meeting.

Joan, a compact, fifty-something, strawberry blonde arrived shortly after I did and presented me with a list of MMSC horses she had seen on the web. Where had they come from?  Where did they want to do in their next career? What were their strengths? Their weaknesses? Where they right brained? Left brained? Introverts? Extroverts?
“Let’s go out in the fields to meet them,” I told her. 
Clear, Studio Time and Xin Xu Lin

We all know how parents of newborns are quick to talk about their babies, trumped only by grandparents, all of whom have the brightest, most beautiful, most unique grand children ever to grace the Earth. But neither group have the same discursive powers as horse crazy women.

Mr. Segretto and Electromagnetic

After walking in every paddock, snuffling on every horse, talking about its horsenality, strengths and weakness, as well as having shared stories of other horses that we knew or have known, we were back at the office, an hour and forty
five minutes later. Joan thanked me and drove back to the Branaman Clinic. 

I glimpsed at my watch. There was still a bit of time to duck into the International Equine Alliance Conference. 

“Susanna, while you were in the paddocks, this couple stopped in looking for a horse,” said Tony as he introduced me to Richard and Julie. 

 I smiled at them. “Tell me a little about what you are looking for?" They had some very specific requests, and I didn’t think I had anything that would adequately felt would meet their needs. So only a twenty minute delay. No big deal.

I was following them out the door when Lara Knight who used to trek up from Nashville in 2011 and 2012 as much as she could to work with our horses, rode up on Rob’s Rock, the off track Thoroughbred I had found for her to show in the Retired Racehorse Retraining Project.

What a dazzling pair!  Lara with her broad smile, her lithe figure and impeccable seat and Rob’s Rock, whom she renamed Ari, in all of his 17 hand bay, quivering glory. I had seen him in a field a few months before. He had not been particularly successful on the track.  His owner no longer could pay the board bills. Ari looked a bit rough butI could tell he was somebody. There are many things I am not good at, but I do know I have an eye for a nice horse. It was clear as day: Ari was a magnificent horse.
Lara Knight and Rob's Rock aka "Ari"  at the Retired Racehorse Retraining Project at Pimlico, MD, Oct. 5-6

I just wasn’t prepared for how magnificent he would become in the short three months since I had first seen him. Under Lara’s care and training, he was transformed, “Cinder-fella,” like  from the soot pile to the beau of the ball!  

“I’m at the Horse Park schooling,” Lara told me.  “I thought you’d want to see how Ari’s doing, so I rode over.” 

 You bet I wanted to see! And to hear about every phase of his metamorphosis.

Even when we were finished with our “brief chat,” and Lara and Ari trotted down the MMSC avenue and out the gate, I watched them until I lost sight of them. I was mesmerized.  And humbled. And grateful. What a great privilege it is to have a job like mine! Matching up great horses with great people.

Looking at my watch I saw that I had missed my window of opportunity to go to the conference. I stepped back in the office to grab some of the invitations to our upcoming Sips N Saddles party (October 25--email if you would like a ticket) to drop in the mail on my way to the Branaman clinic when I heard the front door open and someone call, “Susanna?  Is Susanna here? It’s Maureen, from last year? Remember me?”

I stepped into the foyer. There were two women standing there.  Maureen From Last Year who, I remembered, had accompanied Andrea from New York to look a horse named Milo, which Andrea ending up adopting. And, another Maureen, who in my mind became Maureen From This Year. 


“We are in town for this International Equine Alliance Conference going on at the Horse Park. Did you know about it?,” said Maureen From Last Year. “We were tired of sitting, so I suggested that we come visit you.”

 “I am glad to see you again. And, yes, I did know about the conference. How is Milo???’

You can guess where this is the paddocks, of course. The Maureens met all of the MMSC horses and lingered with them, and loved on them, and listened to all I said about them and shared stories about their horses, and the horses they had known.
Dandy's Noble and Syn No More

My phone buzzed. “I am sitting in the bleachers on the stable side at the Brannaman clinic if you come this way and would like to sit with me,” Joan from Pittsburg texted.

“Let’s head back up to the office shall we?”  

We looked up at the gate and saw a young man standing there.

“I am looking for an event horse,” said he. “I was wondering what you had here.”

Ah me.  It didn’t look like I’d be getting to the Branaman clinic any time soon.

By the time round four was over and all had trundled off for the day, it was ten minutes to five. I had not even opened my email.  Tony stepped in on his way out.  

"I thought you were going somewhere today," he said.

"I thought so too! How did the barn clean up go?"

We chatted for a bit about that, and then he  turned to go.  “Don’t stay too late!,” he admonished.

 “Just have to check phone messages and answer my emails and then I will be on my way,” I told him.

At 6:30, I turned off the computer and the lights, locked up, and headed to the barn to see the results of the Great Barn Cleanup. Dazzling, predictably. Tony would settle for nothing less.

The barn is my last stop every night before I leave. I want to make sure the feed and tack rooms are secure; that the horses staying in overnight are watered and hayed, that barn cats Sam and Jaspar are on patrol. I stand in the aisle and take it all in: The sights of a clean swept floor. The smell of Pine Sol. The sound of horses methodically munching their hay.It’s a Zen moment for me. I breath in. Breath out. And just be.

Sure, it would have been nice to have gone to the conference and the clinic. I would have seen people.  I would have learned things. But life is what happens when you have made other plans. And standing there quietly in the barn, letting impressions of the past ten hours wash over me, I had to say, it had been a truly wonderful horse centered day. And I was happy with that.

Cheery bye,