Regiment: Faith

We covered some rugged terrain in the last blog, skirting the border between fantasy and fact, exploring the bizarre terrain of quantum reality, bounding over the towering virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. It was a wild ride. But there’s a method to my madness. I wanted to explain, (and probably justify) the curious mixture of vision, drive, and credulity it takes to run a non profit organization for reschooling Thoroughbreds. 

I am speaking from my own narrow perspective. No doubt all non profit leaders rely on those attributes. I just know that to do my job, I have to nurture dreams and work diligently and daily on realizing them. Actualizing a vision in an unimaginative, flaccid-willed, naysaying world takes faith. And faith, as anyone who has tried to keep a promise, practice a discipline, or stay on a diet knows, is fragile and fleeting. It’s the at times seemingly stupid unflinching adherence to the expectation of the imagined and the unproven. Faith is not for wimps.

Every time I accept a horse into the MMSC program, I have to draw from my faith stash. I see many horses that are racing fit—as tucked up aand leggy as super models—some gleaming with health, others showing signs of the wear and tear of their athletic campaigns, a tad mangy, with stiffened joints and dull coats. I seek out the inherent physics of their infrastructure. It’s just a matter of angles, clearly visible in the skeletal layout, and calculating the inherent potential for thrust, pull, and leverage.

I look long and hard at the expression in the horse’s eyes. Intelligence, magnanimity, courage, spunk, confidence, naiveté, those qualities or the lack thereof are evident. I watch how the horse moves, even or uneven, springy or scopey; how it acts in relation to its handler, to its surroundings, to its onlookers. I weigh my thoughts and impressions on any given horse, and then, last but not least, check in with my gut. After all, as I said in an earlier blog, logic should be on tap, not or top.

Every decision—whether I accept the horse into our program or not— takes a leap of faith. Racehorses change hands a lot. Paper trails can be hard to come by. There are lots of unknowns: injuries, habits, vices which might surface at the MMSC. Those slow down the reschooling process.  Sometimes they arrest the process outright. In either case I hear the silent daily “cha-ching” as expenses add up. As they do, my decision seems less and less “cents-able.”

Every year, there’s always one horse that taxes my faith to breaking point:
This year it’s Reggie.

Regiment by Indian Charlie out of Beaucette by Mr. Prospector was regally bred by Gainesway Farm and sold at the August 2011 Saratoga yearling sale for $450,000. He ran in two races, came in third once with a career earnings total of  $6,450. Last September, he strained the suspensory in his left front leg.  When I saw him in November, he had been hand walking for two months. The swelling was minimal and there was no heat but his owners had decided nonetheless to rehome him.

Reggie was a plain bay with a knot just below his eyes where he had banged his head on the stall door sill. His frame, although tall, was narrow and his eyes harbored a look of arrogance. On the  positive side his shoulder was nice, his hind end even better, and he had a beautiful ground covering walk. My gut told me he would be an athlete, an eventer in fact, and a good one at that.

He arrived at the end of February after healing up from castration. His first week was spent settling in, getting “spa treatment,” and being beautified from head to toe.

A week later, he began Natural Horsemanship games and bomb-proofing exercises and handled all with poise. The next week we started riding him.

I was impressed. He was a lovely mover, with lofty gaits and regular cadence. He had a nice jump, too. He felt great under saddle, naturally balanced and powerful. He still held a somewhat disdainful look in his eye, but he was always polite.

I was excited and called someone I knew in Virginia who was looking for such a horse. When she came in early April to try him, she fell in love, and wanted to adopt him. But I didn’t like what I saw: Reggie wasn’t himself.  His jaw was stiff, his poll locked. His lovely, lengthy trot was choppy.  

I ran my hands over him and could feel that he was out in his neck. He had a few ribs out too. I told the prospective adopter that he needed a chiropractic adjustment prior to any pre-purchase exam. 

That was the first test of faith. What ensued over the next 12 weeks defies reason. Whenever we scheduled a pre-purchase exam or a date with a prospective adopter, Reggie managed the morning of  to come up lame: A hoof bruise, a swelling of the old suspensory, getting cast and twisting himself out of alignment, discouraging any potential adopter from taking him home.

We x-rayed, we ultra sounded. We hosed. We poulticed. Nothing special showed up. We kept him shod, or at least tried to-he never kept shoes on for longer than 48 hours, whether nailed or glued,  steel or aluminum. He got hives, and then skin disease. He grew grumpy and impolite, pinning his ears whenever someone entered his stall, and flashing his teeth when groomed. Although not off anywhere, he was surly when worked. He bullied his four legged pasture mates when out, and glowered with contempt at his two legged handlers when in.

Every day, I grew increasingly dismayed by my inability to figure him out. My faith was waning. Should I call his original owners?  Send him back? I couldn’t!  He was too nice. I had to hold on and figure out what was going on. Every test of faith was an opportunity to grow.

Shortly thereafter our acupuncturist discovered a nascent case of herpes, which although pesky, was treatable.With oral lysine, herbs, and soothing baths, Reggie, started to come around. The intermittent flaring up of the left front suspensory abated too, which the acupuncturist said was a common and curious symptom of herpes due to the placement of meridians. But he still refused to keep shoes on and came up constantly with bruises and gravels.

“Why do you keep pulling off your shoes, Reggie!?!!,” I sputtered out loud to him in exasperation one day. The next instant, a picture of how his shoes needed to be placed on his feet flashed into my brain. I picked up his right front foot. What I saw there was very different from the picture in my mind.  When I shared the information with my farrier, he scoffed, “Ok.  I’ll do what you say but it won’t work.”

 Reggie hasn’t lost a shoe since.

Intrigued by  this experience, I started asking Reggie if I might come in his stall when I opened the door. When I did he welcomed me politely.

I told everyone in the barn to verbally ask his permission for things—to pick up his feet, to be groomed, to stand still. Without exception, and without being touched, he responded with no recalcitrance. The more we experimented, the more Reggie surprised us all with his seeming ability to understand.  So we took this experiment into the riding arena, and there, too, we got responses. The old Reggie was back!  Sound and training better than ever. His expression grew less contemptuous. I even got a friendly nuzzle every so often.

Emboldened by this, recently I decided to pop the question.

Slipping into his stall, (after being granted permission of course), I asked quietly. “Reggie,Why are you always lame on pre purchase exams or when a prospective adopter comes to try you?”

The image of a male rider flooded my brain.

I suddenly realized that everyone who had tried Reggie thus far had been female.

“A guy, Reggie?  You want to go home with a GUY?

He lifted his head from his hay and stared unflinchingly at me.

“Ok! Ok!  I’ll find you a guy.”

He put his head down and went back to eating hay.

I stood with my back against the stall wall, looking at him and let out a sigh.

“OMG!!!…. Am I nuts?”

“Absolutely not!,” my gut resounded

“Most likely,” sniggered my brain.

Wow! If I am to believe what just happened, I am supposed to find Reggie a guy? How am I going to do that?

No idea. 

 Let go and let God, I guess.

 Isn’t that what faith is about?


As I said, faith is not for wimps!!!!

Cheery bye,