Older Horses: Meteor Shot and Melissa

 Meteor Shot, or “Shooter,” like Bordeaux Bandit, is ten years old. He’s a Louisiana bred horse with 24 starts, 4 wins, 4 seconds, and 4 thirds and a total earnings of $27,615. I first became aware of him in 2011, when his owner contacted the MMSC and asked if we would accept him into our program.

I studied the photographs she sent, particularly the head shot. He had a good eye: inquisitive and well intentioned. His videos showed an even trot and a balanced canter. His vet records were clean. I liked him. I told her to send him.

Melissa DeCarlo Recknor was working for me at the time. She had already adopted an MMSC horse, Fly Lite. Melissa liked Shooter too. He was compact and diminutive (15.3). He could be brilliant on the flat and over fences. He was willing to try anything that was asked of him. Smart and personable, curious and inventive, he liked to explore the world, interacting with all the people and things he encountered. He could be demanding and pushy at times, and was “race tracky” tense under saddle, but his sparkly personality won Melissa and the rest of us over. He made us laugh. He was Robin Williams with four legs.  

Those qualities were noticed by a circus tiger tamer who came to the MMSC as the guest of one of our board members at the time. Daniel was Argentinian from a five generation circus family. As a young boy, he knew that he wanted to train big cats. His father tried to dissuade him, telling him that they were difficult to work with and very, very dangerous. But Daniel, age nine, won his father over when he taught five barn cats to walk a tight rope, one leaping over the other as they inched across. He received a baby tiger on his tenth birthday. By the time he was 16, Daniel had his own act and was touring in Europe.

In his 40’s now, Daniel was thinking about retirement. He had bought some land in Florida and was going to start a business there teaching people how to trick train animals. In particular he wanted to have a herd of former racehorses. He was looking for his first acquisition. I was intrigued by the idea of the TB troupe, but guarded.

So I asked another one of our board members, Nina Bonnie, and her husband Ned, both of whom are lifelong horsemen to help me decide. We met Daniel at the backstage of the circus.

“Let me show you my cats!” he said, eyes gleaming with love and pride. The tigers had fenced paddocks with dens and “swimming pools” in which some were basking. When Daniel called each by name, it raised its head, came over and rubbed the sides of its face back and forth against the grill, purring.

Having my two sons is definitely the most exciting experience of my life, but being inches from a 500 pound tiger’s head and hearing it purr is probably the second. This is not the chintzy rumble of a house cat! A tiger’s purr is like the swell of the sea washing up on a broad sandy beach, breathy and majestic. 

Suffice it to say after we saw how Daniel worked with and kept his cats, indeed how all the circus animals were cared for, the three of us came away convinced us that we should let Daniel adopt Shooter. After all, Daniel’s retirement was nigh. Shooter would soon have a farm in Florida to go to.

Melissa was not pleased and none one of my assurances assuaged her concerns.  

“Circuses are not natural places for horses.”

“Neither are racetracks. Or show circuits. Shooter will be well cared for and soon will have a permanent home in Florida as the first TB in a special troupe that heralds the breed. It could lead to something very interesting.”

Well, Shooter did make it to Florida. But Daniel didn’t because life has a way of getting in the way of our best laid plans. When I learned in 2014 that Shooter needed a new home, I said we would take him back.

Shooter returned knowing some fun tricks, but also very needy. Not that he physically wanted for anything. He looked fine, but turn out in a field alone for over a year with scant interaction with people other than those who fed him whilst Daniel was on the road had taken a toll on him. Once back at the MMSC and reintroduced to a group of horses he became herd bound, to the point of having panic attacks when separated.

As I said in the last blog, the most difficult challenge with older horses if they are sound is dealing with the baggage in their hearts and minds. Shooter came back tense and nervous, which, along with his age, made him unadoptable by the end of our season. He needed time and a very special person. So I called Melissa and asked her if she would foster him for the winter.

 “I decided to foster him because well, you convinced me,” Melissa responded when I asked her recently. “I loved him when I first met him three years before, and I played around with the idea of adopting him when he came back last year I but just couldn't afford a horse in addition to Fly. When you approached me about fostering for two months, and he had nowhere else to go, however, I knew I had to do it.”

She took it slowly with him at first—stopping when he seemed nervous—building his trust. Under her care, Shooter bloomed. So much so I suggested that she take him to a few schooling shows—that the MMSC would pay for—because I knew they would help boost his confidence and make him, as he was already coming from behind being an older nervous horse, more adoptable if he did well.

Melissa agreed. “I thought showing would do several things for Shooter. The first was to let him get out and see what it's like to get off the farm and come back to your friends. The second, letting other people see how wonderful he really is.
"He took his first show, Snowbird, WAY better than I thought he would. He got off the trailer, hung out with his friends, walked down and into the rings and really relaxed! We came home with two seconds and a third amongst decent competition.

"After that I had high expectations, but the Paul Frazier show really rattled his brain. The Horse Park is tricky - horses either don't mind the "Dressage bowl" [the KHP's Dressage complex] or they hate it...he hated it. He hacked around the night before with his friends like a champ but it had been quiet and warm and his friends were right by his side. In the morning, however, it was very chilly. There were horses EVERYWHERE, tons of traffic and only Fly to keep him company, and Fly was honestly much more interested in eating the grass than babysitting her little brother. He lost it. I thought we would have to scratch but then I remembered - he would much rather be contained in a ring than out in the open. So I got up on Shooter right before I needed to go in and went straight into the ring without warming up. MAGIC. Although he was still nervous, he felt so much better, almost like "OK I understand what I am supposed to do now". We completed both dressage tests - they weren't pretty but we stayed in the ring, which was a major accomplishment considering what the morning started out like. 

"Then our jumping time came - he had horses warming up above him, horses jumping in the ring in front of him and horses coming and going left and right. So, I decided to do the same thing except that when we entered the ring, Shooter spun and left...running sideways back to the barn. At this point,I could have stayed on and MADE him do it but why when he was SO CLEARLY NERVOUS and not being bad? I decided that he had tried really hard and needed to chill. So I brought him back to his stall, put some liniment and wraps on his legs and let him calm down. Sure enough, he laid down and took a nap. He wasn't being bad or naughty, he was being nervous and insecure. So we went back to square one - trust.

"Back at the farm, I am continuing to work on his confidence - he is SO unsure of himself that he gets nervous when he is being ridden by himself or asked to do anything that he doesn't know. I take him on walks with no tack, just a halter and lead rope by himself. We walk around the fields, over the xc jumps, in the arena and all over the farm so he knows that even if I take him away from his friends I expect him to work and then he can return to the barn. 

"I would get on every day and just pat him - letting him know it was me in the saddle and that we would be ok. We walked and trotted for a few days and I decided to give it a go again at one more show, Meadowlake - a quieter environment. The dressage rings were all contained and he didn't have to jump a single jump. He was a star! I treated him with some gastrogard-type supplement for two days before and it made a huge difference. He is one that should probably live on an ulcer supplement. He went in and put in 6 GREAT tests - of course, we brought his girlfriend Jazzy up with him so he had a friend to keep him company but I could not have been more proud! And had it not been for my error in the test, he would've scored his best score to date. We came home with a first and two seconds!” (See the video of Shooter's best dressage test here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpJzxuERVKk)

Shooter was supposed to come back to the MMSC the first of March. But knowing him as I did, I felt that he had to stay at Melissa’s a little longer to make him truly adoptable. He was tried by one potential adopter, but the fit was not a good one. He wasn’t ready to go. But one potential adopter who had heard his story through an email exchange with us decided to pitch in, offering to pay half of his board until he found a home. But even paying half is too expensive for the MMSC.

I pleaded with Melissa over and over to adopt Shooter. 

“If I had the money I would not even question him staying Fly's brother for the rest of his life,” she told me repeatedly. “However, Fly is my first commitment and keeping her happy and healthy is my goal. My husband and I don't have the funding to be able to keep two horses. If I won the lotto or someone told me they would pay his bills for the rest of his life, it would be a no brainer. I love this little horse! I told myself I wouldn't fall in love, it was just a foster. But we all knew that wasn't going to happen.

“I worry so. I don’t know what is going to happen to him. I know you will find him a great home, but when? And what if he comes back again? What if I help chose a home that isn't the right home? Will he think I failed him? Will he think I abandoned him? It's hard for me to think about him leaving but I know for him a forever home that could spoil him is exactly what he needs and I can't give that to him right now.”

I got to thinking. I can’t justify keeping Shooter with Melissa any longer and paying for his board and training. But that is clearly where where this adorable horse belongs for now.

 But what if I were to broadcast his story?  Surely you out there reading about him would help him stay with Melissa until he finds his forever home, a home that Melissa KNOWS will be perfect for him? If you are willing and able to help, would you go to www.gofundme.com/meteorshot right now. No gift is too small.  Remember a cistern is filled one drop a time. Please, if you can, help Shooter. This is your chance to make a big difference in this little horses life.

Thank you and cheery bye,