Holy Moses

The shed row in Mr. Tom’s barn at the training center is neatly raked in a herringbone pattern. Racehorses with gleaming coats hang their heads out over the stall guards. The help, all female, have welcoming smiles. The five-year-old gelding I had come to see had had 19 career starts, with four firsts, two seconds, and three thirds, in the money 47% of the time. In the last six months he had slipped down in class and was racing in $5,ooo claimers. His owner who bred him and cared a great deal for him, felt it was time to give him a new life, before he was claimed away, before he broke down. I love owners like that. I told the him so when he called me about the horse and asked me to go look at him.

“What’s his name?” I asked.

“Holy Moses,” he replied.  “He’s by Holy Bull out of an Affirmed mare named So Right.”

“That’s the BEST NAME!!” I told him. I meant it too.  A good, strong name that made me smile.  

When Mr. Tom unhooked the stall guard and I stepped inside, Holy Moses was facing the wall. The first thing that impressed me was his thick and lustrous tail. You rarely see a natural one like that. It was attached to a lovely blood bay rump. 

I lingered at the threshold. "Hey, Moses,” I said quietly. Years ago I had learned from my Andalusian stallion, Legado, that horses value their space and their privacy. We humans need to heed and respect that. I was new in my relationship with Legado. I had never had an Andalusian, an amazingly perceptive and sensitive breed. I had handled TB colts, but not stallions. As usual I was in a hurry to get through my barn day. I swooped up Legado’s halter and barged in. He was munching hay at the front of the stall. His head shot up, his nostrils flared and he whirled around showing me his fine rump, and cocking his right hind foot. Then he looked back at me and fixed me in with a stern paternal stare.

“RUDE dear girl! EXCEEDINGLY RUDE!” his look said. “Start over, please.”

So I did, backing up, shutting the door, and reopening it. “Hello, Legado. May I come in?” He peered at me. Then he tossed his head slightly, turned around, and walked straight up to me.  

Legado has taught me to be mannerly around a horse.
I have never forgotten that lesson.

I applied it with Moses. I stood at the front of the stall and waited for him to acknowledge my greeting. He stayed against the back wall but he did look at me. I took a took a small step closer and stretched out my hand for him to sniff.

His expression changed from defensive to surprised and he stepped in my direction.

“Would you like to come out of the stall so I can look at you, Moses?  Is that possible, Mr. Tom?”

“Sure Susanna,” he said. When he led  Moses out, I noticed that his feet had been freshly painted. I appreciated the attention to detail. The horse was in beautiful condition. 

Moses had raced the day before in a $5000 claimer and won. His ankles, although enlarged and knobby, had no effusion and only the right one had a bit of heat. I've seen ankles a day after cross country that looked worse. The tendons were smooth and tight. Like all racehorses when trotted out, he was skittish but I caught glimpses of good reach with his shoulder and his steps were even.

I put great stock in a horse’s eye. Conformation is important. Injury history is crucial. But the trump card that will make or break my decision of whether to take a horse on or not always, without fail, is the eye. Specifically what I see in there, and, as I have said many times, my gut reaction to it.

Moses had the expression of an infantry soldier, dutiful and guarded. This was a horse who knew and did his job, a horse that didn’t demand or expect much from people. He was told what to do. He did it. End of story. 

“What a good man, you are Moses,” I said to him in a slow voice. I let him smell my hand. “My I touch you?” He stared at me and then tolerated my slow scratching of his forehead.
Moses was in amazing condition the day that I first saw him at the track
When I stroked his neck, he flinched and raised it out of reach. His muscles felt like concrete. When I ran my hand down his back, he buckled slightly. Clearly this horse was sore. I knew why: his sacrum was maligned and he had cervical disks going every which way. I could tell that from how he walked. And things had been out for a while. That’s why he lacked at topline and and had developed a huge underneck muscle to compensate.

I went back to his head and stroked his forelock. His eye got soft. He sighed.
By the end of our first meeting at the track,
 Moses’ eye got soft and kind.
“I think he’d be a great candidate for the MMSC,” I said, “but first I would need a set of x-rays on those ankles first to see what’s going with him and what he can and cannot do.”

I got lucky. The owner sent me x-rays not only of the ankles, but of every joint! I forwarded them on to our vet, Dr. True Baker at Hagyard, and he got back to me right away. “Nothing to worry about.”

So Moses came to the MMSC. I was out when he arrived but as soon as I came into the office, I was told about his arrival. I went straight to the barn.

“What do you think of him?” I asked the interns who were with me.  

“He’s got no topline,” said one.

“And a huge underneck,” said another.

“He’s really nervous,” said Hannah, “but I think he’s cute.”

“Do you, Hannah?" I looked at her. “Then you’re going to be the one assigned to to the job of socializing him!” I told her.

I opened the stall door and showed her what Legado had taught me. I demonstrated how to stroke Moses always being mindful of where he flinched and how much pressure he could tolerate. Moses was stand-offish, his eye defensive.

“I call that the ‘Noli me tangere’ look, Hannah. Ever heard that phrase? It’s Latin meaning ‘Don’t touch me.’ Jesus said it to Mary Magdalene when she saw him for the first time outside of his grave. Your job will be to change his expression to a soft welcoming one.”

She looked dubiously at me.

“Oh, don’t worry. He will come around quickly. You’ll start seeing the change in a few days. In a month, he’ll be a different horse.

“How do you know?”

“I just know. I saw it in his eye. This horse has big heart. He wants to be of service. Mark my words, he is the most magnanimous horse in the barn. And he has the best name and the best tail in the barn to boot!”

Cheery bye,

Why is lustrous highlighted?

Because it is  the Blog Word of the Day:

 Help us reach our goal of 112,000 total blog visitors this year! Join our Word of the Day contest and you could be entered in a grand prize drawing to win a $500 horse credit at the MMSC or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Secretariat’s jockey Ron Turcotte! Simply read the blog every Sunday and find the highlighted Word of the Day. Then write a sentence using the word and submit it to mmsc04@gmail.com for a chance to be entered to win! Please read the full contest details below before submitting an entry.
  • Blogs will be posted on Sundays. A chosen word will be highlighted within each blog post.
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  • Entries must include the highlighted word of the day. The word of the day may be used in other parts of speech other than the one used in the blog, i.e. the highlighted word in the blog may be "malleability" but entrants may use the more common form "malleable" in their sentences.
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