Week Two

The snow was gone by Tuesday. And then the rain came. Of course, the paddocks were waterlogged and, as I feared, they got ravaged by cavorting hooves. After eight winters at the MMSC, I should know that divots and demolition the first week back are like the law of gravity: immutable. Yet hope springs eternal. I always think we will transition gently into spring with the grass sprouting and greening up gradually, the precious turf setting down hearty roots for a season of lush pasture. But no! These days, temperatures rocket up then plunge by 40 degrees or more within a day, sending Nature into a tizzy—to bloom or not to bloom? Heap the fields heavily with snow that turns to slush. Inundate them with driving rains. Have the sun shine for an afternoon coaxing shoots to rise. Then turn out your band of Thoroughbreds. The result? Ravaged earth festooned with mud. Oh well, at least it’s a sign that the horses are back and the season has begun!

Loukas
Because we were already behind schedule, we had to cram as much as we could into this week: Spa treatments, vet work, bombproofing, horsenality assessments, riding, and potential adopters coming in from such far flung places as Wisconsin, Tennessee, Missouri, and Eastern Kentucky. We also had three new horses arrive: Loukas, a six-year-old bay Irish-bred gelding with ten starts that shipped in from California, and two chestnut mares (yes, I did say chestnut mares!), Send Me An Angel 09, and Zippy Shannon 12, both unraced from a farm nearby.
Send Me An Angel 09 (left) and Zippy Shannon 12


We always start our spa treatment with a thorough examination of the teeth and mouth. As herbivores, horses have teeth that grow continuously throughout their lifetime. This means that dental planes are ever changing depending on chewing patterns, feeds, forage, joint alignment, heredity, and bit use. If you have ever watched a horse move, particularly when it travels at speed, you will see that its jaw, too, is in motion. That’s a good thing. Why? Because more nerves run through the narrow cavity of the temporomandibular joint than anywhere else in the body. If the jaw is stuck by uneven teeth wear, then the joint will not articulate fully and it is going to show up somewhere, somehow, and sometime as a sensitivity, a weakness, a lameness, or an injury.  

Now there are some people who think you can just run a rasp in a horse’s mouth and get the job done. That’s probably true, to some extent, but I know it won’t be done to my satisfaction. (I suppose it’s sort of like a sponge bath compared to a deep soak.  Which one gets the job done best? Maybe that depends on how dirty you are.) The horse’s jaw is long, dark, narrow, and potentially dangerous (that’s where sedation comes in handy!). Therefore it is easy to miss important information that might hinder the horse's movement and consequently its training. Wolf teeth and caps are pretty easy to see, but go back further and things get more beclouded: hooks and points, wave mouth, broken teeth, ulcerations. Because I haven’t worked with these horses before, because I don't know how they have been taken care of in the past, and because I have such a short amount of time (ideally!) with each one of them, I want to get out of the gate on the right foot (or tooth), so to speak. I call in our equine dentist and ask him to shine a bright light down every MMSC candidate’s mouth and to right every possible dental wrong that he encounters.

Equine dentist Victor Torres working on Rondo, being held by MMSC intern Nicole

After the teeth are done, I call in a farrier and make sure the feet are balanced. These two things accomplished, and ONLY WHEN THEY ARE, I call in the chiropractors. Adjusting a horse that has an unbalanced mouth or feet is, to use the bath analogy again, like filling up a tub that has a leak. You’ll never get the water to stay. Similarly if the teeth are occluded or the feet are uneven, the chiropractic adjustment won’t hold. It’s bad enough that contracted muscles or a lack of muscling tend to pull the newly adjusted horse back into misalignment. If you do a chiropractic adjustment without making sure teeth and feet are balanced, you are just throwing money down into the great financial black hole of horses. So this week after Victor Torres, our dentist, and our farriers, Bryan and Amanda Osborne came, our veterinary chiropractors, Dr. Lark Caroll and Dr. R.E. Wharton arrived at the MMSC. Each of these women has different ways of adjusting a horse. Each has knowledge, experience, and perspectives that enlighten me. I divvy up the band of horses between them depending on the individual animal’s need.

MMSC Rider Molly bombproofing Beachview Two
Given the fact that we have no covered arena and that the terrain was, as I mentioned, saturated, we bombproofed on Monday and Tuesday as we could in the barn. We opened and closed umbrellas. We brandished plastic bags about heads and flanks. We sacked out and tacked up in stalls. We also set out our Theraplate, and brought out our Revitavet system. Our riders, Molly and Carolyn, braved the rains and walked and trotted what horses they could.

Dare Me aka "Darren"
On Wednesday, the first adopter of the year came. Others came on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Did any of our horses get adopted? That will depend on prepurchase examinations and the generosity of the adopters with their proposed donations. I hope so. But, as I always say, Let go and let God. I believe that if I represent the horses as truthfully as I can, if I watch the prospective adopters closely both around the horse and when riding it, and that if I listen to my gut and speak out about whether a fit between horse and rider seems good to me, all will work out well.

One thing that worked out really well this week was brilliant little Meteor Shot went to his first show with beloved Melissa DeCarlo Recknor. Melissa worked for me for three years (2009-2012), adopted a horse from the MMSC, Fly Lite, and has been a friend of the MMSC ever since. She has fostered Shooter over the winter and under her care he has thrived! She asked me if she could show him at the Horse Park in a Snowbird Dressage show before bringing him back to the MMSC. I told her by all means, and that we would pay her entry fees as it was such good experience for Shooter. She and Shooter were snowed out for the February show, but they made it this Saturday. And how did my shining little meteorite-former racehorse-turned-circus-horse perform? LIKE A ROCK STAR! Cool, calm, and YES! collected, this little champ was third in his very first dressage show ever with a 62%,  second in his second test with a score of 63.75% and SECOND in his last test with a 66.50%!





BRAVO M. AND SHOOTER!!!! 

What a stellar way to end our second week!

Cheery bye,
Susanna

PS. Catherine worked Souza in the round pen to see what his horsenality was like. Hes everything that I thought he would be: A precocious brilliant rascal!!! More to come...

Souza
Why is stellar 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.
  • Sentences using the highlighted word must be emailed to mmsc04@gmail.com with the subject line “Word of the Day Contest”.
  • Entries may be submitted each week following a blog post from the posted time through Thursday at 5:00 pm.
  • Winners will be posted on the MMSC Facebook page each Friday following a blog post.
  • 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.
  • Entries must also include the entrant’s full name (first and last) and email address.
  • Entrants may submit more than one sentence for consideration.
  • Sentences will be judged based on correct use of the word of the day, grammar and sentence structure, and creativity. 
  • Sentences will be judged by the MMSC staff, including MMSC Director Susanna Thomas, MMSC Barn and Media Manager Catherine Flowers, and MMSC Office Manager Lori Tobin.
  • Winners of each word of the day contest throughout the year will be entered in a grand prize drawing to win their choice of either a $500 horse credit toward an MMSC horse available for adoption or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Ron Turcotte. To use the $500 horse credit, the winner must become an approved adopter with the MMSC and follow all adoption policies and procedures.
  • The grand prize drawing will be held at the end of the year after Christmas and prior to New Year’s Eve.
  • Disclaimer: This contest does not have a connection with Blogspot or Facebook in any way and is not sponsored, supported, or organized by Blogspot or Facebook. The recipient of the information provided by you is not Blogspot or Facebook but the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center.

The First Week

Monday began with staff meeting. None of us were focused: Lori, our office manager, Catherine our former barn manager, now our program coordinator, and Lilly, our interim barn manager until May when Erin graduates from college and comes to work. We were mentally if not physically squirming in our chairs, our heads bopping up from our notes and laptops whenever we heard a vehicle pull in that might be a horse van.

There were false alarms: The trash pick up, colleagues of The Brooke USA which has an office in our building, stray visitors to the Horse Park who slowly drove around the statue of Secretariat and then left.

Finally, Catherine shot up from her seat when a horse trailer whizzed past the window.  

“The horses are here!” 

Well, one horse, actually. Colonel Harlan, a four-year-old gelding by Visionaire out of Jacaranda Jane, had started six times and was in the money twice earning a total of $24,938. He had spent the last two months in foster care at the Blackburn Correctional facility where the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation runs a life changing program for inmates called  Second Chances.

Colonel Harlan aka "Harlan"
Harlan came to us last fall with a reputation as a rogue. He did, in fact, have impressive outbursts of unacceptable behavior. Lightening quick and agile in the hind end, Harlan could buck—bronco style—like a pro. He lacked social graces and interacted with people and other horses in a heavy handed (or hoofed!), inept way. Catherine said he reminded her of “Sheldon” in the TV show, The Big Bang Theory. I’ve never seen that show, so I can’t say. All I knew was that Harlan was a very smart, scared, and needy horse. He was also young. Just three, and immature physically as well as mentally. By the time December rolled around, he had just settled into the swing of his new life, was mannerly on the ground, moving with confidence under saddle and learning to jump which he was good at and loved. The bucking was the thing of the past.

Time off was exactly what he needed. He stepped off the trailer, taller, more filled out, then stopped, inhaled and listened. Confident and quiet, he knew where he was and he was fine with that.

The next to arrive was Street Art or “Artie” as we had already nicknamed him, a 16.3hh four-year-old gelding by Noble Causeway out of Wakita. I was beyond excited to see him. A big chestnut with good bone and a teddy bear personality, he was built uphill and naturally balanced. He moved so rhythmically and with such suspension that it didn’t surprise me that in the two races he ran he finished 40 lengths behind the winner. Artie was built for comfort not for speed. He also has a very narrow mandibular. I couldn’t even fit my fist between his jaws. Maybe he couldn’t take the massive gulps of air necessary to run at top speeds?  Artie, I saw,  could dance and would be dazzling in the dressage ring. If he could jump, he’d make a lovely hunter prospect too. And, he had Noble Causeway’s slightly roman nose. I am a sucker for horses with roman noses. They always seem to be talented and winsome, sort of like the actor Owen Wilson.


Bordeaux Bandit, Jazz Fest, and Souza came next, delivered by Brook Ledge. Bordeaux, age 10, was a racetrack veteran that came to us in May of 2014, just two weeks after he hung up his silks. He arrived physically stiff and racetrack brainwashed. By December, he was more balanced and flexible, and a lot quieter, but still his mind and body needed a bit more time. The Bordeaux that stepped off the trailer was a different horse: Rolly-polly, fuzzy and best of all, bright eyed. He had come to us last year with a brusque “where d’ya wanna go?” New York cab driver look in his eye. Now his gaze was poised, relaxed and happy, which coupled with his elegant build takes your breath away. What a classic and classy Thoroughbred!
Bordeaux Bandit aka "Bordeaux"

Jazz Fest aka "Jay Z"

Jazz Fest is my Hummer. Stocky. Built. Think varsity wrestler. A meat and potatoes kind of guy. Uncomplicated. Hearty. Satisfying. To me he’s a field or a show hunter.  He’s tall, dark, and handsome too. Those are added benefits.

Souza
Souza screamed E V E N T E R to me when I saw him at the track last year. He’s got the build, the type, and the brain for it. He is going to be a handful though. Why? Because he has a mischievous twinkle in his eye. This horse wants action. A lot of it. And it has to be interesting. I’ll bet he is a bit of daredevil. It will take a savvy rider to stay ahead of Souza.

Michael Evans from Sheltowee Farm brought two of the four horses I was expecting. Dare Me, Shakleford’s half brother, had speed and quality but his owner’s stopped on him because he had a breathing problem. “Darren” is another eventer type. Great hind end. Uphill. Level headed. Beachview Two accompanied Darren. Beachview had been at the MMSC briefly last year, but I wasn’t quite happy with the look of his ankles and subsequent x-rays revealed chips that needed to come out. His amazing owners paid for the surgery and laid him up the rest of the year until he proved to be sound. Now that’s responsible ownership! The Beachview that came back to us had transitioned from boy to man. No longer spindly and narrow but tall and well sprung. But he still has that inquisitive look that had endeared me to him in the first place. He reminds me of an otter, keen and quick. I used to joke when he came last year that we could teach him do tricks, maybe even play poker. This horse is smart and very, very personable.
Dare Me aka "Darren"


Beachview Two aka "Beachview"
On Tuesday “Rondo”, donated to us by Lilly our barn manager, arrived. Rondo has been reschooled and was used for a bit as a lesson horse which really wasn’t to his liking. Multiple riders make him edgy. He is the monogamous type and will excel when he finds his person. Three things of note about Rondo. 1. He is a LOVELY mover. 2. He has two small “horns” protruding on either side of his star on his forehead.  3. He has the worst registered name known to man: PAIN GIVER. 
Pain Giver aka "Rondo"


Wednesday brought cold rains and sleet as well a snow forecast of 10 to 15 inches falling in the wee hours of the night. We postponed the arrival of the remaining horses. We canceled all the “spa” treatments scheduled for the rest of the week. Potential adopters were called and asked to rebook their flights or postpone their trips. The horses stood by the gate most of the day, sopping wet, looking miserable, relieved when we brought them in early, only to become annoyed when they had to spend the next 36 hours up in their stalls.

Roads were treacherous with snow on top of ice on Thursday morning, so the gracious Kentucky Horse Park police and KHP equine staff went up to the barn to water and hay the horses. Intrepid Lilly made it out to the MMSC in the afternoon and pronounced all the horses to be well, but very bored. (Souza had amused himself by flipping water buckets, tormenting his jolly ball, and wriggling out his blanket!)

Friday the snow was still with us, but the roads were slowly passable. Horses were finally turned out and as many stalls as possible were cleaned until the manure spreader could hold no more.

Saturday “Archangel Dave”, our stalwart volunteer of many years came and plowed a route to the spreader, hitched it to the tractor and dumped the manure. Office and barn interns came. The sun shone. The snow began to melt.

By Tuesday when we return, the temperatures will be in the fifties. The snow will be gone, and the paddocks, although water-logged, will host the full complement of horses in the spring class. We will pick up where we left off: beauty and spa treatments, “horsenality” assessments, initial bombproofing, and showing horses to potential adopters. Normal first week kind of stuff.

So what will the second week bring? A broken water pipe in the fields somewhere when the great thaw sets in? (Hope not!) What will we learn about these horses when we start them in the Horse Centered Reschooling Program ℠? (No telling) Will any of them get adopted next week? If so, which one?  (Let me know by posting your comments on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/makersmarksecretariatcenter under the blog post entry.)

Cheery bye,
Susanna
When I turned Rondo out, he showered me with a front, face, and mouthful
 of mud. Clearly I am not destined to be his forever person!

Why is complement 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.
  • Sentences using the highlighted word must be emailed to mmsc04@gmail.com with the subject line “Word of the Day Contest”.
  • Entries may be submitted each week following a blog post from the posted time through Thursday at 5:00 pm.
  • Winners will be posted on the MMSC Facebook page each Friday following a blog post.
  • 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.
  • Entries must also include the entrant’s full name (first and last) and email address.
  • Entrants may submit more than one sentence for consideration.
  • Sentences will be judged based on correct use of the word of the day, grammar and sentence structure, and creativity. 
  • Sentences will be judged by the MMSC staff, including MMSC Director Susanna Thomas, MMSC Barn and Media Manager Catherine Flowers, and MMSC Office Manager Lori Tobin.
  • Winners of each word of the day contest throughout the year will be entered in a grand prize drawing to win their choice of either a $500 horse credit toward an MMSC horse available for adoption or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Ron Turcotte. To use the $500 horse credit, the winner must become an approved adopter with the MMSC and follow all adoption policies and procedures.
  • The grand prize drawing will be held at the end of the year after Christmas and prior to New Year’s Eve.
  • Disclaimer: This contest does not have a connection with Blogspot or Facebook in any way and is not sponsored, supported, or organized by Blogspot or Facebook. The recipient of the information provided by you is not Blogspot or Facebook but the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center.

MMSC Abuzz

The MMSC has been abuzz all week. The horses are coming! You would think that all of us were five years old and awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. We are giddy with anticipation. We are scurrying around, trying to get everything clean and orderly. We are counting the days. Despite the week of delay, this still isn’t easy. The weather didnt cooperate much this week. We still have over a foot of snow to contend with and the cold is aggressive. It’s a challenge to push a wheelbarrow full of shavings over an icy snow crusted hillock as it is to wash down shelves with gloves on. How do you line dry laundry when it is below freezing? Or just spend hours at a time in a barn with an arctic wind blowing through the aisle ways?

Even though we tidy up when we close in December, somehow, it never seems clean enough when we get ready to open in February. Dust. Cobwebs. Mustiness. How does this happen so quickly? It’s truly sobering how quickly nature reclaims. Call it entropy. Call it “dust to dust". Every year it is the same. Every year the week before horses come, we are a bustle.

The buckets and feed tubs come out of the garage and are scrubbed again. The walls are swept free of cobwebs, the windows cleaned. The empty feed bin gets filled with salubrious smelling grain. The medicine shelf gets scrutinized anew. All expired medicines are thrown out. New essentials—Bute and Banamine, SMZ tablets, Ace and Dex—get ordered and put in place: LABELS OUT.

Why labels out? It might seem a Susanna draconian measure, but with many different people in the barn, some staff, some interns, some volunteers, things have a hard time finding their rightful homes. I can’t complain if occasional helpers don’t know where things belong, but I can harp about turning labels out, so that finding MIA meds, shampoos, or products of any kind is easier to do. If you have ever worked in a grocery store, you know.

One of the reasons we delayed the arrival of horses by a week was because I was worried about a lack of water. I have found if I don’t drain the waterers come December, they freeze up solid. Not only that, the pipes below ground tend to rupture come the first thaw. So that means that horses can only get water in the barn. But anyone who has dealt with stall  buckets in winter knows that they freeze up solid in record time. I was uneasy about our horses getting dehydrated. After all, when horses change environments, they tend to stress. When they stress, they drink less. If they drink at all; when water tastes “different” or “funny” from what they are used to many may avoid it. I didn’t need to kick off the season with a barnful of colicking horses! And I had no heated water buckets. At $27 to $30 a bucket, we’ve never been able to squeeze them into the budget. That’s where angels step in.  

I have always said that God loves the Secretariat Center. I have had lots of of proof of that over the years not knowing how things will work out, and worrying, and then something miraculous happens: a check arrives, a volunteer comes, the perfect adopter shows up, the angels step in. 

In this case, the angels’ names are Tom and Enid, a couple in their venerable years who volunteer at the MMSC regularly. Tom likes to work outside and with the horses (although he has even done the lowest of the low chores for us—CLEAN THE KITCHEN REFRIGERATOR!!!!).  Enid is whizz bang in the office. They show up with smiles. They bring boxes of chocolates. They are smart, funny, dedicated, and hardworking. They are interested in the MMSC because they have a grandson who lives out of state who loves horses. They are keen to learn. They read my blog.

Last week, in the barn up east where their daughter and grandson live, a horse colicked. Water buckets in stalls were frozen. My worries about MMSC and dehydrated horses and my request (in parentheses) for donated heated water buckets suddenly made sense to Tom and Enid. When they came to the MMSC this week, they brought a check to cover that cost. Bless them! Ask and you shall receive. It’s humbling.

Yesterday Shane, our landscape and handy man, came and adjusted the floats and plugged up the the paddock waterers. He had trouble finding the water valves to turn them on because of the snow, but he’ll be back tomorrow. The snow is melting and they should be in full view tomorrow.

Lilly, our barn manager, had a crew of interns and volunteers buffing every surface in the barn, cleaning tack, inventorying everything from hay bales to cleaning supplies.  

Our communications interns were hard at work in the office — cleaning every interior surface both because we are officially bringing horses back and because we are having a board meeting on Tuesday. 

Baby books for the incoming horses are prepped and ready to be filled with training notes and pictures. Blank training charts are ready on our clipboards. Potential adopters are scheduled to come before week’s end. 

I can’t wait for the first van to come in tomorrow morning, discharging horses that I picked out some time ago. Horses that spoke to me in some way or another that I felt called to help find a new job and a happy home. And then there are the horses that were here last fall that have been in foster care for two months. I know them already and what their horsenalities are. They are reschooled and ready for their second career  I just need for the right adopters to call. And as I said earlier, LET GO and LET GOD.  Their people will come. 

I can’t wait! More horses to help! More matches to make! It’s humbling. It’s exciting!  

Let the stories begin!

Cheery bye,
Susanna



Why is salubrious 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.
  • Sentences using the highlighted word must be emailed to mmsc04@gmail.com with the subject line “Word of the Day Contest”.
  • Entries may be submitted each week following a blog post from the posted time through Thursday at 5:00 pm.
  • Winners will be posted on the MMSC Facebook page each Friday following a blog post.
  • 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.
  • Entries must also include the entrant’s full name (first and last) and email address.
  • Entrants may submit more than one sentence for consideration.
  • Sentences will be judged based on correct use of the word of the day, grammar and sentence structure, and creativity. 
  • Sentences will be judged by the MMSC staff, including MMSC Director Susanna Thomas, MMSC Barn and Media Manager Catherine Flowers, and MMSC Office Manager Lori Tobin.
  • Winners of each word of the day contest throughout the year will be entered in a grand prize drawing to win their choice of either a $500 horse credit toward an MMSC horse available for adoption or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Ron Turcotte. To use the $500 horse credit, the winner must become an approved adopter with the MMSC and follow all adoption policies and procedures.
  • The grand prize drawing will be held at the end of the year after Christmas and prior to New Year’s Eve.
  • Disclaimer: This contest does not have a connection with Blogspot or Facebook in any way and is not sponsored, supported, or organized by Blogspot or Facebook. The recipient of the information provided by you is not Blogspot or Facebook but the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center.

Blasted Winter Blasts!

The horses were supposed to come back to the MMSC tomorrow. But they are not. Blasted winter blasts! We had had such a benevolent January for the most part. We were due that, I thought, after last year’s Polar Vortex.

But no. Siberian air blasts brought record snows in Kentucky (and elsewhere!) and mind boggling low temperatures. I’ve been been fretting daily about the “clandestine pipe” in the ceiling above my office which burst at the first thaw. After it was fixed last year, we swaddled it in insulation and so far, it seems toasty. But still, I have been worried. And it ain’t over.

That’s why we decided to delay the arrival of the horses by a week. The upcoming weekly forecast looks dicey. A tad more temperate (20 degrees above zero as opposed to 20 below) but still well below freezing. I have learned in my seven winters at the MMSC that the paddock waterers don’t work in those temps. Worse, if you have them operative, the pipes below ground freeze and burst when the earth warms. Thus, I have learned the expensive way that it is best to drain the pipes when the last horse leaves in December and wait for spring. I did think about bringing the horses on anyway, and just turning them out for an hour or so to stretch their legs. But frozen water is still an issue. Buckets get solid in no time. And we have only three heated buckets (Would anyone like to donate ten or more to the MMSC???) So I worry about colic.

I especially worry about colic that first week the horses come to the MMSC. Changing environments is a stressor for them. Add to that a change of feed, and the aforementioned lack of water, and the equation adds up to TROUBLE at worst and WORRY at best.

And that’s not the only thing I worry about. I worry about our paddocks, too. Unless you have the expanse of the open range, any responsible horse farm owner needs to be thinking about safeguarding one’s paddocks. Why? Because healthy paddocks are your golden geese. Correctly managed, they save you money on hay, feed, and supplements.  If you do as we do at the MMSC and bring the horses into the barn only when they are worked, then you save money on bedding, labor, and diesel fuel (you have to dump the manure somewhere, right?).  In my mind, you save on vet bills too. Horses, even Thoroughbreds, are healthier outdoors, physically and mentally. Probably emotionally, too, if they are turned out in company. After all horses are social creatures.   

They are also nomadic. Which is part of the problem. I don’t want my golden geese to get pummeled to death. You put a foot or more of snow, then slush, then rain, and 11 thousand pounds of high speed and erratic traffic (that would be ten 1,100 pound horses cavorting) and your golden geese won’t look like much other than dirty, demolished, divoted detritus (remember by blog post in 2013, The first why?And that lush green grass won’t be coming back any time soon.  

So to save the paddocks, I would have to keep horses up most of the time until the weather breaks. That means loads of heavy lifting the manure of fretful horses that are in a new place and separated from their friends.  And what about training? Until we get a covered arena at the MMSC it’s hard to do much of anything in that regard.  When the temps are gelid, the arena is rock hard frozen. When the temps rise, the footing gets as unpredictable as quicksand. 

So for all these reasons, I reluctantly decided to push back the horses’ arrival a week.  It is disappointing because I was really looking forward to seeing them: Old friends that have been in foster care over the winter like Jazz Fest, my handsome hulking athlete, Harlan, my immature baby last fall that was just starting to grow up come December, Bordeaux Bandit, my war veteran that started in a claimer in May 2014 and was very “race-tracky” throughout the fall but now is roly-poly fat and has smiling eyes; Shooter, the little meteorite that always makes me smile that has been with the wonderful Melissa DeCarlo Recknor who worked for the MMSC for three years. 

I am looking forward to seeing the new faces as well. Souza, that I met at the racetrack in September screams ‘’E V E N T E R”.  Big, sweet, roman nosed Street Art or “Artie” that floats like a butterfly when he trots. Beachview Two that was with us briefly last year, but needed ankle chips removed to stay sound is returning all healed from his surgery. I love Beachview’s winsome hors-ona. He is bright as an otter and very interactive. And he has grown and filled out too! Slight and slender last year, he bloomed over the fall and winter.

Also in the spring class is Rondo, a horse that has the worst registered name EVER, Pain Giver, but is anything but that, and has started reschooling already and is jumping courses! The lovely Irish bred Loukas is coming from California. There are the three fillies:  Angel, Shannon, and Simple Truth.  Angel will go many miles under saddle. Shannon needs a little girl in pig tails. Simple Truth is gray and gorgeous and belongs in the show ring. 

And I have others, too, waiting in the wings, that I am excited about.  Oh well, in the scheme of eternity, what’s another week? Here’s to hoping the snow melts and that the pipes hold fast!

Cheery bye,
Susanna

Why is detritus 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.
  • Sentences using the highlighted word must be emailed to mmsc04@gmail.com with the subject line “Word of the Day Contest”.
  • Entries may be submitted each week following a blog post from the posted time through Thursday at 5:00 pm.
  • Winners will be posted on the MMSC Facebook page each Friday following a blog post.
  • 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.
  • Entries must also include the entrant’s full name (first and last) and email address.
  • Entrants may submit more than one sentence for consideration.
  • Sentences will be judged based on correct use of the word of the day, grammar and sentence structure, and creativity. 
  • Sentences will be judged by the MMSC staff, including MMSC Director Susanna Thomas, MMSC Barn and Media Manager Catherine Flowers, and MMSC Office Manager Lori Tobin.
  • Winners of each word of the day contest throughout the year will be entered in a grand prize drawing to win their choice of either a $500 horse credit toward an MMSC horse available for adoption or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Ron Turcotte. To use the $500 horse credit, the winner must become an approved adopter with the MMSC and follow all adoption policies and procedures.
  • The grand prize drawing will be held at the end of the year after Christmas and prior to New Year’s Eve.
  • Disclaimer: This contest does not have a connection with Blogspot or Facebook in any way and is not sponsored, supported, or organized by Blogspot or Facebook. The recipient of the information provided by you is not Blogspot or Facebook but the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center.

Spring interns, Shakespeare, and the Road to the Horse

Saturday, February 14 was Valentine’s Day. It also was the beginning of our spring internship. There are four interns this semester: Nicole from Asbury University, Taylor from the University of Kentucky, Maggie from the University of Louisville, and Sharon from Eastern Kentucky University. Nicole and Taylor are doing the Training and Barn Management internship, Maggie and Sharon the Communications and Business one. They will be with us for eight to ten hours a week for the next twelve weeks. During that time they are going to work hard, but, I assure them, they will have fun, and they will learn too. That’s my pledge to them as it is to every intern who comes to the MMSC. As I do with every horse that comes into my program, I make a commitment to every intern—I want to know what they want to be when they grow up and how the MMSC can help them take worthy steps in that direction.  
Nicole, Taylor, Maggie, and Sharon are the MMSC spring 2015 interns

Their pledge is to support Team MMSC. Quit not when your work is done, but when EVERYONE’S WORK IS DONE. Never be idle. Never be negative, or catty, or undermining.  I have no time for those things, and therefore zero tolerance. They all learned that during their initial interviews. 

Now they are at orientation. They hear it again. Along with a lot of other things: The MMSC ethos (Quality, Excellence, Transparency, Honesty), the construct of the Horse Center Reschooling Program℠, a methodology I developed and brought to the MMSC, Susanna’s principles of Horsemanship, the MMSC “elevator speech,” MMSC rules, MMSC schedule, the MMSC ‘Word of the Day.’

“All roads lead to Rome,” I tell them. The girls look at me blankly. “Have any of you ever heard that expression before?” They give me slightly raised eyebrows and sheepish shrugs.

The Romans built over 250,000 miles of roads
 throughout their empire
So they get a brief history lesson about the Roman empire and Rome’s building of roads throughout its dominions so it could travel expeditiously and bring products and wealth back to the seat of power.

“So what I mean by that expression is that while each of you has different interests and reasons for doing an internship here and all of you will be working in different ways on different projects, you will all be working to serve the interests of the MMSC.”

They are given a contract to read and to sign, and a sheet with three goals that they would like to achieve for themselves whilst they are at the MMSC. They are asked to fill out a schedule with the hours that they promise to be at the Center.

“How many hours would you like?” they ask.  

“As many hours as you can give, and then some.” 

They all respond enthusiastically about how much they intend to be there.

“That’s good. Because I fully intend to get a pound of flesh from each of you!”

I look at each one and realize they have no idea what I mean.

“Has anyone every heard that expression before, ‘to extract a pound of flesh?”

No.

“Has any one every heard of the play, The Merchant of Venice?”

No.

“Hmmm. Do any of you know who William Shakespeare is?!”

At last their faces light up.

“A pound of flesh is a reference to a situation in The Merchant of Venice…but I am not going to tell why or what.” Instead I assign two of them the homework of coming back the next week with a synopsis of the play and an explanation of the pound of flesh.

I then send them out with Catherine, our Program Coordinator, to tour the International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park. 

“I want you to go to the museum so that you have an understanding of the inextricable link between horses and mankind. It’s great that you are coming to the MMSC to intern, but I want you always to think about the bigger picture. We are so much more than just a small Center. We are part of an industry, a tradition, a history. Come back in an hour and a half and each of you tell me three things that you learned there today. My hope is that this trip to the musuem will engender lots of scintillating conversation amongst you… Any one know what engender means? Hmmm, I see, that’s the MMSC word of the day!”

I laugh at myself and tell them that I am “draconian", a word that none of my interns from any season has ever known. So I digress briefly to tell them about Draco, the unforgiving Athenian lawmaker of the 7th century.

“I am draconian about a lot of things: Cleanliness in the barn, idle hands, no-show behaviors. Beware!”

So begins another internship class. It will be fun getting to know these four young ladies and to see if and how they rise to the occasion. 

The next day, I woke up and after feeding my own horses, breaking ice on their water trough, throwing them extra hay, readjusting their blankets, I decided to come in, make a fire (using the former Christmas tree as kindling!), and to challenge myself to rise to the occasion of reading The Merchant of Venice. I last read it in high school. I decided as I had asked the girls to look into it, that I had better do so too. After all, you gotta walk the talk, right?

Shylock wants his pound
 of flesh.
So I settle in by the blazing fire with a big cup of coffee and the complete works of William Shakespeare. It takes a few minutes to get into the rhythm of  the 400 year old English, but I’m there in no time. Antonio, a noble merchant from Venice borrows money from a Jewish money lender, Shylock, to help his best friend Bassanio win over the girl of his dreams, Portia. Shylock has an age-old vendetta against Antonio and insists if Antonio defaults on the loan that it be repaid with a “pound of flesh.”

The construct of the play is typically Shakespearean: Lovers who have a hard time getting together, “fools” who are the wisest members of the cast, and cross dressing women characters who are way smarter than the men. Pretty formulaic.  

What’s not formulaic are the ideas that explode from the pages: 

The sinuouy nature of the law. Religious intolerance. Inflexibility. Vengeance. Mercy.

As the French say, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” 

And so it is with human nature. 

I come away from the play thinking how litigious people were then and continue to be now, how clever lawyers could and do “spin” arguments.  I think about society today, all the forms of insurance we have to protect ourselves against liability claims, especially those of us who work with large, unpredictable animals, like horses.  

I think about antisemitism, about Shylock’s life long pent up rage about the discrimination he has endured, how unfair religious intolerance is, how deep the wounds it creates and how desctructive those become. Shylock’s anger twists him and becomes his downfall. I then take a leap and think about the perils of taking one’s rage out on horses, about what can happen if one doesn’t seek underlying motives for a horse’s behaviors. To be a good horse trainer, you have to practice compassion. 

It is not hard for me to extrapolate from the world around me lessons that can be learned to make me a better horsewoman. Horses are my Rome. Every day, no matter where life takes me, I am always looking for the road to the Horse.

I hope that the spring interns look for some of those roads while they are at the MMSC.

Cheery bye,
Susanna


Why is engender 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.
  • Sentences using the highlighted word must be emailed to mmsc04@gmail.com with the subject line “Word of the Day Contest”.
  • Entries may be submitted each week following a blog post from the posted time through Thursday at 5:00 pm.
  • Winners will be posted on the MMSC Facebook page each Friday following a blog post.
  • 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.
  • Entries must also include the entrant’s full name (first and last) and email address.
  • Entrants may submit more than one sentence for consideration.
  • Sentences will be judged based on correct use of the word of the day, grammar and sentence structure, and creativity. 
  • Sentences will be judged by the MMSC staff, including MMSC Director Susanna Thomas, MMSC Barn and Media Manager Catherine Flowers, and MMSC Office Manager Lori Tobin.
  • Winners of each word of the day contest throughout the year will be entered in a grand prize drawing to win their choice of either a $500 horse credit toward an MMSC horse available for adoption or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Ron Turcotte. To use the $500 horse credit, the winner must become an approved adopter with the MMSC and follow all adoption policies and procedures.
  • The grand prize drawing will be held at the end of the year after Christmas and prior to New Year’s Eve.
  • Disclaimer: This contest does not have a connection with Blogspot or Facebook in any way and is not sponsored, supported, or organized by Blogspot or Facebook. The recipient of the information provided by you is not Blogspot or Facebook but the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center.

Of Christmas Trees, Service, Horses, and Purpose

I put my Christmas tree up on December 23rd. I took it down about four weeks later. By then the needles dropped torrentially every time I inadvertently brushed the drooping branches in passing. 

I wrestle with my conscience every year when I buy a live cut tree. It seems so sad, standing resplendently in the corner of my living room slowly dying, a symbol of the fleeting nature of the Christmas season and of the transience of life in general. Yet, I can’t seem to make myself buy an artificial one. I love the smell of  spruce. I delight when the sap oozes from its knobby twig ends. It reminds me of my beloved state of Maine. I savor its presence while it is with me, and when the time comes to take it down, I cut off its branches and break them into kindling for the fireplace. In doing so, I continue to honor it until the last of the tree is burnt and the crocuses have sprung up.



The tree represents a cycle of life and a way of living authentically that are important to me. Yes, life is seasonal. Things come and go. All the more reason to recognize the present with its many gifts. “Take  your cookies when they are passed,” a beloved mentor of mine used to tell me. “And savor them,” I would add. And “be grateful.” 

And so I am for my tree, every Christmas. Grateful for its beauty. Grateful for its reminder that being of service to the bitter end (i.e. as kindling in the fireplace!) is the greatest gift of all.

I feel the same way about horses. Grateful. That’s why I do what I do at the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center. Horses have given me so much throughout my lifetime: 

Joy. Purpose. Love. Solace. Understanding. Insight. Forgiveness. Patience. Direction. Focus. 

And, so much more!




Talk about being of service! Not just to me! But to humankind in general! We crossed continents, conquered nations, created civilizations with horses. They pulled our carriages, hauled our goods, fought our wars. We drank their milk. We ate (and some still do eat) their flesh. We used their hair to insulate our walls; their hooves to make our glue. To this day, they play our games. They provide us with livelihoods. Like the Christmas tree, they are beautiful and, like the tree, they are silent. I want to recognize their service to me and to others across the globe past and present, by helping one race horse  at the MMSC at a time to find its purpose and its person when it no longer has a use on the track. I strive to be each horse’s voice, its champion, its defender. I am very particular about who adopts my horses.  Adopters fill out a multi-faceted application and submit it for approval by members of the MMSC board. Once they are approved, they must come to the MMSC to try the horse and prove to me that the fit is a good one.

It may seem crazy to be so exigent—why,when so many horses need homes am I this selective?  

It all boils down to my sense of purpose. As I told you when I first started writing this blog, purpose is important to me. Purpose gives life meaning--that is if you commit to serving something greater than yourself. 

When I was ten, my family moved to France, which had socialized medicine that covered the costs of my brothers medical care. He had severe classical hemophilia. I had to navigate the public transportation system of Paris on my own to get to and from school every day. I sat in classes when I didn’t understand a word. I felt scared, vulnerable, and helpless.

My brothers condition incited those feelings too. Throughout my childhood, I watched him endure devastating internal joint and soft tissue bleeds. I wanted so much to help him, to prevent the bleeding episodes. But I could do nothing. 

But, horses were always there for me to help me through: In books, in films, on street corners. We lived right next to the barracks of the famous Garde Republicaine - the French mounted guard, and I could hear the clip-clops of the horses’ shoes reverberating on the the pavement right over the wall behind my family’s apartment! 



The example of a horse’s service, generosity, stoicism always inspired me. It still does. And humbles me too. 

That childhood fear, sense of vulnerability and helplessness, paved the way to my purpose. As the Portuguese saying goes, “God writes straight on crooked lines.” I have traveled along a bunch of crooked lines. And that is a very good thing. I know what it is like for a horse to live in a world where is doesnt speak the language. I know how horses feel when they try their best to please yet their efforts are not recognized or are misinterpreted. I can relate viscerally to the terrorizing threat of losing someone important in your “herd”.

That is why every person who gets a MMSC horse must prove first his or her ability to keep and properly care for it. When they come to the MMSC I watch the horse’s reactions to see what it has to say about the match. I am committed to trying to understand the language and the issues of every horse that comes through the program. 

I move about 35 to 40 horses a year through the MMSC. That many not seem like many in relation to a yearly foal crop in the twenty thousands. I remind myself, however, that a cistern is filled one drop at a time. A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. If I commit myself every day to living in authenticity and in the service to something bigger than myself, then each pure drop, and each true step will make a difference. One horse, one person, one smile at a time. 

Those of you who live on purpose know from your own experiences how rewarding every small service can be. For those of you who may still be searching for your purpose, listen to your small inner voice. That’s your “Garmin,” your inner GPS. It may or may not lead you to material riches, but it will, I assure you, always lead you to a path replete with unexpected and truly marvelous treasures. 

Cheery bye,
Susanna




Why is exigent 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.
  • Sentences using the highlighted word must be emailed to mmsc04@gmail.com with the subject line “Word of the Day Contest”.
  • Entries may be submitted each week following a blog post from the posted time through Thursday at 5:00 pm.
  • Winners will be posted on the MMSC Facebook page each Friday following a blog post.
  • 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.
  • Entries must also include the entrant’s full name (first and last) and email address.
  • Entrants may submit more than one sentence for consideration.
  • Sentences will be judged based on correct use of the word of the day, grammar and sentence structure, and creativity. 
  • Sentences will be judged by the MMSC staff, including MMSC Director Susanna Thomas, MMSC Barn and Media Manager Catherine Flowers, and MMSC Office Manager Lori Tobin.
  • Winners of each word of the day contest throughout the year will be entered in a grand prize drawing to win their choice of either a $500 horse credit toward an MMSC horse available for adoption or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Ron Turcotte. To use the $500 horse credit, the winner must become an approved adopter with the MMSC and follow all adoption policies and procedures.
  • The grand prize drawing will be held at the end of the year after Christmas and prior to New Year’s Eve.
  • Disclaimer: This contest does not have a connection with Blogspot or Facebook in any way and is not sponsored, supported, or organized by Blogspot or Facebook. The recipient of the information provided by you is not Blogspot or Facebook but the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center. 


Reflections 2015

HEEEEELLLLOOOO 2015!!!!

How wonderful is it to start another year!? I don’t know about you, but I am excited. So much to do. So many possibilities. And more horses. I love that part. And, it seems, that you, DEAR READERS, do too!

I say that because I have been elated by the interest in and the growth of the MMSC blog, particularly in the last two years when I decided to author the entries. 

The MMSC blog began in the summer of 2008. My first, and at that time, only intern, was Natalie Voss, a student at the University of Kentucky. Natalie introduced me to Facebook and told me about an odd thing called a “Web log” or “blog.” I was intrigued. I told her to create a presence for the MMSC with both.

When Natalie left the MMSC (and went on after graduation to become a successful equine journalist!), the blog she had started was passed to communications interns as a regular writing assignment. 

I talked to each student about writing in general and blog writing specifically, read their work, gently edited their pieces and basically forgot about their posts. Until the week between Christmas and New Year’s in 2012 when I came down with a chest cold. In my “down time,” I decided to reread the blog from the beginning.  

It was a fun. Illuminating too. In the four and a half years since the blog’s inception, we had had 14,000 visitors! 3,000 plus visits a year! A lightening bolt ricocheted through my brain: Blogs have impact!

I lay in bed thinking about how to use the blog as a tool for the MMSC’s message and mission. Could I learn to wield it? How far could my reach go? Who would read it? I set a goal for myself (I tend to do that—especially around New Year’s resolution time). In one year’s time, I decided I would double the total number of visits we had had since 2008, going from 14,000 to 28,000!

It was hard to find the time and the discipline to write. I’d do it on my day off when I had many other things I should have been doing such as riding my own horses. It was laborious. Writing isn’t easy. At least not for me. But by the end of 2013, I had achieved my goal: 28,000 and change! It seemed it was working. There were people out there interested in what we were doing. So I decided to keep the blog up for another year, and I set myself another benchmark: Double the total visitors again in twelve months from 28,000 visits to 56,000. 

Amazingly, I achieved that goal, too.

As the months passed in 2014, I became riveted to the blog’s stats page with bated breath, watching the numbers grow, looking for patterns of readership. At what time and on what days did readers open the blog? And from where? I was dumbfounded and humbled to see as the year progressed how the audience expanded beyond the United States, spreading to Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. My largest weekly audience besides the US was, of all places, the Ukraine! Why was that? Do Ukrainians love racing? Or Thoroughbreds? Or America?  

What about the readers in Egypt, Romania, Manila, Moldova, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela? Or the places that would pop up on the stats page, small republics that I had never heard of and which I had to Google to see where in the world they were located. How did these people find the blog? Why were they reading it?

Obviously, it was because of the horses. The Thoroughbreds. That run fast. That capture hearts with their speed, beauty, and mystique. 

And perhaps too, it was propelled by the curiosity in what happens to them when their when the glory days are over, when the last race is run? Are former racehorses overlooked, misunderstood, and discarded? Do they have a chance at redemption?

Yes. No. Maybe. The outcomes are many, and different, and nuanced.

Thus begins another year, and I have seen that there are people across the globe who enjoy hearing about some of these horses and their outcomes. And I can also see from the stats, that some people are intrigued by the challenges of running a non for profit in the aftercare industry, and want to read about how we fit in and how we  are trying to influence the bigger picture.

Every one of you out there, thank you for reading and for caring. Because of you, I will continue to labor away at my writing on my day off. And, of course, I have set myself that same blasted goal: DOUBLE THE TOTAL VISITS IN ONE YEAR.  That means by the end of 2015, the MMSC blog will have had 112,000 visits!

OYE! Alright DEAR READERS, this is where you come in. I need your help to share this blog with all whom you know, not once, not twice, but regularly. Let’s make this happen. Let’s spread the word. Concentric circles, remember? Together, let’s spread the word about the value and versatility of Thoroughbred horses in athletic endeavors.

But I will make it fun to do so. Those who know me, know that I am in love with the English language. I marvel at its breadth and malleability, its power and poignancy. I am in awe of anyone alive or dead who can wield it with dexterity. Those who can are mighty and mesmerizing. I try, as I can, to emulate them. Which can be confusing for my interns. I always know when talking to them when I have obfuscated them with a word (swaddled them in a clueless fog). Their eyes and faces go blank. As they are at the MMSC to learn not just about horses, but how to go forth in life, I challenge them on the spot:

“That’s the Word of the Day. Come back to me tomorrow with its definition and use it properly in a sentence.”

It’s a bit daunting for them at first, but in no time, they fall into step, and very shortly, they learn to appreciate the weighty import of the King’s English. Like baby birds fluttering fledgling wings, they begin to banter and spar verbally with one another. They giggle and delight with their new found verbal arms. By internship’s end, they know how to fly (and where to fly to if they can’t figure out a word!), and they are grateful for my antics.

It’s fun. Ask any of my interns, current or past. So in 2015, let’s spread that fun across the globe to all who are interested in the MMSC. In doing so, you’ll help me reach my goal of 112,000. You will also be in the running for a prize! Read the rules below. And now, ONWARDS towards a great 2015 full of adventures, stories and WORDS!

Cheery bye,

Susanna


MMSC Blog Word of the Day Contest Details


You can be a part of helping 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.
  • Sentences using the highlighted word must be emailed to mmsc04@gmail.com with the subject line “Word of the Day Contest”.
  • Entries may be submitted each week following a blog post from the posted time through Thursday at 5:00 pm.
  • Winners will be posted on the MMSC Facebook page each Friday following a blog post.
  • 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.
  • Entries must also include the entrant’s full name (first and last) and email address.
  • Entrants may submit more than one sentence for consideration.
  • Sentences will be judged based on correct use of the word of the day, grammar and sentence structure, and creativity.
  • Sentences will be judged by the MMSC staff, including MMSC Director Susanna Thomas, MMSC Barn and Media Manager Catherine Flowers, and MMSC Office Manager Lori Tobin.
  • Winners of each word of the day contest throughout the year will be entered in a grand prize drawing to win their choice of either a $500 horse credit toward an MMSC horse available for adoption or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Ron Turcotte. To use the $500 horse credit, the winner must become an approved adopter with the MMSC and follow all adoption policies and procedures.
  • The grand prize drawing will be held at the end of the year after Christmas and prior to New Year’s Eve.
  • Disclaimer: This contest does not have a connection with Blogspot or Facebook in any way and is not sponsored, supported, or organized by Blogspot or Facebook. The recipient of the information provided by you is not Blogspot or Facebook but the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

’Twas the night before Christmas at the MMSC, 
                              the office was quiet, the paddocks were free,
              the horses had left as our season had ended,
                after the year’s full court press, a rest would be splendid!

It started in January with a great artic chill,
so pipes were left dripping—we all know the drill,
but there was one pesky faucet we completely forgot.
 When we arrived in the morning, we were very distraught!

The office was flooded, our files were afloat,
had we come any later, we’d have needed a boat.
The water was gushing full force from the ceiling,
The carpets were ruined, the wall paint was peeling.

So we shut down the main and donned tall rubber boots, 
and went sopping and mopping with the vengeance of brutes.
Three months in one room we all huddled together                      
awaiting repairs and a change in the weather.

But the days remained nippy, the ground covered with snow,the footing was terrible and our training was slow,
people were hesitant to come try what we had,
which set back our total adoptions a tad.

When spring finally came
 a month or more late,
we opened all cylinders and took off at full spate,
our interns, our volunteers, our hardworking board,
helped us to get rolling ’til our telephones roared.


With visitors, adopters, horse lovers and guests,
making appointments to see what we love and do best:
reschooling fine racehorses both lovely and clever
as breed ambassadors in all new endeavors.

As eventers and hunters and jumpers and more,
with such talented horses, it’s hard to keep score!
We gave tours, demonstrations, and created connections
with aftercare colleagues to share predilections. 

In July came the titans with an incredible scheme, 
to help one of them, Jeffy, to fulfill a big dream,
to claim as his own the great Nowheretohide,
“He’s too fast,” said Susanna. “Do you know how to ride?”

"Not, yet,” Jeffy said with a big Shrek-like grin,
“But I’m a really good athlete and I know how to win.
I’ll read all the books. I’ll take daily lessons.
I’ll call every Sunday, til he’s in my possession.”

At the MMSC we let all horses choose,
which to some might seem odd, though it’s a practical ruse,
For if you don’t watch a rider, and your eye’s not discerning
there’s a 100% chance that horse is returning!


Noah made his decision and at Sips N Saddles Jeff spoke
of how he felt about his racehorse. It made the crowd choke.
This party’s success and our daily existence
we owe to our angel volunteers’ assistance.

“On Peggy! On Jackie! On Laurie! On Dave!
On Enid! On Tom! On volunteers brave!!
Pull weeds in the front, blow the aisles in the stable,
File the bills, mop the floors, clean the tack if you’ re able.”

“Curry Jake. Water Tidings. Soak Regiment’s foot.
A Theraplate session for Bordeaux would be good.
“To the top of the loft! And be careful, dont fall!
                                                    Lob five bales of alfalfa! Susanna did call.


And so went each month jammed pack to the brink
that December arrived in a breath and a blink!
So we’ll go home for Christmas to our loved ones and guests,
To muse and give thanks for how the Center's been blessed.

We’ll be back after New Year’s with new vigor and vision
to share and impart our  Center's grand mission,
to give racehorses new jobs, broadcasting their worth
as the best equine athletes alive on this Earth!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Susanna

Double Minded, aka “Dublin, here posing as Santa Hoss, last raced in November of this year!
His  second career clearly is in film!!!










Epi(B)log

I wasn’t going to write another blog this year. I mean, really!? How could I top the Noah/Jeffy tales? But looking over the year’s entries, I noticed a few loose ends in my stories. Those are disconcerting to me, like sentences without periods or meals that don’t end with chocolate. 

So, for my own sense of closure,(and I hope yours as well), here’s a short “epi(B)log” for those of you who have been so loyal and followed this year’s journey with MMSC in toto.

  • Regiment: What happened to him? Did he keep throwing shoes? Did he find his person? Was it a man?
Reggie was one of my problem children this year. Talented, temperamental, tentatively healthy. When I saw him at the track, I thought he’d be snapped up instantly for a new career. He screamed “EVENTER!” And high level one at that.  

Reggie had other plans, however. These involved R&R, arrogant behaviors, and a picky palette for people. He marched (or limped depending on whether or not his shoes stayed on) to the beat of his own drummer. Typey and athletic, he attracted lots of attention and potential adopters. He tested every one of them. If they weren’t to his liking, he would feign lameness. It was like living with a teenager. You love him, yet you grit your teeth in frustration when he displays adolescent antics. He had no intention of going anywhere until he deemed the time right.

I tried all the ususal stuff: Nice mom. Mean mom. Understanding mom. Threatening mom-“I’ll send you back to where you came from, Reggie!” Finally, baffled mom-what do you want, Reggie?…a man?



I’ll admit, I do get a lot of intuitions about horses. I think it harkens back to my childhood growing up in a country where I didn’t speak the language. Survival depends on observation. Somehow one develops the ability to garner facts and extrapolate information without words.  Not that there isn’t a very valid realm of inspiration to tap into. That, and the kindred domain of imagination have spawned some of the world’s greatest discoveries and creations. When I am lucky I am graced with a glimpse into those magical places as well. 

One day, when I was particularly frustrated with Reggie I asked him why he kept throwing his shoes. I suddenly saw in my mind a picture of how his shoes should fit his feet. I picked up his hoof. They didn’t look anything like what I had seen. So I asked our wonderful blacksmith who is much more knowledgeable about farriery than I am if he might shoe the horse differently. He scratched his head, but agreed to give it a go. Reggie kept his shoes on after that…until the day, many weeks later that Mackenzie came.

Mackenzie had come in from out of state. As she in an eventer, she had, of course, an interest in Reggie. And, of course, the morning that she arrived, Reggie came into the barn without a shoe. I wanted to throttle him.

I heaved a sigh of relief when we rode him for her and he  took no uneven steps. Then the moment of truth: What would he do with Mackenzie on his back?

What he did, made our jaws drop! He trotted and cantered around with lightness and poise. He reached for the bit lightly and collected his frame.



He picked up both leads accurately. He jumped like a deer. We had never seen him move so willingly and so well. Clearly, he was putting the moves on Mackenzie. She decided to adopt him.



Out of curiosity, to see if my intuition about a man had been hogwash or something of more import, I asked her if she had a male trainer?  

“Yes!” she told me enthusaistically. He’s amazing!

“Is he fit and wiry, of medium stature and bone, with graying sandy hair and he wears a crest ring?”

‘HE DOES!” She exclaimed. “Do you know him?”

“Nope,”  I said.  “I saw a picture of him once…”

Hmmm. It’s odd where one goes with horses sometimes.

  • Concentric circles:  Did you ever get a group of your own colleagues in aftercare together? If so want did you do?  
Cat people. Dog people. Horse People. Animal people. They all are a bit “touched.” They LOVE their creatures. They live for them and through them. In short, they are passionate, which can be hard to deal with.

Those of us in the equine welfare business have no corner on the market of zealotry. It’s part of the job description. One needs ample stores of iron and fire to face the daily grind and tempering in the fight for the cause. Yet, die-hard demeanors get wearisome at best, and are divisive, at worst. Therefore, as a self professed “hopeless opptimist,”I opt to cling to the idea of communality and maybe even, dare I say, compatablity,within the equine welfare organzations. It’s so easy to be misinformed, judgemental and petty! I can be guilty of all of those things. Knowing my failures, I aspire daily to a magnanimous ideal of connection and communication amongst my colleagues. It’s a picture of a cohesion: a Shangrila aftercare effort for horses. 


For lack of a better acronym, and because I thought it might make people laugh, I dubbed the first fledging outreach efforts that I told you about in an earlier blog: the "TART  group (no, not as in “pie”!)—Thoroughbred Aftercare Round Table. I had been inspired to start these meetings by my colleague, Karen Gustin, Executive Director of the Kentucky Equine Humane Center.  In May, she hosted a discussion and luncheon at the Lexington Humane Society for individuals in equine rescue and rehab to come together for an annual exchange of ideas. It was well attended and it was fantastic. I did not want to wait a whole year for another one.

Hence the genesis of the “TART” meetings—described in a more genteel manner  n an earlier blog post as the “Concentric Circle” effort. We met several times this year. We shared our challenges. We discussed solutions. We held two joint tack sale fundraisers together. At year’s end, we communed over a Christmas pot luck lunch.



It was a totally open, honest, and helpful meeting. Fun, too. And inspiring is not the word.  It was ELECTRIFYING!!! Think E=mc2, which means that the energy stored within matter is equal to its volume times the speed of light SQUARED. Unleash the amount of energy stored in each of my colleagues and the possibilities for imploding gridlocked stances in the racing industry are staggering! We could create the greenest of pastures in the aftercare world! United we stand. Divided we fall. We even came up with a good name for ourselves: Equine Allies!

Another “Concentric Circle” effort this year was reaching out to Steuart Pitmann, founder of the Retired Racehorse Project.

“What do you need to further your amazing work?,” I asked him this fall after the Thoroughbred Makeover in October.

“I want to bring the Makeover and Symposium” to the Kentucky Horse Park in 2015,” he said. “On October 24 and 25, the week before Breeder’s Cup which will be held at Churchill Downs.”

“I can help you with that!” I told him cheerfully. I knew I could. After all, the Kentucky Horse Park is my home address. Working with Steuart and his board members and friends, we packed the MMSC’s conference room on November 21 with leaders in the Thoroughbred racing industry. The crowd was riveted to Steuart’s presentation.



They lingered over wine and cheese after it was done. That atmosphere, too, created concentric circles of excitement and good will. It was as if we had thrown a boulder into a body of water! It made my heart sing.


  • Noah: When did he actually go home with Jeff to Minnesota? 
But nothing made my heart sing this year like Noah. I was smitten the moment I lifted his forelock and saw the expression in his eyes, cosmic portals into a realm of magnanimty. It was like looking up at the sky on a dark night, and knowing there is a God. I was very tempted to adopt Noah for  myself. But with a one hour commute each way after a long day at the MMSC  and with older horses on my farm that I can only feed and visit with twice a day in the dark, I had no business adopting Noah.

I dedicate myself to finding good matches for all my horses, but with Noah, I have to admit, I knew for a host of reasons, it had to be a GREAT match. As the months passed, and Noah’s story unfolded, as the people who had loved him in his first career emerged, as he bloomed under the care of a young woman who needed tending just like he did, as Noah grew stronger, and healthier and more communicative, I grew more appreciative of his unique being and more convinced that he would need someone very special.

I was not prepared for Noahs person to be a former NFL football player. Talk about being  tackled! Jeffy sacked me with his size, his will, his passion and his heart. When he said he wanted Noah, I was deadset against it. Insanity!  My Noah???!!!

You know what happened next. It was unbelievable and awe-inspiring. For those you might remember, I had told Jeffy when we first made our deal that he could have Noahs shoe as inspiration for success in his quest for Noah. If you succeed, you get Noah, and I get his shoe back. It was a deal.

But, as always, Jeffy exceeded my expectations. I got the shoe back in a spectacular shadow box that Lauren had made, along with a photo of Jeffy and Noah together on that first day when Noah chose him and Jeffyfavorite football jersey. I was stunned. I got teary.  
Jeffy wrapped me and his big arms and said, “You know, I have never even given my mother a jersey!” which made me all the more choked up, and I hugged him back.

Jeffy had to wait two more weeks after Sips ’N Saddles before bringing Noah home to Minnesota. Noah developed an abscess in his hoof that smelled suspiciously putrid. I was worried about an infection settling in the bone. If it did, I  knew that I could get the best care for Noah and fast. I worried that Jeffy would have fewer options in Minnesota. So I told him  I would call as soon as Noah was ready to travel.

It happened that this fell on the weekend when my husband and I were scattering a family member’s ashes in Louisville. Jeffy and Nick were keen to pick up their horses and wanted to come right then. I didn’t want to inconvenience them.  At the same time, how could I let Wordsworth and Noah leave without a final pat and kiss? To accommodate me, Jeffy took interstate 64 west home to Minnesota instead of I 75. My family gathering ended, I lept back in the car and headed east on I 64 to Lexington.



We met at a truck stop near Shelbyville, Kentucky. Jeffy and Nick’s mother, Betty Jo, was with them, along with Jessy’s young niece. I hugged them all, and told Betty Jo how amazing her sons were and how fond of them I had become. Then I slipped into the trailer to say goodbye to the horses.

“You are such a wonderful, lovely boy, Wordsworth, I told the big gelding as I stroked his neck. "Be good to Nick! And show the rest of the world what fine riding horses Thoroughbreds can be.” Then  I turned to Noah. My heart was in my throat.  I ran my fingers through his forelock and leaned over and kissed him on the check. I couldnt pull myself away from him.

“Thank you for coming into my life, Noah. It’s been a joy to know you..” I rubbed my hand down his neck. “And a privilege to help you.... And you have taught me so much...And..."

Noah nudged my arm, then threw his head up and down stomped his left foot. He looked over at Jeffy standing by the trailer door.

I knew what he meant. No need to linger. I love you, too, Susanna. Now...onwards!

Cheery bye,
Susanna

MMSC Family


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
Stanley Tow-Arnett
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.
Lulu’s horse treats



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.)

“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.

“You BETCHA!”  

“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.
Nick’s posture on Wordsworth was exemplary.
“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.”

Wordsworth followed Nick like a puppy after their first ride.
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.

“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!

Cheery bye,

Susanna

MMSC Family
Left to right:  You Jest and Jessy, Wordsworth and Nick, Noah and Jeffy, Louie and Lauren








YOU JEST!

No. Jeff was not going back to Minnesota with Noah in his trailer. At least not this time. He had proved to me that he would be the right owner, but neither he nor Noah were ready for each other yet. Nevertheless Jeff, Nick, and Lauren had not come to the MMSC in vain.

Shortly after Jeff’s first visit in July, when I sent him back to Minnesota with the conditions that he had to fulfill before he would be eligible to adopt Noah, I received a text from him.

“My brother Nick wants to know if he does all the things that you’ve asked me to do if he can adopt a horse, too,” Jeff wrote.

“Sure,” I responded, “but only if he takes up belly dancing, like you said you would!” 

After I had seen Jeff ride the day I met him, I told him that he would have to work on suppling his back.

“You can’t just bend over at the hips as you do when you are facing a defensive line on a football field. You have to bend from the waist and fluidly glide with your hips like a serpent doing a figure eight. All the while you need to keep your upper body still. See, belly dancer-like…”

I demonstrated for him.“Now, you do it!”

To everyone’s surprise and amusement, Jeff gave it a try. Belly dancing is not one of the athletic endeavors at which Jeff excels.

Nick tried it too. Just for fun. He was inherently more supple than Jeff, I noticed. So, when Jeff asked me this question, I thought, why not let Nick have a try too?

Jeff texted me right back.

“He says he will do everything! Belly dancing too!!!”

“Excellent! Tell he will get extra points for dancing in costume!”

It didn’t surprise me that the Tow-Arnett brothers wanted to learn to ride together. There are three boys in the family. Nate, the oldest, is an iconoclast, but Nick, the middle child, and Jeffy, the youngest, have always been joined at the hip.

“So you are learning to ride because your younger brother is doing it?” I asked Nick as one point.

As a boy, Nick was very serious about being
a cowboy or an indian. And he treasured his
Breyer collection!
“Well yes! But well… NO! I have always loved horses. When I was little I regularly dressed as a cowboy or an Indian. At one of my birthdays, my parents staged a “pony party” with a live horse. I had a Breyer horse collection that I played with all the time. But I was interested in sports, too, and as I grew older, I got really involved with school athletics. But now Jeffy’s girlfriend, Lauren, has gotten Jeffy into horses, and that has sparked my early interest in and love for them.”

It made sense. Another sport, like all the others in the past, that the brothers could do together. Except now there was Lauren too. And Nick’s fiancée, Jessy, the lanky professional volleyball player.

“After our trip to the MMSC the first time, Jessy could not stop talking the whole way back to Minnesota about her “horse twin,” You Jest,” Nick told me.

You Jest was a 16.3hh, six-year-old gray mare that had come to the MMSC on June 25.
A granddaughter of the talented sire Distorted Humor, she was nick named “Joker” by her former owners. She started twice as a three-year-old, and although she had a lofty canter, it wasn’t speedy or ground covering enough to be a successful racehorse. Steady and kind, she was given to the North American Racing Academy, which was started and run by Hall of Fame jockey, Chris McCarron. At the school, Joker’s life was a lot like the one she had known on the racetrack: Jogs, gallops, breezes. Coming out of the starting gate. Long hours in a stall. But it was lower key as well. She did have some turn out in small paddocks. She was ridden out on the greens. And she never raced. It’s similar to training with the National Guard but never going to battle.

As it turns out, Chris had come to a point in his life when he wanted to step aside from the day to day demands of the racing school. He needed to scale back on the number of horses he had. I had a prospective adopter who was keen for two things. 1. A MARE. 2. A GRAY. Taking Joker on seemed to be good for both Chris and me. Yet there was a problem that gave me pause. Joker had cataracts in each eye and was suffering from an active case of uveitis. The cataracts I could live with. They were small, and indeed, if they ever worsened could be surgically removed. The uveitis, however, was trickier. Uveitis is the inflammation of the uveal tract in the eye. It can be caused by trauma, parasites, or be viral or bacterial in nature. It is also suspected to be caused be an auto-immune disorder. Colloquially, it is called “moon blindness.” It’s painful, intermittant, and there is a 50/50 chance that a horse will go blind in time.  

That’s not an enticing diagnosis for any prospective adopter. I knew that. But Joker had kindness and intelligence in her face and was a LOVELY mover. I  knew the opthamologist who was treating her, and discussed the prognosis for Joker. With the continuing medication and vigilance, the mare could be fine forever. So I decided to take a chance on her.

The first thing I did when Joker came to the MMSC was to take a poll amongst the interns as to whether we should change her name. The opinion was unanimous. She deserved a new name because she was feminine and graceful.  She wasn’t the trickster type either.

As I like for all nicknames to be reminiscent of the registered names, the name “Jess” was selected by the MMSC team.  And Jess she became. But she did not become the horse of the prospective adopter who was seeking a gray mare. That adopter felt that Jess’s canter was “too big with too much suspension,” to be a fun trail riding horse, so she passed.

Lauren, Jeffy’s girlfriend, had noticed Jess online however, and was keen to see her when they first came to the MMSC. Maybe Jess would be a good mount for Jeffy?  She was big, quiet, and kind. But Jeffy only had eyes for Noah.

Jessy, Nick’s fiancée, was another story. She couldnt take her eyes off Jess. She asked me a lot of questions about her. She was keen to hear about the uveitis. She lingered by Jess’s stall. I asked Jessy if she had any experience with horses. She didn’t. But “Miss Jess,” as she dubbed her, was “so sweet, so beautiful.” At the time, I didn’t think much of it. After all, I had just met Jessy, and I didn’t know anything about her passionate side.

Nick had met Jessy seven years prior. She was on the same volleyball team as the girlfriend of one his buddies. He told me that from the onset one of the things that he loved about Jessy was that she was passionate about everything that she did. “You can see that watching her play volleyball!” he said. “She is such an amazing person who is driven to help others. She makes me laugh every day. We have fun together doing nothing. I love how she loves people the first time she meets them, but most of all I love that she loves God more than me.

When Jessy and Nick met, it was instant chemistry.
 They dated for seven years before marrying this past August.

Finally after years of Nick’s playing for the Sea Hawks and the Dallas Cowboys, and Jessy’s multiple forays in other countries as a professional volleyball player, they were ready to get married and start a life together. The wedding date was set for the last weekend in August.

Seeing Jessy’s interest in You Jest, Nick, Jeffy, and Lauren concocted a plan: “What better wedding gift than ‘Miss Jess?” Nick explained. With Jeff and Nick both learning to ride and wanting to get horses of their own, with Lauren’s knowledge of and passion for riding, Jessy needed to be part of that team effort and that group excitement, Nick reasoned. “Also," he told me, “I just LOVE surprising Jessy, and what better wedding surprise could I give her than her first horse!”

It was four days before Nick and Jessy’s wedding. Jessy was totally focused on effecting the last minute details of the event. Nick used that as an excuse to “stay out of the way.” “I’ll go with Jeffy and Lauren to the MMSC to see how the Noah project is coming,” he had told her. He had already cleared his plan with me. Lauren would come down and try Jess. If she liked her, Jess would go back to Minnesota and live in the same barn as Lauren’s horse, the barn where Noah, and, in time, whatever horse that Nick adopted would stay. Lauren was to oversee Jess’s training in the coming months. Jessy was to take lessons as the brothers were. They were to keep in touch with me about the uveitis. Nick was going to keep everything thing a secret until their wedding day when he would present Jess to his bride right before they stepped in the church together.

“Call me when you get back to Minnesota to let me know that all is well,” I told the boys.  “And send me pictures of Jessy’s face when she sees her present!"


“Oh, we will!” said Nick. “And we will be back for Sips ’N Saddles, cause remember, I'm going to need an MMSC horse too!”

Cheery bye,
Susanna

“Jessy almost ‘passed!!!’" Nick told me when he presented 
her with You Jest, who was also wearing a veil, 
in honor of their wedding day,


HOMEWORK

As soon as Jeff and his clan headed out the driveway, I picked up my cell phone and sent the photos I had taken of him to Noah’s former owner along with the missive: 
I need to talk to you about Nowheretohide as soon as you are free.”

My phone rang shortly thereafter.

“Hi!,” said Louise’s cheery voice on the other end of the line. “What’s up?”

“Did you get the pictures I sent of Noah?”

“Yes.“Is he ok? Who is that guy? He’s so big!

“Noah’s fine. But I have a story to tell you. Do  you have a minute?…”

“Sure.”

“Well, it’s a strange tale, but the guy's a football player from Minnesota who has his heart set on adopting Noah...” and I described to her Jeff’s visit the day before, my sending him away, only for him to come back an hour later to make a second plea.

“He was so keen to talk to me again that I obliged him,” I said.  “As I listened to his arguments and as I watched him speak,”  I told her,  "I became intrigued by him, by his passion and his persistence."

“I decided to let Noah have a say. I told Jeff to come back today so that I could see them interact at liberty in a round pen."

“Is Noah sound yet?  He can’t be adopted by anyone if he isn’t sound!,” Louise said , worried.

“Noah is almost sound. Or I should say almost “even.” He is still a little weaker on the left stifle but you can hardly see or feel it. The consistent work, herbs, and acupuncture have really made a difference. I’d give him a few more weeks on this regime. Then he ought to be good to go.”

“Well, he is not to go anywhere until you think he’s ready.”

“Oh, don’t worry!,” he won’t. “None of my horses do, and ESPECIALLY, not Noah!”

“Can Jeff ride?"

“Not, really,” I replied. “And Noah’s a hot horse! My plan was to use the round pen to show Jeff that they had nothing in common, but in less than two minutes Noah joined up with Jeff and followed him around like a puppy dog! So my next strategy was for Jeff to experience, in a safe way, how excitable and strong Noah could be to ride. But, that plan back fired, too. Noah was a perfect gentleman! It floored me and all of us who work at the Center. We couldn’t believe it!”

“So what did you do?”

“I called Jeff into my office afterwards and told him that he had won me and Noah over, but that there were two more hoops he had to jump through.

“And those are?"

"Number one: I had to call Noah’s former owner and get her approval. Number 2: He had to go home, ride five days a week, taking at least three lessons a week, do the reading assignments I gave him, and to call me every Sunday.”

Louise laughed.

“Oh, I told him he has to lose weight, too! 

“You think he’ll do all that?”

“I have no idea. We will have to see.”

“Well,” Louise said thoughtfully. “I’m ok with this plan, but only if and when Noah gets sound.”

“No worries. And let me tell you, if he does get Noah, your horse will have fallen into a tub of butter because this guy knows all about healing modalities: Massage, magnets, acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy—he’s done and does them all himself!”

After we hung you, I dialed Jeff.

“HELL-oooooo!,” Jeff boomed.  

“You on the interstate?”

“Yeah!”

“I’ve  got good news.”

“Yeah????”

“I just hung up with Noah’s former owner. She’s given you the green light-so long as Noah gets 100% sound, which I think he will….”

‘AWESOME!!!,” he belted.

“But you have to do your homework! You hear me?  Lessons? Reading? Call me? And LOSE WEIGHT!’

“YOU BETCHA! “

“Well, ok. Congratulations. I want to know who you select as a riding instructor and I want you to buy Sally Swift’s book Centered Riding. Read the first chapter. Look for paralells in football. I’ll expect a call from you every Sunday. We will talk about your lessons and your reading. Plan on coming back in five or six weeks.”

Jeff did everything I asked of him, leaving me a message the very next Sunday.

“Hey Susanna, it’s…JEFFY!”

“Jeffy?” I thought. How does a man that big go by ‘Jeffy’?!

“I am calling you you to give you the weekly update. I rode five times this week.…” 

And so began our regular phone calls. He started, as I had reccommended, on a lunge line, learning to master his balance and developing an independant seat. Every week, he shared his experiences with me: "I cantered today on for the first time. It was absolutely AWESOME!”  He did his reading. We discussed similarities between football and riding. I found myself looking forward very much to our calls every Sunday. Not only was his enthusiasm infectious,  but he had interesting observations and discoveries to share every time we talked.

“I am shocked at how similar riding is to football!,” he told me. “I had no idea how technical riding is. I mean trying to get a horse to go in a straight line is so hard, let alone in a round circle!  And cantering, well, cantering is so technical it was out of the picture for me for a while!” (Not that long I thought. Maybe three weeks on the lunge line?)

I was fascinated to hear of his comparisons to football. 

“Making sure you have "soft eyes” that technique that Sally Swift writes about, using your peripheral vision in addition to being able to focus on the thing in front of you reminded me of playing center. I needed to be able to take in the entire field and defense, while at the same time see and block the 300 pounds breathing down my face!”

Jeff told me about the importance of body stance/position in football and how, just like in riding it was the keystone of success.


“Sally Swift talked a lot about being balanced, loading one foot, shifting your weight in the direction that you want to go. Well in football—especially at the higher levels—your body stance, your posture and your balance are the building blocks for the offensive lineman. Offensive line coaches talk a lot about that. That was a concept I could really understand.”

“And if you are a wide receiver or a tight end or a running back or fullback you really need to have soft hands when catching the ball. That’s just like in riding!  You need soft hands so you have a happy horse and you are not jerking him or balancing yourself on his mouth.”

“Oh, and I have also found out first hand, that when you don’t employ correct technique, you fall off your horse. In football, if you don’t have the right stance, you will get knocked on your back!”

We laughed about that.  

“Yup, that pesky law of gravity will get you, won’t it, Jeffy?  Ever had any injuries?”

The list was impressive and included, along with the usual list of bruises and muscles strains, torn ACLs and MCLs, four screws in one knee, five screws and a plate in an ankle, a serious bone infection, and a dislocated heel.  And who knows how many concussions? No wonder at 28 Jeff had decided to hang up the football towel and to pursue an MBA.

“Why football, Jeff?”

“I started playing sports from a very young age:  Flag football, hockey, baseball, golf and soccer. When I was younger I was sure I would become a professional soccer player. At age 10, I played against Brazil and Egypt on the U10 USA Cup.”

“In third grade I went out for tackle football and after two practices, I quit. Soccer was my future. Then I got older, and by the time I was in 6th grade I weighed 206 pounds. It became increasingly evident that soccer was not in my cards! I was constantly getting yellow cards and red cards for running people over or for for them touching me and falling down.”

"So I moved on to golf and focused on becoming a professional golfer. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school that I found a sport that I was exceptional at based on what God has blessed me with: Football!"

"From high school I walked on to the University of Minnesota football team. When you are a walk on, you have to prove that you deserve to be there. So I worked longer and harder and more than my teammates. They’d quit and I’d stay in the gym. They’d take days off, I would train. After college I signed a contract with the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”

When people tell me I cant do something, I am so competitive, I’ll DIE just to prove them wrong.”

I knew something about that.

In the last week of August, just five weeks after his first visit, Jeff came back to the MMSC. He looked totally different.  He sported quadriceps revealing britches (“They are just like football pants,” he said), paddock boots, half chaps and an expensive helmet. He was thiner. His hair was short. What hadn’t changed was his excitement about seeing “his guy Noah,” and clearly Noah was happy to see him too. When Jeff came in his stall, Noah nuzzled him then stuck his head on his chest.

“You ready to ride?” I asked.

“You BETCHA!”

“Need a lunge rope?”

“Nope!


And he was right. Jeff rode Noah beautifully. They walked and trotted, circled and serpentined, halted and backed up. Jeff was so balanced  he could even do something he had envied his girlfriend Lauren for just several weeks prior: He could ride with both arms outstretched in front of him.




I was impressed.

“Go around the world,” I said, wondering if Noah would act up at all.

“What?!”

“At a stand still. Swing your leg over his hind end. Then to one side, then over his head. Don’t worry, I’ll hold Noah.”

And he did. Noah never flinched nor moved.

“OK. Now go back the other way.”

He did.
“Now lean back on his rump.”

“Now touch his ears.”

Now jump off!”

All of which he did.

“Well?” Jeff asked.

“That was amazing!” I replied. “I have never seen anyone make so much progress so quickly.”

Jeff stretched his arms up in the air.

“Can I have him?”

“Well yes…and no.”

“Huh?”

“Well, yes, because I think you have earned it and yes because Noah clearly has chosen you. But no, because you are still a bit green and Noah’s canter is still a little disorganized. It’s getting better thanks to his rider, Alicia, but it’s not confirmed yet.”

Jeff looked disappointed.

But, I brought a trailer with me!


“Don’t worry. He’ll be yours. You two just need a little more experience. I want to send you both off with every chance of success. Besides I would like you to come back to tell your story with Noah beside you at our fundraiser, Sips ’n Saddles on September 19.”

“I can do that!” Jeff said.

“And your trailer won’t go back to Minnesota empty, either. There will be a horse in it in....just not Noah!”

Cheery bye,
Susanna




Noah’s Decision


“Jeff was in there a really long time,” Nick told me when the Minnesota titans came back to the MMSC the next day.

“He was,” I said, remembering Jeff’s relentless drive to get Noah.

“The three of us were watching from the truck and figured that so long as a little blond woman didn’t come flying through the window, things were going okay!”

I laughed. “Your brother doesn’t like to give up!”

“Yeah,” Nick agreed with a chuckle. “He’s pretty persistent when he sets his mind on something.”

“I can see that. I am convinced that he is too big and too green for Noah, but in the end, I figured we ought to see what Noah thinks before I sent you all packing back to Minnesota.”

“Good deal!”

Hmmm, I thought. We’ll see. I didn’t expect any miracles. I was convinced that Noah would show Jeff quickly what a crazy whim it was to adopt him.

Jeff couldn’t wait to see Noah and made a beeline for his stall.

“I’m back, buddy!” he called to him through the stall bars. Nick, Nick’s fiancé Jessie, and Jeff’s girlfriend Lauren stood in the grooming aisle, while Jeff crooned on.

“OK. Here’s the deal,” I announced. “Horses are prey animals. They protect themselves by fight or flight. They are safer in groups, thus the herd is organized in a hierarchy. Jeff, we are going to put you and Noah at liberty in a round pen together and we will look for two things. 1. Can you communicate with him? And 2. Can you get him to respect you? Ready?”

“You bet!” said Jeff, who practically danced out to the round pen on his toes he was so excited. 

I led Noah into the round pen and turned him loose. He ambled off, smelled the remnant droppings, then went to the wall and looked out at his buddies in the paddocks beyond. I handed Jeff a carrot stick (a 4-foot long stick with 2-foot rope attached used to direct a horse without touching it) and launched into what I thought was a precise offense of words explaining how to use it.  

“You’re on your own,” I said and stepped out of the round pen.

Jeff shot me a look that reminded me of my own son the first day I left him at kindergarten, the kind of doubting expression that pierced my heart.

“Hey, buddy,” Jeff said turned towards Noah. Noah glanced at him briefly then trotted away. 

“Noah, my man. C’mere!”

Noah ignored him.

I had to help Jeff! So I gave him more instructions. Jeff tried, but was lumbering. Then a light when off in my brain. As a football player, Jeff’s primary language was physical, not verbal!

“Hold on! Hold on!” I said as I came through the gate into the round pen.  “Here’s what we’re going to do. You and Noah are on one team. I am on the opposing one. Like a quarterback, you have to call the plays and get Noah to work with you. Except that it’s different. I am Team PUMA, and if I get to Noah before you do, I eat him. That’s how it works in the prey-predator world. Get it?”

Jeff nodded.

“Ready! GO!” and I dashed at Noah’s hind end and tried to herd him in the direction of my choice. Jeff deftly cut me off, sending Noah cantering in the other direction. So I flipped around and came at Noah from another direction. But again Jeff was quicker than me.   

Breathless, I stopped. Jeff did too and Noah walked right up beside him. 

“Guess it’s kinda crazy of me to think I could outrun an NFL player, eh?”

Jeff gave me a huge, Shrek-like grin.

“OK.  See if Noah will follow you now. Don’t look at him, just walk away.”

Jeff did, walking slow then fast, changing directions, starting and stopping. Noah was right behind him every step of the way.


“Ok. Time to tack him up!”

“You’re gonna let me ride him?”

“Yup. You passed the first test. Let’s see what Noah says when you are on his back.” I was certain that Noahs behavior under saddle would change Jeffs mind. To set the stage, I asked Lauren, a very accomplished rider, to ride Noah first. It didnt take her long to agree with my conviction that Noah was the wrong horse for Jeff. 

It was Jeffs turn. I put Noah on a lead rope and commissioned Catherine and Lauren to follow close by. We went over to the mounting block. “You’re going to take care of me buddy, right?” Jeff said to Noah.


Jeff awkwardly climbed onto Noah. Although he sat with an exemplary straight back, his toes were pointing down, and his hands were held high and out before him if he were water skiing.

I was glad I was at the end of the rope as I expected Noah, ever willing to move forward FAST, would lurch into a rapid trot and leave the top heavy Jeff behind in the dust. But Noah did nothing of the kind. His ears flipped back and forth as if trying to comprehend the incoming signals, and when he couldn’t get the information he needed, he did something very uncharacteristic - he stopped.

I gave Jeff a few pointers and in a few minutes I felt comfortable in unhooking the lead rope. Nonetheless I stayed close, just in case. Jeff did his utmost to steer, turn, stop.  How Noah made sense of the cacophony of conflicting messages, I’ll never know.  What I do know is he was a perfect gentleman!

I kept giving Jeff explanations of where to put his hands, legs, seat, and weight, but Jeff would overdo every action that I requested, leaning too much, striving too hard, making too drastic a change. 

“Jeff, get off that horse and let me show you something,” I said. “Now this is going to be very unconventional, but as you are so in tune with your body, I figure that this will be the most effective way to get my point across. Pop down on all fours, please!”

“Huh?”

“Yes, all fours, I am going to let you feel what Noah feels.” So Catherine held Noah, and Lauren, who was in the arena with me to keep Jeff safe, stepped aside.

Jeff was so tall on all fours, that when I straddled his back, I still had to stand on tip toes.  

“It’s really simple. A horse will move under your weight,” and I moved my hips, shoulders and head alternatively to the right then the left. “Feel that? Good. Which way are my hips turned now? My shoulders? My head?”

Jeff answered correctly every time.  

“Good. Now let me show you how to stop a horse with your seat alone,” and a squeezed my thighs tight.

“Whoa! For a little lady you are strong!!” he sputtered as I held his rib cage in a firm grip.

I popped off of him. “A horse is so sensitive that one rarely has to squeeze that hard. I just wanted to be clear about how effective you can be without the use of reins. Now get back on.”

And so he did. And in a matter of moments, his riding was transformed. He was both lighter and more effective with his seat. His heels went down. His leg fell into alignment with his upper body.


“You want to try trotting?”

“Sure!” and without further ado he nudged Noah into a trot. I held my breath and followed closely, expecting Noah to feel the unbalance and break into a canter. To my surprise, Noah trotted steadily and calmly, stepping beneath his cargo when Jeff teetered a bit.

“Try a circle.”

And they circled.

“Change direction. Rise up and down with every beat, that’s called posting.”

It was amazing to watch. Jeff was a brilliant natural athlete. But more startling still was Noah. He trotted around as if he were carrying the King of England.  Proud. His neck gently arched even on a light rein. His ears pricked. 

“That’ll do,” I called. “Go in and work with the girls to untack him and turn him out and after that come into my office and talk to me, please,” I told him.

About twenty minutes later he knocked on my door.

“So can I have him?”

“No.”

“NO! Why not? Didn’t I do ok? Do you think Noah didn’t like me?”

“You did fine and Noah loved you. I am truly surprised in both instances.”

“So?”

“You’ve jumped through my hoop and Noah’s too but you have two more hoops to clear successfully.”

“And those would be?”

“The first is I have to get the owner’s permission. Noah is extremely dear to her. She wants the very best for him. Because you convinced me to let you try, and because Noah accepted you, I am willing to approach her, but only under certain conditions.

“Which are?”

“1. You go back to Minnesota and ride five times a week, taking three lessons a week under the instructor that I approve of.

2. You read the books that I assign you.

3. You call me every Sunday to tell me what you have learned and how your lessons are going.”

“Done!” he said enthusiastically.

“And there’s another thing. You are too heavy. They say that a horse should only carry about 20% of its weight, so with tack your total weight should be around 220 pounds. Now there is leeway with that number depending on the amount of bone the horse has, the length of its back, the condition and fitness level its in, the athletic endeavor you chose to pursue, the age of the horse, and of course, its attitude and heart. Nevertheless, taking all those variables under consideration, you have to make a concerted effort to lose weight - 25 to 50 pounds.  Are you willing to do that too?”

“I will do whatever I have to do to get Noah,” Jeff said quietly.

“Even take up belly dancing?”

“Belly dancing?”

“You are incredibly stiff in your pelvis and hips. To be a good rider you need fluidity and range of motion in those areas.”

“Yeah…right.”

“It’s just a suggestion,” I said with a smile. “But seriously you need to do stretches. Maybe do some yoga. You are really tight in your lower back. Now, it’s July 9. Can you come back in about six weeks to show me what you have learned?

“Nick and Jessie are getting married in late August, so I’ll try to come before then.”

“Good,” I said, and on an impulse I added, “Here, take this shoe of Noah’s that I keep on my desk for inspiration. If and when it comes time for you to adopt Noah, you can give me the shoe back. If you aren’t able to adopt him, you get to keep the shoe.”

“You’ll get the shoe back,” he said with steely determination.

“We’ll see,” I answered, cocking my head to one side and evaluating him with narrowed eyes. “We will see. Remember you have two very tight hoops still to jump through. So…” I rummaged through the top drawer of my desk. “Here’s a four left clover for you. Good luck! You’ll need it.”
Cheery bye,

Susanna

Nowhere to Hide and Jeff

There is no better advertising than word of mouth. No better compliment than having a satisfied adopter come back for an additional horse or having a potential adopter come to the MMSC because they have heard good things about our horses, our ethos, and our adoption procedures.

Lauren and Louie
So I was really, pleased to hear that Lauren W. who had adopted a horse from us in early 2013-and a horse that had had many physical challenges to overcome to boot!—was so pleased with her “Louie” that she had told her boyfriend, Jeff, to come to us to find his “dream horse.”

To do what? I wondered.

“To be together, go on trail rides, maybe little shows, maybe not. Something quiet. Something easy. He has ridden Western maybe ten times, English maybe three.”

Ah yes! I had the perfect horse for him: Formaggio! A very solid citizen—a horse with the duty bound attitude of a US Marine. Big too, 16.3. Man sized. 

 A few weeks later, after Jeff’s application had arrived and been approved, I looked up from my desk where I was catching up on emails and saw a hulk of a man walking towards the arena.

“Catherine!” I called. “Who is that?”

She darted back out of the office and was back in a flash.

“That’s Jeff Tow-Arnett, Lauren’s boyfriend. Remember he and Lauren were coming in from Minnesota today to try horses?”

“But, but…he’s HUGE! I mean he looks like a pro linebacker! Thank goodness Formaggio is big!” 
Jeff

Shortly thereafter Jeff, and two other titans, one male, one female strode into the office. They looked like gods from Mount Olympus; all three were over six feet tall and tautly muscled; the men built like mighty burr oaks, the woman like a lofty willow.

I caught a glimpse of the nymphlike Lauren standing to one side. 

“Lauren!” I gave her a hug.  

“This is Jeff,” she said, “and his brother Nick, and Nick’s fiancée, Jessy.”

Jessie and Nick

“Welcome!” I said. “My goodness,” I couldn’t help myself from adding. “You two guys look like football players and you, you…”I looked at Jessie.

“We are football players,” said Jeff with a grin.

“And Jessy’s a professional volley ball player,” Nick offered.

Jessy was at least 6.2”, long limbs, long neck, long hair, long everywhere.  Both men had chests, arms, and quads like the granite boulders on the rocky coasts of MaineNick was taller with gentle brown eyes and military correct posture. Jeff, the more massive of two, had Samson-like curls grazing his broad shoulders and a winsome smile.

“Wow! That’s cool. So, Jeff, I hear you are looking for a quiet, dependable trail horse? Let’s go to the barn. I believe I have the perfect one for you!” His name is Formaggio.

“What about Noah?” he fired back.

“Well he isn’t totally sound yet,” I said, brushing the question off.

That was the truth. But that wasn’t the full truth. Noah still was very volatile under saddle although he and his rider, Alicia, were making progress. A green rider would be totally wrong for Noah. Besides, I was a bit of a snob. A football player for MY NOAH???!!!

“Let’s just start with Formaggio, shall we?” I responded.

I sat on the bleachers watching Jeff ride. He was, as I suspected, as  green as grass. Bless dear Formaggio who carried him like the dutiful trooper he always was: Keen to follow directions. Careful of his cargo.

“Let’s tack up Noah for Lauren and send them both out on a little trail walk,” I told Catherine. “Do we have an intern who could go with them just in case Noah gets strong?”

As soon as they were ready and had exited the arena, I went over to talk to to Nick and Jessy.

“Who did you play for Nick?

“The Dallas Cowboys. The Seattle Seahawks. I also was in minicamp with 
the Minnesota Vikings one year and the Jacksonville Jaguars.”

“You done now?”

“Yup. I am going into sports fitness.”

“And Jeff? Who did he play for?

“Well, we both played for the University of Minnesota. Then he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then arena football in 2011 and 2013 for the Milwaukee Mustangs, followed by Tampa Bay Storm last year.”

“Is he done with football?”

“I think so. I hope so. He’s had a lot injuries. But he’s really persistent.”

“And Jessy, tell me about you? Who have you played for?”


“I trained with the USA National Volleyball Team and played in the 2011 Pan American Cup where we won the Bronze medal. I have played professional volleyball for 4 seasons in Puerto Rico, one in Vienna, and then last season, as Nick, said, in Azerbaijan.”

About that time Jeff and Lauren were back from their trail walk.

“How was it?”  I asked. “What do think about Formaggio, Jeff?”

Jeff and Formaggio


Jeff was nice, polite, but not elated, which is the expression I like to see when an adopter tries a horse. “It was good. He was good. I like him. But I am just not in love with him.”

“Oh, thats too bad because I don’t have another horse that would be right for you at this point.”

“He really had his heart set on Noah,” said Nick as Jeff and Lauren led their mounts back to the barn.

“Noah is not a good fit for him. He’s too green, and Noah is a die hard competitor.”

“I understand.  But he’s not going to take this well, “Nick said.

Not taking it well was an understatement. I was back at my desk when I saw Lauren and Jeff head for their truck. He looked like the darkest skies before Hurricane Katrina. His brow was furled. His ears were beet red.

“Are they leaving, Catherine?”

“Yes. They are headed back to Minnesota.”

“Ah, me. I guess I made someone mad. He didnt even say goodbye."

“Yup. He was pretty upset.”

“He’ll find another horse. Maybe even another horse at the MMSC. But I doubt he will want to come back.  I was too blunt.”

But an hour later, he was back! 

“I would like to talk to Susanna,” he told our office manager, Lori.

“O000..kay,” Lori replied slowly.

“Do you want to talk with Jeff?” she said, sticking her head through my office door, eyebrows raised, her tone foreboding.

“Sure! Send him in!”

In an instant his massive frame filled the door. Then he dragged a chair up to the front of my desk, and sat down with heft on it. He fixed me in a cross fire gaze.

“How can I help you, Jeff?””

He launched his offensive:

“You see, Susanna, Lauren had told me that the MMSC was a great place to get a horse. So I went to your website, and I scrolled down the horses and once I read Noah’s blurb, the search was over. I watched his videos. I learned about his injuries and all that you were doing for them—acupuncture, Chinese herbs, chiropractic! I have had all those things done to me!  I, like Noah, have fractured bones! I have had competed hard like Noah. Then when I heard you say on the Horse Channel video that Noah had a heart of gold and would do anything to serve even if it caused him to die, I thought of what my offensive line coach from
my senior year at the University of Minnesota said to the Philadelphia Eagles Scout who wrote me off because I was too small: ‘If I had 11 Jeff Tow-Arnetts I could rule the world!’  I knew that if I was a horse, I would be Noah. And besides, my parents were supposed to name me Noah, but in the end they called me Jeff. But I always wanted to be called ‘Noah’.”

The more he talked, the faster his words came. He leaned forward. He clasped and unclasped his large mitt-like hands. I could fill the heat of his passion “tazing" me from across the desk. I found myself intrigued by his earnestness, his persistence, by the massive  weighty cross on his chest. WHAT PASSION!  Is this what it was like to face an opponent’s relentless touch down drive ?

“Noah is not totally sound yet, Jeff.”

“I can wait til he is.”

“He still very much in racetrack mental mode.

“Can I adopt him and pay someone to continue reschooling him?”

“It make take a while.”

“I can wait.”

“It might never happen. Noah is a confirmed competitor. And you are too inexperienced. I am afraid you or Noah might get hurt.”

“I can get better. I’ll take lessons every day until I do.”

“How much do you weigh?”

“275 pounds”

“That’s too heavy for Noah.”

“I can lose weight!!!”

I sat back and took a deep breath. My mind was clearly against it. What did my gut say?

“Susanna, how do you know for sure Jeff is the wrong fit?

Inexperience. Size. Noah’s horsenality,” my mind shouted back.

Susanna, you say you are all about second chances. Are you truly? my gut returned.

I sighed. 

“Jeff, you make a very passionate case for Noah. I have reasons for thinking that it is not a good idea. But I honor the fact that you didn’t just head back to Minnesota in anger. You didn’t give up. You decided to face me again and you have done so making a worthy case for your desire. I am a person who has dedicated herself to second chances. If I am a truly honest about that, then you have made me think I must not impose my opinions on you. Can you come back tomorrow?”

“We weren’t planning on staying,” he told me, inching to the edge of the seat, his  eyes hopeful.

“Well, that’s too bad because I believe we ought to let Noah have a say about whether he wants to be your special horse or not.”

“WE WILL STAY!” Jeff exclaimed.

“All right. Be here tomorrow morning and we will put you and Noah in the road pen together, at liberty and we will let Noah weigh in. What do you think?”

“I’ll be here!” said Jeff, ecstatically. “AND Thank you! THANK YOU!” he said enveloping  me in one of the most massive, memorable hugs I have ever received in my life.


Cheery bye, 

Susanna


Nowhere to Hide and Alicia

Nowhere to Hide and Alicia
I am a “heady” person. I was blessed to have a magnificent liberal arts education. There’s a wannabe professor in me. A book worm too. I have always admired and practiced Benjamin Franklin’s decision making process: the Pro and Con list. But the older I have gotten, the more I have learned that I should always, always, ALWAYS listen to my gut.
That’s hard to do in this culture. Why? First, because we revere brainiacs—Ivy Leaguers, alphabets trailing a last name (Ph.D, M.D, C.P.A., C.E.O, C.F.O, C.O.O…), smarty pants who invent things, control things, and who, as a result, make tons of money. Second, because we are in always in a hurry, always distracted. We scarcely have time to think straight with the brain that sits upon our shoulders, let alone take stock with our intuition. Third, we tend to belittle the gut—that site of indigestion, flatulence, and lust, that beloved anatomical area of woo-woo queens, psychics, and religious fanatics. C’MON MAN!
I’ll admit, in my youth, I often gave my gut short shrift when compared to my gray matter. The legal cap Pro and Con list was my go-to strategy for decisions. Not that my gut didn’t rumble. It did, but I definitely viewed it as trailer trash talk. Big mistake!  The head alone never set a true course. Indeed, my best decisions were the ones where I let my gut influence my brain—like leaving my job at Random House thirty plus years ago borrowing a car, and driving down the east coast, stopping randomly at horse farms in multiple states, until I found a job with horses in Kentucky.

That is why when I interviewed Alicia over Face Time this past spring as a potential summer intern and my gut endorsed her, I had to say “yes.” My head was not pleased. Alicia had submitted a decent application. She had good references, one of whom I knew. But I knew when I started talking to her, that she she was atypical.  Her demeanor was bizarrely static yet dramatically intense. I felt her unwavering trenchant stare piercing the computer screen. When I asked her questions, she began by blurting things out, then dove into conversation, rarely coming up for air. It didn’t take a M.D. degree to realize that she was very A.D.H.D. In a matter of minutes, in fact, she told me that of her own accord.
I asked her why she wanted to come to the MMSC. She lived many states away. She would have to find accommodations. Our internships were unpaid. 
“I want to come because I love horses. I have a hard time learning.  I am a crack baby and was put up for adoption. People have made fun and rejected me all of my life. But I have repeatedly been given second chances, by my adoptive family, by my schools, by my riding teachers. I want to give back to horses like those at your Center who need a second chance, too.”
Right then and there, my gut screamed:  “ACCEPT HER!”
“But, but, but….,” my brain whined, “you are not a licensed health professional! OTTBs can be unpredictable! Can you keep Alicia safe? Will she be accepted by the other interns? How much of your precious time will she take?”
“We look forward to having you as one of our interns this summer, Alicia,” I declared. 
She broke into the biggest, beaming smile that dazzled me like sunlight on fresh snow! I wasn’t sure how things would turn out, but I knew it would be an intriguing journey.
Starting in June, summer interns from high school to college age, from Kentucky and several other states arrived at the MMSC.  They were an eager rambunctious lot, like five week old puppies, full of play, and in need of instruction. 
“I am a very fun person,” I told the girls at the onset, “but I am DRACONIAN about certain things.
I was met with blank stares, except for Lydia, a recent high school graduate from Louisiana.
“What does draconian mean, ladies?”
“I know! I know!  Strict!!!”
“Excellent, Lydia. Yes, strict, harsh, relentless—a word that comes from the Athenian law scribe Draco, I suggest you google him-I warn you ladies, there will be a word of the day, every day when I see that you have no idea of what I have just said. I expect you to look them up, learn them, and use them correctly. You will be quizzed.”
“Now,” I continued. “Here is what you must know about this summer: Number one, you are a team. Work together, help one another. If you are finished with a chore, assist someone else. I abhor idle hands. Cell phones and texting are not allowed. Negativity and whining are unacceptable. The work is hard, yes, But it is a privilege to work at the MMSC. These horses have given of themselves as they can for the pleasure of human beings. Caring for them is an honor and a service, and a special gift that you give to them. If you have a problem, don’t gripe about it amongst yourself, come to me. I will set it or you straight. Each of you will be assigned or will be drawn to a particular horse. That is the one you will tend to. Together I will explain to you its needs and help you work through its issues. Questions?”
Alicia, of course, chose Noah. 
“I love his conformation!,” she told me. “He is the perfect example of what a Thoroughbred should look like! And….OH!  what a keen eye! What an amazing demeanor he has. He is so special!”
Oh, dear, yes, Noah was special! He was also my most deeply committed enthusiastically “racetrack-y,” horse in the barn! The one that had extensive physical and mental baggage!  For Alicia!? Alicia who has a very hard time staying focused? Alicia who can be utterly oblivious to the world around her when she is on a trajectory of thought or speech?
“YUP!,” said my gut. 
So Alicia was assigned to Noah. She oversaw his care, his treatments, and, yes, after I had watched her ride some of our quieter horses, his training.  
I spoke to our head rider Carolyn.  
“I want you to make time in your day to give riding lessons to Alicia and Noah.”
“You are kidding!  Alicia and Noah!!!? But he is such a confirmed racehorse!!!”
“No. I am not kidding. Alicia and Noah. They could be really good for each other. Arena riding only. Walk trot only. Be patient with them both. Teach them to slow down. I am counting on you to keep them safe.  And don’t worry, I’ll be keeping an eye on all three of you.”
And watch them I did, from the barn, from the conference room, from the side of the arena. The more I watched, the more I knew my gut was right. 
One day, I came into to the small MMSC kitchen whilst several of the interns were having lunch. 

“WHAT are you all eating???!!!” I asked, appalled. Their plates were littered with heaps of calorie/carbohydrate/chemical concoctions. I fished the boxes and cans out of the trash, handing them to the respective owners, and said, “please read aloud the ingredients.”
All of the meals had high fructose corn syrup near the top of the list, followed by multiple syllabic unpronounceable words, and a list of numbered additives. I peeked into their lunch boxes.  Alicia’s was by far, the worst. She had fodder for herself, and because she is good hearted and generous, enough for all the other interns and then some.
“Ladies,” I said.  “Do you see how hard we are all working to make our horses healthy, to cleanse them of all that has beleaguered them during their track days? From stress, to legal and maybe illegal drugs, changing hays and feeds, supplements, different riding styles, and the like.”
Quiet nods.
“You see the difference we are making?  You understand the importance of nutrition for well being. Why, oh why, then would you not treat your body with the same respect?”
“I don’t how to cook.”
“I don’t know what to buy.”
“I don’t have time to eat healthy.”
“Ladies, you will each bring in tomorrow a list of everything you eat at every meal over the course of a week. I will review this with you, and will show how you can still eat what you want but be healthy.”
And they did. And no student was more enthusiastic about my draconian measures than Alicia. She let me throw out her packages of cookies, candies, and sugar laden energy bars. She went to the health food store and bought organic meals and read me the ingredients on a daily basis with pride. She was so grateful for all my suggestions and instructions. She worked ceaselessly. She always was smiling. As the weeks passed, she interrupted less. She listened more. When she first came, she tended to tell “woe-is-me” stories about herself, as if her challenges somehow entitled her to a lesser standard of behavior.
“Alicia, stop giving your challenges prime time. We all have setbacks and problems in life. It’s the attitude and grace in how you deal with them that makes you memorable. Look at Noah. He’s a horse that has known adversity. But has he EVER stopped trying to serve, to please, to give his very best?”
“No,” Alicia answered, in a quiet and thoughtful voice.
When Carolyn wasn’t working with Alicia and Noah, I did. I explained that if she couldn’t maintain focus, if she couldn’t be a worthy leader Noah would take over and do the one thing he knew he did well: RACE. 

“Horses are hierarchical, Alicia. That means that the herd is based on a ladder of respect. You must learn to control your thoughts and emotions for the benefit of your horse.” Before long she was cantering and popping Noah over cross rails and he stayed calm. By summer’s end she was walking, troting, and cantering him in an open field.  What an amazing accomplishment! She had worked really hard, and done so with ceaseless enthusiasm. She had given her all to Noah and to me, and we both were better for it.
I had one more thing I wanted Alicia to learn from Noah before summer’s end. When she came to the MMSC, it was clear she didn’t think much about her appearance. Her clothes were utilitarian and formless. She wore no jewelry or makeup. She sported a baseball cap worn backwards. She wasn’t alone. All my interns were lackadaisical about their attire.
“Ladies,” I addressed the girls one day. “You all know that RESPECT is one of my five principles of horsemanship. You have all worked very hard on a daily basis to tend to every need of your horses. I commend you for this. But like many, many horse women, myself included, you tend to neglect to care for yourselves. You hair becomes a nest of tangles and hay by day’s end. Your shirts get streaked with mud, sweat, and green horse slobber. Your fingernails get blackened and broken. As the summer has gone on and each of you has gotten progressively more weary, I have noticed that you have spent less and less time on how you look at work.
“Now, in my opinion, our society puts too much emphasis on appearance  as well as revolting amount of focus on sexuality. I understand the desire to reject those messages. But the truth is, if you want to take part in the game of life, you have to learn the rules, and play by them. That way, when you chose to participate in the game, whether that means job hunting, or getting a loan, or making a presentation, you have a chance of winning. Think of it like readying your horse for a horse show. You don’t mind bathing and braiding it, cleaning your tack and your boots, right? You do that to get the upper hand on your competition. You do it because it makes you feel proud. Right?
“That is why next week, we are going to have a “class”at the mall. This means lunch, makeup, and pedicures- manicures. Please show up dressed smartly. Last but not least, I will expect a thank you note from each of you afterwards, not an email, but a handwritten one, because a handwritten thank you note is a gesture of respect that will take you far in life.” 

Alicia, second from the right was part of the marvelous group of Summer 2014 interns!
Alicia learned the joys of a pedicure!
It was a great day. And I cherish the thank you notes, Alicia’s in particular. It made me choke up.
I called Alicia recently to see how her fall semester was progressing and to ask her if she minded if I told her story in this blog entry.
“Everything is great!  I moved up from the Walk/Trot group to the Walk/Trot/Canter group on my equestrian team! I don’t mind if you tell my story at all. I had a great summer.  
“And what did you learn from Noah?”
“I loved Noah,” she said. “I wish I could have adopted him. He taught me a lot.”
“Like what?”
“Oh tons! I learned that you can have a wild and crazy side—after all he did- I do too—my A.D.H.D, makes me crazy, but in spite of that you can teach yourself to be calm and focused. Noah taught me to be relaxed on a horse. Noah taught me to push through adversity. Noah taught me to trust. Because I came to trust him, I learned to trust myself.”
“How about respect, Alicia?  Did he teach you anything there?”
“Oh yes!”He taught me to respect my emotions. He taught me to respect myself. He taught me to address my needs, “ she laughed her big sunshiny laugh and added,
“You would be so proud of me, Susanna! The other day I was looking at my toe nails and I thought, ‘I would NEVER let Noah’s toe nails look like this!’ So I cleaned them up and painted them!!!”
Oh Noah! You special, special horse! Thank you for all that you taught Alicia. Thank you, Alicia. for all that you taught me. And thank you, gut, for being my ever true inner compass. You always steer me right!
Cheery bye,
Susanna

Nowhere to Hide: A Project

Nowhere to Hide
A special horse
Nowhere To Hide arrived at the MMSC in February
From the very first, I knew Noah would be a project. Given that off the track racehorses are a dime a dozen these days, my decision to take him may have seemed profligate. But I am committed to helping Thoroughbreds that can be ambassadors for the breed in any equestrian sport at any level. All racehorses need some reschooling and some physical therapy. At the MMSC horses receive both. No doubt I could adopt out a lot more horses if I didn’t invest the time to heal them physically and emotionally. Nor does my ethos of transparency make for quick “flips.” But so much of all that is good in my life has come about because of horses, I feel called to be their defender and champion whilst they are in my care.

In the long run, however, taking Noah on made “cents.” He was a lovely horse. He was service and people oriented. He had the support of his former owners. Yes, the expenses of rehab and reschooling would add up over the six to nine months it might take to ready him for a new career and home. But at eight years old, he was still a relatively young horse. He could live another twenty years or more. To retire him for life might cost, conservatively between five and seven grand annually. That could be $100,000 to $140,000 of accumulated costs for one retired horse! The argument that five to six thousand dollars spent now with the hope that this expenditure would get him off the pay roll and happily placed in a new home with a different job, seemed fiscally sound. I am very lucky that Noah’s owners agreed with me. I wish there were more owners who would support reschooling efforts not just because it is a noble thing to do, but because it is ultimately cost effective. And it would foster a treasure trove of popular good will, undermining the sensationalist value of druggie/neglect/slaughterhouse tales that threaten to ultimately alienate popular interest in racing. 

Besides most Thoroughbreds enjoy work. 

Noah certainly did. He liked to train. He loved to run. And he did so successfully for a long time. It made sense to me that he might thrive in a new career. 

It was a chilly, gray day in February when Noah arrived at the MMSC. Ribby, shaggy, and dull coated, he was, but his eyes shone with eagerness and kindness. It was touching. I didn’t know what the next few months would bring, but I was certain that this horse was special.

The first task was to address his physical state and assess his soundness. I called Dr. True and asked him to evaluate Noah with flexions and X-rays. I wanted fecal count and CBC (complete blood count) baselines.  I called our feed specialist from Nutrena, Rob Martin and asked him to give an opinion on Noah’s weight and condition and to recommend a feeding/supplement protocol. Appointments with the dentist, the farrier and the equine chiropractor/acupuncturist were scheduled.

None of the reports were earth shattering: Noah had been severely stressed and he needed time and TLC to bring him around. I had worried most about what the flexions and the x-rays would reveal. They too, held no big surprises. A few inconsequential chips in ankles, sore hocks, uneven on the right hind. Given the amount and intensity of his racing, his joints were surprisingly clean.

“Go on with him, Susanna.” Dr. True said. “He’ll tell you want he can and cannot do.” 

The chiropractor adjusted his poll, his neck, his withers, back and pelvis, and released the strain of lots of constricted muscles. “He has a spleen deficiency,” she added after finishing his acupuncture treatment. “That’s why his coat is so dull.” She prescribed Chinese herbs and put him on her schedule for regular check ups throughout the spring.

Within two months, Noah started to regain his muscle and his condition.

Within two months, Noah started coming around physically. His coat started to shed out and a silky undercoat appeared. His belly started to slim down and tuck up. His flanks and neck showed outlines of musculature in the making. I worried that he couldn’t seem to hold adjustments in his pelvis, that he was somewhat peg-legged in the left stifle. But he seemed happy.

I asked the interns to give him regular laser treatments. I asked his owner to rent him a magnetic blanket. We have a wonderful volunteer who donates her reiki services to the MMSC. She worked on Noah. Dr. True injected his hocks. We added Lubrysin to the joint supplement he was already getting.



We also worked him. From the first snowy morning in early March when we took him out to do natural horsemanship and bomb proofing, Noah was an exemplary student: Willing, smart, level headed. The one problem that we had with Noah was that he tried TOO HARD.  He was the kind of horse that would run on three legs if you asked him. When he first arrived at the MMSC, I thought he would make a lovely “little old lady’s horse.” It was apparent after the first week of riding him that Noah only wanted to do what he did well—
R A C E.  He wasn’t hot by temperament. He was a, noble minded, well mannered,  warrior-athlete. You had to love a horse like Noah.






And loved he was! Nick Zito trained Noah in his early years, and when Zito’s son Alex came to the Horse Park this May to help his mother put on a Thoroughbred Show, Alex made a point of coming up to the MMSC with his wife to see Noah.

“I always really, really liked Nowhere to Hide," Alex said. “He had a great personality. He always tried. The fact that he ran in the Kentucky Derby is pretty wonderful too. He just was a very special horse. I am glad he is here at the MMSC.”

Mr. and Mrs. Alex Zito came to visit old time favorite, Nowhere to Hide in May.

A month earlier, Noah’s former exercise rider had uttered almost identical words. “As an older horse, No Where to Hide moved from Nick Zito’s barn to my boss’ barn, where I am Assistant Trainer, said Stuart. He had a really big heart and a great personality. He was tricky to exercise because he always tried too hard. We would do two or three mile trot sets  and gallops the wrong way around the track to keep him fit. That’s because when you galloped him the right way, he was REAL strong. He’d give you his all. He was willing to run every time he set foot on the track.

“Not only that he was just such a level headed and kind horse to be around. You never had to worry with him. He’d take care of you. You could always trust him which is more than you can say for many of the horses, especially the older ones! Everyone in the barn loved him. You couldn’t not love him. I know you can lose horses in claimers and therefore I try not to get too attached to them, but when No Where To Hide got claimed in an optional allowance-claiming race. I was really, really angry. I came back to the barn and cried.”

“I couldn’t talk to anyone. My boss knew how upset I was and he assured me that the owners would claim him back. I tried to keep up with him as I could and when one day I didn’t see him showing up on any tracks, I asked the racing manager if he knew what had happened to him. I was told that the owners had gone after him and that he was at the Secretariat Center. As soon as I could, I had to come seehim again.”

I walked Stuart and his wife to Noahs stall. “Here he is.”  I stood back as Stuart slipped through the door.

“Hey Grandpa,” he said, his voice soft and warm, his eyes moist.

Noah pricked his ears, stepped up to him and pushed him gently with his nose.

“You’ve had a hard time, haven’t you Old Man,” Stuart said as he stroked Noah’s neck and kissed him on the cheek.




Noah laid his head on Stuart’s chest as if saying,”Nah, Im ok, Stu! No worries!” 

Why dont you adopt Noah, Stuart?"

Stuart wished he could but he felt that his nomadic life made it impossible.  “I know you’ll take care of him, Susanna.  You’ll find him a good home…right?”




“Yes, Stuart, I will take care of him. And I promise I will let you know when Noah finds his person. And beyond that, I will put you in touch with that person, so you two can be friends and you can go visit Noah in his new home.”


By the time June rolled around, Noah was starting to look respectable. He wasn’t 100 percent sound yet. And he still bolted when cantering to the left in the ring. Trail rides could be hairy—lots of enthusiastic head tossing and jigging sideways or a racy trot threatening a potent outburst of canter at any subsequent moment. Definitely not an old lady or even a gutsy kid horse yet! Noah knew and only wanted to be one thing: A racehorse. And not just  any old racehorse. A warrior/athlete racehorse. A fight to win/do so until your body breaks or your heart bursts racehorse. Push through pain. Make it happen. I dont know if that could ever be completely trained out of him or if you would even want to.

So who would be the right person for this special horse, the original owners', Alexs, Stuarts and MY special horse? And when, if ever would that person appear?

All I could do was wait, hope, and keep the faith. Loving Noah was the easy part.

Cheery bye,
Susanna

Nowhere to Hide: A Special Horse

LOVE: The Greatest of All      

Nowhere To Hide

There is always one. One special horse, every year, that captures my heart.  Of course, I love all horses of all breeds. And every horse that I have chosen as a MMSC candidate, I care about, and will commit unwaveringly to find it a new job and home. But there is always one that makes me smile whenever I see it; one I can spend time with quietly that restores me when I need sustenance; one that I am tempted to bring home to add to my band. 

There is no rhyme or reason to which horse will turn out to be “Susanna’s favorite.” Over my years at the MMSC, I have fallen for a sprite, a crusader, a diva, and a Confederate. There’s been an Iron Lady and a cynic too. No jocks, though. I like jocks, but I have never been in love with one, yet. 

I had already looked at a bunch of horses when Nowhere to Hide was led out of the barn on a cold day this February.  

“This one ran in the Kentucky Derby!,” the farm manager proudly announced.  

“Ah yes,” I mumbled as I looked at the eight year old gelding its groom was standing up before me. Clearly it had been a while since he had been in Kentucky Derby shape. This was a non-descript 16 hand bay. Shaggy coated. Unkempt mane. Under weight. With rain rot.  

“Tell me about him?”

“He is by Vindicaton who is by Seattle Slew out of  a Seeking the Gold mare.  His owners bought him for $250,000 at the Keeneland yearling sale. He was a good racehorse. Made over $200k. Ran in the Derby in 2009 when Mine that Bird won. He got claimed, much to the owners’ distress.  They went after him and claimed him back and brought him here to retire.”
“Any injuries?”

“In 2010 he suffered a tibia fracture which he had surgery on. He had a tie back operation too. But he had a full recovery and was straight forward to train after that.”

I went over to the gelding and stroked him gently on the neck.  “Hello, you,” I said, edging around in front of him. I looked him up and down. Offset. Slightly knobby ankles. Chips maybe? Decent chest. Then I swept his forelock back.

He looked at me with the most magnanimous hopeful eyes I may have ever seen in a horse.


I knew right then and there despite his condition caused by his claiming experiences and exacerbated by let down during a Polar Vortex winter, he had to come to the MMSC. It didn’t matter when his groom trotted him that his pelvis was sub-luxated, his shoulders were locked and his hocks were sore. He was also stiff, very stiff all over. And his stride was uneven on the right hind. Not surprising for an athlete of his caliber.

I stood back and took a good look. I saw expense dollar signs written all over him.

“I am sure he could make someone happy,” the farm manager said.

“Could be…”

Noah turned his head and locked me in his gaze.

“I’ll take him,” I heard myself say. “But I want to talk to the owners.  This one is going to take time.”

When I talked to the owners I told them that No Where to Hide was a special horse.

“But it is obvious that he has had a hard time after he was claimed from you. The harsh winter has set him back too. He is going to need a program of intensive care: special feed, supplements, alternative therapies, and training. And it is going to take six to eight months to straighten him out. The costs will add up. And there is no certainty that the horse will ever be fully sound.”

The owner explained to me that he should never have been claimed, that they were glad to get him back. He had earned a retirement. Did I think he could be ridden again?

“I never would not have agreed to take him if I didn’t think he had a chance. He is stiff and uneven and in less than ideal condition. We can fix those things. He looks like a horse that would be happier with a person and a job, if we can get him sound enough. But it is going to take time, and I will need your help covering his treatments and supplements.”

“I’d be happy to do that!,” she said.  “I love this horse and he deserves the best!”
Noah arrived at the MMSC in late February.

“I promise you that I will keep you informed every step of the way as to whether he can have a second career or not. I’m going to start this week with a vet exam and a round of X-rays. I’ll let you know what we find and how I think we should proceed based on that.”

“That sounds perfect!”

Ah me! What exemplary owners! Owners who breed and race for the love of the horse, not just for the thrill, entertainment, and spotlight of the sport.  Owners who take care of their horses once their racing days are over. Yes, I know that it is expensive to do this. But it is the morally right thing to do for the horse. 

We turn our heads and say that we can’t make a difference individually. But a cistern is filled one drop at a time. Collectively we can make a difference. We shouldn’t pretend this isn’t a problem. Thank goodness people are joining the aftercare effort every day. Hooray for the industry efforts!  But there is still much to be done and sometimes the challenge seems overwhelming.

I know. My demons tell me that I am kidding myself to think that the handful of horses I take in and rehome each year is important. They tell me that the never ending battles of raising money, or the efforts to raise awareness about the issue and to educate people about the value and versatility of the off track Thoroughbred in new careers are wastes of time. I should be a better mother, a better wife, a better friend, a better citizen. Stupid me.

But then, there is always that special horse. The one I seek out during the day no matter what I am doing because it gives me peace beyond understanding. The one that inspires me to be of service to something greater than mere day to day human life. The one that fills me  with that most powerful force of all: Love. 



And this year, that horse is Nowhere to Hide. And in the next few blog entries I am going to tell you Noah’s story. It
s one 
that amazes and uplifts me. From beginning to end, its a tale and a labor of love. Its the reason why reschooling Thoroughbreds is such a joy and a privilege to do.

Cheery bye,

Susanna

Photo Album: Sips ’N Saddles #2

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Being an aficionado of the written and spoken word, I beg, sometimes to differ. But when it comes to Sips ’N Saddles #2 it would take many pages to describe this special night, and there simply are no words for the gratitude I have for every guest, sponsor, volunteer, board member, and staff member who came to the party. Thank you all for showing your appreciation of the magnificent Thoroughbred and for your support of the MMSC!

Cheery bye, 

Susanna     



A big THANK YOU to
our sponsor and namesake
Maker’s Mark!
Guests were greeted at the door by valet service and servers with 
Kentucky “champagne”-
Maker’s Mark and sparkling cider.
Delicious sweets (bourbon balls galore!)
and fine Kentucky fare
from Holly Hill Inn 

   
Kentucky Bluegrass band NEWTOWN
KENNY’S CHEESES!




                    












See you at Sips ’N Saddles 2015!

The Second Annual Sips ’N Saddles



You haven’t heard from me in two weeks. If you read my last blog you know why: Blitzkrieg! I have only overseen two big parties in my life: My own wedding and the first Sips ’N Saddles last year. Both of those were wonderful and flawed. I had hoped that number three would be the charm. No goofs or glitches. Big crowd. Impressive demo. Amazing food, drink, music. Time to visit with every guest.  Lots of money raised for the cause. In short…perfect.

But like a race horse that stumbles out of the gate, I had had a bad start. The perfect band, booked months before, dropped out three weeks before the party. And two other well established horse themed fundraisers for very worthy causes were being held that same night. We had sent out five hundred invitations already. Who would come to Sips ’N Saddles #2?  Should we cancel? I asked the board.

“ABSOLUTELY NOT!” came the response. 

Marching orders received, I flung myself into battle. I worked long days for three weeks straight—including Sunday, September 14 when I normally I would have written a blog entry.  The next Sunday, September 21, just 30 hours post party, my spirit was willing to attempt a blog post, the flesh,  however, was hopeless. Instead, I self medicated with a prescription of my mother’s old Russian hairdresser, Zaneida— a  “vwee-spat-sa” order. This prescription calls for the following:
  • A prior declaration to all in your family that to restore your mind, body, and soul, you have to “fill yourself up utterly with sleep.” You are not to be disturbed. But you are to be served should you need something.
  • Sleepwear attire: P.J.s, nightgowns, oversized T shirts, or nothing at all. Your choice. 
  • All day napping alternated with reading. Preferably no TV or talking on the phone.
  • No blog writing.
I highly recommend vwee-spats-ing, generally several times a year, most especially after a blitzkrieg effort (such as Christmas, for example). It works.

My silence thusly explained, let me sum up the party for you:


Angels come in all ages such as beloved
Enid and Tom...
The weather could not have been more spectacular. Mid 70s. Cloudless, cerulean skies. A little breeze. The tent placement, parallel to the arena this year, was ideal. The Holly Hill Inn catering coordinator Donna and her staff worked with the precision and fluidity of a Swiss watch preparing the food and drink, serving it silently and seamlessly. A legion of angels arrived from far flung places, (Minnesota, New York,Virginia, to name a few) to help. They were of all ages (high school students to retirees) and surged to the fore to do anything necessary: setting up tables, stuffing gift bags, grooming horses, vacuuming the office, bundling up carrots for the horses, sorting tickets and more.I was humbled by the outpouring of assistance, but sadly, I didn’t have any time to savor it. Before I knew it, I had to shed my dirty jeans, toss some water on my dust streaked face, slap on some make up, and slip into clean clothes. Show time!
and species! Stanley (and his jockey) brought good cheer
and kisses to all!
Guests were greeted at the door by handsome young valets to park their cars and pretty servers holding trays with bubbling glasses of Kentucky “champagne,” (Makers with apple cider). They streamed through the office, to the outside tent, where the bluegrass band, Newtown, played songs about Kentucky, horses, heartbreak and bourbon. There were games to play, and horses in the barn to visit.
I couldn’t resist getting my picture taken with all the handsome swains of X-Press Valet!
Take your cookies when they are passed! I say!

The demonstration illustrated the facets of the Horse Centered Reschooling Program®.  Horses were good… and bad. Some bucked and shied, as young horses will do. Some had jitters, too. But all behaviors were welcomed as a way of describing what we do and how we do it as well as the issues we face, and the solutions we have to come up with to reschool these horses so they can go on to second careers. We bomb proofed the horses dressing them up in costumes and took them over obstacles.



We showed off a hunter prospect, a dressage prospect, a polo pony prospect, a Western pleasure prospect. A former adopter brought back her horse that she is training for eventing. One seasoned campaigner, Bordeaux Bandit, a nine year old gelding which last raced the May, was ridden bareback, with a rope around his neck.  


Having the Ians--Ian Cole of Darby Dan (left) and my son Ian Thomas (right) and my husband Jim and daughter-in-law Elaine (not pictured) as well as
dear friend and Hall of Fame Jockey Patty Cooksey (right) at Sips N’Saddles 2 were
highlights of the party for me
Bids were made at the silent auction and over 40 items were purchased. The live auction was successful too, raising for us twice as much money as it did last year. At party’s end, gift bags were handed out. Guests left in good cheer.

So all, in all, it was a big success! So many things went well. But perfect?… No. There were glitches and goofs for sure. Just different glitches and goofs from last year. I made notes so 
Board member Louise Riggio (second from left) and friends

we don’t repeat them at Sips ’N Saddles 2015. The next day, I checked in with board members to get their take on things and their suggestions for improvements. I made more notes. So be it. Good. But not perfect. But, as Zaneida, my mother’s Russian hair dresser always says ”Perfection is death.” Zaneida knows her stuff. I need to remember that.

This said, there was an absolutely perfect moment in the day. I was zooming around campus , in the barn out of the barn, to the tent beyond the tent, talking to the caterer, the light men, the volunteers, Tony my Tiger about the arena and the campus, the sound system, Cat-erine about the horses, the demo, the demo props, to office manager Lori about the innumerable unexpected things cropping up at the last minute. Zipping and buzzing, tired I blitzed into the office and almost tripped over a small  bespectacled man in a wheel chair waiting in the foyer.

I stopped and focused on his face. I knew it well. I seen it in newspapers and books a lot. Since 1973, in fact. I had met him twice before. The last time was four years ago at the World Equestrian Games.

“MR. TURCOTTE!!!!,” I exclaimed.  

He looked up at me, smiled, and opened up his arms for a hug.

“I have to be at the Secretariat Festival in Bourbon County tonight.  But I thought I’d come by to check up on you, Susanna, and to wish you luck with your party tonight.”

I was flabbergasted.  Ron Turcotte! Secretariat’s jockey! He remembered me! He made time before the Secretariat Festival in Bourbon County to visit and show his support for the MMSC!

“Oh, THANK YOU!” I said, hugging him. THANK YOU!"

That, my friends, is better than perfect.  

That is GRACE. 

Cheery bye,

Susanna
Ron Turcotte with the MMSC stature of Secretariat

BLITZKRIEG!

Blitzkrieg.  That’s what my first week back after vacation was like. 
We all know that returning to work after time off is like an oafish airplane landing. You hit the tarmac unwittingly, slam bouncing hard, brakes straining, tires screaming. It’s not comfortable or reassuring. You wonder how long the pilot has been flying for a living. Clearly, not long, you conclude. Thank God you’re on the ground!

Blitzkrieg or “lightening war,” is a term coined by the Germans in World War II. It was the name for a sudden fierce military attack of coordinated land and air force offensives designed to stun and quell the opponent. (Millennials think “Shock and Awe” tactics in the US-Iraq war of 2003.) You come in fast and from a variety of directions. You hit hard. You wipe out quickly. (Or so you  hope!)




Anticipating an onslaught of memos, phone calls, invoices, and requests facing me on my first day back from Maine, I decided to make a preemptive strike. I returned to Kentucky on a Saturday and fired up my computer. With fifteen  hours of MMSC counter offensive efforts logged in before I even set foot in the office on Tuesday, I assumed I had a decent handle on the situation.

One should know better at my age. Those who ASS-ume prove themselves to be just that. Self assured donkeys. The stack of papers that faced me on my desk made me draw a quick breath. I had expected the usual stuff: Adoption applications, profit and loss reports, phone messages, donations to record and acknowledge. I also knew with the final quarter of our season drawing nigh, and our annual fundraiser, Sips ’N Saddles on the September horizon, that my “to do” list would be in balloon phase. I didn't anticipate it being Hindenburg size, however and fit to burst.



“Where’s Tony?” I asked our office manager, Lori, noticing that our farm manager and his circumspect dog, Tank, weren’t anywhere in sight.

“He announced that he was taking some time off this week,” Lori said.

Hmm. Does one announce things like that? I didn’t remember his asking for time off? How could I have missed that?

Lori stated that she, too, needed to vamoose. Knowing how she always gives 110% and knowing that she had some stressful things going on at home and espying her frazzled expression, all I could do was sputter, “Ok,” forgetting when I did so the upcoming Monday was Labor Day and the day after that was a board meeting. Clearly I was not fighting fit.

The next day, the reality of having 50% of my platoon MIA, hit me full force. My infantry was gone too: Interns had gone back to college. Volunteers too. Summertime was over. The air smelled of September. I had forgotten how quickly the fall lobs itself upon us.

It’s hard to get from A to B on a day  even when fully staffed (me; Lori the office manager; Catherine the barn and media manager; and Tony the campus and farm manger). Slice the staff in two. Subtract the interns as well as our head rider, Carolyn, who was starting school, add four or five horses laid up with issues that require time consuming treatments and what you get is a very long day in action. As it is, you are lucky to get from A to a.

In addition to the depletion of troops, several fracas had taken place in my absence:
  1. The band that we had booked in May for our only annual fundraiser, Sips N’ Saddles on September 19 and which we touted on our invitations canceled.
  2. I found out that two other horsey fundraisers were occurring in Lexington on the night of Sips ’N Saddles. One to raise money for cancer research, colloquially named “the Betsy” after a beloved local horsewoman who lost her life too soon to this malicious disease, and the other celebrating... guess who? SECRETARIAT!!!!


TALK ABOUT BLITZKRIEG!

I remember learning about the term blitzkrieg from my Dad. He is a biographer and historian. He also was in the Navy. He has written about many wars in his numerous books. Inherently, battle tactics don’t float my boat, but when my Dad talks or writes about them, I am on board. That’s because he wields the written and spoken word with force. As a child I remember watching his eyes narrow and focus as if zeroing in on an important target when talking about battles of yesteryear. His jaw tensed as his lips launched a fusillade of precise words. I marveled at his blitzkrieg use of language!

My mother could unleash an offensive like that too, but her tactics were different. She could fell an audience with her deployment of charm, humor, and metaphor. Her critics during her Reagan years complained that she left the President in a romantic haze after their debriefings. I don’t doubt it.  As a story teller, she could blow Scheherazade away.

With the examples of my parents very much in mind throughout that intense first week back, I inventoried the present campus assets I had to work with: Catherine; Britanny a former intern who stepped to the plate to volunteer when she could; Jackie, who signed up for a leadership project this semester; the MMSC board; local fans and well-wishers; my ability to strategize, and I, hoped, a fledging talent for blitzkrieg English myself, that was perhaps genetically predetermined, although more likely acquired by osmosis at home. Clearly we had resources and could and would fight back.

And we did. We attacked and cleared out the piles on my desk. We got the horses treated and trained. We welcomed all visitors and adopters. We attended all meetings on the schedule. We booked a new band. We sent out another 300 Sips N Saddles invitations to people we had overlooked on the first mailing. We made new improved plans for our life-blood fundraiser, and I know it will be more fun than ever! We prepared for and had a good board meeting. We logged in many hours. (Which is why when grocery shopping on Labor Day weekend at 8PM, I found after unloading the top items in my cart that all the rest were not mine! I wonder who got my stuff--heavy on the gluten/lactose free stuff-- poor soul?!)  Forget about weekend time or Labor Day, but with intense effort we survived. Not only that, we thrived.

Thrived? 

How so? 

Because in life when under assault, we get turned upside down. We have to rethink our priorities,  redirect our efforts and reach out for help. We grow stronger.

I am not a fan of blitzkrieg attacks, but for these reasons, I do acknowledge that they can be instrumental in the long run. 

So what would happen, I ask you, if we all took a “blitzkrieg” approach to solving the aftercare issue? We could join forces and launch a brilliant offensive from the ground (those of us in the trenches who care for-literally and figuratively Thoroughbreds) and from on high (the industry leaders themselves). Would we win the war for the Unwanted Horse?

It’s something to think about. And, I hope, someday to work towards.

Cheery bye,
Susanna