What To Do About A BooBoo?

I wrote this quite some time ago, but have mostly kept it to myself. I lost my heart horse on June 11, 2018.  Trigger warning/tissue alert.

 

On a perfect early summer day, with blue skies and sun shining, a goldilocks kind of day that was not too hot and not too cold, the very best kind of day, I laid my head on his cheek and listened while he took his final breaths. I watched as the life left his eyes, and took in one last deep breath of his coat, that familiar mix of fly spray, hay, dirt… and something else, something utterly indescribable. And while I wish I could say it was as peaceful as it sounds, it was the single most horrifying and devastating moment of my life.

 

Intrepid Air came into my life as slightly awkward 5 year old stud colt. One of the farm hands called him “the black stallion”, which sounds striking and regal. In reality, he was a rather stout dark bay colt, who would be more often mistaken for a Quarter Horse than a thoroughbred. He had recently retired from racing at Belmont Park and was sent off to be sold as a sport horse prospect. My sister and I were 15 years old, relatively green riders, and so we were obviously the perfect match for an in-tact young racehorse. (Disclaimer: that’s sarcasm, we were NOT the perfect match. Spoiler: it worked out okay in the end, mercifully.) He was gelded just before the sale was complete. Our trainer nicknamed him BooBoo, (because he had a big boo-boo!) and though our teenage selves did not think such a juvenile name was suitable, it stuck.

Best Christmas present ever.

Deciding on BooBoo’s show name was more of a process than one might think is merited. There are so many options that could incorporate “Boo”. Ultimately, our trainer submitted the entries for our first show, so she got the deciding vote. “What To Do About A BooBoo?” complete with capitalization and punctuation. His name was butchered by announcers even more frequently than his breeding was questioned. It was fitting though, as we often asked him “what are we going to do about you?” This was as often in response to his antics under saddle to make sure his rider was paying attention, as it was to his uncanny ability to cut or injure himself in a freak and ridiculous manner.

First schooling show with BooBoo.

BooBoo turned out to be a cute little hunter, and he took me around the schooling shows and local hunter/jumper circuit. His two white socks and multiple facial markings, set against his dark bay coat made him stand out in a flat class. He had the potential to go further, but I just didn’t have deep enough pockets. While many riders choose to sell their horses when they go to college, I was determined to make it work. I worked 2-3 jobs for so many years, in addition to full time classes, and still found myself saddled (pun intended) with student loan debt. If anything was worth it, BooBoo was. Then I went to grad school in a city on the other side of the state. I made two attempts to bring him with me, but just couldn’t find a farm that worked out. So back home he went to my sister. When I got married and moved to another state, he came with me for good. Each time he returned to me, he would peek out of the trailer knowingly, as if to say “oh, you again?”

A schooling show.

I started teaching beginner lessons, and he taught some right along with me. He was a faithful summer camp mount, who was certain to let his riders know when they got it right, and when they got it wrong. We took up dressage, wherein BooBoo exceeded everyone’s expectations. When I had my babies, he was patient while I focused on them for a little while. He waited for me when work and life were busy. I carted BooBoo from barn to barn, searching for the right one. There were so many, I’ve lost track, but he settled in at every one of them, making friends and winning admirers at every stop along the way.

 

BooBoo’s last job was teaching my babies to ride. At 3 and 5, if you ask them, BooBoo was their horse. They were like two little walking treat dispensers. His reward for a career well done. He loved them and carried them faithfully around the leadline ring. At one of our last shows, the judge asked what breed he was, clearly assuming he must be a Quarter Horse. When I told her he was a thoroughbred, she exclaimed “but he’s so quiet!” He was an ambassador for his breed, and a professional in everything he did.

Hugs for her horse.

Even at age 24, he galloped out to meet his friends in the pasture, reverting back, if for a moment, to his brief race career so many years ago. He loved to rub his head on me, rather exuberantly and without exception, every time I removed his bridle. It was as if he knew just how hard he could scratch his head on my shoulder without knocking me over. He liked blueberry Pop-Tarts (no frosting, please) and Willie Muffins. He disliked walking into the wash stall forward (totally cool to back in), and had opinions on how long he was made to stand in the cross ties. He loved dogs, but birds, not so much. (I’m looking at you, horse-eating cranes!) He had a thing for tall chestnuts and small children.

Aspiring horse model.

I lost my sweet boy very suddenly. Even after the lifetime we had together, I still had so many plans for us- our first dressage show, a return to the hunter ring, a paper chase, his short stirrup debut. He was a mischievous baby, and a great old man. The kind that will teach you the same lesson over and over again until you finally understand. The kind who will try so hard for you, even in his final moments.

 

My 3 year old son climbed into my lap, hugged me, and wiped away my tears. My 5 year old daughter is always pragmatic. She told me I should feel a little less sad because I got to have him for so long. In a way, she’s not wrong. I got to spend 18 years, 5 months, 3 weeks, and 6 days with the most beautiful creature I have ever known. I have spent more of my life with him, than without. It is hard to know who I am without him. I do know that I have been privileged to have been his keeper for all of these years.

 

In the end, he knew I was there with him. He lifted his head, despite his clear distress when he saw me running across the pasture in my skirt and dress shoes, having raced an hour to the farm from work. His eyes looked a little less scared when I sat with him, knowing what I needed to do, but unable to speak the words. His breathing quieted as I rubbed his face, and finally whispered “okay”- to him, to myself, to the vet. That perfect day stole my heart. He was my first love, and my deepest heartbreak.

 

One of our final pictures says it all.
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A letter to my new horse:

A letter to my new horse:

 

You did not ask for these shoes to fill- and they’re very big shoes. You did not ask to be the one after the one. All you ask for, is all any horse asks for, all any former racehorse asks for: to be loved, to belong to someone, and to be given the opportunity to love in return.

 

You see, I didn’t count on you. We call them “heart horses” and I had my heart horse for more than 18 years. I got him as a scrawny coming-5-year-old stud colt, not much unlike you. He wasn’t great at the track, and didn’t have a future in breeding. He was a train wreck, and we were a train wreck together. But we got through our awkward years together, and he became my partner in crime, my best friend, and my confidant. I went from a quiet teenager, to college student, to graduate student, to wife, to mom. He was a constant through all the formative stages of my life. I lost him very suddenly, and I didn’t count on you.

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I planned to wait for at least a year after losing my heart horse. I thought I’d first get a medium or large pony for my kids to ride, something big enough for me to hop on, too. Or maybe, I’d get a thoroughbred with a few miles on him. Something restarted that I could have fun with at shows and paces.

 

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. But there you were. 3 months after losing a piece of my heart, there was this 3-year-old stud colt. The cousin of my heart horse. More than 20 years apart in age. And you needed a soft spot to land. I couldn’t imagine anyone else having you. I felt certain that I would regret passing up this opportunity. And just like that, we were making plans for you to come home with me.

 

I don’t know how long I was supposed to wait. You can never replace your heart horse. Some people thought I should get another horse right away (and tagged me in listing after listing of sale horses, relentlessly) and some thought I should give it a few years. I don’t think there’s a right answer. It would always feel odd. Any 18 year relationship is owed as many moments as are required. In some ways, you pushed me over the edge. It would never feel the same, but we took the plunge anyway.

 

I can’t just hop on you and ride yet. We’re still working on keeping your head on straight under saddle, and going forward instead of up. You do not love to be groomed, but I’m trying to help you understand. You are definitely not kid proof, which makes it hard to explain to my 4-year-old when he asks if he can ride you. I don’t know every inch of you like I knew every inch of him. I can’t predict your every move, like I could predict his. I don’t trust you implicitly, the way I trusted him. We don’t fit together perfectly, like he and I did. Sitting on your back doesn’t feel like home, the way I felt so utterly at home with him.

 

But you are sweet, like he was sweet. You know my kids are little walking treat dispensers, like he did. You are smart, just like him. You know I’m your person. You try hard, and you have opinions, so much like him.

 

Please forgive me when I compare you to him, as I know I will. Remind me how much I enjoy your 3-year-old energy. Be patient when I expect too much from you. Show me all the things I love about you just one more time. Help me remember all the good times with him, by creating new ones with you.

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We will get through these awkward times together, learning each other’s quirks, just like he and I did. You are not him, and I am not the same person I was when he came into my life. In the four short months we’ve been together, we’ve both changed. I’m not sure where we’re going just yet, but we’ll get there together.  You are my horse, and you are loved.

“Green” Horses

I was asked recently how I reconcile the fact that I own a truck that gets 18mpg with my self-proclaimed “tree hugger” status. It got me thinking about how my identity as a horse owner fits into my green lifestyle.

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First, let’s get one thing straight. I didn’t say I was a tree hugger. My little family is environmentally conscious. We made a decision to make some lifestyle changes several years ago, and they’ve stuck. I  think people have this idea in their heads that they have to be 100% tree hugger, or nothing at all. But small changes can make a big difference. For example, shortly after our daughter was born, we began using cloth diapers. This is not to say that we didn’t use disposables when it was more convenient, but instead of using 60-70 disposable diapers per week on our newborn, we probably used 5 or 6. (For the record, this is a much more economical choice too!)

Cloth diapers on the clothes line.

We stopped using paper towels. We still keep a roll on the counter, but we probably use 2-3 rolls per year, instead of 2-3 per month. Instead, we bought “shop rags” which are just plain white cotton rags. We keep a bucket of clean ones under the kitchen sink, and a bucket of dirty ones in the laundry room.

We also use cloth napkins. I bought cheap ones—not the nice kind you’d use for a dinner party (not that we have dinner parties on the regular…) and they’ve lasted for 4+ years.

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We ditched plastic baggies for lunches. These cool reusable bags are easy to wash, and come in cute colors and patterns for the kids. For that matter, skip the straws and save the turtles, amiright? Try out silicon or stainless reusable straws.

 

But we still use too much water. I like a long hot shower when I’ve been out in the cold mucking stalls. I order too much stuff on Amazon. I’d rather spend my time with my kids or at the barn or with my kids at the barn, than at Target or the mall. The kids (okay, let’s be real—their parents too) still like the convenience of GoGo Squeez pouches, and bottles of Powerade. We recycle what we can, but realistically, I know a lot of it isn’t going to actually get recycled.

 

And I have an F150. It gets good gas mileage for it’s size. But it’s still a truck. Our smaller car gets close to 30mpg. The F150 is the vehicle we use to travel (because the kids come with a lot of stuff!). It’s not a daily commuter vehicle, but it is driven frequently when I go to pick up grain or head out to the barn.  It obviously pulls my horse trailer too.

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I use a lot of gas going back and forth to the barn. We use tractors and utility vehicles and lawn mowers. Of course we use a ton of water in the stalls and in the pastures and to water the arena and to bathe the horses and to wash all the things. Trees are often logged for pasture space. Horses use crops and crop land that could be used to feed people.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile these two very important pieces of my identity. I don’t have my own farm yet, so I don’t have much control. Here are a few things I do to minimize my impact on the planet, while still enjoying my horse.

 

  • Buy good stuff, and take care of it. Our horses need tack and blankets. If you get the good stuff, you won’t have to replace it as frequently. I have 2 Horseware Rhino blankets that I’ve had for 20 years each. They have some minor repairs, but they’re in FANTASTIC shape for their age. (I sent my pictures to Horseware, but they never responded L ) As a result, I haven’t had to replace those particular blankets. I spent more money at the outset, but I haven’t had to replace blankets every 2-3 years, or sooner, like many of my friends and barnmates. I sold my first saddle for $200 more than I paid for it new, 5 years later. I also have the first bridle I ever owned. I bought it used from a friend for $20, including the bit. I still have it 20+ years later. When clean and condition and oil your leather, it won’t dry out and break. It will stay in usable condition for years to come. Better to reuse than the carbon footprint to buy new.
  • Those arena lights use up a lot of electricity. Turn on only as many as you need, and turn them off right away when you’re done. Use LED of CFL bulbs in the rest of the barn. For that matter, if you design the barn with lots of natural light and windows, you won’t have to use lights as much. So many barns are super dark.
  • Keep the barn clean. Not just sweeping the aisles. Hang things neatly, put things away, clear off the dust, and for the love of pete, get rid of the cob webs! The air will be healthier, the barn will look better, and you’ll reduce your fire risk. (I’m pretty passionate about fire safety!)
  • Walk when you can. We have some horses that live out that we have to haul hay out to in the winter. It’s not very practical to walk a bale of hay out to them, so we tend to drive the Kubota. But if we just need to take some hay to the paddocks next to the barn, we can pull a wheelbarrow.
  • I have ambitions of having a rain barrel at the barn. We don’t have one at the barn I board at, but it can come in handy for lots of tasks at the barn, including cleaning. For now, when I clean buckets, I use a little bit of water that’s left in the bucket (our horses don’t usually make a big mess in water buckets) to scrub the sides of the bucket.
  • The kids and I have plans to have a memorial garden for my sweet BooBoo when we buy a farm. We’re hoping to plant a few apple trees in the garden to treat the horses. Fewer store bought treats, less packaging, and the tree cleans the air.

 

What do you do to reduce your footprint at the barn?

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Of Thoroughbreds & Rust-Colored Breeches

Let’s talk about thoroughbreds. Outside of a stint training welsh/thoroughbred cross ponies, most of my 25-year involvement with horses has been with off-track thoroughbreds.

 

My very first horse was a thoroughbred, and I had him for 18 amazing years. He taught many of my students how to jump, and he taught my own babies to love horses as much as their mama does. I’ve had some others, trained some others, and matched some others with students while I was still teaching. I know thoroughbreds, and love thoroughbreds like nothing else.

 

 

I grew up riding at a farm that was a lay up facility for a few thoroughbred trainers. We got a lot of horses ready for retirement. It was just normal for us- all of my riding buddies, and me- if you convinced your unsuspecting parents to get you a horse, you got a thoroughbred. We thought we were hot stuff because we could ride race horses. (Realistically, we had a good trainer, lots of supervision, and super understanding horses.)

 

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I never had the budget to show on the A circuit. The lower levels were full of thoroughbreds, with a random warmblood here and there. It seemed like the higher the level you showed at, the more people looked down their noses at thoroughbreds (at least in the hunter/jumper world that I grew up in). Not only did I not have the budget to show on the A circuit, I didn’t have the budget for a fancy warmblood to ride there.

 

Thoroughbreds have gone the way of rust-colored breeches and hunt caps. But like all good trends, they’re coming back. So guess what? You don’t need a warmblood. You can get a thoroughbred for a fraction of the price of a warmblood, and man do they ever have heart.  Now, the people who appreciate the heart and athleticism of the thoroughbred and classic style of the rust-colored breech are doing something about it.

 

Have you heard about the Retired Racehorse Project? Started by respected horseman Steuart Pittman, RRP is changing the narrative for thoroughbreds, and, I believe, changing how people view horse racing and “the track” in general. RRP holds the Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park in October. Thoroughbreds compete in up to 2 of 10 disciplines (10 disciplines at one show?!) with 10 months or less of post-track training. It’s a level playing field. Amateurs compete against professionals and juniors alike. It is truly a showcase of the breed, in a way that hasn’t existed previously.

 

 

I attended last year for the first time, as a spectator. It won’t be the last. You can watch all 10 disciplines over the course of just a couple of days. Bonus- it’s at the Kentucky Horse Park, which is a lot like equestrian paradise. If you haven’t been, you should go…. and wear your rust-colored breeches!

 

Check out my Instagram feed for more thoroughbreds! @adventures_in_thoroughbreds

Ah, Progress!

I got to ride Wex this weekend. He’s learning to be a big kid! I would call this my first real ride, because I did more than just walk a couple of laps. This was probably the 5th time anyone has sat on him since he came off the track in September.

 

Wex is still very much trying to understand what leg aids and contact are, so I’m going very slowly with him. This is also where we get a lot of value from a trainer who works with young horses all the time. The fact that we got forward movement is a big improvement. The first time I sat on Wex, we worked on just going forward. Work on the lunge has helped tremendously, and he responds well to verbal cues.

 

My hubby (who has spent the last 17 years becoming horse husband extraordinaire!) was kind enough to pack up the kids and come lead me on a pony ride. I was able to walk and trot, and I’m happy to report that he has a comfy trot! Wex reminds me so much of BooBoo, in build and gait. He has a great temperament, but he has big shoes to fill. Time will tell how he lives up to his cousin’s legacy.

 

Like many thoroughbreds, he’s a bit one-sided, and does like to push his shoulder out. The only goal right now is forward, forward, forward. The rest will come.

 

Here’s a picture of us after our ride. I’m very happy with our progress so far. Here’s hoping he continues to learn at this pace. Check out my Instagram @adventures_in_thoroughbreds for video of our cool down walk.

 

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Baby Horse, Baby Steps

I think Wex has super powers. Every time I start him in work, he comes up with some new affliction. I decided he needed a boot camp with the dressage trainer at our barn. She’s quite good with young horses and she started him off with lunge work. Lunging has never been my strongest skill, so I am thrilled to have her guidance. The plan was for her to work with him while I was traveling for Christmas. Midway through the week, he lost a shoe. I’m sure he thought- this lady is making me work- nope! Fortunately the farrier came out quickly, and he was back to it.

 

Wex has opinions on things. If you’ve met any 3 year old, horse or human, opinions are something they have in abundance. Wex likes to do things when they’re his idea. For example, when he first arrived from the track, he refused to walk through gates. All gates. It took a significant amount of bribery (peppermints) to convince him that walking through the gate was a good idea. Sometimes, walking out to the pasture was not a good idea. If he decided he’d rather stay in his stall, there was no going out. I like to think of these as learning opportunities.

 

In talking to my trainer, the 3 year old analogy rings true. Like my 3 year old son, Wex can run. However, when you try to contain or direct his energy into something less like flat out running and more like precision ANYTHING, things get rocky.

 

So we began with lunging, since “forward” is not a direction that Wex particularly cares to go. After just a few sessions, he has gone from stand-off to responding to verbal commands, and lunging quite reliably. This week, she rode him for the first time, and all of the skills he’s developed in the last few weeks of ground sessions are evident under saddle as well.

 

We’ll continue working with our trainer, for at least a few months, and then hopefully keep taking lessons after that. I’m anxious to start teaching him to jump, but we must install 3 gaits first!

 

I grabbed this screenshot from a video I took of our trainer’s first ride on Wex. He definitely had some decent moments! The fact that he was moving forward and not throwing his head so much that I feared for her face, is progress for sure.

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New Year, New Resolutions

For North American Jockey Club registered thoroughbreds, January 1st is considered their “birthday”. This is the day that thoroughbreds are considered a year older. So, despite the fact that Wex’s birthday is February 1, 2015, he is considered 4 years old by the Jockey Club as of 1/1/19. It’s pretty meaningless in the sport horse world, but it can have a big impact for horses born later in the year when they’re young and racing.

 

I spent the morning of Wex’s “birthday” with him at the barn. He got a few of the candy canes that his Grammy got him for Christmas, and more grooming than he prefers. I found myself wondering what 2019 will bring for him.

 

I will admit that I’m a bit of a resolution junkie. Some years I am more motivated than others. One year, we made a resolution to be a more eco-friendly household and we made several changes (including switching to cloth diapers, eliminating paper towels and plates, and using only reusable shopping and snack bags) that have lasted for several years. Another year, we resolved to lose weight (babies are tough on a mama!) and I lost 30 lbs in 4 months. Even with my motivation to make resolutions, I have never really resolutions that are horse-related.

 

In 2019, I have a young horse, and the opportunities are wide open. So I’m making some resolutions.

1) Invest in training for both of us.

I have a training background, so I get lazy with this. However, everyone needs eyes on the ground. Aside from that, those days are behind me, and pre-children. Every time I take a lesson, things click.

I’ve started working with a trainer for Wex as well, and it’s been beyond helpful for both of us.

2) Spend more time at the barn.

This one is hard. I have a husband, two young children, a corporate job, and a long commute. My kids are in two different schools, they have multiple activities, and are busy. In full disclosure, they do best when they are busy. I can’t do anything about my commute and corporate job. And I do like to see my husband occasionally. What I can do about this is spend my time more wisely. Getting up early (4:00 AM is not my favorite time of day, but it’s a great time to get in a run), and being more efficient at work. I’m trying not to over commit myself, and make time for makes me happy.

3) Do it less than 1000%.

This may seem like a strange resolution. I tend to over do things. An example: my kids had a joint horse themed birthday party last year. I hand-made 12 full-size stick horses (and commissioned a “paddock” made from a pallet from my husband) as favors for each of the kids to take home. Who does that? My kids thought they were cool, but they haven’t touched them in months. At the barn, I scrub my water buckets weekly until they look brand new again. Seriously, I have buckets that are many years old, but look brand new. I must get every single fleck of dirt or mud off my horse before riding. The mane must be pulled perfectly evenly, and to 4 inches, no longer. It will be a lot easier to go to the barn more frequently if my trips are more efficient. Perhaps resolution #2 should be “go to the barn more often”, not spend more time there. I can still work with Wex, even if his mane is dirty and there’s a stray piece of hay in his tail. He will be fine.

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What are your New Year’s Resolutions?