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Friday, December 23, 2011

Meeeeerrrrrrryyyyyy Christmas!!!

I don't know about the rest of you, but if this was MY Christmas present, I'd be pretty darn happy:
No, he's not a grey TB, but that's okay. It's the thought that counts, after all. ;-) Here's a link to the story behind this photo, if you are interested (although, call me confused - that horse sure doesn't look black to me...and I can't quite see his naughty bits to tell if he really is a stallion, or some journalist got carried away with images from Walter Farley).

Of course, I would like my other present to be an extremely large check designated solely for his upkeep for the next 10 or 20 years. As we know all too well, "It ain't the buying, it's the keeping!" Unless you are purchasing an equine who costs at least in the upper five figures, that is definitely the most expensive part of horse ownership. Heck, my darling doggie initially cost the best $700 I have ever spent, but I shudder to think of the thousands upon thousands we have poured into her since (besides food, treats, toys and grooming equipment, since I do it myself, there has been knee surgery, teeth cleanings, mass removals - all benign, thank goodness, a back injury, etc.). Absolutely worth every single penny but I'm glad I just have the one!

I will take this opportunity to say I truly appreciate all of you who have read this blog, commented, listed it as a Favorite, linked to a post, or added it to your Reading List/sidebar. It's different than all the other "horsey" blogs I read in that I don't actually own a horse, and you haven't even heard about the riding I do get to do. I may go all to pieces and take some lessons in the New Year - if that happens, I promise I'll write about it. I haven't found a blog of an adult re-rider who is simply a lesson student, either, so I will continue with my "uniqueness" if I do!

I started this blog as a way to record some of my favorite equine-related memories and exercise my need for creative writing. If I have amused, entertained or informed anyone along the way, I am indeed glad. It has been my pleasure and I look forward to continuing on. I think it is appropriate to end this year with my 50th post, too! (I know I'll be way too busy next week to post)

I truly wish all of you a most wonderful and blessed Christmas or Chanukah, with lots of horsey gifts, and the very happiest of New Years!
I told you I had Secretariat everywhere... including on the Christmas tree! If you look at the bottom you can just see a brass ornament with a horse head. That is a prize possession; it's a limited-edition portrait of Big Red and it looks JUST like him. I bought it from eBay about 10 years ago to benefit a horse charity in VA, I believe. As far as I'm concerned it's GOLD-plated!
Another horsey ornament of which I'm very fond. It's made of china and extremely delicate - the rider's head has had to be reattached a couple times.

Ho-ho-ho, Santa hunting on horseback! If you pull the string below the horse's legs move. It's great. :-)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Shades Of His Father

Where do I start? This guy is my hero. I expect you will recognize him:
To me (and a lot of other people), Secretariat was like God reached down and designed the perfect horse. Incomparable beauty, blinding speed, poise, class, presence, you name it - Big Red had it all. When I get around to doing a little photographic tour of my home, you will find that I have Secretariat stuff all over the place. He's in a place of honor on the mantel, he's in the living room practically life-size, he's in the dining room - you get the idea. I love, adore and worship Big Red. Unfortunately, I was a big fat idiot and did not make the trip to Claiborne before he died. I guess I thought I would have time... nobody expected him to go at age 18. It's a huge regret of mine. Therefore, when I found out that a son of Secretariat, much less a red one, had moved to Old Friends, I was pretty darn excited. (Truth be told, I planned this whole trip with an eye on seeing him.)

His name is Tinners Way. He stands 16.1, was born in 1990 and is by Secretariat, out of Devon Diva, by The Minstrel. He was out of Red's last crop, and is considered to be one of his best sons. In fact, he is the very last surviving champion racehorse sired by Secretariat. Here is his race record and a race photo, taken from the website of the farm in TX where he used to stand.

Tinners Way retired as the richest horse in Texas
Multiple Grade 1 Stakes Winner of $1,847,734
* WON - Pacific Classic [G1] twice, Californian S [G1], Golden Gate Fields Budweiser Breeders' Cup
* PLACED - Hollywood Gold Cup [G1], Californian S [G1], San Bernardino H [G2], Goodwood H [G2], Mervyn Leroy H [G2], Bel Air H [G2], Arcadia H [G3]
* Equaled Track Records in both the Pacific Classic [G1] and the Californian Stakes [G1]
Not too shabby, eh? Tinner ran on both turf and dirt. Bobby Frankel trained him, and his complete record says a lot:
In all, Tinners Way led the way to the finish line 7 times in 27 starts, and placed or showed in an additional 10. He ran successfully (top 3 finisher) in 6 of 10 starts on grass and in 11 of 17 on dirt. He participated in 22 graded competitions completing 14 among the first 3 finishers with 4 firsts. He was considered one of the best handicap runners in the U.S. in the mid-1990s. His progeny have exceeded $3 million dollars in track earnings. (From this website)

Here's his stallion photo:
Definitely a resemblance to Dad... I see a bit of The Minstrel in there, too.
But enough of the racing stuff. What was Tinner like now, in retirement at Old Friends? I could hardly wait to find out. When I was with Wendy, I mentioned to her that I was really excited to meet him. She and her husband go fairly often to OF to photograph horses, so I knew she would know him. Wendy told me, "Well, you better be ready. Tinner doesn't look very good. He's a neurotic horse; he runs the fence line incessantly and they can't keep weight on him. They had to take him off the tour because he was upsetting visitors." Oh dear, I thought... what was this guy going to be like? Would I even be allowed to see him? You can imagine my distress at the thought of finally getting myself thisclose to Big Red's DNA, only to be told he was off-limits.

You can bet that as soon as our volunteer tour guide at Old Friends asked our group is there was any horse in particular we wanted to see, I spoke right up and said, "Tinners Way. Please?!?" FORTUNATELY, Melissa and her friend were also interested in seeing him and said so, too. The guide looked us up and down and I guess he decided we looked "horsepeople" enough because he said, "Ok. When the tour is over you guys can go up the hill and see him." Thank heavens.

Accordingly, as soon as the rest of the tour was done and the other people were dispersing, the three of us made tracks towards Tinner's paddock. I had strained for a glimpse of him all along, and I'm afraid I rather left the other two ladies in the dust in my haste to get there. I guessed which paddock belonged to Tinner before I really saw him or read his name on the fence; the ground was very torn up from his hooves. Tinner was standing quietly, lipping some hay off the ground near his waterer. A smallish-looking, NOT too ribby, slightly-hairy horse, modeled in bright chestnut. He turned to look at me. I called his name, and over he came.
Well, HI THERE Little Red!
I was quick to give him some of the cookies and carrot pieces I had stuffed in my pockets. He was a perfect gentleman, accepting the treats gracefully and chewing away. The way the paddock was situated on a hill, we were at a disadvantage since the ground fell away and the fence was really high. I was not able to get a really good photo of him (or hug him around the neck like I really wanted to do) because of that. I did breathe gently in his nostrils and tell him that I loved his daddy and was so very glad to meet him. Tinner and I visited alone like this for a while before Melissa and her friend arrived. All I could think was, I love this horse. He is fine. He is sweet. He's a good boy. Why is he stuck up here by himself? This horse is lonely! (Note: he isn't really alone, Williamstown's paddock is right across from his and they interact with each other. I mean for human company.)

Compare that photo of Tinner to this one of his dad, in a playful mood:
Photo by Steve Haskin, Bloodhorse magazine columnist/blogger and all-around TB racing guru
Maybe I am full of it, and projecting too much of my desire to "know" Secretariat better, but I truly did feel like Tinner and I bonded. I rubbed him all over, as much of him as I could reach. Yes, I could feel his ribs and see them a little, but he wasn't nearly as thin as I'd expected (I know what a really underweight TB looks like and it ain't pretty). Tinner was perfectly happy to let me do all this. There was no sign of hyperactivity, no nervousness on view. Yes, I believe he is that way - hence the chewed-up ground - but with me, he was perfectly alright. I spent a total of at least fifteen minutes with him. 

Here are the best photos I got of my friend Tinners Way :

I wanted to open the gate, lead him out, load him in a trailer and take him home. I had to tear myself away from this horse - oh yes, I kissed his nose, too - and as I finally walked away I could hardly see from all the tears running down my face. I think Tinner is beautiful and special and misunderstood...

I heartily encourage you to visit and otherwise support Old Friends. Besides the stallions, they also house some very deserving TB mares and geldings (including Sea Native/Rhett, who belongs to my friend and reader of this blog!). They get the bulk of my miniscule charitable dollars, and I can't imagine a better use of my money. It's a unique facility and a shining example of what a really top-notch rescue looks like. Zenyatta's owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, are enormous sponsors of the place and have done much to publicize Old Friends in the racing community. Several top jockeys, such as Calvin Borel, are also big supporters of Old Friends. I wish I could remember which one visited and climbed right aboard his old mount bareback - believe me, I thought about that when I was standing there with Tinner. Oh, to feel the wind in my face from the back of Secretariat's son... 

I will leave you with this great photo of Tinners Way that someone took of him, shortly after he arrived at Old Friends. I think you can tell why I like it so much - he looks happy and so much like his dad. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fun Times With Old Friends


I have finally arrived at the phase of my KY trip that I've been looking forward to writing about the most. I probably should have just skipped ahead, but I feel driven to record things in chronological order. Maybe that's goofy but I have so much disorder in the rest of my life, the least I can do is try and keep this blog shipshape!

On Monday morning, the day after the Maclay and the National Horse Show ended, I had made a reservation to tour a facility very near and dear to my heart: Old Friends Equine Retirement. Before I went there for the first time two years ago, I had spent much time perusing their website and acquainting myself with some of their fabulous Thoroughbred residents. If you have never heard of Old Friends, that's okay: here is an article that pretty much sums up how it got started and some information on the wonderful person who is the founder, Michael Blowen. I had a fantastic time on my first visit and the place more than lived up to my expectations. All the residents, both human and equine, and all the volunteers could not have been more welcoming, friendly and HAPPY. I was very excited to go back on this visit!

I love old animals. The wisdom and acceptance in their eyes, their joy in the simplest of pleasures, their (usually) calm and patient demeanor, everything. It makes me feel murderous when I read about geriatric equines or canines who have been dumped at shelters or abandoned because they were simply too much trouble, or someone wanted a "newer model." That just blows my mind (it should not surprise me, however; Lord knows enough old humans get parked in a care facility and are never visited by their families).

Old Friends came about because Michael (Blowen) realized that old or simply retired Thoroughbred stallions in particular were meeting with a bad end, often because they truly had nowhere else to go. Rescues do not like stallions, which need to be housed separately and are viewed with suspicion by many. TB stallions in particular are often thought to be nasty, vicious, wild and crazy beasts. Yep, they can be real man-eaters, alright. Take this one, for example:
Watch out, you might be nuzzled to death and mugged for treats! Allow me to introduce you to the late, great Black Tie Affair. I had the honor of meeting this splendid Breeder's Cup Classic champion and winner of +$3,000,000 the last time I was at Old Friends in 2009. "Blackie" was the dearest, sweetest fellow imaginable and still handsome, once you got past his shockingly huge melanomas. When Michael got him he was severely underweight and practically immobilized with arthritis (he'd been at a farm in WV, where they were still trying to breed him in that condition at age 22 - nice, eh?). The TLC he got at Old Friends resulted in him being able to get up and down to roll, gain hundreds of needed pounds and generally enjoy life for the little time he had left before they lost him to laminitis.

On this visit I joined a group of about 10 other people in front of their headquarters building, a tiny converted house (a somewhat larger home on the main property is Michael's residence, which is also operated as a B & B). One thing about this nonprofit that I can vouch for - they do NOT waste money on unnecessary luxuries. There is hardly any paid staff and most everything, including tours, is carried out by an army of dedicated volunteers. As soon as my group headed down the path towards the first paddock, I noticed a lady wearing stirrup earrings and equestrian attire. The rest of the crowd looked like "horse-likers" but not serious horse folk. The lady also noticed me and we started to talk. She turned out to be named Melissa, and she was down in KY for the Breeder's Cup, the National Horse Show, and other attractions. About the first thing she told me was, "I live in New York but come down here to visit Mecca whenever possible." I laughed because that is exactly what I tell people when I'm off to the Bluegrass, too!

We proceeded along the farm path to the first paddock, where we were greeted by the beautiful Kiri's Clown:
Doesn't this boy have a really Arab-looking head? My friend Wendy's horse Ollie does, too. I think it's neat when TBs harken back to their founding fathers! 
At least I think that's who this is. I was going to take down the names of all the horses we saw, but there was too much going on to be tapping away on my phone. Carrots and cookies to hand out, noses and cheeks to be stroked, etc. Plus, I was busy talking to Melissa and her friend about racing, bloodlines and other horse topics.

I didn't get too many other good pictures, so I'll just share the ones that did turn out. Here's one of my favorite horses, Bull In The Heather:
From the OF website:
Bull In the Heather is the greatest son of Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner whose death in a slaughterhouse in 2001 helped drive the formation of Old Friends. (One of my better photographic efforts!) 
I remembered from my first tour that "Bull" simply adores having his back scratched, so I climbed up on the bottom fence rail and went at it. He leaned into my fingers, groaning in pleasure and flapping his lip. I tell you, these nasty 'ole TB stallions... I wound up with filthy hands but he was very happy. The filthy part actually didn't bother me; one of the cool things about OF is that the horses are allowed to be, well, horses. They live in roomy paddocks with run-in sheds, are unblanketed, and are free to get as shaggy and dirty as they like. They are groomed occasionally and feet/teeth are done, of course, but basically it's back-to-nature livin' for these guys.
Post back-scratch. We were definitely buddies.
This fellow was brand-new to the farm and I thought he was just gorgeous! This is You and I:
I can't tell you much about him, other than that he was sweet and handsome. He was too new for our tour guide to know any fun facts.

The famous and now sire of very famous racehorses Gulch declined to leave his grazing to come greet us, but we did get to pet and hang out with Clever Allemont, Ogygian (rescued from a slaughter pen), Popcorn Deelites (he played Seabiscuit in the movie) and many others, along with catching a glimpse of Marquetry, who was recovering from colic surgery. I was disappointed because I wanted to see his nifty splash white markings. However, all of these great horses were merely a preamble to the one horse I was really there to see. And he wasn't even on the tour...


Monday, December 19, 2011

Want To Win A New Hunt Coat?

[Note: No, I'm not dead, just crazy busy working my two jobs and trying to get ready for Christmas. Typical multi-tasking female! I'm supposed to ordering some last-minute gifts online right this minute, and instead I'm reading blogs and posting this 'cuz I'd really like to win this coat myself. ;-)]

Check this out:

In return for something as simple as "Liking" Hayward on Facebook (which I'm off to do as soon as I'm done typing here), or posting the above link to your own blog, you are entered to win a gorgeous semi-custom hunt coat from Hayward (retail value $450).

Pretty nice, eh? And get this, they're machine-washable! I'd settle for one that just fits me properly. Apparently equestriennes are not supposed to have much of a bust, since in order to accomodate mine (and I'm no Dolly Parton) I had to buy an enormous size and have the waist tailored. I tried my very best to explain to the nice Asian lady at the drycleaner that it was not a regular item of apparel and meant for horseback riding/showing, but I still got it back a good 2" too big. Sleek it is not. Somehow I think Hayward would do a lot better!  

(And by the way, that post on Get My Fix is hilarious. I simply can't imagine walking into "a place like that" - I think I'd faint dead away from embarrassment!)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Maclay Comments

I got very busy last week helping my DD with her college applications (which, BTW, are making me a nervous wreck for a number of reasons), so I wasn't able to come here and finish up my Maclay 2011 ramblings. You didn't think I was going to let you go without comments regarding horses, clothing and riders, now did you? :-)


Apparently there is a Big Eq Horse factory somewhere cranking out large, brown or bay-with-no-markings Warmbloods, because I swear that about 75% of the horses in the Maclay class fit that description. It was truly amazing. It's a good thing there was an announcer because you literally could not tell them apart! I felt like standing up and cheering when a horse of a different color came into the ring (especially a grey, of course). When I was watching the warmup on Saturday night I was astonished to see a red roan trotting around out there. Boy, would I love to show up with a flashy Pinto or Appaloosa... that would shake things up.

Well, what do you know, look what I found on the website. They do exist!
This fella is a Belgian WB, billed as a 3' Eq horse or Jumper. I don't see why he couldn't go into the Hunter ring as well with those lovely knees! $40K and probably worth every penny, much-loved by a family of daughters.

This is just a pony, but what a doll... and I like his young rider's riding very much.
I have to say, though, despite the endless parade of brown horses being a little dull to look at, those eq horses (of all colors) were good eggs. Every one that I saw had his/her ears pricked and a real can-do, sporty attitude. "Okay, Mom, just point me where you want me to go and I'm there!" And it seems that they don't all cost the earth, either. Looking at the Big Eq website I am pleasantly surprised at the prices listed there. Oh, sure, some are in the stratosphere ($70,000) but there are plenty for under 20K. Of course, I bet like in every other aspect of the horse world, prices are down right now due to the economy. I remember when a friend was shopping for a Big Eq horse over 20 years ago, and her trainer couldn't seem to find a thing for under 20K.


I think the Brown Horse Syndrome is doubly amusing because heaven knows, the riders themselves are fairly undistinguishable. Same old, same old Tailored Sportsman breeches, dark coat, light shirt. Yaaaawwwwn. Really the only variation is in helmets and boots. With the helmets, a few years ago the "skunk stripe" GPAs were all the rage. Now it's Charles Owen GR8s or GPA Speed Airs. Thanks to a COTH Forum thread I read yesterday I have learned that Antares is in the helmet business now, and that some of the kids like those, too, but I wouldn't know one if it bit me. The uber-spendy Samshields are also picking up steam, but again - from my seat in the Arena all I noticed was the usual two suspects. Here are some course walkers modeling the GPAs:
Nope, shiny with holes just doesn't do it for me in the Equitation/Hunters (I didn't think much of the skunk-stripes, either). I greatly prefer the traditional black velvet of the COs, or even a plain matte-black finish without giant vents. Oh, well, I guess I can stand them for as long as they are in fashion, which ought to be only a couple of years, LOL. (As an aside, here's what I think I'll be getting next, if it fits me and looks okay: Ovation Deluxe Schooler. Smart-looking, appropriate and cheap!)

Some of the boots were kind of interesting. This pair belonged to a young lady who washed out after the first round and was sitting near me in the stands:
They had embossed fake (?) crocodile skin cuffs at the top and bling-y little doodads on the swagger tabs. Hey, I guess if you've got the bucks you might as well sneak a little fun into your outfit. I have no doubt that GM would NOT approve, though!

As far as the riding actually went in the Maclay, for the most part I was suitably impressed in the first round. Most every rider put in a workmanlike trip with good to great results. I saw a few who must have come from the "easy to qualify" regions: one with legs shooting forward over every fence, another who was jumped loose every time, with noodle-y legs and heels up (that could have been partly nerves - I know my lower legs practically lose sensation in the show ring, I'm so wired from crise de nerfs). The riders who moved up to the flat phase and then especially the second round were uniformly excellent, effective horsepeople. The fact that some of them didn't look so pretty bugged me... and you know by that I mean those boys. Regarding this issue, I read someone's comment on COTH where she said the boys "lead with their shoulders" - exactly. Maybe this is something they can't help? But they didn't all do it...

Anyway, if you will allow me a moment of further political incorrectness, we all know that certain rider conformation lends itself to success in equitation. Basically, if you have legs the length of a giraffe's, thighs like twigs and the BMI of a supermodel, you're going to be favored. I was gratified to see that not every rider fit into that mold. This is a good thing. Girls today have enough problems with body image and they don't need to be discouraged from riding if the family genes have rendered them less than svelte. (Take that, George!)

Here is one thing I noticed a few riders doing: posting at the canter. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but nope, that is exactly what they were up to. I forget where I saw it, if it was during the flat phase or in opening circles, but I know I did. The only other time I have seen this is on the polo field. All the players do it. For the life of me I couldn't figure out why I was seeing it in the Maclay ring (for that matter, nobody has been able to tell me yet why they do it playing polo). COTH thread to the rescue, again: supposedly this is to "help establish the quality of the canter." Hmmpf. I just think it looks weird.


As soon as the Maclay ended, which also signaled the end of the National Horse Show, I made a beeline for the NHS merchandise table. My hunch was correct: everything had been marked down 50%! I bought a pretty enamel pin with the NHS logo on it for $3.00, which I thought was a pretty good price for a souvenir. It joined my WEG pin on one of my horsey hats.

Then I made another clandestine trip "backstage," with the specific aim of finding Sarah and congratulating her. Once again, all the barns were deserted. I moseyed around, petted some noses and admired the gorgeous horseflesh, and then went into the warmup  area/tunnel of the Arena. I thought it would be fun to see. I encountered absolutely no one... until I heard some shrieks of laughter and a young voice saying, "Don't drop the champion!" I peered around a corner and there she was, Sarah and two friends. One was a boy who had picked her up and was swinging her around. I waited until they had calmed down and were walking to the barn and then approached. I told her that I'd seen her win in St. Louis and had been rooting for her and she did a simply terrific job. She could not have been more gracious, thanking me and saying she appreciated my support. I thought about being a total fan-girl and asking for a photo with her, but it was pitch dark and I didn't want to embarrass Sarah (or myself) any more, so I skipped it. But I felt good getting to speak to her - what luck that I found her, out of everyone there!