This is George's story. The first section is how I wrote it when George retired and went to live with a very good friend of mine. It was written in January of 2017. Keep reading to find today's update 3/18/18 towards the bottom:
George is a special
horse that found his way into our racing string almost by mistake. I often receive messages from trainers at the track through my husband or father-in-law that are either asking for help in selling a horse or from trainers that have a horse they think I might
like to buy. This is how I first met "He's A Cat." I was told a trainer had a tall chestnut gelding with some white on his face. He had raced a few nights prior and was in need of a new home. I went to the track to see him thinking he might be a nice resale
When I approached the big gelding I noticed how kind his eyes were. He stood quietly for me to run my hands over him in the stall but kept an ear cocked in my direction the entire time. He had some ugly scars on his legs from what the trainer told me was an accident with a fence when he was young. The scars didn't bother me. His ankles flexed well as did his knees. His hocks seemed ok. His back was mildly sore as was his SI and his neck was somewhat stiff. The only other thing I found on him was a popped splint on the outside of his right hind leg. I squeezed on it pretty hard and he didn't react. I asked the trainer about it and he said it had been there since he purchased him in January (this was early May). So we took him outside for a jog. The big gelding was very quiet and he had good manners. He was a bit on the thing side and didn't appear to have much muscle where muscle should be on a racehorse. I watched him jogged down and back and notice he was sore on the right hind. It really looked like a horse with a stifle issue at the time. Unfortunately I had to pass on him. Stifles can be tricky and without having a vet available at the time I couldn't take the risk of bringing home a horse that might potentially have issues limiting his ability to perform in other disciplines. Right about this time my husband called and asked if I planned on buying this horse so he would know if I needed him to pick him up. I told him my thoughts and he asked if the trainer would allow us to buy He's a Cat to race. Because of our training program getting a horse to build up their hind end and get stronger to help with weak stifles is something we tend to be able to help with. As a racehorse the purchase was worth the risk if we could make him feel better through proper conditioning. The trainer agreed so the following day I returned to pick him up.
The big, red gelding was named "George." He walked off the trailer and into his new life with the same quiet demeanor he had at the track. He settled into his stall and stood watching out the window at his new home. The following day was not nearly as nice. George refused his feed and his hay. He limped out of the stall and would not put full weight on the right hind leg. He was swollen from his groin to his ankle. This was not the same horse I had brought home the afternoon before.
We put him on IV antibiotics on the advice of our vet as well as bute. He refused to eat for four days. After 24 hours there was a bubble that appeared right over where the splint had been. After 48 hours a hole broke open the size of a pencil eraser and puss poured out. After 72 hours it blew out on the inside of his leg as well. Our vet said either he would heal and be ok, or he would never be well and would likely need to be euthanized. Lucky for George, he did begin to heal. He also began to eat. So after a couple of weeks when it looked like things were healing well we went ahead and had his teeth floated. He was a mess to put it lightly. He began to eat really well after this. He must have been feeling a lot better because after three weeks he began calling for his feed, shaking his head and getting excited at feed times. Slowly his wounds healed. We got the green light to start him in light work as long as he stayed sound...and he did. We spoke with the vet many times and he rechecked him almost weekly. George was a good healer.
Finally, on August 8th, George ran his first race for us at Presque Isle Downs. He ran 7th but the field was almost all in the win photo. I was thrilled. His next race was also at Presque Isle. This time he ran 5th and was again in the win photo. For the next race we decided to take him back to a dirt surface so we ran him at Mountaineer Racetrack where he ran 3rd and was only beaten for the win by 5 lengths. The jockey, Luis Quinones said he felt great, tried hard and that he would probably win the next time if he kept improving. He was right. George won his next two starts. The first was by 8 1/4 lengths and the next was by 1 3/4 lengths. This horse that had come to us being so crippled with a 50/50 chance of survival had proven that he not only had heart but that he wanted to win and he was getting better with each race.
George's next race proved to me that he would give 110% each time he ran because he now felt good, looked great and wanted to do his job. On paper you will see a 5th place. But if you look at his chart the comment reads, "bumped hard at the break, rode 6 wide throughout gaining a bit late." Added to that, if you watch the replay you will see he was bumped hard enough at the break to set him many lengths behind the rest of the field. He spent the entire three quarters of a mile playing catch up. He went 6 horses wide around the top of the turn and gained quickly. He literally just ran out of time to make up the rest of the way. He was only beat for the win by about 2 and a half lengths. THAT is heart. THAT is try. If you don't actually read the chart for that race, you might walk away thinking, eh...he was 5th. More recently, George's last race was at Mahoning Valley Racetrack. We gave him 6 weeks between his last two races because he had raced pretty hard over the summer and fall and he deserved some time to relax, train easier and get some turn out time in addition to keeping with his normal training schedule. Unfortunately I didn't train him enough to keep him as fit as he had been. I had not realized this until he ran. He certainly looked the part, he ran his heart out, performing as he liked to do, which was running mid pack and circling the outside of the field. He just ran out of steam.
So here we are today. George has more than done his job. We could continue to run him but this is the time of year we like to cut back in numbers before we get hit with colder temps (which means less actual training and track surfaces tend to freeze too) to make life a little easier on the humans in the barn. It has come time for George to retire and go on the show what he can do in another discipline. I struggled with what was best for him. I didn't want to see him end up anywhere that wouldn't treat him well. He had bounced around from trainer to trainer and came with some trust issues as well as occasionally acting like he might be a little claustrophobic. He needed a kind hand and understanding new owner who would take their time with him and teach him that things will be ok.
I got in touch with a very good friend of mine after George's second to last race. She's an eventer who also foxhunts and in the past has competed in grand prix jumpers as well as done some high level hunters AND who has galloped at the track. We spoke about George and his future. I told her I would love to see him compete next October at the Retired Racehorse Project. I wasn't sure exactly what he would be good at doing, but his exercise rider, Kyle Smith said he rode outside like a foxhunter. He also has the movement to do well in dressage and he is built like a horse that you would see eventing. After speaking several times about this, we made a plan to send George to Virginia to Michelle Craig at Westwind Farms. He will learn a lot of the ground, go for quiet hacks, take field trips to different places and get lots of learning miles under his belt. George will be the one who chooses what he wants to do and I am so incredibly thankful that he will be allowed to find his own way in this new adventure.
Please watch for Michelle's new facebook page for both of her 2017 RRP horses. She will be competing on "Fairbankscity" as well as "He's A Cat." Last year she competed in the field hunter and jumper divisions on Youmightbearedneck" and did the jumpers riding without a bridle.
Here is a video of what George looked like when I first saw him in May of 2016:
This is George a week ago:
Geroge's race record:
I'm excited to partner with Michelle on this horse and hope that he shows everyone how special he is. If you have made it this far please look through the pictures of his rehab (each picture has info on it) and follow Michelle as she chronicle their journey to Kentucky in October.
Sometimes a good story like this inspires others to
go out and do good for an animal in need. George's story helped a lot of us see the special "something" in all kinds of horses that others may not have normally given a second look to. Over the last year George had the wonderful fortune to live with Michelle Craig in Upperville VA and
the lovely farm owned by Jimmy Wofford. During his stay, he learned about being a horse, becoming friends with other horses, enjoying treats. He learned that he was very good at dressage and not-so-good at jumping. He learned that trail rides weren't a ton
of fun for him but hacking the roads were. He thought cross country jumping was ridiculous but field trips to shows were exciting. George had some times off over the summer when Michelle was thrown from a client's horse and shattered her collar bone. He was
turned out with a fat group of pastured horses but found that to be too much for his mind. He didn't like full turn out so he was brought back in and legged up this year by Michelle's husband to get him ready to find his next home (that was always the plan
after the RRP). Thankfully, Michelle had a plan for George. She had a very good friend that was a dressage rider that was looking for her next prospect. The two clicked on every level. We both were so excited because George was going to get the home he always
deserved with his very own person. He went out on trial and continued to impress everyone who met him. Last week I got a call from Michelle that ripped my heart apart. George had failed his PPE miserably. His ordeal with the abscess in his back leg (I talked
about it below) had caused scarred tissue in a hind suspensory. He had likely had some sort of tear caused by the splint that someone had tried to block (and caused the infection) right before we bought him. Once the abscess had broken up he never took a bad
step again. That wasn't the really bad part of the PPE though. The bad part is that George was diagnosed by xray of having grade 3 kissing spine from the base of his withers all the way to his SI. I know there are higher grades (I've done some searching to
educate myself on this a little) but it's the where and the mechanics that made this such a horrible diagnosis. I spoke at length with Michelle about George's future. George didn't do well living outside. He didn't do well without routine, George didn't like
trail rides and couldn't handle being ridden once per week as the vet suggested was the most he could be ridden. He wasn't for a kid (light rider) and we both feared George would not find a pasture pet home that wouldn't starve him to death like Chrissy Francies
had recently done to many of others' old horses or that he might be passed around until he ended up in a kill pen or on his way to mexico. As incredibly difficult as it was to make the decision, we decided to euthanize George yesterday. George would never
know another heavy had as he did with his former trainer at the track, he would never be thin again or injected with something to cause his legs to hurt (as he arrived when we first purchased him). George only knew love, kindness and the feeling of a full
belly for the last two years of his life. He was surrounded by people who loved him in his last few days. He was filled up on his favorite treats and given thanks for everything he taught those of us who had the pleasure to be around such a stoic soul. George
didn't complain. He was what we thought of as "quirky" but he was never mean or dangerous. Giving him the chance to pass on allowed him to never have anymore pain, because he was hurting, he was just too sweet to really let us all know. George passed on my
dad's birthday. Hopefully he now has a horse of his own because George is now doubt running around heaven at this very moment.
Thank you to Michelle and Dustin Craig for everything you did for George over the last year. I know that he had a big impact on you. You always kept him safe, you always tried for him. Thank you Sam for loving him in such a short time. I wish things had worked out differently because I know that he would have tried his heart out for you if his body had been able to. RIP George. We are all going to miss that sweet face and airplane ears.
As someone in the racing industry as well as one who buys and resells, I always hope that programs for retirement are successful. I hope that Racetracks get involved in aftercare. I cross my fingers that trainers do the right thing by their horses and I get excited when more people who previously preferred a different breed, "cross over" and get themselved a thoroughbred. I love the breed. I love my job. I also love connecting people with a new horse. It takes years to develop a good relationship with trainers on the track. It also takes years to gain not only a following of buyers but trust from them as well. Last year was the first year that I attended the Retired Racehorse Project in Kentucky. I didn't really know what to expect but was excited to meet up with some friends and immerse myself in all things Thoroughbred. The amount of horses and excitement was almost too much to handle. What would I go watch? Would I miss out on something while watching something else? Most importantly. Would one of my most favorite exracehorses do well? It was all a bit overwhelming, but in a good way. I came away from last year's show feeling excited about the next year. I hoped I could have more of my previous racehorses and sale horses there to watch. I wanted to follow horses I saw in the show ring in their "after the big show" careers. I had new friends to keep in touch with and was on a mission to find the best sale horses possible to have available for potential RRP mounts the next year. All in all I headed back to Ohio feeling like the RRP delivered.
As I'm preparing to head back to Kentucky, I'm finding myself excited to be there for a few other reasons. I've been asked to be on the panel during a Round Table discussion for Private Resellers, Trainers and Agents. In addition to that I'll be speaking at one of the seminars called Selling or Placing your Thoroughbred. This was something I had never thought I'd be asked to do. I'm hpoing the words come out correctly and I can be helpful to others.
Of course there are also the horses. SO MANY HORSES! OKay Jen, don't geek out! I'm always anxious to see two very close friends riding some really special horses. Brit Vegas is traveling from Nebraska with two horses that came through my connections on the track. Mega Rush was her first and only RRP horse until she swung a leg over Scotchnwater and fell in love. Mega being a huge bodied, tall, jet black gorgeous gelding who is a war horse through and though and Scotch who is a leggy, tall drink of water with freakish skills over fences. Brit has brought these two along on her own, giving each horse many opportunies to shine. Something about her makes these horse want to give every last ounce of try in their bodies for her. I'm hoping both excede her expectations and look forward to seeing who she picks for RRP 2017 (because you know this is addicting folks!). Check out Mega's page (link below) and see why people love this black beauty!
Second is another horse I found through a Mountaineer trainer. Youmightbearedneck shipped up from LA to a trainer I have known for several years. I'd done a lot of listing for him when I volunteered for CANTER so even when I had to take a step back from volunteering, he still called for help in placing his horses. Now known as "Rory," I knew I needed to buy this tall chestnut gelding with the coolest puzzle type face marking I had ever seen. I told MIchelle over the phone that I had purchased a really cool horse and she HAD to see his pictures. I sent her a headshot. She said I had better send her a video asap....her birthday was coming up and she needed a good distraction from some tough things her family was going through. Needless to say, Rory made his move to Virginia very quickly. Most people have seen Rory and Michelle's Story. If you haven't read about it, I highly suggest you start searching through OTTB connect and read it. Or better yet, click the link below to see what makes this duo so special.
These two ladies are not only competing against each other for individual titles but also for the America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred Title. If you aren't a member of the RRP, hurry up and join. It is the only way to cast a vote. You only get ONE vote this year, please decide wisely!
I hope everyone who competes, goes to groom, goes to support friends, heads there to find themselves a new horse or just meanders around to watch....please support each other. Lets have a good show, let's put our best out there, have fun and make some memories.
Here is the link to the RRP page: http://www.retiredracehorseproject.org/index.php
Come visit Brit, Mega, Scotch, Michelle and Rory.
As horse owners we all go through tough times with injuries and illnesses. We all know that at some point in our lives we will have to make tough decisions as well. So why do we give our hearts to these animals when it tends to leave us heartbroken in the end? This is the story of a horse who captured many hearts.
Honest Expectation came to our farm in August of 2010. We purchased him through a buyer's agent from Philidephia Park (now Parx Racing) along with two other geldings. He was somewhat thin when he arrived but you could tell this little gelding was a muscled like a body builder when he was fit. He seemed interested in people and immediately found out that this place was full of the mints that he loved and there was a human that would keep him quite happy as long as he perked his ears up and asked for more. Abe made his first start for our barn at Presque Isle Downs. It was a lackluster performance that led us to believe this was not a polytrack horse. So we took him to Mountaineer where he was only off the board (meaning worse than 4th place) 4 times out of 35 starts. "Abe" won a total of 21 races out of 86 starts. He ran second 14 times and 3rd 14 times with lifetime earnings of just over $261k. To saw this horse was a war horse is an understatement. He retired from racing with some of the cleanest xrays veterinarian Dr. Adam Gengenbach (Pro Performance Veterinary Service) had seen on a horse of this age. For the last two years we raced Abe, I grew very attached to him. He was quirky and silly. He would stand like a statue to be clipped but then bounce on the end of the lead rope with happy bucks on his way to the turn out paddock. He screamed for his food as if he was starving and would make faces for treats. This horse would shed out into a stout bodied beauty full of dapples in the springtime. Added to his goofball personality....this horse was tough as nails on the racetrack. He was a late closer which means he loved to come from behind and catch his rivals on the wire. He was gritty and brave and he loved winning.
In December of 2014 Abe would run his last race. He ran second. A couple of weeks later he got cast in his stall. He must have rolled and got stuck near his hay feeder because we found many marks on the wall where he had scraped the paint off in an effort to get to his feet. In the morning we found him on 3 legs. We went through the well known ritual of cold hosing, hand walking, wrapping and bute. Each day he seemed like he was feeling better and better. He eventually jogged sound so we allowed him to play in our round pen and see how he felt. He seemed ok. So the next step was to take him to the track and see how he felt during a workout. He blazed over the track as if nothing had ever happened. However, the next day he was sore again. The vet came out to do xrays and found that Abe had shattered the lateral splint bone on his right hind leg. It would heal.....but Abe was already 12 years old. This was our sign that his racing career was over.
Abe's retirment from racing came at a time when I didn't have the time to give him. As heartbreaking as it was, I knew he needed a home where he would get individual attention that he craved. We were so busy at this point he would have had to hang out in the pasture until racing slowed down. Knowing Abe the way I did, that wouldn't have been acceptable to him. So I started brainstorming. I contacted CANTER to see if they had a spot for him. The didn't but would have made room for him if I couldn't find another option for him. I spoke with my friend Brit Vegas one night about Abe. She knew how much I loved that horse and when I mentioned that he needed a new home she said she would take him without any hesitation. I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew he would be happy with her. We talked some more about what her plans would be for Abe. I suggested entering him in the Retired Racehorse Project for the following October. She thought it was a great idea once his leg healed. So plans were made for Brit to come from Nebraska to Ohio to pick him up. A news crew heard about Abe's story through a mutual friend and suddenly we were preparing for a TV interview. The story can be watched here: http://wkbn.com/2015/03/07/lisbon-stable-helps-to-give-race-horses-a-new-start/
Brit and Abe headed to Nebraska the following morning. His new life started off a little rough as he adjusted to a completely different lifestyle. Once Brit figured out his preferences in feed and hay as well as treated his still healing leg, Abe settled in extremely well. He bonded to her like no horse/human relationship I have ever seen. While he healed, she worked with him inside, teaching him tricks to keep him from getting bored. He learned "stay" and "come", he learned to bow and lay down and he learned how to kick a ball. Abe followed her around like a dog and seemed to declare Brit, "His Person." He knew what her truck looked and sounded like and would call for her as soon as he saw her walk into the barn. I never would have imagined he would allow someone to ride him bareback so quickly or allow a young student to trot around on him safely. Each update Brit sent to me was always a pleasant surprise. These two were destined to be together.
Being able to live vicariously through Brit as she went to dressage lessons and took Abe cross country schooling was awesome. I felt so proud of this horse. He was a star on the track and now he was eating up cross country courses. As October drew near, Brit noticed Abe was slightly off on that right hind leg that had been injured when she first picked him up. New xrays were taken and everything seemed to be ok. She gave him some time off feeling he may have tweaked his stifle. All seemed well when she loaded up and headed to Kentucky. He was decked out in his Soft Ride boots and shipping bandages. Abe was on his way to strut his stuff in a different type of venue.
October 29th, 2015 I met up with Brit and reconnected with Abe for the first time in 8 months. He looked beautiful with his new jumping muscles and all those incredible dapples. We loaded him up and went to a friend's farm to see what he thought about schooling some cross country before the big show started. Brit rode him around the property to warm up. As she went along at a trot he took a couple of funny steps behind and then felt "not quite right." She asked if I would like to sit on him for a few minutes to feel whatever it was that was going on. My heart jumped. I had never ridden him. Not once. This was what I had waited for for 2 and a half years. I didn't care if I only got to walk on him. My year had been made. Only it was somewhat bittersweet because I knew I probably wouldn't have another chance because we lived 19 hours from each other. I took Abe for a walk in the ring and then some trot to see what was going on. It definitley felt like that same hind leg that was bugging him. So we untacked, took him back to his stall at the Kentucky Horse Park and decided to see how he felt in the morning for dressage. If he wasn't right, he would be scratched from competition. Morning came, Abe was braided and looked like a million bucks. I was beaming with pride as I watched Brit ride him around the grounds bareback! She said he felt pretty good so she took him back to saddle and get dressed for dressage. Warm up was crowded and chaotic. Dressage riders weaved in and out of horses warming up for jumping classes. There had to have been 20 to 30 riders in the ring at one point. Abe was tense but listening to Brit. Then suddenly he spooked and spun and ran sideways. We never really figured out what set him off as this was a horse that never spooked. That spin set something off in his right stifle. The one he had tweaked a few weeks prior. Brit felt between that and the long haul to Kentucky, it was in Abe's best interested to scratch him. She put up a good front but I could see in her eyes how devastated she was. A lot of time, money, sweat and tears went into getting to this day. She wanted more than anything to see Abe shine in the showring. I could feel her pain as I felt similar disappointment. Abe still strutted his stuff during the participation ceremony. His name was announced over the loud speaker along with his racing stats. It would be the last time any of us would hear that again.
Brit and Abe headed back to Nebraska and Abe was given several months to recouperate from his trip. They treated him with PRP as well as IRAP to try and help his ligament heal from whatever it was that he did to himself. After a second ultrasound (the first being before they made the trip and was clean) it was determined that Abe had severed his collateral ligament. Meaning he would never be sound again. Surgery was discussed and films and scans were sent to several surgeons. They all said the same thing, "I'm sorry, there is nothing we can do for your horse." Brit was left with some tough decisions. Euthanizing him was discussed but each time they thought about it, talked about it, scheduled it, Abe would perk up and trot off nearly sound in the pasture. He was happy. He adored Brit. I remember about 5 months ago she called and said it was time, he was hurting and she couldn't allow that anymore. They picked a place to bury him. They made the appointment and they did a photo session the evening before so she'd have pictures to remember him by. About an hour before, here comes Abe, nickering and walking with full weight on his hind leg. She sent me a picture that day as I awaited "the call." I opened up the text to see Abe and Brit in a selfie that said, "Today is not his day to die." I cried when I read that. I can't even imagine the rollercoaster she had been going through. Abe had 5 more months of love from Brit and the boarders from her barn. Everyone loved Abe. Everyone. He had a following on Facebook from the very first post. This horse touched so many people.
This morning I had a call from Brit. She was in tears and was having trouble speaking clearly. "Abe died last night." WHAT??? She had gone to feed this morning and found he had passed away in the pasture. She went through the day prior and how his pasture mate had been sold and he was having a hard time adjusting to it. She felt guilt and had not had a chance to say goodbye. I was speechless. The only thing I could think to say was, "I'm sorry." I felt like I had been punched in the gut. There was nothing I could think of to say that would make her feel any better. I knew this because I had gone through the exact same thing with my own heart horse, Murphy. It feels like that last goodbye is stolen from you. It feels unfair. It feels like your heart has been ripped out.
All I can say is.....take your time. Feel it, relive the good times, remember how wonderful he was. Take your time to grieve, to miss him, and to be angry. There is no other way to feel any better. It hurts and will hurt for a while. But we go on. We remember and we heal.
Honest Expectation 2003-2016
I'll lend you for a little while My grandest foal, He said. For you to love while he's alive And mourn for when he's dead. It may be one or twenty years, Or days or months, you see. *_But, will you, till I take him back Take care of him for me?_* He'll bring his *charms* to gladden you, And should his stay be brief You'll have treasured memories As solace for your grief. I cannot promise he will stay, Since all from earth return, But, there are lessons taught on earth I want this foal to learn. _I've looked the wide world over In my search for teachers true. And from the throngs that crowd life's lanes With trust I have selected you._ Now will you give him your total love? Nor think the labor vain, Nor hate Me when I come To take him back again? I know you'll give him tenderness And love will bloom each day. And for the happiness you've known Forever grateful stay. But should I come and call for him Much sooner than you'd planned You'll brave the bitter grief that comes And someday you'll understand. For though I'll call him home to Me This promise to you I do make For all the love and care you gave He'll wait for you, inside Heaven's Gate.
- Author unknown