A Tribute: Honest Expectation aka "Abe"
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