Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Wait, that's your two year old?????? Mister Baby (Part Deux- that's Two in French)

A good friend of mine who owns the most amazing pizzeria in Lexington, mentioned to me on one of my "will you feed me I'm broke" visits that he was interested in getting a racehorse.
The Keeneland September Sale (that's the sale for yearlings) was going on and he had always been a sideline enthusiast, especially since many of his guests were coming through his restaurant during the sales. Most of these were fellow countrymen of his (and sort of, of mine), hailing from Turkey.
They'd fly in town, go to Keeneland, generally spend a shit ton of money, stash the horses they bought at Quarantine Farms (Horses leaving or entering the United States have to go through quarantine). As an aside, let me mention that I always wished I had a huge farm with one barn for enough away from the others to be able to offer quarantine services because you make mega-bux with quarantine, as in $35 per day on the average bottom end.

In any case, the few years I had been in the Bluegrass, I always wished that I could land some of those Turkish clients because they
1. have good money,
2. are good paying clients and
3. it's a narrow market with word of mouth predominating, ergo, more business down the road,
and 4. I speak the language.

Alas, as many Turkish friends as I have here in the Bluegrass, the majority of which are not into horses at all, the very small handful that are into the Thoroughbred business in any way whatsoever, are basically a group of greedy egotists that would never dream of sharing business contacts.
Over time, I suspect, too, that my being female does have some bearing on the way they have handled any requests for business. While I did not grow up surrounded by the kind of Turks that ever discriminated against women, there are plenty who still do, albeit not overtly, because, well, that just wouldn't be cool nor acceptable.

I digress.
Over a pizza and my friend mentioning about buying a horse, I informed him that buying a yearling would take at least a year before he would be able to race his new horse and throughout this conversation, I broke down the costs to him. I also mentioned that if he wanted to get a horse to race, I had a very nice two year old, who would be much better suited to the task and that I would love to get him going. I offered 2/3 of little dude for sale to my friend for cheap enough to drop my own jaw, just to make the offer sweeter. He said he had another friend who wanted to be a partner, so that in the end, the three of us would be equal partners in the horse, with me training him.

One thing I still haven't learned over the years is that my labor and my expertise is actually worth something. Who in their right mind offers to work for free? Have you ever stopped a cop or a librarian or a teacher to ask whether they would like to work without pay and they agreed?
Of course not!
But you see, us horse people, we tend to be incredibly stupid when it comes to getting a horse to the races. We get desperate. We're willing to bend over backwards, pay part of the expenses and settle for just 1/3 of the purse monies. It never occurs to us that the daily labor, never mind the gas money to get back and forth, should be considered in our most asinine of decisions. And when I say us horse people, in this case, I mean me.

To make a long story short, little dude went under contract (that much I have learned over the years) and off we went to the Thoroughbred Center to start his training to become a racehorse.

Now, let me preface this next part of the story by explaining a few things.
When a youngster (a two year old heading to the track to start training, we race track people call them babies) first ships to the track, there are many new, different, sometimes scary things going on.
There are horses everywhere, horses with people on top of them!
There are people everywhere, lots and lots of them. There is noise. There is activity. When a baby (or any horse of any age, for that matter) first gets to a new place to stable, such as a racetrack, you generally want to give it a day or two to adjust to its new environment. The way I deal with this is to stable the horse in its stall after shipping in and letting it partake in everyone else's routine for the rest of that day. Let him/her watch. The stall in many instances becomes the safety net. The next day, the new baby should probably take a nice stroll around the barn (cold walk- which means to walk instead of go to the track that day), and take a good peek around not only the barn area, but also walk to the track and graze a little around there, see what's happening on the track. Course you have to keep in mind the individual horse's personality and ability to handle stress.
Depending on how that day goes, baby can probably go under saddle the next day, or if needed, have another day of exploring.

Little dude shipped into TTC (The Thoroughbred Center, which is a Training Facility owned by Keeneland), had a day of exploring/adjusting and the next day, got to shedrow.
Shedrowing a horse is when you let the horse be ridden inside the barn, around the shedrow.
Little dude seemed to think that piles of shavings and stacks of hay or straw may be suspect- wide berths should be cut around them. While chickens, cats and even a dog running around his legs, as well as the huge flocks of pigeons roosting in the barn, were completely acceptable and no cause for any spooking, wheelbarrows were a whole other story. And there are a lot of wheelbarrows in the large concrete barns at TTC that have stalls for around 100 horses.
We decided sticking around the barn for some "under saddle training" wasn't a bad idea for a few days.
Once little dude, who I took to calling Baby, or Mister Baby, adjusted to shedrowing without having his eyes bugging out of his head or jumping at wheelbarrows, it seemed like a good plan to send him to the lower training
track the next day.
More Shedrowing
Shedrowing in both directions

It's generally a great idea to find another horse to send a baby to the track with for the first few times. Seasoned racehorses make incredible hand-holders for babies. Alternatively, if you have a group of babies that ship to the track together, they can also go out in the group together for the first time.
You know, we're talking horses here. There's safety in numbers.
Our well laid plan of sending Mister Baby in company completely fell through. The company never showed. It started getting late. We really wanted to make the track before it closed, so I made the executive decision to send Mister Baby to the track by himself. Executive as in, I talked to his rider, who also thought it should be fine.

In order to get to the small track, which lies below the larger track, one has to travers a tunnel that cuts under the main track. It's sort of the same as when you go to the races and have tickets to the infield- you get there through a tunnel.
The tunnel tends to be a fairly scary thing for a baby. There are some babies who never like the tunnel. Others take a day or two to adjust going through it. Getting them into the tunnel the first time, is generally the biggest challenge.

We left the barn, hung a left downward, veering down from the upper track and kept on until we got to the tunnel. So far, Mister Baby was walking very easily, quite relaxed and busy looking around, looking everywhere except where he was going. This resulted in his stepping on my feet a couple of times. Being smacked for that didn't phase him. I don't think he even noticed, he was so busily craning his neck looking around at everything in sight.

Tunnel up ahead
When we arrived at the tunnel, he stopped. I grabbed his reins and started walking forward, the rider was urging him and Mister Baby wasn't moving. At all.
I've learned one thing about handling babies. Or horses, period. I don't engage in arguments with them.
In a track environment, a horse's best friend and confidant is usually his groom. Or, as in my case, since I don't have a groom but rather do all the work myself, that confidant would be me.
The single best and easiest way to get a horse to cooperate in any situation that's new and requires movement, is to pretend that, well, you don't actually want anything from the horse and you're not asking him to do anything at all. You go about your business and keep moving. If horsey doesn't want to be left behind....

I looked at Mister Baby, walked on and entered the tunnel. It echos in the tunnel. Every single sound is hugely amplified. I turned towards Mister Baby, who was still rooted in place outside of the tunnel:
"Mister Baby. Come on. Let's go."
Body language is obviously as important. By turning towards him and then turning back facing where I was going and just looking back and tilting my head towards the direction again, I let him know where I was going and that I wished for him to come along.
And so he did. The rest was uneventful.

We got out to the track, I asked my rider to jog him one round and then gallop him one round, just easy to let him get his bearings and get a chance to look around and see where he was and take in the sights and other horses.
When you jog a horse on the track, you generally jog it clockwise. Galloping is done counter-clockwise. On a really busy track this can make for a lot of movement everywhere.
The lower track that day wasn't crowded. There couldn't have been more than four, maybe five horses. Since Mister Baby wasn't a seasoned track goer yet, we decided to jog himself in the same direction as the gallop, that way, it was less for him to potentially get confused about.
And off he went.
The first couple of furlongs, he wasn't jogging quite straight, a bit over here, a bit over there but he eventually figured out to stay in one path by the time he came out of the first turn.
The gallop was about the same.
I was standing next to the pony shack, talking to Kelly, the Outrider and our conversation was, of course, about horses. Kelly knew this was a new baby and it was his first day on the track. We discussed the weather and how we hoped that snow would never come. Yeah, right.
This whole time, I was following Mister Baby's progress around the track, pleasantly surprised that he was not only doing so well but also doing it like he had been doing it for years.
As he came out of the turn galloping, he settled on his haunches and showed me his big, floaty stride that I always watched in the pasture when he was a weanling. His stride was HUGE. He was putting absolutely no effort into this gallop and was just enjoying himself the way an Englishman would enjoy his cup of afternoon tea- leisurely. I couldn't help but grin.
I pointed and said "Damn, that's nice!"
Kelly looked and agreed. "Yeah, that's a nice way of going."
My grin got bigger. "Yes it is. It sure is."
Silence. A second passed as we both watched Mister Baby progress down to the lower turn and enter it, circle around it and come out to our left down the stretch.
"Yep, that's really nice", I said.
"Sure is", Kelly said.
And then:
"Wait, that's your two year old?????"
I burst with joyous laughter.
"Yes!! That's my baby!!"
"Damn, girl, THAT is a nice baby!"

Mister Baby came off the track very pleased with himself. He wasn't tired or sweaty. He wanted to do more but when you're first starting with a baby, well, less is more.
He had his bath. I hotwalked him and we negotiated a cease fire with the wheelbarrows in the barn. Sort of.

"Yep." I thought. "I was right. He's got that something."
 He's got that been-there-done-that attitude and at that moment, I felt like Mister Baby, well, he must be the reincarnation of an old seasoned racehorse.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Meet Mister Baby. Yes, you heard that right, Mister Baby

Ok, so that isn't his real name.
But I'll get to that in time.

Three years ago, a good friend of mine had a colt. I met this colt and instantly liked him. Long legs. Laid back attitude. Nothing visibly special about him but he had something... something you couldn't put your finger on.
My friend was up in age and experienced some health problems. One day, he called me and said:
"You remember that colt you like? Well, he has an eye infection. Looks like an ulcer. I can't commit to treating him daily and so I thought, if you want to come pick him up and you treat his eye, then you can have him because I know you'll do right by him".

What he meant with doing right by him wasn't in reference to attending to the colt's medical needs, or at least not only in reference to those.
This colt was by an unknown stallion, out of a 14 year old mare who had never had a foal before.
The mare had been a very useful racehorse and after retiring went on to being a just as useful show horse. Her pedigree was made up of old blood that you just didn't find easily anymore at that time.
Doing right by him was to eventually make him a racehorse.

So I brought him home. Initially, he was very cooperative with having to have his eye treated, which turned out to be a lot more serious than thought. After a few days, he also became sick. He started dropping weight, in spite of being fed great quality hay and feed and being on the lushest grass in Bluegrass country.
The vet determined that antibiotics were in order. He was treated for Lawsonia.
This all was very long term, lasting around 3 months.
When the little dude was able to rejoin the other weanlings (a group of three fillies), he was everything but excitement. Everything he did was well thought out and taken in stride.
A few days after, he came up very lame in the front shoulder.
Now he had to go on stall rest. While the cause of the lameness was never determined exactly, he was xrayed to within an inch of his life and we knew nothing was broken. After a couple of months, he was able to rejoin the girl terrorist group out in the pasture.

I remember vividly the day he was turned out with them. These fillies were all very well bred by well known stallions. Bellamy Road, Sidney's Candy and Dream Ahead. If you're into horse racing at all, you know these names. Little dude, however, had no clue who those studly daddies were.
The girls took off running and led by Miss Junior Bellamy Road, made short order of their introductions. Little dude just stood there, wondering why they ran away and looked back at me at the pasture gate. I smiled and nodded:
"Go on! It's fine. Go play. You're ok!"
He turned back and his eyes followed the girls who were by now a good 50-60 yards away from him.
And in that instance, something clicked.
I don't know if he thought he would just go catch up to them to ask why they were running away, or if he even knew what he wanted from them. Maybe he just wanted to be a part of that group.
But as I watched, this easy little gallop he took off with over a few steps evolved into what can only be described as an elaborately floating, huge stride. At one point, I couldn't tell if he was actually touching the ground. He came upon the girls and passed them with such ease, I remember whispering, "Wow, he can fly..."

From that day, I made it a point to watch the gang run and play as many times as I could, daily. His movement was so very different and there was such an ease he incorporated into it. He never looked like he tried.

Little dude had another set back when it was time for vaccinations. He had a horrible reaction that made him sick for days with very high fevers and again, he had to be separated and treated for almost a month. We finally gave him an immune booster injection and he recovered.

As I was obviously in the Thoroughbred business, one of my goals was to sell horses to make money and pay the bills.
So little dude was put up for sale. While a few people came to inquire and looked, none were takers.

Little dude became a yearling. No longer having the weanling type more compact conformation, he became exceedingly gangly. Legs all over the place. Hip too tall, then wither too tall. He stopped putting an effort into play and activity. He became the bystander who watched. He was spookless and fearless and, well, bored.
At this point, I thought, well, maybe a buyer will come along and start doing something with him.

Time passed and little dude became a 2 year old. Shockingly enough, with his dam being 16 hands and solidly boned, his sire being well over 17 hands and more on the narrow end of the spectrum, I wondered why he wasn't getting taller. While other 2 year olds grew big and started looking the part of a race horse, little dude was, well, still little dude. Skinny, gangly. angular. Legs everywhere. Hardly a chest. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was worried.

Since several other lookers had showed up and decided he wasn't for them, little dude stayed parked in that pasture with other yearlings and weanlings coming and going. He was kind and smart. Never in a hurry. He kept the peace and didn't fight, knew when to walk away or stand his ground.
Inquiries started to sound more along the lines of: Is he broke?

Well, no he wasn't. After all, what was the point? I had all the ones I could afford at the Training Center. Not like I would be able to train him; financially, that was just not an option.

After a few more months, I had a conversation with a trainer friend who had seen him and actually liked him but his client wasn't interested. Not enough bigness in that breeding.
Thing that always bothered me was that no one would listen. I had had this colt from the time he was around 3 months old. I knew this boy. But my opinion just didn't count.

Thus it came about that little dude was broke to saddle. Quick learner. Still completely laid back. Not much excitement. Matter of fact, kinda boring. Did what he was supposed to. Seemed to enjoy it once under saddle and started finding his legs with a rider up. Alas, the interest in him dried up as the season wasn't right for buyers and out went little dude, back into that pasture.

His new found knowledge under saddle made him a bit more playful and forward. He engaged in playing with the other colts. And I kept watching.

I watched him be a little bossy but still kind. I watched him be a lot bossy, but still kind.
And as I watched, the wish to find someone who would partner with me or buy this boy and take him to the track grew more and more. I was watching the next evolution and didn't know it.

Little Dude on top


The Journey of a Thousand Dreams (and Mistakes)

I started this blog originally as a way of sharing the day to day events in my small training operation.
Over time, as life evolves along with everything else in it, I got away from blogging.

Time tends to crystallize things for us. Time tends to chisel our goals more sharply, or turns them around altogether.

My journey has been fairly concentrated within the Thoroughbred world. While I have left the track and racing on a few occasions and taken on jobs both in and out of the horse world, mainly to make ends meet and finance this horse affliction I was born with, one thing has been constant:
My love for horses and racing.

Over the last few years, after leaving Churchill Downs, taking a detour via Pennsylvania for a job that turned out to be nothing it was promised but that also gave me the privilege to make some new and life-long friends, including my friend Beth Ann Parise, who turned out to be the forever perfect home for my first winning horse as a trainer, Kite Falcon (whom his amazing owners, Ted and Donna Miller and myself followed after he was claimed away from us and subsequently returned a couple of years later), I have experienced many new, many old and many unusual events. I have also met some of the most incredible people I ever could have.

Wherever you go, there you are. As anyone else, I have problems in my life. I have learned over the years that those are generally rooted within myself and my way of handling certain situations, as well as the fact that we, as humans, tend to be more comfortable with situations we are more familiar with, whether or not those are bad for us.

A move over to the Kentucky Bluegrass Region, turned out to be a great success for the first couple of years after I got here. I leased a farm and boarded mares for clients who were sending them to be bred to some of the biggest, most successful Thoroughbred Stallions and farms in the world.
But as with any business, not all things work out. Two winters ago, in the midst of operating fairly large scale with over 27 boarded client mares, all but one of those clients stopped paying their monthly bills on time.
On top of that, I made the huge unintelligent mistake of taking in a "friend" and her spouse who had no place to go. It was all supposed to work out wonderfully with my friend working off her own board as the barn help I so desperately needed.

Fast forward 6 months and I lose the farm I was leasing, my "friend" and her spouse take over.
I can't and won't begin to mention the agonizing months of lies and deceit I experienced at the hand and mouth of someone I thought I had known for over 20 years.

I walked away. My remaining horses were stashed over 4 different locations because I was unable to find an ideal location.

There I was, having to start all over. Because I trusted the wrong person and stepped up to help her.

There are lessons in every experience in life. I'm constantly learning, every day.

One of the greater lessons I have learned, is this:
You can't blame everything that goes wrong on just the people that precipitate the drama.
Somewhere inside, we all make a choice to take a certain path or make a certain decision.
Everything that happens to us, in the end, was something we chose for ourselves.

Reevaluating once again what to do with my long term goals took a lot of soul searching.
The racetrack has always been the one place where I experienced the most happiness and success.
I was able to always make ends meet, even when I wasn't necessarily winning races but it was a labor of love that most certainly paid the bills.

The breeding industry requires money. Few of us small time breeders ever hit the big time.
It's all a dream.

And you gotta have dreams. So, I follow mine along, as best as I can. In the end, I have no one else to blame or hold responsible than myself.
And it all works out. It is what it is. Life goes on. It's an incredible journey, an adventure that takes us places that we may never have imagined.

If you're just stumbling across my blog for the first time, welcome! Thanks for stopping by and thanks for taking the time in reading and getting to know this blog.

I have a few posts planned over the next few days that will hopefully introduce you to my small operation and perhaps help you feel that you are somehow involved. If I can share something new about horse racing with any of you or instill some enthusiasm for horse racing in you, then I feel I have accomplished a great part of what's important in this world- understanding for each other and our differences and, surprisingly, commonalities.

This reminds me of one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, Pretty Woman:

Welcome to Hollywood! What's your dream?