Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The obligatory introductory post (my Thoroughbred story)

If there's one thing I've learned about blogging, it's that it takes a lot of clutter away from Facebook!  Perhaps that's why I've relented and started an Off the Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) retraining blog, who knows.  Or it could be that this gives me an outlet to brag about my boy, since I believe my co-workers and non-horsey friends are already a little tired of it, and definitely confused by it all.

This blog is about a little Thoroughbred gelding named Soon, and our new relationship together in his post-racetrack life.  A little about me:  I started riding 22 years ago.  I was horse crazy from the start, visiting my aunt's horses down the street at my grandmother's house.  I was too young to ride them, and by the time I was, they were already gone.  Instead, I spent hours some days with my next door neighbor's horses.  Eventually, and with the help of some family friends, my parents were convinced to let me start lessons at a local hunter/jumper stable. 

There I rode for many years, and after cutting my teeth on some of the toughest ponies at the farm, I received my first horse when I was 12.  "Triple" was a 10 year old, 16 hand grey Thoroughbred mare.  Our first show together didn't actually happen - we got all braided and pretty, but when it came time for her to load on the truck and go show, she wouldn't do it!  We spent an hour that morning trying to load her, but couldn't make it happen.  So we rode at home that day instead.  Later on and after several months of patiently feeding her dinner on the trailer every day, she learned to walk right on.  I also broke my wrist falling off her that first summer, and she spent the rest of the summer on stall rest with a leg injury.  Despite our somewhat disastrous beginning, Triple became what I call my horse of a lifetime.  She had the biggest heart of any horse I have ever worked with.  She would practically jump the course for you, though she might not have been the prettiest (or even the quietest...she grunted with every effort).  She won state championships, campaigned hard every summer going from horse show to horse show, gave riding lessons to beginners, jumped the 3'-3'6" divisions, won a puissance, and even dressed up like an airplane for Halloween one year (admittedly she was not a fan, but put up with it). 

The real meaning of heart, though, was not in the show ring.  In 1999, after a routine colic surgery, Triple contracted an infection which claimed the lives of three other horses in the hospital.  My mother and I visited her every day in that little quarantine stall, picking fresh grass in order to spark some kind of life from her.  It's hard to watch your friend dying.  After losing approximately 350lbs and looking like a rescue case, she battled back from the brink of death, and was the only horse to walk out of the hospital that had contracted the infection.  Slowly, she regained her health over that winter, and that next year she was the state's Junior Hunter champion, and helped me to a hard fought equitation reserve champion title.  My love for her wasn't in the ribbons we won (sadly we never made it to try our luck at any nationally rated shows), but knowing where we had been that year before.

After a second surgery in 2001, she retired from the hunter ring.  I leased her to a professional, and Triple became a beginner lesson horse at a local eventing barn.  She spent a few years teaching others how to ride, and I'll never forget my last sight of her undersaddle, being led around and ridden by a tiny girl.  Triple was put down in 2007, just a week before I was to retrieve her for her retirement in Virginia with me.  Some things are not meant to be.  But her lasting legacy is to never take anything for granted, and never give up.  She taught me that the heart of a good Thoroughbred is pure gold. 

I went to school for horses in 2002.  I got an Equine Business Management degree, and then rode/trained professionally in Virginia for three years after school.  However, my heart wasn't in the horse industry as a professional, and I left in 2009 to pursue other career interests.  I started to ride casually again in 2011, and started looking at horses for myself shortly after.  I spent many years on Warmbloods and knew so many great individuals in the various disciplines I've competed in over the years.  I even looked at a couple of WBs for myself (I'll still get one!  Just not now).  But something special brought me back to the Thoroughbred.  I felt like I needed to get a horse off the track, and do something right by the breed that had given me so much through Triple.  I felt like now was the right time, where I was somewhat limited on the purchase price budget, and not sure what I wanted to do regarding disciplines.  I figured purchasing an inexpensive TB off the track, giving one a chance at a second career, and training it myself for whatever jumping discipline it showed talent for would be a wonderful journey to take.  So in July 2013, I took the leap, and purchased Soon.  What a ride it has been already!

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