Since I’ve switched sites, I suppose I should reintroduce the crew. I decided to start with Jack, since I’ve owned him the longest of the living horses.
I met Jack when he was a two year old. At the time, I was taking care of a barn that did lay ups for racehorses, and Jack was there as a layup. He wasn’t injured, but had three career starts and had done abysmally. He was dead last every time and in his last race he just stopped running altogether. His trainer, who owned the barn I was working in, sent him to the farm to rest and maybe grow up a little.
At this time, Jack was about 16.2h and all scrawny legs and neck. He needed a lot of growing, and as winter set in it became clear that Jack would not be accompanying the other active race horses down to Florida for the winter. He would stay at the farm under my care with the layups.
Even as a two year old stallion, Jack was the sweetest, most gentle horse in the barn. He never put a foot wrong, and immediately won over my two kids. As winter turned into spring and the racing barn moved back north, I had to break it to them that Jack would soon be going back to the track. Jack had other plans.
First he developed an abscess in one front foot. Then he got one in the other front foot. Then he got a third abscess in the first foot. As it turns out, Jack has terribly sensitive feet with very low soles, and it’s pretty much a recipe for abscesses. After months of him being dead lame with abscesses, and also not filling out, his trainer was getting tired of feeding him. He had been a $1500 claim, and was costing her more than she would ever get out of him.
One day I got a fateful call from her…
“Hey, you like that red colt, right?”
“Jack? Yeah, he’s a total sweetheart.”
“Want him? I don’t want to bring him back to the track.”
I had the trailer hooked up before we even ended the conversation, and that’s how I acquired a dead lame 3 yr old stallion.
The first year of Jack’s life with us consisted of trying to fix his feet. Under the direction of my farrier, we pulled his shoes and turned him out. Since he was only three and already broke to ride, I didn’t really need to do any serious training with him, so I pretty much left him alone for a year while his feet hardened and his heels grew. I did handle him and groom him, but we did very little under saddle that year.
His 4 and 5 year old years ended up being much of the same. His feet were pretty good by this point, but his body was still growing. I’m not the type to do serious training on a growing horse, especially a clumsy growing horse, so we took it very slow. During these two years, Jack grew to his final height of 17.1h, but remained quite thin and lanky. He wasn’t much of a looker, and he was still very immature mentally, but his sweet disposition made up for it.
At 6, Jack finally began to blossom. He began to fill out, and finally be able to carry himself under saddle. Maybe, just maybe, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Then tragedy struck. I lost my favorite horse, the bay in the “Grace” picture, in August of 2016. I was gutted, and Jack’s training suffered for it. For months, I only dumped feed and did the bare minimum with the horses. In my heartbreak, I pushed Jack aside.
Many times that year I questioned whether I even wanted to continue with horses at all. Spider, the horse I lost, was a once in a lifetime horse. He wasn’t easy, but he was intelligent and athletic. I had trained him myself to 4th level, he had been my steadfast partner for over a decade. He’d seen me through fracturing my spine, through my ups and downs with my chronic illness, through having two children and going from Pro to Backyard Amateur. Spider was everything Jack was not, and I was angry with Jack for that. My anger was misplaced and irrational, and I knew that, but knowing and doing are two different things. So, I decided to take a long break from Jack.
Eventually I got my mojo back. Mostly, this was because of Jack. While I was perfectly willing to take a break from Jack, Jack was not willing to take a break from me. What I didn’t see at the time was that Jack had lost more than I did when Spider died. He had loved Spider, too. He called for him and ran the fences for days after Spider died, while I sat in the house and cried. I only lost Spider, but Jack lost me and Spider and he didn’t take it well. His behavior began to suffer, he became nervous and explosive and I knew I had to do something about it. He’s just too big and clumsy to act that way.
I began to work with him again, just little things at first: things like, “You know how to stand still to be groomed, you know how to tie, you’re going to trot on the lunge line like a civilized animal even if it kills us both, I promise I’m not going to abandon you again”. As we worked together again, we began to heal each other.
Now, as Jack is ending his 7th year, he is finally becoming the horse I thought he might be when I met him at 2. He’s still pretty much the clumsiest horse I’ve ever worked with, and he isn’t really very bright, but he always tries his best and he’s got the biggest heart I’ve ever seen in a horse. He’s basically an oversized Labrador Retriever.
Sure, some of the other 7 year olds are schooling PSG, but I’m in for the long haul here. Jack may be a bit of a late bloomer, but as Alois Podjajsky said, “I have time.”