Tucker has eased into retirement, getting fat but unfortunately, the lack of exercise has caused the EPSM to cause horrible changes to his body. No longer a fit athlete, he has a big belly and no top line. It is spiny with strange changes along his croup, almost like a V indentation...I will have to attempt photos.
But he is happy and I spent the year, as I said, pretty much mourning not only his retirement, but my lack of a horse to ride. I did have some offers to ride other horses, but it wasn't the same. I am the type of person who needs to have her own horse, to have the complete freedom that comes with that bond with your own special friend. And I am not the type of person to be content to just have a horse and not be able to ride, especially when the barn commute is an hour each way. When I finally get my own farm, I will relish having a retired horse in my backyard to look at, but when paying board and spending more time commuting than the time that is spent at the barn, I'm not gonna lie, but it was difficult.
I had been casually searching for my next partner, knowing that I wanted an OTTB, but I realized that with the internet, horse shopping was much more overwhelming than it was the last time I shopped around for a horse. Especially for Thoroughbreds.
There is OTTB Connect and Florida OTTB. Thoroughbred Sport Horses For Sale and OTTBs Looking for Second Careers. And then lets not forget about the rescue groups: Rerun, Friends of Ferdinand, CANTER and Finger Lakes. Each site promoting drop dead gorgeous Thoroughbreds every day. I was suspicious if they were cheap, incredulous if they were not cheap. I contacted a few ads, but the more I tried to get serious, the more frustrated I became. I did not want to get attached to a horse, spend lots of money on vetting it, only for it to fail. I saw myself in a groundhog day cycle of doing just this.
Then a friend told me about a TB farm in Ocala. Final Furlong is the rescue side of Niall Brennan Stables. His wife, Stephanie, identifies when horses in their program need to be retired, whether due to injury or simply too slow. She gets the owners to give her the horse and even give her money towards its vetting and other expenses, and the horse is brought back to their home farm and let down for 60-90 days. And then she adopts the horses out. If they are not adoptable, they live out the remainder of their life at their farm, with other "lifers," as well as the yearlings and personal horses that live there. It is a fantastic program and one that should be modeled by everyone in the Thoroughbred industry.
I emailed Stephanie and told her what I was looking for and a little about my background. I was open to mares, not just a gelding and I told her my color preferences, which are bay, black, grey and chestnut, in that order. However, having owned a horse of all those colors, I am not one of those who will pass up a horse due to its color.
I was initially interested in a bay gelding that I had seen on their website. Stephanie replied with a photo of a new chestnut mare. Our correspondence over a few weeks had me inquiring about the gelding while she kept telling me about the mare.
I finally broke the news to my husband over a beer and some Cajun food, that I was ready to get another horse and hey, it won't cost me anything! Having been along for this rodeo many times before, he knows there is no such thing as a free horse, and after grilling me about being able to afford board for 2 horses, he was surprisingly accepting and even offered to go along with me the next day.
The day before Easter, we hit the road for Ocala. I was glad Peter was along for the ride, he would finally see the "real" Ocala, with its gently rolling hills and beautiful horse farms. I am a frequent visitor to this area, whereas Peter's experience with Ocala is just a few miles off the interstate to accompany me to the Tack Shack of Ocala. We pulled into a long driveway that was lined by fields already tall with lush green grass and shaded with beautiful old oaks. There was a tudor home and a concrete block barn. Nothing fancy, compared to many other farms in the area, but it screamed professionalism and working horse farm. The fencing was board, there was no wire, no broken boards and no sand. It was clean and flower beds were everywhere. I liked it immediately. When I got out of the car at the farm, Stephanie greeted me and said, "I know you want to look at the gelding, but really, this mare is what you want."
We walked into the barn and the first face I noticed sticking over the stall door was a lovely chestnut with a white stripe. Stephanie informed me that this was the mare she was telling me about.
Queen of Secrets. She was simply too slow on the track, Stephanie said. She had breezed, but was not going to be a stellar racer so they were able to get her owners to donate her to Final Furlong.
I think I was hooked at that point.
Stephanie brought her out of the stall, stood her up and I ran my hands all over her body and legs. She was broad chested, had clean legs and she was just as curious about me as I was her. Next, Stephanie trotted her in hand, followed by a turnout in the round pen. I got goose pimples watching her trot and knew for sure at that point that she was mine. We turned her out in the large grassy field, with the mossy draped oaks, and I turned to Stephanie and told her I would take her.
On the way home, I introduced Peter to my favorite lunch spot, The Horse and Hound, and gushed over Secret. I felt like a teenage girl getting her first horse. Peter could not believe I had committed to getting a horse, at least without getting my own vet exam, but I knew that Stephanie was not going to tell me anything that wasn't 100% honest...she had too much to lose by doing so, and I knew that if she didn't work out, she could be returned. Stephanie had disclosed everything I needed to know, the good and bad, not that there was anything really "bad", certainly nothing alarming.
Secret was to remain at the farm for 60 days to be let down, during which time I could visit anytime. Which I did. And I alternated between those moments of giddiness and moments of "what have I gone and done?" I mean, I hadn't even ridden her! I have gone bonkers!
But every visit with Secret ended on a good note. I took her for long walks, groomed her and told her of our grand plans. I could not wait to get her home.
I toyed with names for her. The barn workers, who clearly loved this mare, called her Queenie. In the end, I decided that Queen of Secrets was a good name but she would be called Secret. My husband however, thinks her show name should be Lori's Dirty Secret. It's cute and funny, but I am a traditionalist when it comes to names and prefer more elegant and formal names.
Secret does hail from royalty! A friend of mine who studies pedigrees brought it to my attention that Secret's sire, Kittens Joy, is currently the number one turf stallion. After some research, I connected with several people who ride Kittens Joy babies and they all said the same thing: Smart. Brave. Sane. Hearing this confirmed my decision to get her even more so!
Four weeks into her let down, I received a brief email from Stephanie: "Secret is bored. She needs a job. I don't know how much more of her my old gelding can take."
I took that as a hint that Secret was done with being let down and needed to come home. She came home 2 weeks later!
She loaded onto the trailer with not so much as a glance behind and I breathed a sigh of relief that I could check trailer loading off the list. She arrived at RK Farm to an adoring crowd of boarders and walked into her barn as if she knew that this was her kingdom that she would rule. No fits of anxiousness, no nervousness, no worries!
Since that rainy afternoon in May when Secret came home, we have done nothing but ground work. Having just turned 3 on April 21, I am in no rush to get on her. We have taken our time bonding and learning about each other. As a mare, she does have some quirks (grooming is not always her favorite thing and when she exits her stall, she likes to stop and survey her kingdom before walking on.) She has fearlessly tackled walking over tarps, through grids and through muddy dressage rings. I alternate lunging, trotting her from the golf cart and hand walking through poles on the ground. I have pulled out my books from my extensive libray and brushed up on my Linda Tellington Jones, lunging, training young horses and liberty training. We have had frustrating moments, like the first time she broke into a canter while lunging and had a total melt down, to moments of break throughs, when she did learn to canter on the lunge line and decided it was so much fun, that she now will offer to canter from the golf cart!
When I first brought Secret home, I realized that there was a small part of me that was absolutely terrified....having a Steady Eddy like Tucker had taken away my fearlessness. Getting older also probably contributed to that as well...nothing like having a fear of falling from a 3 year old OTTB. If she reacted, like when she had a melt down on the lunge, even though I held on for dear life and didn't let her get away, the fact remained that I was shaking in my boots as I finally regained control of her. When she bucked and reared on the lunge, I had visions of her doing the same while riding her and asked what the hell was I thinking? There were times that I considered sending her back.
But I persevered and one day, after she was being silly on the lunge, I realized that I was not reacting to her antics in a negative way. I thought, ok, so what if she rears or bucks when I get on her? I have been on horses that reared and bucked and it was no big deal then. And I came to acknowledge that with all of the ground work I had been doing with her thus far, I was also doing some mental work on myself. These past few months have been as much of a learning time for me as it has been for Secret and I needed this time to do exactly that! I feel that I have regained my former fearless self and when the time is right to get on her (SOON!!), I will be ready to handle it, much more than if I had decided to get on her from the get go.
And Tucker? Well, he and Secret bonded from their first day of turnout together. He does get jealous of her when I am grooming her in front of him, so he gets lots of treats and extra hay or extra turnout time. He is a typical new big brother. I don't know if he understands why he is no longer being ridden, but he still gets lots of attention from me.
Stay tuned for updates!
|Secret in Ocala|
|Tucker and Secret Bonding|
|Tarps? No problem!|
|Being Nosy...Nothing Scares Her!|