Why Thoroughbreds?

I’m often asked why I want thoroughbreds instead of Quarter Horses. Well, I have the most wonderful, loving Quarter Horse in the world named Harley; sorry but this is true. First of all, I love all horses. It is impossible for me not to, but thoroughbreds have a special place in my heart. I absolutely love working with them, riding them, and watching them run. They take my breath away each and every day, and they are so smart and wonderful to work with. When Chaco runs towards me, I think of my grandpa, and stand there in awe. I’ve felt this way since I was born, and I guess I don’t know how to change.

I live in Western Colorado, which is the Quarter Horse Capitol of the world I think, so people find it odd to see someone who rides a very tall horse. Chaco usually is the tallest in the room, and before Chaco came into my life it was Shandoka. The main question I’m asked is, “Aren’t you afraid of your horses?”

No!!!! Why on earth would I be?

When I came on the scene, my grandpa was deep into horse racing in both worlds; thoroughbred and quarter horse. When I was a baby, his main racehorse was named Chiller who happened to be a quarter horse. He was written about several times in the papers, because he dominated on the track. He also did when he came home for a rest. When I was six months old, as the story goes, my grandpa put me on Chiller’s back, and Chiller bucked me off. According to my grandpa, when he caught me, I was giggling. Not sure if that part was true, because who laughs when they’re bucked off except for the rodeo guys? My grandpa told me that is when he knew I’d be horse crazy.

My grandpa bred thoroughbreds at the time. We had two mares named Equideen and Chee. I remember my grandpa teaching me how to feed them carrots, and how to keep my thumb down so they wouldn’t eat my thumb instead of the carrot. I remember him showing me their teeth, because I became afraid of them biting off my thumb, explaining to me how similar they were to ours. I remember him showing me how to walk behind a horse and where a horse can see and not see. I remember him teaching me how to lead horses, and how to sit on them. I remember him teaching me how to feel for heat in their legs, and he taught me how to play with them. He taught me how to be with a horse; simply be with them instead of always doing something with them. I would climb into their corrals, and wait for them to walk up to me. I remember being nervous when we walked into the pasture as the horses galloped up to us. I slipped my hand into grandpa’s, and his perfect calm moved into me, which the horses immediately responded to. The horses slowed and came for a nuzzle instead of running us over. Without knowing it, he taught me how to stand my ground in the presence of horses.

I remember waiting for them to put their noses to mine. Oh how I loved that, and how I still love that moment. I remember playing tether ball with my first horse Big Ruckus. I remember how important it was for us to love on Orphan Inga after her mother died a week after she was born. What I remember is how much my grandpa loved and adored them. I loved watching him with them, how he moved with them, and that smile he always had on his face as he watched them walk or play. I loved how calm he was no matter how much Ruckus acted up, and he was a ball of fire let me tell you. I loved watching how he worked with the horses, and by watching him, I learned how they responded. They adored him, but more importantly, they respected him. I saw his respect for each and every one of them, so I guess it’s in my blood to love them as much as he did.

This is Big Ruckus and his Momma Chee.

Thoroughbreds for some reason got a bad rap for being spooky horses. I’m not sure why this happened if you consider how they deal with incredible amounts of noise and stress on the track. People are running around waving stuff, tractors are driving around, there is an ambulance that follows them, and the loud bell when the gate opens. If you read the third part in my series about Man o’ War, he had to run around people that came onto the track in his last race. The crowd was so loud after American Pharoah won the Triple Crown and he never spooked once. True, he had cotton in his hears to muffle the noise, but he still heard it.

American Pharoah

Personally, I think people get scared when they get on them. The power you feel underneath you is amazing, and you wonder if you can handle it if they open up. You either become scared of it, or you accept it. If you choose the former, then the thoroughbred will wonder what in the world you’re scared of, and everything around him or her will seem spooky. The horse will keep trying to figure out what is scaring you, because it certainly can’t be him or her! In the coming weeks, I will write about my ways of desensitizing a horse, and you don’t have to buy a thing to read it. I get creative, and it’s worked quite well for me considering I ride alone about 90% of the time.

I’ve moved away from horse racing into the Off Track Thoroughbred world. Now I want to share with everyone my journeys with these wonderful horses, so maybe more of these beauties will have a second life once they leave the track. Too many OTTB’s head to slaughterhouses after their career as a racehorse ends. Most of these horses have absolutely nothing wrong with them. In 2016, approximately 23,000 thoroughbreds were sent to slaughter. There are protections in place stating that owners and trainers need to rehome them afterwards, but these protections aren’t strictly enforced at all and there are ways of getting around the protections. If a killer buys a thoroughbred at an auction, they hold them for ransom by selling them at prices people can’t buy them for. There are several organizations out there that take them in an rehome them. Some are great and others not so great. My favorite is https://www.facebook.com/NTWO.org/. They made a promise to take in any horse off of the Louisiana tracks, and they’ve lived up to that promise. Rood & Riddle, one of the premiere veterinary clinics in the country, volunteers their services to help the horses in need of care. It is a wonderful organization. Please take a look.

Thoroughbreds are handled constantly by humans from the moment they’re born, so they are people oriented; they want to have a relationship with a person. They are groomed, bathed, doctored, walked, ridden, have their legs wrapped, exposed to all sorts of situations and sounds, and they love to work. I seriously have never met a lazy thoroughbred. I’m sure there might be a few out there, but we haven’t crossed paths yet.

In my opinion, if there is one, they could be in pain or burnt out from the track. Give them six months to be a horse, let him or her play, graze, and not have one thing asked of him . Like people, horses need vacations too. If they are constantly asked to work, they can develop a bad attitude towards it. I gave Chaco four months off after I brought him home, and I let him tell me when he was ready to work. How did I know? Chaco became happy. He kept running up to me during play time snorting away, and when I’d go out to saddle up Shandoka, he’d stand there waiting to be saddled up too.

They are so smart, and they pick up on new things quickly. Retraining them for new careers is not as hard as you might think. Yes, they can be fast, but in future blogs, I’ll write about how to teach them to rate. They are great at working with cattle, jumping, three day eventing, dressage, barrel racing, poles, trail riding, and liberty work to name a few things. The only limit they have is the limit YOU put on them.

I rode my horse Shandoka all over the mountains here safely. I’m not saying we didn’t have problems, but usually those problems were created by me not thinking ahead. Shandoka taught me a lot, and I hope to pass this on through future blogs. Chaco is a dream on the trail. He is calm and trusts me when I ask him to do something. On one of our trail rides last summer we came across a bear and elk, and he never spooked. I completely trust him. We ride alone without any issues whatsoever.

After Chaco’s surgery, I had to move around him in very tight quarters, and he never spooked, kicked or got nervous. He let me do what I needed to do while finding my acrobatic maneuvers to work around him amusing.

Thoroughbreds are playful, loving, mischievous, powerful, beautiful, fast, thoughtful, caring, brave, curious, and eager to work in partnership with us. The thing that stays with me the most when I think about and work with thoroughbreds is something my grandpa told me. “They know exactly who they are,” he often said, and they do. They know their ancestry, the history that pumps through their hearts and souls, their beauty as they gracefully fly over the ground, their power as their legs fly forward reaching for the stars, their gentleness as they rest their nose on our necks, and the awe they strike in our hearts as we feel their power beneath us as we move with them covering ground like no other being can.

He Just Let Man o’ War Run

Have you ever wondered why you never hear Man o’ War’s name mentioned as they run through all the greats that won the Triple Crown?

After resting in Maryland through the winter after his amazingly successful two-year-old season, Man o’ War was ready to take on the next racing season. There was talk about him running in the Kentucky Derby, since Sir Barton proved that it was possible to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and The Belmont Stakes. Would Man o’ War chase after Sir Barton?

Back then and even to this day, there is a competition regarding east coast and the west. During this time, Kentucky was seen as being in the west and still a bit wild. Riddle didn’t have much respect for anything western preferring the more prestigious eastern tracks. Besides concerns for injury and illness caused by a long train ride to Kentucky, he also was concerned about the distance. Man o’ War never raced anything longer than six furlongs, and the Kentucky Derby was 1 ¼ miles. He decided it would be too hard on the young, developing bones of his thoroughbred. Riddle set his sights onto several east coast races starting with the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes.

“The news that Man o’ War the champion two-year-old of last year will not start in the Kentucky Derby and may not go to the post in the Preakness will detract from the general interest in these classics, but no doubt will make great friends of the colt rejoice. It had been noted rather poignantly in recent years that particularly among the three-year-olds an early and brilliant start means a poor finish. To the owner who needs the money this may not mean so much, but to a sportsman like Mr. Riddle, who owns Man o’ War achievement stands out above financial considerations.”[1]

As a side note, Matt Winn, who saved the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs from disintegrating into a long forgotten race that horses once raced, never forgave Sam Riddle for not racing Man o’ War in the Kentucky Derby. When he was asked what horse he thought was the best of all time, he always brought up Exterminator, who was an amazing horse. Exterminator raced in and won the Kentucky Derby. I will save that story for another day.

The question was would Man o’ War have the stamina to run 1 1/8 of a mile, so they headed to New York where he trained at Belmont Park’s deep training track. His works weren’t the best in the beginning, and he showed signs of tiring at first. However, he began to improve, so they decided to give the Preakness a shot.

During his last work before the Preakness, over 19,000 people came to watch. Squeezed into every nook and cranny of the old racetrack, they saw Big Red run the entire distance carrying 126 pounds like he would in the Preakness. He stepped out onto the track between the fourth and fifth race to an overzealous crowd. The track was drying out from rain a few days ago, but it didn’t slow down Big Red. He ran six furlongs ten lengths faster than the horses did in the fourth race without his exercises jockey Clyde Gordon releasing any tension on the reins. He had a breather in the next ¼ mile before he opened up and tore down the homestretch until Gordon began to slow him the last furlong. Everyone who saw Man o’ War that day knew who would win the Preakness.

The morning before the Preakness, Man o’ War stepped onto the track one final time before the big race for a morning breeze. His times that morning scared off six Preakness entries reducing the field to nine, which included Man o’ War. Man o’ War didn’t meet the Kentucky Derby winner, Paul Jones, in the Preakness, because Paul Jones was a gelding. The only horses eligible were colts and fillies that could one day produce offspring.

Since Johnny Loftus could no longer ride Big Red, he made his three-year-old debut with a new jockey, Clarence Kummer. Kummer was a strong, young man born of German immigrants. He was considered to be one of the few jockeys strong enough to ride and handle Man o’ War, because when the race started, Man o’ War was sheer power and speed. He needed someone that could rate him, or slow him down when needed.

Race day, Pimlico was filled to the maximum with 23,000 people. The crowd’s excitement made Man o’ War’s nerves boil. According to Sam Riddle, “…he broke out (in a sweat) three times.”[2] When a horse lathers up like this before a race, they waste a lot of energy, and it can cause them to lose the race before it even starts.

Man o’ War, Blazes and On Watch would all carry the same weight of 126 pounds. Upset, who beat him in the Sanford Memorial would carry 122 pounds. All of the other horses would carry 114 pounds. Man o’ War lined up at the barrier in post position seven. Blazes, who many thought might have a chance to beat him, was in post position number five. Man o’ War broke through the barrier once delaying the start of the race by about six minutes, and St. Allan’s antics got him sent to the outside.

Finally, everyone calmed down enough for the barrier to be released, but Man o’ War got a bad jump. Blazes, Upset and On Watch beat him at the break, but that didn’t deter Man o’ War at all. Within a few strides, he led and on the rail. His voracious speed ate up the ground, and King Thrush tried to keep up with Man o’ War without any luck. Man o’ War dominated everyone from the beginning. Red taunted them by allowing King Thrush to stay a few feet behind him without ever giving him an inch. Upset had a slippery grasp on third.

Six furlongs raced and King Thrush’s lungs had enough. This is when Upset decided to make his move as they turned for home with Wildair moving into third. Man o’ War and Upset left the other horses behind, as Man o’ War ran a mile four-fifths of a second faster than the track’s record. Upset gave it his all, but Man o’ War never gave him a chance as Upset’s steam flattened. Any thought of him tiring towards the end of the race became a joke. Man o’ War beat Upset by one length and a half, and Wildair was five more lengths behind. Man o’ War missed the Pimlico track record by a hair.

The crowd roared in jubilation at what they witnessed. One sportswriter wrote, “It was not a race, only a performance. Those who saw it will not forget it.”

“Untouched by whip or heel and never allowed to do his best, he romped to the easiest kind of victory. He covered the one mile and a furlong route in a 1:51 3/5, only three-fifths of a second behind the track record, and it was the opinion of all horsemen present that if he had been compelled to do his best all the way, he would have clipped several seconds from the old mark of 1:51.”[3]

The race took a toll on Man o’ War. According to his trainer Feustel, he came back to the barn tired stating that the condition of the track had been hard on him. The sand on the track was raced off, and the track was left with a hard clay. He rebounded quickly though, because when he returned to Belmont two days later, Feustel said that he wanted to go racing.

Instead of resting for the grueling 1 3/8-mile-long Belmont Stakes like most horses do, Man o’ War raced in the Withers, which was a mile long. On the morning of the Withers, Feustel sent Man o’ War out for a one-furlong work to open up the pipes. When he looked at his stopwatch, he realized that Man o’ War ran 42 miles per hour at :10 3/5 seconds. A good, fast pace is :12 a furlong. Could he beat the Withers Stakes record of 1:38 2/5?

Over 30,000 people filled Belmont Park to see the horse they all read about. Only two other horses showed up to challenge Man o’ War; Wildair and David Harum. All three would be carrying 118 pounds. David Harum was entered to gather the third place money, so Wildair was the one for Big Red to beat. Everyone expected a fast race, because they knew that Wildair would push Man o’ War if not overtake him even though Man o’ War beat him easily in the Preakness.

When the barrier was released, Man o’ War easily broke to a two lengths lead over Wildair. He raced the first quarter mile in :24 flat. Wildair was a half-length behind. He ran easily without feeling the push of Wildair as many expected. Kummer held onto the reins, but Man o’ War continued to gain speed. When he entered the far turn, clockers said he ran the fourth furlong in a blistering speed of :10 flat. If the clockers had it right, Wildair was staying with him. When they got to the second half of the turn, Kummer let him know it was time to go by releasing some rein. Man o’ War left Wildair behind opening a gap of six lengths. The official time said he ran six furlongs in 1:11, which was two fifths of a second slower than the track record. When Kummer saw that Wildair was so far behind, he started gearing Man o’ War down winning by three lengths over Wildair and with David Harum fifteen lengths behind. The Daily Racing Form said, “Won easily: second and third driving. Man o’ War assumed command at the start, displayed wonderful speed under restrain, and won under a stout pull. Man o’ War not only broke the record; he tore it to shreds. He beat the Withers record by a full thirteen lengths, and that was with Kummer slowing him down to save energy for his next race; the Belmont Stakes. The official time was 1:35 4/5’s, but unofficial clockers had him running it at 1:35 1/5’s.

“Samuel Riddle’s horse is the greatest horse in the country, and probably the greatest in the history of American turf…. He won the historic classic in a common canter. Official time said he covered the mile in 1:35 4/5, four-fifths of a second faster than the track record established by Strombili in 1914,” wrote Henry V. King.[4]

King went on to write, “After the race, men who have made a study of thoroughbreds and have seen the best horses both here and abroad, were emphatic in declaring that Man o’ War never had an equal. Sysonby, Colin, Hamburg, Ethelbert, Domino and Roamer were truly great horses, but after yesterday’s race, all of these immortals were compelled to take a place below Mr. Riddle’s colt in the equine Hall of Fame. For his wonderful feat, Man o’ War received a tribute such as is seldom accorded to a thoroughbred. He was cheered and cheered and cheered.”

Man o’ War was nominated to the Suburban Handicap where he would only carry 114 pounds in a race against older horses for the first time. However, Man o’ War had the Belmont Stakes in his blood. His paternal, great grandsire Spendthrift won it in 1879, his grandsire Hastings won in 1896, and his sire Fair Play didn’t win it, but he pushed Colin like no other horse had in 1908.

At least 30,000 people poured into Belmont Park on June 12th to see the beautiful, big chestnut horse. People wanted a glimpse of him, so they later could tell their children and grandchildren that they once saw Man o’ War.

Trainer Jimmy Rowe decided that he didn’t like his chances against Man o’ War in a mile and three eighths. He sent Upset to Kentucky to race in the Latonia Derby, and he kept Wildair and John P. Grier in the barn. David Harum, who was entered in the race, scratched the morning of the big race. It appeared that Man o’ War would be doing a walkover. A walkover is when a horse has no competitors and gallops around the track by his or herself winning the race. This is disappointing to crowds and to the sport, so luckily George Loft entered Donnacona. Donnacona never had a chance not only because he was racing Man o’ War, but because he raced twice in the past five days. Loft did this to save the race, and to allow Man o’ War to collect his full share of the purse. If he ran a walkover, he would only get half.

“Mr. Loft knew Donnacona had no chance of winning and he didn’t care about the second end of the purse. He took the same attitude as did Feustel—that the public must be considered.”[5]

Loft went onto say, “I hear Feustel is going to let his champion run to please the crowd. That means that it won’t be a contest at all, but my fellow is going to do his best, and even though I’m beaten off, it will please the crowd more than seeing a walkover.”[6]

Instead of betting on who would win, the crowd focused on something else; would Man o’ War beat Sir Barton’s record? Feustel heard the crowd.

“Louis Feustel, his trainer, instructed Jockey Kummer to let him run all the way. ‘The crowd wants to see this fellow do something,’ Feustel told his jockey, ‘and I don’t want them to see a gallop. Let him race, and we’ll please them and incidentally, get a record.’”[7]

Man o’ War broke on top and never gave up the lead the entire race.

“In three jumps Man o’ War was clear and fighting Kummer for his head.”[8]

Along the backstretch, he led Donnacona by two lengths. They then vanished for half a mile behind a stretch of trees blocking everyone’s view. When they emerged from the trees, Man o’ War was leading with Donnacona doing what he could to try to stay with him. As they entered into the far turn, Kummer released the reins, which means, “It’s time to go.” Go he did!

“The son of Fair Play developed a new rate of speed in a half a dozen strides.” [9]

Man o’ War left Donnacona behind. When they hit the homestretch, Man o’ War was leading by four lengths. Everyone in the stands knew he would win, but they wanted more. They wanted him to beat the record. Usually, Kummer at this point would start to slow him down to save him for the next race, but he followed orders and let him run. He never hit him with the whip or urged him to go faster…. he just let Man o’ War run. He won the race by 20 lengths; the largest victory margin to that date. His record for victory margin held for twenty-three years until Count Fleet won by 25 lengths becoming the 6th Triple Crown Winner. Count Fleet’s record was broken thirty years later by the 9th Triple Crown winner Secretariat who won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. They remain to this day the top three.

“Irresistible, faultless in stride, down to the finish swept the horse of a thousand years to new glory.”[10]

“It was a remarkable performance and at the finish it did not appear as if the colt was really running, His easy, long stride carried him at a terrific clip.”[11]

“Man o’ War ran to suit himself, and wanted to go on at the finish,”[12] wrote several papers.

Would the crowd get what they really wanted? A new record? The year before, the crowd cheered Sir Barton on to set a new American record of 2:17 2/5. The world record was 2:16 2/5 set by Dean Swift in 1908 in Liverpool, England.

“As the timekeeper hung out the fateful numbers a pin could have been heard to drop. First a “2,” then a “1,” and breathing itself stopped. With the first flash of a “4” such a wild, tumultuous roar thundered up above the handclapping and cheers that the thoroughbreds in their stalls a mile away must have heard and wondered.”[13]

Man o’ War set a new track, American, and World Record that day. It was 2:14 1/5. The crowd erupted into total jubilation and cheers. When Big Red strode in front of the stands, he didn’t seem to be tired at all. People no longer felt that he was the best American racehorse of all time, but they believed after his performance and the fact he broke the record so easily without a touch of the crop, that he was the best in the world and the best of all time and the times to come.

“As he cantered back to the scales Man o’ War was not taking a long breath. He was frisky and seemed to know that the cheers, which could be heard in Jamaica, were for him. He posed for the photographers, and then bowed right and left to the crowd,” [14] wrote Henry V. King.

He raced eight more times during 1920 setting five more records after the Belmont and equaling one record. The three races that stand out the most, were the Dwyer Stakes, Lawrence Realization, and the Kenilworth Park Gold Cup.

The Dwyer, which was run on July 10, 1920 at Aqueduct Park in New York, turned out to be a showdown similar to Fair Play and Colin. Trainer James K. Rowe felt he had another horse that could beat Man o’ War in John P. Grier. John P. Grier was reaching peak condition, and Rowe felt he had the stamina and the speed to take on the horse that nobody else wanted to.

Feustel also felt confident and said that he would let Man o’ War go for a record. Man o’ War would carry 126 pounds while giving John P. Grier 18 pounds who would be carrying 108. Even with the weight difference, Feustel didn’t believe John P. Grier could beat Big Red.

However, it seemed at the start that Red might have bad luck like he did in the Sanford. When the webbing went up, Man o’ War slipped on a wet spot created by where the water wagon was parked earlier, and Man o’ War fell to his knees. However, the fight Hastings and Fair Play gave to him roared, and even though his jockey Kummer thought it might be over, Man o’ War got up and charged after Grier. This was the only time that Grier had the lead in the race, which he lost to Man o’ War after a few seconds. However, that doesn’t mean he didn’t fight to regain it.

The plan was to gallop at a moderate speed until the homestretch when Kummer would let Man o’ War have his head and win the race. Instead, Man o’ War gained speed as Grier’s jockey, Eddie Ambrose, urged him to get past Man o’ War. Big Red wouldn’t have it, and he fought Kummer’s hold on him to keep his nose in front. Ambrose knew he couldn’t let Man o’ War get too much of a lead, and in fact he knew he had to constantly challenge him for it; stay right there with him if he and Grier had any chance to win. Ambrose counted on the 18 pounds that he didn’t have to carry to win the race. He figured if he ran Man o’ War hard, those eighteen extra pounds would wear him down, and he and Grier could win the race.

They were running so fast they hit the five-furlong pole in :57 2/5, which was a track record. When they hit the six-furlong pole, their speed was 1:09 2/5, which beat the world record. There was no light between them with Man o’ War’s head being the only distance he could get ahead of Grier. When they came out of the turn for home, they still had a half mile to going at full speed the entire time, which is usually reserved for this last part of the race. For a terrifying moment it seemed that Ambrose was right, and the weight was getting to Man o’ War running at such speed, because he seemed to pause.

“One of them had to crack—and Grier was the logical candidate—but after they entered the stretch still lapped on, the unbelievable happened. It was John P. Grier who began to inch away, getting his head in front at the three-sixteenths pole,”[15] wrote William H.P. Robertson.

Even though the Daily Racing Form doesn’t show it, they say during the last furlong, Grier seemed to gain the lead while Man o’ War began to lose momentum. Kummer then hit Man o’ War with his crop. Ambrose thought that sound meant he had won the race, so he began to ride Grier steady instead of urging him on as to catch his breath. It was a mistake. Kummer rode Grier before, and he learned that if you tug on the reins at all, Grier quits racing.

Ambrose also made an error thinking the sound of the whip meant Man o’ War was done. The fight, that fire in his belly came to life, and in two or three strides he regained the lead. Ambrose realizing his mistake went after Grier, who also responded gaining on Man o’ War. Kummer hit Man o’ War a few more times, and he charged away. Grier had nothing left and couldn’t match him. Finally, Man o’ War gained daylight on Grier winning by one and a half lengths. Man o’ War set a new world record at 1 1/8 mile at Aqueduct racing a 1:49 1/5. This is absolutely amazing considering he fell to his knees at the start.

After winning the Miller and Travers Stakes, Man o’ War returned to Belmont Park to run thirteen furlongs in the Lawrence Realization on September 4th.

Feustel decided two days before the Lawrence to do a 12-furlong tune-up. Nobody believed what they saw. Man o’ War under constant restraint ran a 2:29 2/5, which was faster than any horse in America had ever run. When Thunderclap ran it at 2:39 3/5, he was only carrying 108 pounds. Man o’ War was carrying 130 that day.

An hour before the race was to start, his only opponent named Sea Mint was scratched. It appeared that Man o’ War would do a walkover, but Samuel Riddle’s niece had a solution. Sarah Jeffords decided to enter her horse Hoodwink. Unfortunately for Hoodwink, he ran only twenty-four hours earlier in a six-furlong sprint. This would be his second race within twenty-four hours.

After some talk before the race, they decided to let Man o’ War run the entire race; no holding him back. However, Riddle told Kummer he wasn’t to urge him. Hoodwink’s jockey was given the same instructions, and his only advantage was that he was carrying ten pounds less than Man o’ War who would be carrying 126 pounds. From the start a tired and overpowered Hoodwink trailed Man o’ War by twenty lengths. The world record for thirteen furlongs was 2:42 2/5, and the pace that Man o’ War was racing at on his own, without any urging by Kummer, would easily break that record. Big Red ran the first six furlongs in 1:13. Man o’ War led Hoodwink by thirty lengths. After a breather along the backstretch, Man o’ War gathered speed completing a mile in 1:38 3/5, which was three seconds slower than the American record he set in the Withers. When he turned into the homestretch, he led Hoodwink by fifty lengths. Kummer gave more rein, and this is when Man o’ War stunned everyone that attended that day. He ran his fastest furlong of the race in :12 and one, and what Man o’ War saved up on his own, was unleashed. He ran the last furlong in :12 flat.

“The most astounding display of arrogant annihilation I ever witnessed on a race track was that day Man o’ War won the Lawrence Realization. He closed at odds of one to one hundred, the third time in his life this had happened, and when he turned for home on that long Belmont park stretch, collecting as high as a kangaroo, he was one of the most magnificent and appalling sights you ever saw. He was like a big red sheet of flame running before a prairie wind, and every bound he took opened up more daylight. When he hit the wire, hard held, Hoodwink was almost an eighth of a mile behind him. The time for the mile and five eighths was 2:40 4/5, a world’s record which stood for twenty-seven years,” wrote B.K. Beckwith.[16]

Dorothy Ours wrote in her book Man o’ War: A Legend Like Lightning, “Beautifully rated early on, running entirely free through the stretch but without demands, Red had beaten the world record by roughly eight lengths.”

Man o’ War won the race by 100 lengths. With each race he became more and more powerful. This was the fifth time that year he broke a record, and it was forty years before Kelso tied his Lawrence Realization time.

Man o’ War may not have won the Triple Crown as we know it today, but he was the first to win the Belmont Park Triple Crown, which consisted of The Withers, Belmont Stakes, and Lawrence Realization. His new record would remain the American Record until 1956, and he held Belmont Park’s record for more than seventy years, which is amazing if you consider how track surfaces had improved since 1920.

Man o’ War won his next two races setting one more record. However, his handlers quickly learned that he wasn’t invincible. After running and wining the Potomac Handicap, Man o’ War came back to the barn lame. He bruised a tendon after kicking his foreleg on the slippery surface at Havre de Grace. Luckily, after a lot of ice, the swelling disappeared quickly, and their sights focused upon the next race.

This would be Man o’ War’s last race. Riddle felt the strain and the concern at having to protect his horse from those that may want to sabotage a race by hurting him, but his wife was hoping for another year of racing. Instead of coming to a final decision, they turned their attention to winning the Kenilworth Gold Cup, which would be a match race between Big Red and Sir Barton.

Sir Barton was the first horse to win the Triple Crown even though no one was calling it at that time. The Kentucky Derby was his maiden race, and when he started winning, he turned everyone’s heads. Unfortunately, he had brittle hooves and thin soles. He also may not have been as enthusiastic about racing as the public thought. His trainer, H.G. “Hard Guy” Bedwell was known for giving “hop”, or drugs, to horses to enhance their performance. Bedwell and all of his horses were banned from Latonia racetrack in 1906. Back then there was no way to drug test horses, and often stewards would watch horses in the paddock for horses that appeared to be on “hop.” Hop could be any type of drug that created the affect they wanted. Heroine, opiates and morphine would cause a horse to race very fast, because it triggered their fight or flight response. When the horse starts to feel a sleepiness that isn’t normal, they run and run as if they were trying to get away from a predator.

It is believed Bedwell gave hops to Sir Barton, and some say this is the real reason that Man o’ War’s former jockey, Loftus, was banned from riding. After riding Sir Barton to a loss, he and Bedwell got into an argument. It is said by some that overheard that they were fighting over how Sir Barton hadn’t been given any hop like he normally did, and Loftus made threats about going to the Jockey’s Club to let them know about Bedwell’s drugging program. Since the Jockey Club never released any information as to why they banned Loftus, everyone assumed it had to do with the Sanford loss. The reality may have been it all had to do with Loftus’ threats and somehow it came back on him.

Everyone wanted a match race between Big Red and Sir Barton. When Sir Barton won the Triple Crown, many considered him the horse of the century. This was called into question when Big Red seemed to be beyond perfect entered the racing scene winning everything he was entered into with ease. The other question everyone wondered about was could Man o’ War beat older horses. Sir Barton was a year older, and at first there was talk that the great Exterminator would race as well. Exterminator was a powerful gelding that excelled at longer distances. However, his owner couldn’t get Man o’ War’s or Sir Barton’s owners to extend the 1 ¼ mile race to a two-mile race, which is when Exterminator’s stamina and speed really excelled, so Exterminator wouldn’t be joining them.

The race was held in Windsor, Ontario, which was a desolate place, but was Abe Orpen’s attempt to boost Canadian Racing. Orpen wooed Riddle and Commander Ross to come to Ontario with a $75,000 purse and a Tiffany Gold Cup to the winner. The track was groomed for speed that day. It was hard, and it must have given Bedwell some pause considering Sir Barton’s chronic, weak hooves.

Man o’ War was unusually calm that day while Sir Barton seemed very nervous and anxious making some wonder. When the barrier flew into the air, Sir Barton got the better break and led by a length, which Sir Barton held going into the first turn. Once they hit the straightaway, any hope of a true duel evaporated as Man o’ War’s blazing speed caught up to Sir Barton and he took the lead. Man o’ War had a full three lengths on Sir Barton, so Sir Barton’s jockey Frank Keogh, took to the whip, which had no effect. He couldn’t make up any of the ground he lost to Big Red. At seven furlongs Man o’ War threw a shoe off of one his rear hooves. A horse pushes off with his hind hooves. A horse’s hind legs are the gas pedals, so Big Red lost the traction a shoe gives a horse to push off with possibly eroding his speed.

Man o’ War kept going without that shoe as if it hadn’t even happened with Sir Barton still chasing him three lengths behind. Man o’ War knew he couldn’t take a breather, because if he did, Sir Barton would be meeting him eye to eye. When they passed their starting position, change blew in. Man o’ War finally moved away, and the distance between them went from three lengths to five in the blink of an eye. Sir Barton had enough. He simply couldn’t maintain the chase. Man o’ War was slowed in the last two furlongs by a crowd of people that actually came onto the track to watch and cheer him at the finish. Man o’ War ended his career with a seven length win over Sir Barton. He didn’t beat the American or World record because of how Kummer swung wide those last two furlongs to avoid all of the people that came onto the track. However, he did set a track record by shaving six and two-fifths off.

When Man o’ War got back to the barn, it happened again. He struck his foreleg with his rear hoof. His leg was bruised and swelling. Ice surrounded his leg. Riddle pondered retirement.

After a conversation with the handicapper for all New York tracks, Walter Vosburgh was asked how much weight Man o’ War would carry as a four-year-old. He informed Riddle that he wouldn’t start with a pound less than 140. Between the weight and his bruised leg, Riddle decided it was time to retire Man o’ War.

Man o’ War then began a new career as a stud, and like racing, he was highly successful as a sire despite the low number of broodmares brought to him each year. Riddle only allowed 25 mares to be taken to Man o’ War each year, most of whom were his and not considered to be of the highest quality. However, Federico Tesio, one of the best thoroughbred breeders of all time, believed that broodmares should not race much or at all to save their energy for creating beautiful, and powerful thoroughbreds. A few mares outside of his stock were allowed to breed to him for a whopping $5,000 stud fee at the time. Despite the small number of mares that were brought to him, Man o’ War passed on those amazing genes to many stakes winners including War Admiral, who won the Triple Crown in 1937. One of his sons named War Relic not only was a stakes winner defeating Triple Crown winner Whirlaway in the Naragansett Special, but also became one of the best sires out of Man o’ War.

“Whatever the caliber of Riddle’s stewardship, in 1942 Man o’ War replaced his own sire, Fair Play, as the leading progenitor of all time in money won by his offspring. Man o’ War had sired sixty-two stakes winners, a total exceeded only by Broomstick’s sixty-six, and Big Red’s get had earned more than $3 ½ million.”[17]

Man o’ War’s name appears in direct line on the pedigrees of Dr. Fager, Desert Vixen, Sir Ivor, Gun Bow, Never Say Die, Damascus, Buckpasser, and Stymie. He was on the bottom line of the pedigrees of Canonero. Riva Ridge, and Sword Dancer.

Man o’ War died at the age of 30 from a heart attack. He was buried in an oak casket lined with the colors of his racing silks. Several thousand people came to pay their respects to Man o’ War one last time, while many more listened to the service over national radio. He is buried under a life sized statue at the Kentucky Horse Park alongside his two most successful sons, War Relic and War Admiral.

When Louis Feustel was asked what made Man o’ War great, he replied, “I don’t really know. Maybe this will explain it—there was never a thing in the world that you wanted him to do that he would not try to do it better. If you asked him to walk, he’d fight to jog, if you asked him to jog, he’d grab the bit and gallop; and if you want him to gallop, he’d say ‘to hell with you’—and run.”[18]

Arthur Daley from the New York Times wrote about Man o’ War in 1954 saying, “In the year 1954 it may be a bit difficult to visualize the hold that Man o’ War had on the sports of public of 1920. He captivated folks even more than Native Dancer does today.

“[He was a] horse of exquisite beauty in the giant economy size. The sun glinted through the window and struck the chestnut coat of Man o’ War so that his redness glowed until he almost seemed to stand in an aura of fire. There was a majestic lift to this head and his liquid brown eyes stared with imperious insolence. He was a king and he knew it.”

[1] “Man o’ War out of Kentucky Derby and will not be pressed,” New York Herald, 1920 February

[2] “The Turf Career of Man o’ War” by John Hervey, which was an unpublished manuscript that was later published by Horse Magazine. It is available through the National Sporting Library.

[3] Man o’ War is Easy Victor in the Preakness. The Sun and New York Herald. May 19, 1920

[4] “Man O’ War an Easy Victor in the Withers Stake; Great Son of Fair Play Gallops All the Way and Breaks Track Record.” Henry V. King, The Sun and New York Herald. May 30, 1920

[5]  Man o’ War: The Fastest Racer,” Henry V. King, The Sun and New York Herald, June 13, 1920

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] “Man o’ War, in Two-Horse Race, Shatters World’s Record in Winning Belmont Stakes,” W.J. Macbeth, New York Tribune June 13, 1920

[9] “World Record Is Set by Man o’ War,” New York Times, June 13, 1920

[10] “Man o’ War, in Two-Horse Race, Shatters World’s Record in Winning Belmont Stakes,” W.J. Macbeth, New York Tribune June 13, 1920

[11] “Man O’ War in New Record at Belmont Park,” The Washington Herald, June 13, 1920

[12] “Man o’ War–Horse of the Century?” Range Ledger, August 28, 1920

[13] “Man o’ War, in Two-Horse Race, Shatters World’s Record in Winning Belmont Stakes,” W.J. Macbeth, New York Tribune June 13, 1920

[14] Man o’ War: The Fastest Racer,” Henry V. King, The Sun and New York Herald, June 13, 1920

[15] William H.P. Robertson “The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America.”

[16] “Step and Go Together: The World of Horses and Horsemanship by B.K. Beckwith published 1967

[17] “The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America,” by William H. P. Robertson 1964

[18] Step and Go Together: The World of Horses and Horsemanship by B.K. Beckwith 1967

Was The Fix In?

As a Two Year Old

Upset holding off a late charge by Man o’ War

All of Man O’ War’s breezes showed that he could run. At two he was running faster than the first Triple Crown Winner Sir Barton’s quick pace in the Preakness, but how would he handle the stresses of the track? His maiden, or first, race proved that he had no problems with all of the sights, sounds, people moving and shouting, or the energy and antics of other horses.

He would face five colts and two fillies at Belmont Park on Friday, June 6, 1919 late in the afternoon, however the course shrunk by one when Black Hackle was scratched. All of the horses had yet to win a race, and Man o’ War had America’s darling, Johnny Loftus, up.  Loftus recently won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness on the horse that would soon be considered the first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton.

Back then there were no starting gates. Instead, they used what was called a tape or a webbing barrier. All of the horses lined up as best as they could behind this barrier, and when all horses seemed satisfactory, the barrier would be released. Often horses would break through the barrier before the start, and all of the horses would be recalled back to the starting line to try once again. Man O’ War often was guilty of this.

Even though Loftus was told to start slow, Man O’ War had other ideas. He broke so fast through the barrier, it caught everyone by surprise. He flew down the stretch while Loftus worked at reining him in. The one horse that challenged him was a filly named Retrieve. Soon daylight was sparkling between them after a quarter mile, and when they approached the last furlong of the race, Loftus let him loose. As soon as that bit pressure evaporated, he broke into a fierce run and left Retrieve and the others behind. Loftus, wanted to save his energy by standing up in the stirrups when they crossed the finish line trying to slow him down. He won by six lengths in :59 flat, which was the second fastest time at Belmont Park that spring. The Daily Racing Form said, “Won cantering; second and third driving. Man o’ War broke fast, held sway throughout, and was under stout restraint at the end. Retrieve showed high early speed, but tired in the final eighth.”

People noticed. The turf editor for the New York Morning Telegraph wrote, “He made half-a-dozen high-class youngsters look like $200 horses.”

Man O’ War ran three days later in the Keene Memorial stakes at Belmont Park winning by three lengths. He had a brief rest before running June 21st in the Youthful Stakes, winning by 2 ½ lengths. He moved onto Aqueduct Racetrack to run in the Hudson Stakes where he won by ½ a length. He stayed to run in the Tremont Stakes and won at a fast pace and “unextended” according to the Daily Racing Form.

Saratoga opened, and Man o’ War quickly displayed what everyone was talking about by winning the United States Hotel States by two lengths, and he beat for the first time his infamous foe Upset. In the Grand Union Stakes, he beat Upset again by one length. His last race in Saratoga that season was in the Hopeful Stakes winning easily by four lengths. His last race for 1919 was back at Belmont Park. With each race his popularity grew. Not even Babe Ruth or Jack Dempsey could capture the love and admiration of fans like Man o’ War did.

There was one other race at Saratoga not mentioned in the above paragraph that remains controversial for racing historians to this day; the Sanford Memorial. This was Man o’ War’s only loss. But was it bad racing luck, or was the fix in?

Before the race day even began, it started to crumble the night before. Mars Cassidy called in sick the morning of the Sanford. The night before was Cassidy’s birthday, and some say that he decided to treat a case of tonsillitis with some medicinal liquor. There was a huge party at Tom Luther’s Lake House celebrating Cassidy’s birthday, and many horse people were up most of the night. Since Cassidy was too ill to attend the races, they needed to find a replacement to start the races. Track officials chose Charles H. Pettingill, who used to be an excellent starter thirty years ago. However, his eyesight was failing, and filling in for Cassidy seemed a poor one. Only two of seven starts went off well that day.

On August 13th, Man o’ War and Golden Broom would carry 130 pounds; 15 to 17 more pounds than any of the other horses in the race. They do this to give horses with less experience or less wins a chance, thus being successful makes things more challenging and harder on a horse such as Man o’ War. Upset and The Swimmer only carried 115 pounds, while Captain Alcock, Armistice and Donnacona carried 112 pounds.

According to Loftus, Riddle told him to hold Man o’ War back at the start of the race for three furlongs before letting him loose. While trying to get all of the horses to line up ready to start the race, Golden Broom broke through the webbing three times. Despite Golden Broom’s anxiousness, Man o’ War stayed calm. Some say that when the race finally started, Loftus was circling Man o’ War and was a few lengths back from the starting line. Some say that he was facing backwards. Time and exaggeration creates a lot of different stories of this one moment. According to the exercise rider for the Riddle Barn, Clyde Gordon, Loftus said he was facing the inner rail. He was “waiting for Pettingill, the starter, to make room for him in the line at the post, when Pet got excited and pulled it.”[1] Whatever did happen, one thing is for certain, Man o’ War had the worst start in his racing career. He only beat two horses at the start; The Swimmer and Captain Alcock.

Golden Broom broke on top at a very quick pace with Upset following. Man o’ War’s bad break gave Golden Broom a full second lead ahead of him. Golden Broom quickly established a two length lead with Donnacona moving up along the outside to take over second place. A furlong into it Donnacona cut Golden Broom’s lead down to one length with Upset a head behind. Man o’ War moved into fourth place coming up alongside Upset. Loftus could have taken the lead if he would have let Man o’ War move up at this point, however Riddle said to hold him back the first three furlongs. Loftus decided to stay where he was, which proved to be a decision that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Upset moved ahead of Donnacona with Man o’ War in third place riding along the rail. Donnacona fell back to 4th place with his shoulders running along Man o’ War’s hindquarters. Golden Broom stayed right in front of him with Upset to his right. He was boxed in. All avenues to get around Upset and Golden Broom were slammed shut. Loftus figured that either Upset or Donnacona would fade soon giving him the opening he needed to win the race.

Willie Knapp told Sports Illustrated, “Many of the guys who rode with me wouldn’t last two races before being set down for a year these days. In my day [1918] we got a boy in a pocket and left him there. None of this business about giving racing room.”[2]

In the stretch for home Golden Broom stayed on the rail with Upset leading by a half a length. Loftus couldn’t swing out, because Donnacona would clip his rear hooves. Here comes Captain Alcock.  Finally, Golden Broom couldn’t maintain the pace with 130 pounds on his back and a crack in his hoof. He collapsed into third place. Loftus decided it was time to risk losing momentum and go around the horses to the outside, and Knapp knew that if he didn’t get on Upset, they would lose the race. While he urged Upset on, Man o’ War moved to the outside. Knapp demanded every last bit of courage and heart that Upset had as Man o’ War quickly closed in. It wasn’t enough though, and Man o’ War lost by half a length, although other say it was more of a neck. If Man o’ War would have had a few more strides to the finish line, he would have won. This became the start of the nickname, “Graveyard of Champions” for Saratoga.

Loftus took the loss hardest of all at first. Nobody could cheer him up, and Loftus went out of his way to avoid everyone. Loftus blamed his own mistakes, the bad start, and called Man o’ War the most courageous of horses. Not long after rumors began to fly that Knapp and Loftus were on the take or both had bet on Upset, and devised Man o’ War’s loss. However, Man o’ War’s odds were short, and they say that bookies would have raised the odds in order to attract more people to make a bad bet. Upset went off at 8-1 and Man o’ War went off at 1-2. Riddle wouldn’t believe that Loftus threw the race, but he did over time believe with anger that Loftus made bad choices and gave Man o’ War a bad ride. The question was why would Loftus allow Man o’ War to stay on the rail for so long when he had one chance early on in the race to go along the outside? The failure in judgment spawned many doubts as to whether or not it was an honest ride.

“He rode a good race,” Knapp said of Loftus. “When you consider the poor start and the way [Eddie Ambrose, riding Golden Broom] and me wouldn’t let him through down the stretch, Loftus couldn’t be blamed. He was a very good boy–one of the best.”[3]

Olin Gentry of Darby Dan Farm says “It was a terrible shame. I knew Johnny Loftus. He was a great rider and a fine gentleman. He never did a dishonest thing in his life.”[4]

By this time everyone assumed Man o’ War was unbeatable. In every single race up to the Sanford, he won with ease, and was slowed down by his jockey in the final yards to save energy. Big Red had thousands of fans cheering for him, following him, and anxiously awaiting each race. He made people happy and excited, and he raised the bar for American racing. Suddenly, America had the best horse in the world; not Europe, which dominated ever since the breeding of thoroughbreds began. People couldn’t believe that he could lose without a very good reason.

Also, there was a comment made by Bill Knapp to the trainer of Upset, James Rowe Sr. about how he thought Upset would beat Man o’ War that day. Many believed that meant the fix was on. However, remember that big party on the lake for Mars Cassidy? Well, Knapp was probably talking about that. Knapp went to bed nice and early the night before to be ready for the race. When he was walking to the track around 5:30 in the morning, he saw Loftus walking home from a long night out celebrating. Knapp probably thought there was no way Loftus would be mentally or physically ready for the race.

Whatever happened that day, both jockeys would have their licenses permanently suspended by the Jockey Club at the end of the season. They never issued a reason why they suspended both jockeys fueling the rumors and controversy to this day. Upset may have beaten him this time, but he never came close in their next two meetings. Nobody did.

[1] Hatton, “Delaware Park: Harmonizing Horse to Beat in Sussex Handicap Today.”

[2] “The Men They Call Boys,” written by Huston Horn for Sports Illustrated. June 8, 1964

[3] “War Stories” written by Bill Christine for the Los Angeles Times. August, 13, 1999

[4] “Classic Lines: A Gallery of the Great Thoroughbreds” by Richard Stone Reeves and Patrick Robinson 1975

Back In The Saddle Again

Chaco with a saddle on for the first time in four months

I held his saddle pad by his nose, so he could smell his own scent on it. I let him play with it for a little bit to allow him time to remember what it was and to get comfortable with it. I then rubbed the saddle pad all over his body to remind him that it was nothing to be afraid of before I gently put it on his back. Four long months passed without a saddle on his back, four months of healing his leg from a long ago injury on the track, and four months of him being filled with mischievous energy at not working for so long.

Chaco exploring his saddle

Usually, when a horse is off for a long period of time, you do groundwork with the saddle on to get them used to the feel of the saddle and the cinch again before you even think of getting back on. I usually work with a horse for three to four days on the ground with the saddle on before I put my weight on the horse’s back again. I want to make sure they get any and all bucking out, and I want to remind them that I’m the alpha, that they can trust me in the saddle, and that I’m the one that can move their feet; not the other way around. This time I can’t do my usual routine, because his surgeon wants me to ride him at the walk for three weeks before I am allowed to trot or lope him; we’re doing everything backwards.

Luckily, he and I have a strong relationship. I go out of my way to spend a lot of time with my boys without asking them for anything; which I believe is a huge part in training a horse. I think a lot of people overlook this step; they just want to ride. I understand the desire to ride, because these past four months have been excruciating. However, if you don’t work on the relationship part of it, your horse won’t take care of you, won’t go that extra mile or into that extra gear for you, because they don’t feel they are working in partnership with you.

I often go out to the pasture and sit in the middle of it, and let them come up to me when they want to. If something is spooking them like the fox, I hang out with them until they calm down, and I make sure we play a lot. My grandpa always encouraged play time with horses, and I still do it today. Shandoka and I used to run all over the paddock together, Chaco and I now do this, and Harley likes to grab hold of my jacket or scooper to play a little tug of war.

Also, when Chaco was on stall rest for two weeks, I often found myself right behind him or under him. I often walked under his neck while he was eating, and he slept with his head on my lap. Then, there were the times I tripped and fell into him. What did he do? Turned and looked at me wondering what the heck I did while not moving an inch. He allowed me to pull his stitches without any numbing agent while kneeling directly under his belly. Not once did he hurt me, so even though I was a little nervous about getting back on him, I completely trusted him.

For three days we did our walking rehabilitation time with the saddle on, and he accepted it like no time passed without it. On the fourth day, it was time to climb on. I first pushed down on each stirrup with all of my weight. I then stood on the fence while putting my leg across the seat of the saddle pushing down with my leg, and then I slowly slid into the saddle. His ears moved back towards me, waiting for a cue. I told him I loved him, pet him all over, and then I clucked. He moved off easily and smoothly and with full confidence. His ears went forward and he seemed happy! I was wondering if he would be happy or grumpy, because he has worked hard since he was one-year-old. With all of this time off, which he enjoyed, I wondered if wanted to retire. His ears spoke volumes; he was anything but done.

How did it feel for me? It was the best fifteen minutes I’ve had in months. Three weeks of riding for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, and then 25 minutes before we can trot and lope, but I tell you I’m thrilled with walking right now. I kept hearing my grandpa tell me how the best jockeys danced with their horses. We danced Grandpa!

Man o’ War – First Year

Born of Royalty

Feelings were mixed when he went to the Saratoga sales. Sam Riddle already passed up buying him months before. Recovering from distemper, he was on the thin side with a dull coat. Questions arose about one of his hooves and if it could withstand the demands of racing. Despite all of this, a few saw through all that could be considered wrong and saw all that was right.

Bred by August Belmont II, Man o’ War was born on March 29, 1917 at the Nursery Stud just before midnight. His coat was chestnut, and he was tall from the moment he hit the ground standing three and a half feet high with a wide girth holding the biggest of hearts and most powerful of lungs with the capacity to run at any distance. His dam was Mahubah and his sire was Fair Play. Several foals were born at the Nursery Stud that year, so Man o’ War didn’t necessarily stand out, but he was noticed.

Mahubah was a nervous yet gentle filly like her sire Rock Sand who won the English Triple Crown. She was a bay mare with a long body and strong hindquarters perfect for speed and distance. She only raced five times winning one race and placed second making a total of $390 in her racing career. Belmont never raced fillies that he intended to breed for long. He raced them to see if they showed any promise, and then retired them for breeding saving their energy for their foals. She was bred to Fair Play five times having five foals, which is why everyone refers to her as Fair Play’s wife. The most famous of her five foals were Masda, My Play, and Man O’ War. After her fifth foal, she became barren. Mahubah and Fair Play are buried next to one another in Kentucky.

Man o’ War got his chestnut coat from his sire Fair Play as well as his unusual white blaze that ran crooked down his face. Fair Play’s sire was Hastings who was quite the racehorse in his day, and known for his fiery personality.

Louis Feustel, Man o’ War’s future trainer, used to be an exercise rider for August Belmont II. He knew what Man o’ War would be like after having to work with Hastings, Fairplay and Mahubah, but Hastings really showed Man o’ War’s hand.

“I was assigned to gallop him [Hastings] an easy half mile one morning. Two miles later, with him going like a runaway locomotive, somebody picked us up. I was never allowed to get on him again. And that was alright with me,” said Feustel.[1]

The 1896 Belmont Stakes winner, is said to have bit and rammed other horses during races. When Hastings retired, his nasty temperament worsened. They say Hastings became so hard to handle that he refused to wear a halter, and his groom carried a big stick at all times whenever he went in to handle him. Finally, it became so dangerous to work with him, they built a fenced path for Hastings to walk from his stall out to his paddock to minimize handling.

Hasting’s son Fair Play would have been considered a great horse if he didn’t have to compete against Colin who ran undefeated in 15 starts beating Fair Play several times. They say Colin had another gear, that when threatened by another horse, he switched into that gear and could leave everyone behind with ease. During Colin’s third year, he bowed one or maybe two tendons. After Colin was hurt and healing, Fair Play easily won many major races setting several records.

One of the most exciting Belmont Stake’s ever run was what turned out to be a duel to the end between Colin and Fair Play in 1908. Colin three weeks earlier beat Fair Play in the Withers Stakes by two lengths at a cost. Rumors spread that he bowed a tendon in one of his forelegs. After a work, it was said he pulled up lame. On the day of the Belmont Stakes, he appeared in the paddock with his legs wrapped. Some stories say his trainer, James Rowe, didn’t believe that Colin should race, however other versions state he and his owner James R. Keene insisted he was sound and not in pain. A veterinarian also backed up Keene’s statement. There he stood in the paddock with Fair Play ready to duel again. Fair Play was up to the challenge hot with excited energy kicking the sides of his stall demanding to hit the track.

It was a stormy day, and the track became a thick, deep mud. The rain came down so hard nobody could see the race as it progressed. However, two horses with hearts of champions emerged fighting it out down the stretch. It seemed that Colin despite his bad leg would win the race easily by three to five lengths. However, there was a different finish line for this race, which was 150 feet away from the normal finish line. When Colin’s jockey, Joe Notter crossed the standard finish line, some say he began to ease Colin up forgetting they still had more race to go. Others say that Colin’s leg began to falter or he started to tire. Whatever the reason, Eddie Dugan and Fair Play did not forget. Fair Play charged on fighting with each stride narrowing the distance between him and Colin. Colin feeling Fair Play gaining tried to gain momentum, which is challenging for a racehorse to do once they begin to slow. Notter immediately began to ride Colin hard as he heard Fair Play’s thundering hooves closing in. Fair Play would not give up. Colin won by maybe three feet, but it was Fair Play’s fight to the end that caught the eye of all. That heart, that fight, and the desire to win, Fair Play gave to Man O’ War.

When New York tracks shut down due to new laws prohibiting gambling, Colin and Fair Play were shipped off to England to race. Colin suffered another injury and was retired to stud in England. Fair Play raced six times never winning a race. Racing on turf was not his thing, and his attitude quickly soured. Hasting’s temperament seeped into Fair Play who was retired to stud in Kentucky where he began his new career as a successful sire for August Belmont.

Belmont became strapped with debt and embroiled in the First World War, so he decided to sell off most of his horses. At first, he was going to keep two colts one of which was Man o’ War. After some thought, he decided that would hurt the sale of his other horses if people thought he kept the best horses for himself. He decided to sell Man o’ War with the others.

Sam Riddle actually had a chance to buy the horses prior to the Saratoga Sale, but he decided against it baffling his young, new trainer Louis Feustel. Riddle decided to trust the judgment of his niece’s trainer rather than Feustel due to the fact that Mike Daly was older and had more experience. Daly found them to be unimpressive. Despite being ill with distemper, Man o’ War caught the eye of Feustel who kept him in mind when they attended the Saratoga sales.

At Saratoga interest swarmed around the Belmont yearlings, since Belmont was the premier thoroughbred breeder at the time. Again, Man o’ War interested some while turning others away.  Riddle claimed that the moment he saw him, he recognized his greatness.  This claim was disputed by others including a sworn affidavit by Jim Maddux in 1920.  According to Maddux, Riddle stated that he wouldn’t spend one dollar on Man o’ War. Man o’ War s coat was dull and rough with ribs popping out caused by the lingering effects of distemper. He also hated staying in a stall after roaming freely on pasture most of his life. Not only did they see an unhealthy looking coat but a nervous horse. Nervous horses tend to use up all of their energy before a race even starts. Another question that worried prospective buyers was would he be able to handle the boredom of being in a stall for up to 20 hours a day? Also, in his conversation with Maddux, Riddle stated that Man o’ War had a crooked foot, which his trainer, Louis Feustel pointed out to him. Feustel later denied this stating that his left forefoot was a tad narrower than his other feet. Pointing this out didn’t mean that Feustel had given up on Man o’ War at all. Quite the contrary.

Four horses were the limit on what Riddle would buy, and Man o’ War was in the top four. Feustel wanted Man o’ War, but he wasn’t sure Riddle would pay the price he might go for at the auction. Feustel went to the real boss in the family, Elizabeth Riddle, Sam Riddles wife.

Man o’ War was the seventh yearling to go up for auction. When led in, he “showed plenty of spirit in the sales paddock,” commented Kentucky Derby promoter Matt Winn. Riddle faced some steep competition in bidding. When the number climbed close to $5,000, Riddle was about to let Man o’ War go. Feustel couldn’t get him to budge.  The auctioneer kept prodding the audience for another bid when Mrs. Riddle sealed the deal by urging her husband to buy him for their trainer who showed a lot of belief in him. She told her husband that if he didn’t buy him, she would. His wife won, and Riddle put in the final bid of $5,000. Sam Riddle bought the best horse that some say ever lived, because he couldn’t say no to his wife. With that an amazing journey began.

Riddle soon began to question his purchase when it seemed impossible to get a saddle and rider on his back. According to Lou Feustel, he had problems with Man o’ War, or Big Red, from the very beginning. Like Fair Play and Hastings, Big Red rebelled against everything different. His grandsire Hastings threw every exercise boy he could until a young man named Red came along. For some reason Hastings liked him, and from then on he improved to be the fasted horse in the barn. He still was one of the meanest horses around, but luckily Feustel handled Hastings and his offspring. He was totally prepared for what Big Red would throw his way.

Feustel was a true horseman in that he knew trying to overpower a horse could ruin their spirit. Instead, it was better to walk alongside the horse with each new introduction and create the space where the horse figures out what you want while thinking it is his or her idea. When it came to someone sitting and moving on his back behind him, he challenged Feustel with everything he had.

The first time someone got on his back, he exploded with such rage that no one could catch him for fifteen minutes after. They say that he threw the exercise rider forty feet. This replayed over and over. He didn’t like the feel of the bit or the snugness of the cinch. He especially didn’t like the weight of someone on his back.

“Once or twice I really began to wonder just when and how it was going to end,”[2] commented Sam Riddle.

Feustel once said, “He was hell to break, a headache to handle, and a catapult to ride.”

Finally, along the shores of Maryland, Big Red gave in. Man o’ War realized that they weren’t going to stop trying, and he decided to finally go along with it. He was paired up with a much calmer horse named Major Treat, which helped Man o’ War focus his energy where it needed to be; on racing fast.

[1] “Step and Go Together: The World of Horses and Horsemanship,” by B.K. Beckwith 1967

[2] John Hervey “The Turf Career of Man O’ War” unpublished manuscript (1933) later serialized by Horse magazine; available through the National Sporting Library (Middleburg (1933), Virginia).

Next week I will publish a blog on his first year of racing as a two-year-old.

Age Isn’t Slowing Him Down

Chaco and Harley checking out the poles before we start working

Since I don’t know the day Harley was born, I count the first of the year as his birthday like they do for thoroughbreds, which means he is 19. Yes, he is getting up there, but he is pretty spry. He doesn’t wan’t to retire yet, and he gallops around with Chaco easily. Christmas Day 2017 he came up completely lame in his left front leg with swelling and heat. Each time I wrapped his leg he would shake with fear due to the pain. It killed me. It broke my heart, and ever since that day he has had a recurring gimpiness in his left front leg. I call it gimpy, because even though I wouldn’t call it a full limp you can tell it bothers him from time to time.

Harley is the best horse. He will do whatever you ask of him simply because he trusts you to not lead him into trouble. For years he gave kids rides at a local dude ranch serving as the horse in their cowboy dreams. I often wonder how many times the kids kicked him pretending to chase after the bad guys, or how many screamed and cried scared to death; he never bucked anyone off as far as I know. What I do know is when my neighbor brought her toddler over one morning, he ran the other way. He wanted nothing to do with any kid anymore. Can you blame him?

While he was at the dude ranch, they never did any physical conditioning, so Harley is going to have a sway back. He carries all of his weight down in his stomach because of this, and I feel that this lent to the problems with his leg. They also didn’t take care of his hooves at all, and his toes were way too long and he walked toe first. His front left hoof was the worst. In another blog to come, I’ll tell you about how I learned how to trim hooves because of him, and how his hooves are in much better shape.

When Chaco went in for surgery, I decided to do exactly the same rehabilitation with him as I did with Chaco. He got a month on small turnout, and I began walking him for fifteen minutes a day when Chaco started. Now we are doing 25 minutes a day. As he progressed I added poles, and we walked and then trotted over them. However, I never put him on the lunge line; instead I led him through all of the routines. Each time after our works I expected him to be sore, but each time he comes out of it better and better.

This is when I realized this is a much better way to work with a senior horse. Why in the world should they be put on the lunge and forced to do circles, which can be hard on their joints? Harley and I trot circles together, but his leg seems to handle them better when we trot them off the line and together instead. Why? Off the lunge, he and I can vary the circle size based upon how he is doing that day. I think not having the strain of sustaining the same size circle over and over is much easier on his joints, and I can trot him out of it into a straight line whenever I want. Basically, getting away from the lunge allows for a lot more creativity in what you can do with your horses and how to get them back into shape. We can easily vary the exercises without the constraint of the lunge line, and the fantastic thing is he has lost weight while his leg remains sound.

This is called picking up sticks. I kept them all on the ground the first time without any elevation as we worked with this exercise, and we crossed the poles in all different ways getting more and more challenging as we went along. Harley decided to check it out and move a few of the poles to positions he liked better. He literally picked them up with his mouth and moved them.

I do several targeted exercises based upon Jec Ballou’s book, Equine Fitness, for both of the horses. I find that they really create balance and symmetry in the horses, and they help strengthen and warm up the joints in a beneficial way. Instead of riding Harley through the exercises, we do them all on the ground together. Soon we will do them under saddle, but this was a great way to start. I like going through the obstacles with him for another reason; it really develops a strong relationship. When he sees that I am right there with him, it strengthens our partnership; he doesn’t have to face it alone. Harley wasn’t worked in the arena much at all during his life after his initial training, so everything I’m asking of him is new and mentally challenging for him. It can be scary, so being by his side helps. More importantly, we have a lot of fun together. For Harley the exercises have helped strengthen up his back, and I did get it to lift a couple of inches since I brought him home.

This day we did all sorts of routines. We walked straight across them, we walked through them diagonally, and we wove around them. We also did small figure eights crossing diagonally over the middle one. We did each exercises first at the walk, and then we trotted each exercise.

This weekend it is time to put a saddle on him and ride him for fifteen minutes. I’m looking forward to see how he does. When I can start riding Chaco, Harley will be by his side each step literally. He is healthy and sound enough to hit the trail with Chaco again, and his age isn’t slowing him down. He will let me know when he’s ready to retire, but for now, he is as eager to go as Chaco is.

Forget that lunge and really work WITH your horses instead of standing there while they run around you. It is a lot more fun, a lot more creative, a lot more dynamic, and a heck of a lot more beneficial for you and your horses; senior or otherwise.

So Close But So Far

Snow moved into Colorado after a very long absence over the holidays bringing a sigh of relief to everyone fearing another year of drought. Do we still have to worry about drought? Yes, but we are gaining.

I discovered this morning that two fox made a den by the year-long creek that borders my neighbor’s property. I couldn’t figure out what was spooking Chaco and Harley so much until I heard the fox chatting with my dogs while we were walking this morning. In the past Chaco and Harley would stand behind Shandoka, and when he stopped worrying, they would. Now they don’t have him to let them know if they are safe or unsafe, so Chaco is on a major learning curve. Harley got over it faster than Chaco has, but even he got nervous. I believe the fox worked their way to our property one night, because they both refused to cross this imaginary line in their paddock. Harley swiped his nose through the snow a few times while standing his ground. I had to catch them and walk them over that line to show them that all was well.

A week before the storm came and a few days after Chaco was put out on full turnout, I could tell that Chaco was sore. He was fine when I said goodnight to him, but the following morning he favored his leg. He walked fine on it, but when at rest, his right rear was the one that got all the rest. I saw a bunch of deer scat next to the fence, and I instantly knew what happened. Chaco and the deer were playing with one another when he strained something. Luckily, a few days of rest healed it all up, but it slowed down our rehabilitation program.

The storm brought seven inches of snow, which could have been a problem with continuing Chaco’s walks. However, I decided it was perfect to work out those muscles and to get him to lift his leg, all of his legs, higher while walking. It became the perfect exercise tool. He and Harley had to work to walk, and to walk they needed to use those muscles of their hind end a lot! The snow I believe caught us up on the days that we lost to the deer incident.

However, I am supposed to start riding him for fifteen minutes a day, and I’m not sure where or how. The snow, due to warmer temperatures, is a sheet of ice in most spots. The footing is not good, so I will continue walking him until I can get on him. The last thing I need is for him to take a bad step with weight on his back.

I have him on a supplement for his leg, and it seems to be helping. However, I do believe he needs more protection due to the cartilage damage. The surgeon wanted him to get Irap injections. I’m not going to describe that whole process, but basically they draw blood and create the Irap to inject back into the joint that is injured. It is completely natural, and it has no known side effects like steroid injections do. We can’t afford that though, because it would cost about $2,000 due to all of the damage. We are going to do a Pro-Stride injection, which is similar, and he would only need one injection per year. The Irap would require five injections over five weeks per year. Also, the cost is only $450.

Pro-Stride output produces a concentrated solution of cells, platelets, growth factors, and anti-inflammatory proteins, and is created from the horse’s own blood. When this highly concentrated solution is injected into a joint, it binds to and stops the inflammatory proteins that are causing pain and cartilage destruction. This is what Chaco needs to be pain free, and prevent anymore cartilage damage. I’ve read how it is very effective with stifle joints. There are three small joints in the stifle, and Chaco only has damage in one of the joints, which is called the femoropatellar joint.

Right now I’m trying to figure out how to get there, because the only vet that does this on the Western Slope of Colorado is three hours away over several mountain passes in Durango, CO. I need to figure out the safest time to go, because the vet can’t come here. Keep your fingers and toes crossed for us.

In the meantime, we walk, he grazes all day, and we goof off. He is bored to death though, and he wants to get back to work. He likes to go to the arena and work hard, and I know he misses trail riding. I keep promising him soon enough even though it seems so far off.

Rillito Boy

My grandpa is standing to the left of the Guys and Dolls banner with his hand on my Aunt Carole who is wearing the polka dotted skirt. My grandma is holding up the banner at the corner by Rillito Boy. My mom is standing behind her towards Rillito Boy and holding the white purse.

If a horse loses an eye, some will tell you to put the horse down. They say the horse will never be able to get around or be able to do anything of merit. Luckily, other people realize that it is just something that a horse can adjust to and overcome, because of their amazing senses.

A couple of years ago a thoroughbred named Patch qualified for the Kentucky Derby, and he is proved that losing an eye has nothing to do with speed and heart. While many are in awe about this with good reason, my grandpa wouldn’t be surprised by Patch. He also would love to follow Hard Not To Love. He would understand what she goes through before a race better than most.


Back in 1951, a bay thoroughbred colt was born to Mrs. Marge Allen; a prominent horse breeder and horse racing enthusiast in Arizona. The story goes that one night a bad storm moved in with a lot of thunder and lightning. Rillito Boy was a newly weaned colt, and he got the idea that the stallion in the next pasture might be good to hang out with during the storm. I’m sure he was scared, and he wanted to be with an older horse for comfort and protection. Whatever the reason, Rillito Boy climbed through the barbed wire fence injuring his eye causing him to lose all vision in it. Mrs. Allen and her trainer, Manny Figueroa, both saw a horse that didn’t seem hampered at all by the loss of his eye, so they put him into training when he was ready. Figueroa told my grandpa, “This is why he is so tough.” Rillito Boy had a reputation amongst humans and horses for being fierce as you will see.

Whenever I visited my grandpa, I pulled out the photo albums of his horses and asked him to tell me about Rillito Boy again and again. I never tired of hearing about him. He is the type of horse that most people run from, but for some reason he was the exact horse my grandpa and I both were drawn to. He told me about how hard he was to handle by past grooms, how he ripped a groom’s lip off, and how he took a chunk out of another groom’s ribs one day.

My mom, Lanie Fouch, recently said, “There were many times that we had former grooms come up and tell us that he had put them in the hospital, or at least knocked them against the wall. I could always go in with him, and so could Daddy. However, I never let my guard down.”

Grandpa marveled at his desire to win. “Once he bit a horse on the neck that was beating him, and he got disqualified for that,” chuckled my Grandpa. He got such a kick out of horses that had fire in their belly.

My mom said, “If a horse acted up next to him in a gate, he would reach over and bite his neck. It must have gotten around among the other horses, because eventually horses that were next to him were perfect in the gate.”

My grandpa was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he brought jukeboxes, pinball machines and the first drive-in movie theatre to Fox Point, Wisconsin. When my mom developed rheumatic fever, the family moved to Tucson, Arizona where my grandfather got involved with horse racing.

“Our first quarter horse was kept at Mr. Jelk’s place on the backstretch at Rillito Park. That must be how Daddy got to know Manny (Figueroa) and Mrs. Allen. The whole atmosphere around that little race track and the people were great. We had lots of rich people, we had mobsters, and we had the people on the backstretch; they were great. They accepted Daddy and the rest of our family right away,” said my Mom.

My grandpa also lost vision in one of his eyes. My mom isn’t sure what happened, but he came home from the eye doctor in severe pain. She remembers my grandma doing everything she could to help him. He never made an issue of it, and in fact, he seemed to see things more clearly than all of us with two eyes. He would take me to visit the horses, and he taught me to close my eyes while running my hands down a horse’s legs. Eyes can fool us he explained, but our hands feel the truth. I still do this, and he’s right; our eyes see what they want to see.

When my grandpa and Rillito Boy met, I think Rillito Boy, a thoroughbred, knew my grandpa understood him, which made him feel a bit safer. They both knew what the other one went through. That silent communication between horse and human that my grandpa excelled at possibly allowed Rillito Boy to let his guard down a bit. My mom said she always kept an eye on him when she was around him, but my grandpa said she could walk under his belly if she wanted to. Rillito Boy knew he found people that understood him, accepted him, and didn’t try to muscle him. My grandpa always told me to be creative when working with a horse; that trainers get into ruts thinking one method is good for every horse.

Some might think a horse with only one eye couldn’t be a good racehorse, because they can’t see their competition coming. While horses have great vision, their hearing is often what alerts them as to what to look at. Since they are prey animals, all of their senses are heightened, so losing an eye could be a problem; not a disaster. My guess is Rillito Boy could hear them and feel them coming. It sounded to me from all of the stories I heard that he was an incredibly astute horse. He learned what my grandpa taught me; your eyes can tell lies.

Rillito Boy was a sprinter that placed in the money forty-eight times. One race in the photo album stood out the most for me, because everyone is so happy in it. It is a race that stands out for my mom as well.

On April 13, 1956, the Arizona Republic spotlighted the 5 ½ furlong race called Guys and Dolls at Arizona Downs. The six horses in the race were “Arizona Downs” stars, and Rillito Boy was one of those horses. He just won at Santa Anita Park in California, and he was going against two others that the paper thought could win the race: Sistony and Karen Arthene.

When the gate opened that day, the other horses never had a chance. All of the fight and love for running that roared through Rillito Boy’s veins broke out of the gate on top leaving all the horses with perfect eyes in his dust. Try as they might they couldn’t catch him. Rillito Boy ran with such purpose and drive that he led the others by more than six lengths in the backstretch. When he crossed the finish line, he broke the track record with a time of 1:03 3/5 and ran one of the fastest sprints in 1956 winning by several lengths.

If Mrs. Allen or my grandpa thought Rillito’s lost eye ruined him, Rillito Boy never would have been able to do what he loved most; run. Some horses are never made to hit the track, but Rillito Boy was. He loved to run, and my grandpa enjoyed every moment with him. I enjoyed sitting at this feet listening to him tell me stories about his stride, his powerful shoulders and hindquarters, the fight in him, the grooms that he had his way with, how he won by a tongue (yes, he stuck his tongue out to win a race), and how he thought Rillito Boy would have liked me; which I asked him all the time. My grandpa taught me through these stories to not give up on a horse because others have, or because others tell you to. If you see something in a horse, believe in it. They also taught me is that disabilities aren’t a limitation unless we make it so; my grandpa showed me that every day. Often a horse’s limitations are the ones we impose upon them, and luckily no one did that to Rillito Boy or Patch or Hard Not To Love.

Losing Your Heart Horse


I received an email from someone today who just lost her “heart” horse saying that she resents her other horses, and she doesn’t know what to do. She asked me how I reconnected with my other two after Shandoka died. I know to some this may seem strange, but I’ve seen this more than a few times.

What is a “heart” horse? A Heart Horse is that horse that you have the most amazing bond with, a friendship that transcends all friendships, a trust that is immeasurable, and a love that runs as deep as it gets.

Shandoka and I were as close as a human and horse could get. He had a rough start in life, and when I took him in, he challenged the heck out of me. I don’t blame him. Humans never gave him a reason to trust him, yet for some reason he decided to give me a chance. I took that chance with little confidence in myself. I hadn’t been around or worked with horses in years. All I had in my back pocket were my grandfather’s words and teachings, and I didn’t know if that would be enough.

My grandpa was a natural with horses, and he said that I was as well. All I know is that I loved them deeply. There is nothing like the partnership, because that is what it is, between a horse and a person. They don’t have to have anything to do with us at all, but for some reason they allow us in. Getting in isn’t always easy. You need to earn their trust, and more importantly their respect. Once you do, it is amazing. It is a privilege that I never take for granted.

Shandoka was wild and distrustful. The wild part never bothered me, but the distrustful part concerned me. Sometimes a horse after being taught they can’t trust humans never will. The first time I put Shandoka in the round pen with me, he did everything he could to try and make my feet move. See, that is the key to the start of any relationship with a horse. You want the horse to know that you can move their feet forwards and backwards and move their rib cage, hindquarters and shoulders.

Shandoka was determined to move my feet, and I was equally determined to move his. He ran at me several times. I didn’t move. I used my stick to redirect him by swinging it in front of me; not by hitting him. He ran by me and bucked at my head. Lucky for me I do yoga, and I did a nice back bend; his hoof never landed. I made him trot and lope around, changing directions often until finally he would let me touch him. Did I mention how he didn’t like to be touched when I got him? After he let me touch him, I would quit and walk away. The moment you relieve the pressure the horse learns what the best choice is.

When I was a teenager, we claimed a horse named Scubber at the track. He was a big, beautiful bay horse that carried his head so elegantly. He had a nice shoulder and even better hindquarters. He came to us with an elevated white blood cell count, worms, and scared of everyone. My grandpa told me to get into the stall with him, and to let him come to me. Scubber had a gentle heart and soft eye, and I never felt threatened by him at all. He didn’t know if he could trust us, and a lot of that came from his last trainer I believe. He didn’t have the best reputation on the track. My grandpa never liked people with a heavy hand or belief in the 2×4 method of training a horse. He always said to me, “Why would anyone want a broke horse when you can have a gentled horse?” All horses loved him, because he understood them. Grandpa may have been blind in one eye, but he could see everything that needed to be seen in a horse, and they all responded to that.

I never felt like I had my grandpa’s eye, but I climbed into the stall, stood in the corner, kept my eyes down on the ground, and waited. Within a few minutes, Scubber came up to me and let me start loving on him. Scubber and I adored one another. I often snuck down to the track to visit him and sleep with him in his stall. My friends had just been murdered, and Scubber and Vehicle (our other racehorse) were my solace, my peace, and a bit of healing. All of the dang tears I wept on their shoulders.

For those first three days I went into the round pen with Shandoka, I brought the spirit of Scubber in with us. Each day Shandoka challenged me, each day I stood my ground, and each day it took less time before he walked up to me letting me pet him. On the fourth day I told him I wouldn’t round pen him if he let me walk up and pet him. Tense, his head held high and taught, I slowly walked up to him and reached out towards his shoulder. My hand touched him lightly, and the muscles twitched under my fingers. I put a little bit more direct pressure upon his shoulder as I pet him while he stood there letting me. However, his eye was wild. There was nothing soft in them, so slowly I kept petting him moving from his shoulder to his neck. I reached around to the other side of his neck while facing him when I found a deep, scabbed cut at his poll. He tensed as I ran my fingers gently around it until I rested my hand upon it. This is when everything changed. He let out a deep sigh licked his lips, and his eye softened. He lowered his head and let me run my hands all over him. For the first time of many times he let me rest my head upon his shoulder.

We became so close that I don’t even know how to explain it. We were partners and spent many, many hours with each other out on the trail, playing, or just hanging out. When he died on July 14th, I felt like I buried my heart with him. A huge part of me died with him, but my two other horses needed me.

Chaco became so stressed after Shandoka died that he literally got colicy within an hour of burying Shandoka. I had to give him meds, walked him, and hosed him down. While this was going on. Harley stood by Shandoka’s grave nickering for him almost to what some could call hollering. We all were in mourning.

Instead of even trying to work with your horses or ride them after you lose your horse, go out to their paddock, pasture, or barn and find a place to sit with them. Don’t ask anything of them. Sit there and wait. Let them come up to you when they feel ready to. Let them love on you, walk away, and come back to you. They understand better than anyone else about your loss, because they are going through it too. They need your guidance and care, because you are part of their herd. They will comfort you if you allow them to. Five days after Shandoka died, I realized that Harley wasn’t nickering for him anymore; he was calling to me. He stood by the fence close to my desk window and nickered until I went out, He would hug me while I draped myself over his withers.

If you approach or ride your horses with resentment, you could damage your relationship with them permanently. They will lose their trust and respect for you and respond to you in disrespectful ways. If I had someone on my back that resented me, I guarantee you, I’d buck you off. You can earn it back, but it will be harder to do so. They’re going to wonder why they should give those two things back to you when you threw them aside.

If you can’t sit with them without projecting resentment, try to stay away until you can put it aside. Take a step back and really watch your horses and how they are acting. This is when you can see their pain if you are open to it. I saw how Harley slept next to Shandoka’s grave each night; he still does six months later. I saw how Harley chased Chaco out of barn if Chaco tried to eat out of Shandoka’s hay bin. I saw Chaco go and stand by Shandoka’s grave each day, which he still does, and I saw Chaco shut down emotionally towards me.

Sometimes horses can get aloof after loss. This isn’t a reflection upon you at all, but an indication of how devastated the horse is. Chaco went through this, and I believe he did for a lot of reasons. Part of it was I think he blamed me for taking Shandoka, his first, best buddy, away from him. He went through a lot of change as a racehorse, changing hands, etc, and I think he wondered if I was going to get rid of him next. He really didn’t want much to do with me. I remained patient and kept trying to work my way back in. Every now and then his guard fell, and he would bury his head into my chest for a hug. The aloof wall would go back up quickly, and off he’d go. He then began to push me away hard, and this is when I put him in the round pen. We worked for 40 minutes one day before he finally joined up with me, and when we did, the wall came tumbling down.

See them for who they are. Chaco and Harley will never be Shandoka, but Shandoka could never be Chaco or Harley. Each horse, like a person, is an amazing individual. If I compared my two boys to Shandoka, I would be missing out on so much. They are such wonderful, caring, funny horses. I am grateful to have these two being in my life, because they simply amaze me each and every day. Our herd changed dramatically with the loss of Shandoka, and neither Harley or Chaco has emerged as the alpha. Instead they look to me, and when I’m not around, they take turns in leading one another. Although, when it comes to eating hay, Harley is the boss. The point is my relationship with them will never be like my relationship with Shandoka. Does that mean we aren’t as close? No. I love them so much.

It’s been six months, and all three of us still miss Shandoka more than I can express, but through the loss of Shandoka our relationship has deepened all because I listened to my grandpa and I listened to my horses. If I wouldn’t have, I can’t imagine what we’d be like right now. They are my inspiration, and I treasure my relationships, my partnerships with Chaco and Harley. Chaco’s former owner wanted me to give Chaco back, and there is simply no way that will ever happen. Not because of anything to do with him, but because of how much I love him, how close we’ve become, and how he is an integral part of all of our lives. And Harley is my big goof ball that loves to have his butt scratched and is my teddy bear. They are both my heart horses.

If you lose your heart horse, go out with your horses, watch them, listen to them, and simply be with them. You will all heal together and find yourselves in a different yet wonderful place. You can have amazing relationships with each and every horse in your life that can’t ever be compared to one another due to their incredible uniqueness.

President Grant Loved a Fast Horse!


I thought I would share this tidbit of history. This is not about politics, rather it is about the love of fast horses, respect, and two veterans of the Civil War…one of which was the President of the United States.

President Ulysses Grant became President for many reasons, but one of the main reasons was to make sure that everyone’s rights were being respected; especially those of freed slaves. He and his men fought and died for their rights, and he wanted to make sure those rights were honored.

President Grant loved his horses, and he loved even more racing them down the streets of Washington, D.C. Grant had quite the reputation for his horsemanship skills, which dated back to his West Point days. “In horsemanship,” said James Longstreet(a West Point classmate and future Confederate general), “…he was noted as the most proficient in the Academy. In fact, rider and horse held together like the fabled centaur.”

Grant preferred to ride the strongest horse and the horses that people were frightened of. He relished the challenge. He got into major trouble with the press when he supposedly instigated and participated in a high speed carriage race through Central Park after a political rally in 1866. Grant denied the accusations saying the stories were “almost” without foundation. He said he did take the reins, however there were no high speeds.

After he became President, the streets of D.C. were filled with reckless carriage drivers causing accident after accident. The D.C. police stepped up their patrols of the streets flagging down all hazardous riders.

The day after a mother and child were run over and seriously hurt, President Grant took to the streets with his buggy at break neck speeds passing M and 13th streets. Immediately police officer William West pulled President Grant over. West was a former black soldier who fought in the Civil War himself, and here he was pulling over the man he fought under. Instead of being intimidated at the sight of the President, West stood his ground.

The story goes that West put up his hand to pull over President Grant. Grant was going at a good clip, but with some effort he brought his horses to a stop. Like anyone riding a fast horse, no one likes being brought to an abrupt halt, so President Grant was a little bit testy when he asked why in the world the officer stopped him.

West said, “I want to inform you, Mr. President, that you are violating the law by speeding along this street. Your fast driving, sir, has set the example for a lot of other gentlemen.”

The president promptly apologized, stated it would never happen again, and he cantered away. However, when you appreciate the speed of a good horse, it is hard to never do it again. His self control only lasted for twenty four hours.

I imagine President Grant walked out to his stables seeing that his best horses were feeling full of their oats and thought, “What could it hurt to take them out for a little spin and burn off some of their energy?”

Again, as he was racing along the streets, West stopped President Grant at M and 13 streets. This time it took President Grant an entire block before he could get his horses stopped.

In the Sept. 27, 1908, edition of the Washington Evening Star under the headline: “Only Policeman Who Ever Arrested a President,” the story of this infamous arrest is told by West himself.

The Star article states that Grant was like a “schoolboy” caught red handed by his teacher. He was a bit cocky and had a smile on his face as West approached him.

President Grant asked, “Do you think, officer, that I was violating the speed laws?”

“I do, Mr. President,” West said.

What was President Grant’s excuse? Well, it is one you may have used with the cops before; he had no idea he was going that fast.

According to the Star, West went on to say, ““I am very sorry, Mr. President, to have to do it,” he said, “for you are the chief of the nation, and I am nothing but a policeman, but duty is duty, sir, and I will have to place you under arrest.”

It is fact that President Grant and his buddies were arrested and taken down to the police station. No one knows what the President said about being arrested, however witnesses said he accepted it just fine telling everyone to go ahead and do their job. President Grant was ordered to put up twenty dollars as collateral and to appear in trial the next day. He never showed up for court.

After paying his fine, President Grant was allowed to walk back to the White House.

West and President Grant went on to become good friends as West was an excellent horseman too. They often got together when West later admitted to President Grant that before joining the police force, he was cited twenty times for being a speed demon too.