Thursday, April 30, 2009

Meet Ali Bannister

I finally did it. I pulled the lever and sent money to get the project rolling. No, I did not buy a horse...

Rather I have officially hired Ali Bannister to paint Jaguar Hope in pastel. I hear you asking, "Why Ali?"

Just look at her work like this one she just finished of the Oldenburg stallion, Donnersong:

I've gotten to know Ali over the past year or even longer via the website Flickr where we post our work. Here's Ali's Flickr page. Ali lives in the U.K., loved my photos of Jaguar Hope and even though it was through the internet, I felt like she knew him. At least she certainly knew him through my eyes via my photos. She would always gush over him in her comments about the photos. So when she proposed painting him after he passed I didn't even have to think about it - it was an immediate yes. The biggest problem was selecting the photo to use! Which will be a surprise.

Ali has done all sorts of cool work. Just look at this one of "Hare Today" or even this photo she took of her subject checking out her work - "Do My Ears Look Big In This."

Ali is an equestrian at heart and we banter back and forth about horses. She thinks Canoodler is a bit large... :) and her friends were very keen on learning more about Jaguar Hope and his lineage. Jag did have some cool relatives!

And for those into the celebrity stuff (I think this is pretty cool), she had been commissioned by Ringo Starr to paint his wives horses!

So I'm now officially excited about having a painting of Jaguar Hope by my friend Ali. You know darn well that when it's done you'll know all about it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Lesson and Miscellaneous Stuff

I had my lesson again on Tuesday. Toby is doing well but we both have a ways to go and practice, practice, practice. We rode in the outdoor arena which is much bigger with better footing than the indoor. It was a little chilly so Toby needed more time to warm up and get going. You know when a horse is relaxed in the back and warmed up when their tail gently swings side to side as you trot along.

We are still working on building up his back muscles and doing a ton of trot work and keeping him straight on the straight aways and properly bent on the turns. Not as easy as it sounds. But his frame is better and he's utilizing his hind end much better than he ever has. So progress is being made!

Afterwards I went over to my friends house to watch her and her daughter's lessons. I also worked on portrait shots using their horses as models:

Lillys a lady

Mr Blue eyes


And then I shot some photos of Betsy's dogs, a lab mix and a young female Great Dane:


Here is a link to view all the photos in a slideshow. The first seven photos were from yesterday.

And since I can't help myself, I'm mulling over another horse who was offered for sale to me. He's one of the horses the head outrider uses in his work at Hawthorne. I had been gushing over him during the Illinois Derby Day. I was disappointed he was shipped down to his owner's farm for some R&R and wasn't around when I was there this past weekend. He's a retired racehorse and now has the duty of catching loose horses when the rider is up ended in a race. He's the ultimate "been there/done that" horse and would be a ton of fun to work with. So what do you guys think of him?

the outrider

Monday, April 27, 2009

Illinois Champions Day

This past weekend I went to Chicago and to Hawthorne Racecourse for the Illinois Champions Day. Once again I had a great time! The people I've met at Hawthorne have been so fun and nice.

I spent my entire day there starting with the morning workouts and ending with the second to last race. I was too pooped to stay for the last race which was taken off the turf and had most of the field scratch.

The first horse I saw was Canoodler. He's still in training and his plans are to try out the turf. He's a big and gorgeous as ever!

the noodler

Then I visited with the rest of the gang from the Davis Racing team. They have a very colorful barn of horses. Here is their stakes runner, Scoring Chick, who has a really cool marking on her haunches.

scoring chick

Perhaps it's her "Energy Button" similar to Big Brown's. They also have in training, a rare registered white thoroughbred.

white tb

The coloring may be rare but I don't think it's my cup of tea. No offense intended!

Soon after the track reopened for training from the maintenance break a rider, jockey Florent Geroux, went out to breeze a horse. Seems the girth wasn't tightened enough and the saddle slipped during the breeze. I did not see the fall but the report was that Florent came off as the saddle slid underneath the horse. He was hit by the back legs of his horse, then another horse behind him couldn't get out of the way and ran him over. He was sent to the hospital to be checked out. He was lucky! He was badly bruised up but no other injuries were reported and he was back racing the next day.

Here is Terry, the outrider attempting to catch the horse

loose horse

and here is the horse as it passed by

loose horse

Florent and the horse were both very lucky to come out unscathed but it was an instant reminder of the dangers in working with race horses.

The day of racing went well except for mother nature's brief interruption with a wicked thunderstorm. Young Lyndie Wade had a terrific day of racing winning 3 of the 6 stakes races on the card and coming in 2nd in another. The crowd was pretty good and all the horses came home safely. Overall a really great Illinois Champions Day.

lyndie's 3

Here is a slide show from my photos of the day: Illinois Champions Day

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Visit with my Friends

The other day, after my lesson, I went over to my friend's barn to shoot photos of her daughter and her horses going through their lessons with Betsy. I was experimenting with my camera with tough light conditions since it was a rainy, cold and gloomy day outside.

Heather has some cool horses, the gray is her 1/2 Saddlebred, 1/2 Quarter Horse mare; the cremello with the blue eyes is her daughter's horse. He knows a bevy of tricks which we will have to video or photograph. And the third is Heather's very cool looking buckskin Morgan gelding. All the horses are shedding out their winter coats so look a bit scruffy and mottled - they didn't have a warning that I was coming over with camera in hand :O


A day at Heather's.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Strength, Focus and Partnerships


Toby seems to be coming along well and getting much stronger through his back and hind end along the way. He's still trying to get around putting himself into a good frame. He's like a person trying to do everything the easy way and we are telling him "no can do." There "ain't no easy button in riding!" So we continue to march on - quite literally.

The other thing that I'm improving on is maintaining Toby's focus. When his mind wanders, he creates trouble. For example, in one corner of our arena we keep the gator parked. It's always been there and most times is not noticed. But once in a blue moon, Toby will inexplicably think it's a scary horse eating monster. He gets bugged-eyed and shies from that part of the arena. I even think I hear him saying "Run Away! Run Away!"

I'm handling these types of situations much better and from time to time I can see it happening before it does! At those moments, when I redirect his attention back to our work, I feel like a genius. And when I do this, his confidence in me just goes up and up. This may sound silly but being able to read your partner well, makes for a great partnership! And that's what good riding is all about.

So I felt it was time to video tape and see where our progress stood. Here is Toby working to Moby:

Monday, April 20, 2009

OTTB's in the Competitive Arena - Rolex

This week begins the highly competitive Rolex Kentucky Three Day Eventing. My cyber/photography/friend Sarah K. Andrew is attending and wrote about it on her blog: Rock and Racehorses: The Blog.

Of course this blogger really LOVED reading about the success of Mike Winter and his OTTB Wonderful Will: Rolex Eventer Found His Horse at the Track. This is my favorite quote in the article:

But the son of Woodman proved too much horse for most everyone but Winter. He remembers training the horse over his first jump, a small cross rail on the ground. The horse jumped as high as the standards on either side.
"Mike had this expression on his face like, 'What just happened?'" said Schwartz, Wonderful Will's owner. "Then he did it again. He just always took to jumping. He was supposed to be my little event horse to go novice, but he jumps me out of the tack."

I think it's fantastic that a 15.1 hand OTTB is competing at this level. Of course, I'm absolutely passionate about the virtues of racehorses after their racing days are over.

Thanks Sarah for the great post and have fun at Rolex!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spring Time in Northern Michigan

It's an absolutely beautiful day! Yesterday was too. All afternoon at work on Friday I fantasized about giving Toby a bath. I couldn't wait to get rid of the 6 months of grime he has accumulated on his skin and coat. So I gave him a full blown bath after work. All that did was transfer the dirt and hair from him to me. But we had a good time. And when he dried out I could see dapples!

springtime toby

I tacked up Toby and went to the outdoor ring. I am still working on building up the strength in his back and hind end. So we are doing most of our work at the walk and trot. Toby is doing so well! Once he was warmed up, we started working on walk/trot transitions while keeping him in his frame. He was awesome! In fact, he was so good that I was left behind on a couple walk to trot transitions! When he starts the trot from his hind end I get thrown to the back seat of the bus! I laughed and praised him like crazy. I became much more prepared for it after that. A couple times, when I was left behind, I caught him with the bit but I think he figured it out that he did the right thing (and I screwed up). By the end of the ride he was a rock star in my book. Our issue seems to be walking, especially if I start to collect him at the walk. He starts to do a slow paced jig in his anticipation of trot even though I don't go to trot for a long time after that. This is something we will definitely need to work on. I also, for the first time in a long time, asked him to canter. Toby is a heavy on the forehand canterer. But he seemed lighter to me and much more collected than what I remembered him to be. All our walk/trot work is paying off!

Tuesday will be out lesson day so we will see how we do in the eyes of the professional. But I think we are doing pretty darn well!

After working Toby, I hosed him down and let him have a pick of grass. He's really getting fit so he only had a very light sweat and wasn't breathing heavy. The hosing down was mostly to get another layer of grime and winter hair off.

I eventually put him back out with his pasture mates. I went back to hand water the indoor arena in anticipation of the rainy weather in our forecast. When I went back out to check on Toby this is what I found...

nap time

He was in a deep sleep with his girlfriend, Dixie, watching over him. Talk about a relaxed guy! He was twitching and snoring just like my dog. If you look closely in the picture you can see a poof of dust come up from his breathing.

Then the party ended because he heard me shooting photos...

sleepy head

He was still in semi sleep mode and had his lower lip just flapping in the wind.

I guess I wore him out. There's nothing like a content horse...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Memories of "The Scentless Bastard"

Eleven years ago, on April 15th, 1998, at a farm outside of Chicago, my dream horse was born...

jag on the run

He was the most beautiful, smartest, fun creature I've ever had the privilege to be around.

He made me laugh often at his quirks. Cribbing and snarling at Toby all the time were just a few of them but the one that always made me laugh out loud the most was his hatred for "The Scentless Bastard." Even while riding in the indoor arena, whenever we came by the wall with the mirrors he would perk up and most times "give the hairy eyeball" to his buddy in the mirror.

In honor of Jag's eleventh birthday and his buddy I made this "for fun" short video:

Thankfully, I have quite a bit of video of my guy along with photos so through time I will most likely be sharing some of our moments together.

Happy Birthday Jag!

I miss you big man...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Annual Rite of Spring

No news yet on the 'noodler. I promise I'll let you know whatever I hear - good or bad - as soon as I know. I believe no news is good news at this point.

Now for my day...

Today was spring vet visit for Toby. His most dreaded day of the year.

Each spring, Toby needs to get his vaccinations, coggins and selenium tested. Here in Michigan, the soil has very low selenium content so the horses do not get any while grazing or in their hay. So we give it to the horses as a supplement and we test to be sure they are ok with the amounts in their system. Toby has always been at good levels.

The other part of the vet visit for Toby entails the annual teeth floating. Boy does he hate it and for good reason. Poor Toby wasn't blessed with a good "bite." He has an overbite, also called a "parrot mouth" and if he was a human child in the U.S. he would have had braces as soon as he could. But Toby is a horse and an aging one at that (long in the tooth). Not only does Toby have an overbite but his upper and lower jaws are not aligned. My vet referred to it as having a "shear" bite. His upper teeth on his right side in front were much longer than on the left. Needless to say, he had a lot of filing done! We evened out his teeth and leveled as best we could his front teeth. My vet tested out his jaw movement to see when his teeth would meet. He'd test, then grind, then test again. Eventually we got the teeth to meet where we were satisfied.

Toby is a fighter and he fought through this. We tranquilize him so that he's like a drunken soldier trying to stay upright but once the filing equipment is in his mouth he fights us and tries to pull away. Amazing because he's so "out of it". Toby ended up having to be given a double dosage and we did it in his stall where he backed himself up to the corner where he couldn't back up anymore. He loves to fight everything (maybe he has some Irish thoroughbred in his genes). In contrast, Jaguar Hope was the most saintly horse when it came to any sort of vet care, farrier procedures and basic ground work. Sigh...

The piece de resistance for Toby's day was having his sheath cleaned. He hates it and fights that too. But as all gelding owners know, it must be done! We did this before he started to get perky again. He was slashing his tail all over the place in protest but he now has a shiney clean "you know what..." and no bean. In contrast, Jag used to drop "it" whenever I was around and he probably WANTED "it" to be touched. His was easy to keep clean. Sigh...

Then Toby received his vaccinations and Coggins test (so we can go to shows!). It's a good thing I'm on a business trip until Friday so he can recover from today's activities. Poor guy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I'm Going To Jinx It

Yep, I am. I'm going to jinx myself out of getting the cutest, sweetest, biggest, thoroughbred I've set eyes on.

canoodler in stall

After my visit to Hawthorne with Liane Davis and her family, I decided to make an offer on a horse in their care who just isn't cut out for racing. This isn't a knee jerk decision on my part. I've known about this guy needing a new career since last fall when Liane emailed me about him. She told me about this beautiful 17 hand, son of Broken Vow who just isn't a competitive guy at the track. At the time, I told Liane I'd keep an eye out for anyone in the show world that was interested in a new prospect. So I put this guy on my DRF Watch List.

Time passed and things have happened. During that time I'd get emails about this horse's races. He even won one in December! I was so happy for him and Liane that I sent off a congratulatory email to her. Here's his one and only win:

But that's about all he's done in racing.

Soon after Jag had passed I received an email that this horse had raced again and this time came in fourth. This got me thinking about him again. I wondered what he was really like and I had a huge hole of time in my life that was really bugging me. Maybe this was a sign?

I've been an emotional mess since Jag passed and I've gone through the "searching for his replacement" reaction. That taught me a lot about my emotions, and making sure I make decisions for the right reasons. There are so many great horses who need new homes and new careers but I needed to wait for "the right one." Somehow I felt like this guy at Hawthorne was subtly poking me to get my attention.

So I went to Hawthorne for the Illinois Derby and knew that the big guy was still in training with Liane. I was being reserved in my judgment and looking for faults. Anything. But then another sign... the first person I saw when I arrived for morning workouts was Liane's husband. He was working a horse and shouted out a big greeting to me. He said I better get my butt back to the barn to see everyone. So off I went. What a great reception! And who did I see when I got there? The very first horse.... Canoodler:


He has the biggest Dumbo ears, a huge roman nose and the kindest eyes. Just a big lovable lug. I fell for him. He's sound, he's a beautiful mover and he's gorgeous!

meet canoodler


As I mentioned earlier I've made an offer on him and now I wait to hear back. It may not work out and I'm prepared for that but I'm hopeful.

Throughout all this, I can't help but feel that my guardian angels have been setting this up all along for a reason. What that reason is has yet to be determined but there is a reason.

In the meantime, Canoodler, who would rather hold hooves with the other horses as they cross the finish line together singing kumbaya, raced yesterday and came in dead last. He's number 3 wearing blinkers and you can really see his big ears in the starting gate:

Please send me/us your good thoughts!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Racing's Lows and Highs

This week has been something else for the racing community.

It saddens, maddens, infuriates, and frustrates me to learn about Ernie Paragallo's treatment of the horses at his farm. That the industry let this happen with a big name operator should tell us something about the state of the industry. Can you imagine what some smaller guy in the industry, operating under the radar, may be getting away with? I'm not niave. I know they are out there.

I'm angry these "bad apples" are out there because it's been my personal experience that the nicest, most caring people I know in the equine community come from racing. And I feel badly that the kind hearted, caring members of the racing community are being dragged through the mud because of idiots like Paragallo.

Just look at this video of the horses that were brought to Another Chance 4 Horses that brought this to light:

There's no excuse for what he has done and I hope the fragmented racing community will join together to take action and protect the image of the sport and the good people involved in it.

In the meantime, I celebrate people like Graham Motion and his staff at Herringswell Stables for the care they give their horses. I celebrate people like Liane Davis who cares for the horses in her stable straight through to finding them good homes when it's time for them to retire from racing. These trainers are great examples of the good people the sport of racing has to offer. And there are so many more out there who are doing right by the sport and its athletes.

So I'm going to end this post with a link to a slide show of my morning with Liane Davis from this past weekend. Liane, her husband Hirschel and their son Chris made me feel very welcome and are fantastic examples of the good people the sport of racing has to embrace.

Don't their horses look fantastic?!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Chewing Gum and Walking

Tuesday! I love Tuesdays! It's lesson day for me.

I hadn't taken a lesson in a couple weeks now because both Betsy and I were crazy busy with our respective lives. I had a HUGE presentation I was preparing for and felt uncomfortable taking time out for a lesson when I needed to perfect my pitch.

That gave me more time to work with Toby and improve his fitness level, which (ahem) is a bit lacking but improving.

Toby was terrific today. In fact, he's growing on Betsy (not that she didn't like him before). He has such a cute face and he's a nice mover. I had our chiropractor out last night to give the old guy an adjustment. He had many sore muscle/back issues from the work he's been asked to do lately. I want to be sure I take care of him and not overdo anything. He's trying so hard for me.

Our focus today was mainly on me being consistent in asking him to keep his frame. He will get into a great frame then he will get out of it after a stride or two. He usually pulls me down and out of the saddle with his neck and head and his back goes flat. My focus is to sit back and deep in the saddle, and when he tries to raise his head up, or try to pull me down and out that he will feel the resistance of the bit in his mouth and the uncomfortable feeling of my legs on his side when he comes out of his frame. When he's in a good frame he will be comfortable because there will be no resistance from me with either my hands or legs. My problem is that sometimes I can't "chew gum and walk" at the same time. I will get my hands right but I forget to use my legs. By the end of the lesson both Toby and I were doing loads better! It all sounds so simple but I'm just beginning to learn how to use all of my body to ride a horse. When I do it right the results are so cool! I love it!

At the end of the lesson, Betsy recommended that I take Toby to the local shows coming up. She thinks we are doing really well together. Our biggest stumbling block is getting him into a horse trailer. Although Toby showed all over the place on the AA circuit, he must have had an unpleasant trailering experience prior to coming to our current barn. He will get into a trailer but once he's in he will have a panic attack and explode. So Betsy recommended a trainer in the area who is excellent with dealing with this particular problem in horses. I think it'd be well worth my while to bring this trainer in and try to resolve Toby's fear once he's in a trailer.

Toby on his 19th Birthday

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Illinois Derby

I decided to hop in my car after an all day conference call and head to Chicago for the Illinois Derby. What a great way to spend my weekend!

I woke up early to catch photos of the morning workouts. Then had a great lunch, while the crowd grew at Hawthorne Race Course. I had no idea that Hawthorne had been around since 1891. It's older than the USGA (for whom I work)!

I have to say that Hawthorne was a fun place. There were very good crowds for the day, Nick Zito was even there. I met up with a "friend" on facebook who was hired to shoot crowd photos for the day. It was really cool to actually meet up with one of the 300+ friends of mine on facebook. She helped me out with meeting some people at the track. Since I have some serious camera equipment, I didn't want to cause any problems for the track photographer. And with her help I didn't!

I spent the day shooting the races and many of the jockey's who were in town for the day and the big race.

It was really something to see when the horses for the Illinois Derby came out. Every single one of them was so much bigger than any 3 year old that had raced earlier in the day. They were beautiful and certainly showing their excellent pedigrees fully.

Musket Man ran a great race with Eibar Coa on board.

Illinois derby

Musket Man

I did find this to be a little odd...


That would be the winner leaving the winner's circle in a Delaware Park cooler. It just struck me as odd.

After the race, I took a seat at a cubicle in front of the televisions where many handicappers spend their day. A track regular sat down next to me and was peeking at my photos while I was going through them on my camera. We struck up a conversation and I mentioned that I had owned a horse that once raced here. He was pretty proud of the fact I had a horse from Hawthorne, which he was proud to call his place. I showed him pictures of Jaguar Hope I have on my iphone. He remembered him! and so did his friends that had now joined our conversation. They started talking about when he raced. I proudly showed them photos and my new friend said, "you sure do love him!" And I teared up and told him he died a few weeks ago. They were so nice in that awkward moment and told me how sorry they were for me.

I had no idea that handicappers had a heart for the horses too. That was a pretty cool revelation and it completed a very special day for me at Hawthorne.

Thanks Hawthorne! I'll be back again soon.

For those who missed the race, here is a video of the Illinois Derby along with the other big races of the day (Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby):

Friday, April 3, 2009

Life Moves On

Last night I made it through an inevitable change and a sure sign that life moves on.

Two new horses came to the barn for training with my friend Karen Maas. Karen called me ahead of time to let me know that one of the horses will be using Jag's stall. Karen was being a good friend to give me that heads up.

I had gone out to ride Toby after work and the barn was full of activity. The barn owner was out cleaning stalls with her son, another boarder was riding her horse, Karen arrived with the two new horses and the owners of those horses came out too. Usually, it's very quiet at this barn! I took care of Toby and rode him. Again, he was so good and tried his heart out. Slowly he will get stronger and be able to hold his frame longer and longer. For now he's trying hard to do it when I ask and is doing a great job. I just push him to do it a little longer each time. I actually think he loves being back to work.

While Toby was in the cross-ties, the owners of the new horses walked by. One of them asked me "Is that a warm blood?" "No, he's a former race horse." Then he said, "He's beautiful." That was nice to hear because "beautiful" isn't the first word that comes to my mind when it comes to Toby. "Cute" usually does. Toby is very "cute." But hearing those words immediately made me miss Jag because he was, without a doubt, beautiful. I loved to show him off to new people, or to hear people seeing him for the first time say something like, "Wow what a gorgeous horse." I know, it's a totally selfish thing but he always made me so proud to be his owner. But today, Toby made me proud. He really does look terrific for his age.

But I miss my jaw dropping beautiful boy Jag...

Here's a win photo of Jag when he earned the largest paycheck in his racing career. He was a rock star.

Jaguar Hope Win Photo

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Birthday Report

Toby had a nice birthday even though I made him work.

I arrived with cut up apples and carrots and put them in his feed holder. The horses were in for the day because of crummy weather so they were all interested in a piece of the apple/carrot action. We shared but Toby got the most.

I cleaned him up and took him into the indoor arena to try to capture some freedom shots. The problem is that he just wants to be around me and I had nobody to help. So I'm out in the arena with my camera up to my face trying to click away while shaking a whip that has a plastic bag at the end of it. Toby would charge down to one end turn quickly then come back straight towards me to see what I was doing with this big piece of equipment next to my face.

He was looking pretty good!

Toby on his 19th Birthday

Toby on his 19th Birthday

Just look at the shoulder extension in this trot!

Toby on his 19th Birthday

And this photo of him turning towards me really shows excellent shoulder and hip movement. It's my favorite shot.

Toby on his 19th Birthday

After his romp in the indoor arena, I tacked him up and rode him for a little while. We need to strengthen his back and hind end so I am asking him to stretch out and down with his neck and head which raises his back and engages his hind end. At this point I'm working on just getting his neck stretched out as far as I can. We are also doing many walk/trot transitions keeping him in a rounded position throughout. He did great! Once we get better strength in these areas we will start to ask him to bring his head up a little so he's not looking so much like a "pea pusher" when we trot around the arena. It's all about working in stages.

After his ride in which he received tons of praise for being a good guy, I undressed him, put his blanket back on and gave him a birthday flake of hay, some more carrots and an apple. He was pretty pleased with himself.

Happy Birthday Old Man!

I'm doing great

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Happy Birthday Toby

Today, April Fool's Day, marks Toby's 19th Birthday. For the longest time I thought this was his 20th but when I checked his information out, I saw "foaled April 1, 1990 in Oklahoma." So he's still a teenager! ;)

Whatcha Doin Miss Wendy?

I'll head out to the barn after work and give him some special treats. He enjoys apples and carrots the most. He's never been one to have much of a sweet tooth.

I'm sure I'll have more to post after our visit and celebration. But in the meantime here are some photos by me and some by friends of the Tobymeister and me. He's my fun guy!

Toby and me toby and trail ride on train tracks karen maas and meDapple Happy Guy

Finally here's a silly little diddy of a video I made over a year ago about Toby: