Dayo… my leap of faith :)

Meet Dayo (“Joy Arrives”). Formerly Ebony / Home By Dark, she is an eight year old OTTB, one of three mare whose owners have fallen on hard times. For three years, I’ve looked and looked at horses, donated money to rescues. Of course, I have Chaos <3. Who knows why one horse speaks to you, or why your soul suddenly says: “Enough. It’s time to take that leap of faith, and be the difference.”
Stay tuned for stories as we get to know each other; for photos as she fills out, and becomes the awesome mare she is going to be!
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Good riding is all about getting out of your horse’s way

The best riders use their aids to help their horses be as brilliant as they can be. And then, these riders get out of their horses’ way.

Nick Skelton’s ride on Heracross demonstrates the beauty and simplicity of control and communication. Skelton really knows how to help his horse, and stay out of his way. So much so, that watching it leaves me thinking to myself, “I could do that course”.

Stay tuned!

Today’s Hero – Saratoga War Horse!

Today, I am looking on the Adena Springs Facebook page (yes, I know Facebook is the devil, but it’s so useful… and fun!), staring at a photo of the spectacular Alphabet Soup…

 (gratuitous shot of Alphabet Soup, courtesy of Adena Springs)

… when a thought occurs. “I wonder what other horses are in this album?” And I begin to snoop. There are some lovely horses in the Adena Springs Retirement Program ready for adoption, some other photos, and a photo with the following caption: “Met with Saratoga War Horse. Awesome people. Awesome Program!” My interest is piqued.

It’s true, I am a Facebook voyeur ~ especially when it comes to horses. Contrary to all the laws of the universe, this voyeurism has led to many untold and beautiful discoveries. And so of course, I “google” Saratoga War Horse.

It proves to be one of the great discoveries.

“Only 1 percent of American men and women have answered their country’s call to serve and protect in the military, and yet out of the entire general population in the United States, those who have served account for 20 percent of all suicides.” (Bob Nevin, co-founder, Saratoga War Horse).

The Saratoga War Horse Program teaches veterans how to work through stress and trauma by connecting with former racehorses through the  process of “Join-Up,” based on the work of horse whisperer Monty Roberts.  Best of all, Saratoga War Horse also gives retired racehorses meaningful second careers, a major issue confronting the thoroughbred industry. Still in the early stages of development, the Saratoga War Horse could eventually involve literally hundreds of former racehorses.

“We have world-class horses assisting world-class soldiers,” Nevins said. “We have the soldiers saving the horses because without them these horses could fall through the cracks and wind up at the slaughterhouse. The same thing with the soldiers. If they’re not coming out, getting the help that they need, they’re falling through the cracks.”

Kudos to the wonderful people at Saratoga War Horse for being the cement that helps seal those cracks!

Lest Old Acquaintance be forgot…

“They’re great athletes. They work all their lives for our entertainment, and in some cases they make people very wealthy. And, at the end of the line, they don’t have any social security or a 401K plan. And they should, because they earned all the money…. Some people go to the racetrack and don’t even bet. They’re just overwhelmed by the majesty of the performance. They did it. Without [these horses] there’s nothing. There’s no bluegrass, there’s no racetracks… they are the essence of it.”
I read Michael Blowen’s quote, and it resonated deeply with me. Michael Blowen is the former film critic for the Boston Globe, and the Founder and President of Old Friends, a retirement and rescue facility for pensioned thoroughbreds.
Old Friends is a thoroughbred retirement with a difference, giving home to stallions and more recently, to mares. The plan to provide “at risk” racehorses (horses too old to race or breed) with the dignified and humane retirement they deserve, was born from the shocking death of Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand in a slaughterhouse in Japan in 2002. Like many, Michael Blowen was beyond appalled that something like that could happen. 
Old Friends is located in Georgetown, Kentucky. Realizing that promoting these celebrated horses through a campaign of education and tourism would draw attention to the plight of racehorses and equines in need, Old Friends is open to the public. Tours are available, and the list of stallions and horses who call their fields and barns homes is humbling and impressive, the memorials and tributes to fallen heroes incredibly touching. 
Everyone who visits goes to see the once great horses who battled their way down the homestretch to bring fame and fortune to owners, trainers, and jockeys. Each one leaves touched by the beauty, dignity, courage and heart these thoroughbred heroes have.
Thank you, Michael Blowen!

Branch County

When I was little, Branch County was my dream horse. Or at least one of them. So many horses. So little time!

It’s hard to find information about him now, but here are a few fun facts:

  •  He cleared 7’2″ to win the puissance class at the Royal Winter Fair one year to carry his rider, Robin Hahn, to victory.
  • He was picked up by Michel Vaillancourt in February of 1976, after Hahn decided he could not afford the $10,000 price tag, and opted to compete on L’Esprit in the Olympic Three-Day Event instead.
  • Branch County and Michel Vaillancourt won the first ever individual medal in show jumping for Canada at the 1976 Olympics in Bromont, Quebec.
  • Branch County was only seven at the time, and Vaillancourt set a record for being the youngest show jumping rider to win an individual medal (two babies, as Vaillancourt has said).
  • Branch County was a failed race horse. 

Branch County joins the ranks of another favourite thoroughbred, Snowbound (gratuitous Snowbound photo here):

A reminder that the thoroughbred is a fantastic and courageous sport horse. Two great show jumpers, two great reasons to consider an OTTB!

Sunday rant: A horse is a just a horse…

Last night, we celebrated my nephews 2nd birthday, family style. As always with family, there is the joy of togetherness, the stress of togetherness, and the conflict of opinions – rarely in the interest of lively debate.

Now most who know me know I am a passionate animal lover, and have been since I was young. I’ve had kittens born under my bed, puppies born in my closet. I have crossed roads from school to sit on the back of a horse during lunch, and I have walked countless miles for the sake of animals – to see them, help them, and heal them. I have rescue dogs, network to re-home healthy horses sold for meat (because it’s easier to do this than be accountable).

I am a profound and deep believer in human rights, in every person’s abilities, and in the value of life. All life. I believe life is something that should be respected, revered, and protected. It is also something, I believe, that should be managed humanely, compassionately, and lovingly.

And, I put my money, my time, and my convictions, where my mouth is. So to speak.

I am a strong advocate of the animal-human bond, which I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, does and will heal people, will help heal the planet.  and is something which, as the top of the food chain, we need to get right if we are going to survive.

So we are were discussing War Horse, a fantastic production, full of puppetry and magic. As most people know, War Horse brings to light the plight of the many animals who were casualties of World War 1.  As we discussed the play, I shared the following information:

“Did you know that, during the war, 1,000,000 horses went to France, and only 62,000 survived?”

Now to me, this is a pretty staggering statistic. Horses serve. They are non-partisan, and they don’t chose to fight for a cause. In World War 1, we needed them. As transport for military personnel, supplies, as fighting partners, and for armaments.  938,000 horses died in man’s service, without recognition, without appreciation. Today, dogs die today alongside troops in Afghanistan – those that survive are not valued enough for their service to even earn a flight home by the military. Instead, they are to be abandoned in Afghanistan because they are no longer of value. These horses, these dogs – they are not just “hanging out” waiting for a walk, a cuddle, or so we can “play around with ponies.” They provide real, valuable service in man’s honour, and in support of man’s survival.

“Who cares how many horses died! How many people died?”

The answer to this, which I was not able to pull out of my hat, is this:
World War 1 saw the highest casualties of any war. Approximately 65 million peopled fought. 6.8 million military personnel died in action, another 3.2 million died of diseases like the Spanish Flu. Approximately another 7 million civilians died. Somewhere in the number of 20 million military personnel were wounded (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties). While the actual numbers can likely be debated, a short answer would be a lot.

I care how many horses died. And to the USA, I’d like to add “man up and be accountable. Man or animal, bring all who serve home with respect and dignity.”

It is incredibly sad that we kill each other for money, resources, for political or religious beliefs. As the average man, we chose to be the victims of a propaganda machine designed to make a few people or countries very wealthy.  It sucks that we kill each other. And it really sucks that we have to kill everything else too. We are the top of the food chain. Do we really believe it is acceptable to use other animals as grist in our political and monetary mills, to reap the benefits they provide, and then condone casually casting them aside when they are no longer useful or convenient, when they need, and to devalue their contribution in the process.

I think not.

Air Amateur – your Tuesday smile

There is no better way to start the week than with a smile. This will resonate with everyone who has ever found themselves suddenly without a horse underneath!

I would confess, I’ve booked many a flight on this airline, and in spite of the fact the descents are desperately quick, the landings abrupt and often painful, and the airline highly unsympathetic (and often surprised), I keep going back.

Here’s hoping your ride today is on friendly skies!