My Bear, Part II

Monday, February 22, 2010

People ask me all the time what to feed a horse that needs to gain weight or what really puts weight on a horse. I think there are many variables with each horse, but in general I believe any horse that has gone hungry has an ulcer issue. Most horses that have been in any type of serious training have probably experienced ulcers. I use Gastrogard if they’ve been starved. I treat all the horses that come off the track with Neighlox, but I don’t put it in their feed. I mix it with water and dose syringe it each morning before breakfast. With Charlie and Grandy, I treated them with Gastroguard and then eventually transitioned them to Neighlox. Bear still gets it today. I’ll clarify, I call Grandy, Grandpa Cat, my Bear or my baby Bear, because he is a bear. If you ever meet him you’ll see what I mean.

I fed them timothy/alfalfa hay cubes to the tune of four flakes a day. Triple Crown Complete feed supplemented with rice bran. They got the rice bran for two months. They always had hay, inside the barn and out in the field. They also got a half cup of corn oil each feeding and electrolytes and multivitamins. I worked their rations up, starting with a small amount of each thing for the first two weeks. I gave them half of a dewormer after two weeks and then a full dewormer six weeks later.

This worked out well. The third month I started to hack them around the farm. They were both wonderful to ride. I started to consider taking them to the track for a short stint. Not to prepare them for racing, but to work on Bear’s starting gate issues, before he got feeling too good. I was warned he had real problems there. By this time they didn’t look great, but they were healthy so I took them to the track. I had not body clipped either of them yet. They both had a ton of friends at the track and people came to visit them every day. Offering peppermints and kindness. They thought this was great. The guys at the starting gate remembered Bear. They said he had the makings of a Stake horse. They also remembered how bad he had become at the gate. I told them I didn’t care how long it took, I wanted to take my time. We have a wonderful starting gate crew in Maryland and they were patient and kind. Bear got over his gate problem in no time flat. Of course it didn’t hurt that Charlie was lightning fast out of the gate and loved going back there. I took them together and Bear relied on Charlie’s judgment and his opinion was that the gate was a great place to go.

By this time everyone at Bowie knew about Bear and Charlie. While walking to the track one morning. Lisa the Outrider pointed at Charlie and said that’s going to be my next pony. Let me tell you about Lisa, she’s got a 25 year old horse that worked regularly until he was 22. He still looks like he’s nine. There was no better home for Charlie in this world. By this time I knew enough about Charlie’s past to realize he’d never race again. The vets told me that Ernie had bastardized his knees and if I put pressure on him, it would hurt him. That’s all I needed to know, but I kept Charlie there anyway because he was much happier at the track than on the farm. Besides, he was a great training buddy for Bear and he had a new job. He was teaching Rafael to gallop racehorses. Charlie was smart — really smart. When I galloped him he was tough. He loved to pull and he’d throw in a buck or air above the ground, just to let me know who he was. When Rafael galloped him, he pulled just as hard as Rafael could handle. He developed Rafael into a wonderful exercise rider. Rafael loves that horse to this day.

When you make a decision to do something, you don’t know how important that decision truly is. Sometimes the most mundane thing you do turns out to be monumental and important. Not that buying Charlie and Grandy wasn’t important, but I had no idea when I did it how significant it would be.

At this point I knew I would never race Charlie, but everyone was getting excited about Bear. He was thriving. It was time to body clip them both and get them looking like racehorses, not “farmettes”. I just needed to find the time. We had a ton of horses on the farm to train as well as the horses at the track. One day JK and I were galloping on the farm and the horse JK was on spooked, not a bad spook, mind you, but JK came off. I asked him what happened because JK is like a tick, he just never comes off. He landed on his hands and knees and complained he’d hurt his shin. I was itching to get to Bowie and clip those horses so I told JK we should make it Sunday and give the rest of the horses off. He could close up the barn and I’d go back to Bowie and clip Charlie and Grandy. I hate clipping horses, but we never have the funds to pay someone else to do it, so I suck it up.

I finished up at around 6 p.m. and headed home. It was getting dark when my husband called on my cell phone and asked me where I was. I told him I was about a half hour away. He was mad when he told me he thought JK must be drinking because all the lights were on in the barn and only one horse had been brought in. My husband is not a horse person, but he knows how anal I am. Everything is done on a schedule and he knew that those horses should all be in by now. He said JK was just sitting in his car. I started calling JK on the cell phone and he didn’t pick up. I was getting mad myself, but as I drove on I started thinking about it. JK would never drink and stay at the farm. He knows I’d blow a gasket and really be mad. If he drank, he stayed away from me. I started to worry, something was wrong.

When I got to the farm, I didn’t see the little grey car. JK must have left and all the horses were still out. The barn lights were on. I started to bring horses in. On my way out to the second paddock, I came across JK’s car. What a strange place to park. I approached and I could see him laying back in the seat. I opened the door and asked him what was going on. He looked up at me but he couldn’t talk clearly. He tried to say something but it was not discernible. I noticed he had urinated on himself and immediately knew he was in big trouble. My husband was now headed across the yard, I screamed to him to call 911.

They were there in a flash and got right down to business. They did the usual coherence questions such as “Who is the President?” JK looked at them wide eyed and couldn’t answer. I told them JK would never know who the President was, he was a jockey. With that one of them asked, “Who rode Secretariat?” JK responded, Ron Turcotte. They looked at me and I said, yeah, he’s right, Ron is a friend of his. It turned out JK had a sub dural hematoma. He was rushed to the hospital and had surgery. It was six months before he could come back to the farm for anything more than a visit. It was a year before he would get on a horse again.

When I decided to buy Bear and Charlie, I didn’t know that they would be responsible for saving JK’s life. It’s so funny how things happen, but the fact is that if I hadn’t needed to body clip those boys and decided to do it that day, I’d have just told JK to go home and closed up the barn myself. JK lives alone. If he had gone home and gone to bed no one would have found him until the next day. Everyone agrees it would have been too late. We saved those horses, but they saved JK.

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