Well, the foot of rain we got last night, plus that missing fenceboard like a broken tooth in the round pen wall, will keep Final Call from working today. As you can see from this BlackBerry photo, he is still enjoying the attentions of his harem. . .
It’s been three weeks since I rode him at the farm in Ocala. Funny story about that. . .
You all know the premise that you never get on a horse that the owner won’t ride, right?
Sometimes with OTTBs you have to throw that out. For one thing, if you’re checking out the horse at the backside of the track, there’s no where to ride him but the racetrack, and that usually isn’t considered an option! You don’t “try” racehorses, you look at them and have X-rays taken, and that’s about as far as it goes.
When I went to see Final Call, the owner tacked him up, took him out to the round pen, and lunged him for me to see. He was a little tiny bit of a crazy man. It was deep sand footing, which tends to throw Thoroughbreds into a tailspin anyway. The exciting part was that the round pen had about ten foot walls, and he could put his head over the wall and see horses galloping on the training track just beyond.
Then she pulls him up and says, “I don’t know how long you like your stirrups,” and proceeds to hold him still (or an approximation thereof) while I adjust the stirrups. This was when I had a little alarm go off in my brain.
“You’re not getting on him, I take it,” I said to her.
“Oh no,” she laughed. “Oh no.”
That’s always reassuring. “Look,” I said seriously. “I have half a dozen horses two hours from here that will need feeding tonight if anything happens to me. I know you don’t want to take on that responsibility. Is he going to dump me?”
She shook her head. “He’s fine. Really. I’m just not much of a rider.”
Fair enough. She probably wasn’t. And anyway – what difference does it make if the owner/trainer rides the horse before you or not? These days, you are just as liable to get a drugged, exhausted horse that turns into a devil after you get him back to your own barn, whether the owner gets on or not. Risk it before you buy or risk after, either way it’s a roulette spin whether or not the horse is going to kill you.
I stuck my boot in the stirrup and swung aboard.
Imagine, if you will, the most slippery, cheapest, cardboard-iest saddle you have ever sat upon in your entire life. Then multiply that by ten and add denim to the mix because I didn’t feel like wearing full-seat breeches all day. THEN get on an OTTB who doesn’t know about the “OT” part yet.
Now, for all of that misery, he was quite fantastic. He didn’t bolt, he didn’t flip, he didn’t buck, he didn’t toss his head back and break my nose (that’s actually my biggest fear in life – well, it’s a close second to the black hole that’s going to open up in Europe when the super-collider is started up.) Those are basically my four qualifications in taking on a horse. If he doesn’t do any of those things, he’s pretty much in.
It took me several minutes to find some sort of balance on that parody of a saddle. We jogged around the ring in a nervous state of slipping and sliding, my hands jerking at his mouth, my legs wobbling about – then muscle memory took over (bless you!) and I pressed my knees into his sides, my hands into his neck, stuck my heels out and well ahead of my lower body, and rode like the exercise rider I’d once been, a decade ago.
And oh – that arched neck, and that round back, and that prancing stride! It all came together – he knew me, and I knew him – and we slipped into a canter (the wrong lead, but who’s looking) and went dancing around the round pen, so pleased with one another that he forgot to stare longingly at the racetrack, and I forgot to be frightened. Love, love, love. Love is a many-splendored thing. Love is a racehorse.