“FARMILY” PHOTO ALBUM

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The show portrait. The all-important rite of passage at any major horse show. Years from now, when our memories aren’t as vivid, these photos serve as a crisp reminder, they take us back to “that day” at “that show.” For years, they were a show of continuity. If it weren’t for the year changing in the backdrop, or the style of dress/tack, they would simply be carbon copies of each other.

Now, they aren’t just a staged pose in front of a backdrop, they’re glamour shots and family photos. Additional backdrops allow for more personal, close-ups of horse and rider, wardrobe changes, props… It’s turned into a full-on photo shoot. Rows of friends and family line up on either side of the horse, representing not just the horse and rider team, but their entire pit crew and cheering squad.

It’s said, that “home is where the heart is.” In my case, I look at my heart, as the home of all my friends. I carry them with me wherever I go, I carry their hearts in my heart (borrowed from E. E. Cummings). If you looked inside my heart, it would look something like this, great expanses of wall space, and galleries of my loved ones, for they’re all my loved ones, by blood, or by having horses in our blood. I give you, a tribute to some of them, with great appreciation for all that they bring to my life, and with much love…

What’s interesting, is how everyone seems to be connected. Several friends came into my life from one central person, Todd. I can honestly say I learned the most from him, Todd introduced me to his lovely wife, Laura:

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Through Todd I met Abby:

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Sisters, Lindsay & Anna, and Andrea:

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I didn’t know it at the time, but Anna was friends with Abbie, who I’d met at another barn:

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All these beautiful, young women, were GIRLS when I met them! I don’t know what happened, I saw something shiny, I blinked, and they became adults!

While I was at Todd’s barn, I showed with Amy, who now shows with her daughter, Kylee. I love, that when Amy was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, her daughter took it to heart, and started wearing great show clothes, featuring images that are close to her heart, including pink, sparkly ribbons of hope:

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Our common threads, bound in our hearts, and captured in images, just in case, just like family ❤

TROTTING DOWN MEMORY LANE

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Out of nowhere, it hit me. My heart bounced up into my throat, the tears welled in my eyes, and for a moment, it was hard to breathe. I’d just driven past this very same scene twice the day before, and for whatever reason, hadn’t been effected, but Sunday morning, a flood of emotion and memories, so overwhelming, nearly made me have to sit in my car and get myself together, before going to work.

Anyone in the horse world knows, that October simply IS the All American Quarter Horse Congress. The entire city of Columbus becomes the center of the equine world for the month, and the globe converges to show, shop, and socialize. I’ve spent months of my life at those fairgrounds. I’ve been a spectator and an exhibitor, I’ve worked the trade show as a tack store associate, and now occasionally as a greeter for our dealership. We serve as one of the “anchor” auto retailers during the show, and the numbers alone would astound you. Salesmen who are able to make themselves fit into the landscape, can do enough to support themselves pretty nicely, for several months after.

I’d gotten the call to see if I was available to help out last weekend, because they were anticipating record crowds, and hopefully sales. The sales manager joked that I could “name my price,” so I send a photo of one of our King Ranch Super Duty trucks, and the hip#34 listing from the Super Sale. Our motto is “we’re dealin’” so why not put it to work for me? I earned a good laugh and appreciation from the rest of the team, in addition to a little financial windfall, so I guess it all worked out.

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Driving in and out of the back gate to where our temporary location sits, takes you through several make-up pens, full around the clock, of horses being longed, ridden, or just waiting in line for their turn to work. I can’t say why it didn’t bother me Saturday, but Sunday morning, looking through my windshield at everyone, I was struck by such an intense ache in my heart, such longing to go back in time to when Buddy and I were waiting in those same lines, or working quietly among the other exhibitors and trainers, I was truly overwhelmed. All the late nights, the ridiculous early mornings, the hurry up and wait in the freezing cold for your split to work. Scrubbing muddy legs with numb fingers in the wash stalls, and the early twinges of arthritis setting in, as you braid teeny tiny plaits into your horse’s mane. The rush of having a great ride, and the crushing blow of defeat when your number isn’t called back. I couldn’t possibly articulate the full spectrum of emotions you experience at a show like this, only those who’ve done it can understand.

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On the other side, there are the trade show workers. They’re on the grounds days, even weeks before the show even opens, and another week or so after, to clean up the carnage. By the time your storefront does open, you’re already worn out from setting up a booth, unpacking countless semi-trailers full of merchandise, and creating an inviting display to lure your customers in with. One year, I narrowly missed a head injury while unpacking, when a steel, galvanized pipe (used as framework for an awning) slid off the back of a trailer it was leaned up against. Luckily someone else saw it first, and called out to me. I turned to look at them, as the pipe whizzed past my face, crashing onto my foot. We managed to come up with some Advil and a bucket of ice to put my foot in, but it didn’t take long to figure out I wasn’t going to be very useful for the rest of that day. I drove home in tears, I knew something was broken, but couldn’t bring myself to take off my shoe and look. Mom finally took me to the emergency room that night, where I was diagnosed with a broken distal phalanx. They gave me a sandal-looking shoe to wear, and that was it. The sandal lasted the rest of the week of set up, but when the show opened, I was left with no choice. Every morning, I would tape the broken toe, stuff it into a boot, and take heroic amounts of Advil, to get through each day. A broken toe is hardly an injury that legends are made of, but when you have to spend 12 hours on your feet every day for a month, it’s also not exactly what a Doctor would have recommended. Despite events like those, the crews we worked with played as hard as we worked. I (mostly) remember many nights spent at the Corral (the main bar at the show, though there are several throughout), after the shops would finally close, unwinding and telling stories of the ghastly or hilarious customers we met during the day.

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In the Corral, anything, and everything could happen. For several consecutive years, I was proposed to by a lovely man from ML Leddy’s. He’d ask me to dance, ask me to marry him, and ask me to come home to Texas with him. Every year I’d politely refuse, thank him for the dance, and promise I’d consider it for next year. The last year I worked at the show, was when Kippy belts were just growing in popularity. There are a couple brands that are more expensive, Kippy being one, I forget the others, but they’re leather belts, covered in crystals and other embellishments. Our store had a nice selection, I’d bought myself one, and we all “modeled” them during the store hours for customers to see. There had been a man in the store about an hour or so before we closed, looking at them for his girlfriend, but he never bought one. Later that night, the same man found me at the Corral, and begged for my belt. I asked him why he hadn’t bought one when I’d seen him, not two hours ago now? Apparently, when he met back up with his girlfriend after his shopping excursion, she wasn’t happy that he didn’t return with the belt for her, and he was paying for it! I tried to brush him off, but he was insistent. They were leaving in the morning he said, and if he didn’t have a belt for her by then, he was going home alone. Now honestly, they’re great belts, but I didn’t think enough to break up a relationship over… He tried to strike up a deal with me, I met every counter he made with a higher price. When we reached $500 I finally told him, “look, we’re done. Come back with $500 CASH, or don’t come back at all, but right now, leave me alone.” He wandered off and I thought sure I’d gotten rid of him. An hour later he came back with the money. I was so surprised, I had one of our security guys count it out for me, and handed him my belt. The couple made up, I bought myself a round of drinks for everyone in my group, and a new belt the next day, and a water pump for my car not long after.

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Nowadays, I work the occasional weekend, greeting potential truck buyers, helping point them to salespeople, weeding out the “tire kickers,” and sometimes helping drive the trucks to and from the fairgrounds. I never mind that job! Who doesn’t love handling a $60,000 truck? It’s a great way to make a little extra cash, and run into old friends while I’m doing it. I still have several friends showing, so when I’m able, I go up to watch and cheer for them. It fills a little of the void, hanging out at the stalls, waiting for their class. Zipping chaps and greasing hooves. I can’t NOT get involved with the pre-show prep, I’m too fidgety without a rag or brush in my hand. My boyfriend hasn’t experienced me showing before, so he sits back and watches. He knows these are the cobweb-thin threads that hold me together, that give me hope that someday I’ll be the one in the saddle again. He holds my purse while I dive in to straighten and wipe an errant hair or traces of dust. He’s quiet while I watch the classes, rubbing my hand, letting me soak it all in. For the friends who’s ride ends in victory, it’s off to the photo stall. The winners are permitted to go to the head of the line, and it’s become almost a competition in itself, to see how many people you can cram into your official photo. The one I featured here makes me smile because of the memories I have with everyone in it. That adorable little girl, is now a beautiful young woman (we won’t even talk about how much older that makes me!), whom I’m lucky to call a friend. Honestly, all my horse friends are family. You can’t spend as much time as we’ve all spent together, and not be.

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FALL IN LOVE… WITH TRAIL RIDING

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This time of year is hands-down, my favorite time to hit the trails. The colors of all the leaves, the more comfortable weather, the bugs go away… It’s fantastic. There was a time, many years ago, when the show horse circles I ran in, sneered at the idea of turning a horse out, or trail riding. They’re SHOW horses, they live in stalls and stay pretty. I’m relieved that I quickly saw the error in that line of thought, and did things my own way. My horses would echo my opinion. They’re horses, and they need to be horses. This, is why trail riding works out so well. It gives everyone, horses and riders, fresh air and a blank canvas.

I’m a member of a group on LinkedIn called “Horse Lovers of the Business World.” If you’re not currently on LinkedIn, and a member, I recommend you join. It’s a great group of genuine, horse-loving, intelligent people, who love to share stories and advice among their fellow members. I credit the group for inspiring me to start blogging. When I decided to write an entry on trail riding, it was the first place I went, to ask for tips and tales from actual experience, and collectively, we put together a sort of “top ten” list, of the things you want to remember when you venture out onto the trails.

COMMUNICATION-Whether it’s a message board at your barn, or a heads up phone call to your emergency contact, before and after your ride, communication is critical. It doesn’t matter if you ride alone or with friends, multiple riders/horses can become injured or impaired as easily as singles. Make sure before you head out, someone responsible is aware of your ride, your planned course, and rough eta. Then check in with them again upon your return.

SURROUNDINGS AWARENESS-Make a point to find out in advance (whenever possible) the conditions of the areas where you’re planning to ride. Take a map if you’re unfamiliar with the trails, and a guide isn’t available. Learn about local hunting, and take that into serious consideration. If you feel safe, it’s still a good idea to wear some orange or other bright clothing, to make yourself easier to see. If you’re nervous, listen to your gut, it’s not worth the risk. Sadly, in the area where I live, there are regular news stories about hunters “accidentally” shooting animals, pets, and even humans.

MULTI-TOOLS-There are many available now, at a variety of prices, and with a great selection of features. Look for one that you can perform basic tasks with, cleaning out a hoof, cutting wire, pulling a nail, etc. They usually come in a sheath of some kind, that you can slide onto a belt, or clip onto your saddle. I’m a fan of carabiner clips too, they’re simple to use, and make attaching items to a saddle easy.

INVENTORY-Have a talk with all riders before you set out, to plan your ride, and make each other aware of any special issues you or your horse may have. If you’ve got a horse that spooks at birds, or maybe a rider who’s diabetic, everyone should be aware, so they know how to react and help.

PHONES (or, should you ride in poor-coverage areas, go old school, walkie-talkies still get the job done)-Keep your phone or walkie talkie on your person. In the event of an unplanned dismount, a phone still attached to your saddle, or tucked in a bag, isn’t doing you a whole lot of good, if it’s galloping off into the sunset, while you’re curled in a ball on the ground, crying, hyperventilating, or maybe even wetting your pants a little (don’t be a hero, it happens to us all! LOL).

WATER/SNACKS-Water is always important, even in cooler weather, when we tend to be more forgetful about hydration. Anything can happen, and a short ride can turn into an all day adventure in the blink of an eye. If you get stuck out on the trail for longer than expected, wouldn’t it be great to have a protein bar or handful or trail mix to keep your blood sugar level, as well as your thinking?

HALTER/LEAD-A little added bulk, for more peace of mind. You might want to give your horse a break and tie them off somewhere. Someone could get hurt and you might need to pony their horse back to the barn. A broken limb could be splinted with branches and the lead, again, anything can happen.

FIRST AID KIT-These don’t have to be super sophisticated, or take up a lot of space. Some Advil and a few bandaids may be all you ever, or even never need. It’s something that should be tailored to you, know your needs, and consider what could happen, then pack a small assortment of items to make sure you can patch things up until you’re safely home, or in the care of a trained medic.

MARK YOUR TERRITORY-This was a new one for me, but I loved the suggestion. One member said to “luggage tag” your horse. Either on their halter, or braided into their mane, find a way to leave your name and phone number on them, should the two of you get separated, so the finder of your horse, can then also locate you to return them.

LIGHTS OUT-Carry a small flashlight or even wear a headlight. The darkness settles in quickly and earlier as the weather turns. Your horse may not be uncomfortable seeing in the dark, their vision is better than yours, but you’ll feel better if you can see too.

Ultimately, if you fail to plan, then plan to fail. Don’t set yourself up for a bad time, trail riding is supposed to be fun and relaxing! If you crave spontaneity, make up a small bag with supplies and clips to fasten to your saddle, and keep it ready at all times. This way, if you decide to head out on a whim, you don’t have to waste time packing, you can just grab your kit and go. Remember too, if your horse isn’t a seasoned trail horse, start slow and easy. They get sensory overload, especially when trying new things.

My gelding was a great show horse, and a fun trail horse, until the farm owners left rows of plastic-wrapped round bales near a trail we used. These “giant, killer marshmallows” were probably going to get us, every time we saw them. He was a big sissy, and would fuss in mud, “ewwww, my feet are dirty,” but plow through a creek bed without batting an eye. Or alternately, would absolutely REFUSE to step over the thinnest crack of water running through a field. Honestly, you couldn’t even see it until you were right on top of it, but he knew it was there, and it might have swallowed him, you don’t know! A friend went on a trail ride once, her horse spooked at deer that turned up out of the trees unexpectedly, and in addition to nearly getting tossed, her bra also failed to be “trail ready.” (love you Karah!) So ladies, here’s a lesson for us. When trail riding, part of your prep should include an undergarment check. Nobody wants the “girls” going without adult supervision on a trail ride, especially if you’re also dealing with a spooky horse.

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CELEBRITY INTERVIEW FOLLOW-UP: TALL, DARK, AND SPARKY!

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With the boys in town, just south of us for a county fair, I finally got a chance to meet Sparky, and handler, Kat, in person. They certainly didn’t disappoint! Sparky was every bit as charming and charismatic as he was in our interview, and Kat was a wealth of knowledge about the hitch and all things related.

We arrived early, while breakfast was being served, and the first of several room service rounds were being made. As David parked the car, I went inside their temporary quarters to look for Kat, and in the process was greeted by a very excited Clyde, the Dalmatian. We met Kat, and she walked us down the aisle, introducing us to all the horses. At the final stall, she opened the door, and allowed me to step inside for a visit… ahhhhh… heaven! You never know, when meeting high profile animals, just what’s permitted as far as actual contact, but in this barn, it was my day! I walked right up to a giant, still munching the remains of his grain, to hug and pet, and breathe in the delicious horsey smell. It took me immediately back to my early 4-H days with our first club advisors, and being allowed to handle their Clydes and Shires. They’re towers over you, but so very aware of the small, two-legged animals by their sides.

While they finished eating, Kat took us outside to show us their fleet, comprised of three tractor-trailer rigs, emblazoned with photos of the horses. The first was the hitch and harness trailer, climate-controlled (at least, most of the time, she joked), laid out to match the order of the horses. Enormous red, glossy show wagon in the back, and glass front display/storage cases for each set of harness; wheel team (closest to the wagon), swing team, point team, and lead team. The harnesses are wiped clean after each use, and polished spotless before the next.

The other two rigs haul the most precious cargo, the big boys themselves. One, a six-horse straight load, the second a two-horse that also stores and transports their portable stalls and decor. These trailers are cleaned out for display as well. I even got to climb up into the drivers seat to check out all the dash equipment, including a monitor to watch the horses in the trailer. All handlers have their CDL’s, so they act as team drivers as well. Nothing is done by half-measures here.

We headed back inside and pulled a still blanketed Sparky from his stall. He was content to stand quietly in the aisle while I fussed over him, and found his good itchy spots. We posed for some pictures, then sadly, it was time to say goodbye. While I wrapped things up, David wandered to take a few more photos for me. As he was trying to get a good shot of the AB logo embroidered on one of the horse’s sheets, another was in stealth mode, snaking over the top of a stall wall, to carefully try to pull David’s hat off his head, without David taking notice, at least, he hoped!

The hitches all have busy travel schedules, but you have to make time to see them live, whenever you can. We all need to take time to be in awe of such lovely, warm-hearted, and ornery souls. While they’re at the Fairfield County Fair this week, there are plenty of opportunities to see them resting and working, don’t miss it!

http://www.fairfieldcountyfair.org
http://www.warmspringsranch.com
http://www.grantsfarm.com
http://www.budweiser.com

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CELEBRITY INTERVIEW: MEET THE RESIDENTS OF KENTUCKY HORSE PARK’S, HALL OF CHAMPIONS

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Most of us can only dream, of walking into the home of a celebrity. “Access to greatness,” as explained by Director of Equine Operations, Wes Lanter. “You can’t walk up to Derek Jeter’s house and expect to be welcomed inside,” but at the Kentucky Horse Park, not only can you meet the famous, you’re invited in their home, you can talk to them, ask questions about them, and sometimes, on really special days, even give them a pat on the shoulder. Wes introduced me to “they guys” who were in house during our visit, and helped interpret for them while we chatted…

Currently, there are nine horses calling the Hall of Champions their home. When you think of retirement, it’s easy to picture them spending their days grazing and talking to each other over tall, white paddock fences. What you don’t consider, is that to these horses, they’re still hard at work. Consider their retirements, a long-term public relations tour of duty. Three times a day, during their busy season, three or four of the horses are featured in presentations to an eager crowd. Situated in the middle of four large paddocks, sit the show barn, and a pavilion. A moderator shares the famous history of each horse, followed by a short video of their best-known work, leaving the audience cheering for their victory, and this is how they enter the presentation, to applause (as well they should!). During our visit, 23 year old Thoroughbred stallion, Go for Gin, 14 year old Standardbred trotter gelding, Mr. Muscleman, and 22 year old Thoroughbred gelding, Da Hoss, lead their handlers to the center of the pavilion and posed.

Gin explained, “it’s like a daily walk down the red carpet, except ours is made of black rubber, for our safety. The handlers think they have to walk us through it, but the truth is, we know the routine better than they do! Stop in the middle, count to 10, walk to the right and stop, count to ten, turn back to the left… you get the idea.” Gin also shared with me how much he enjoys the rewards of his work, like having his gums rubbed. He’s a bit of a ham though, watch him in his stall, if you get close enough, it’s like sitting in the splash zone of Sea World! Gin’s fame came from wins in the 1993 Remsen Stakes, and 1994 Kentucky Derby, as well as several notable 2nd place finishes, before a tendon sheath tear retired him in 1995. Gin is the second oldest living Kentucky Derby winner, next to Sea Hero. He was then sent on to Claiborne Farm, and later Bonita Farm, where he went on to produce offspring netting more than $22 million in career winnings.

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Muscles is one of the few Standardbreds to have enjoyed a brief show career under saddle. He’s one of the crowd favorites for his affable personality, and told me how much he enjoys the little two-legged animals the most. “When we’re not being paraded around for the crowds, I like to hang out with that Quarter Horse fella, Be a Bono. He’s a race horse too you know. He’s kind of bossy sometimes, but I know it’s just because he’s protective of his friends. The truth is, he’s really an old sweetheart! We both made good money on the track. I was one of only two to make $1 million in two non-consecutive seasons, and he’s the 19th richest racing American Quarter Horse. Now you see why we have such fancy digs!” Be A Bono is one of the younger residents, at only 13 years old.

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When Hoss came into the pavilion, I was immediately reminded of a William Shakespeare quote, “though he be but little, he is fierce.” Hoss is small by Thoroughbred standards, but don’t let his size fool you. “I’m 10 feet tall when I stand on all the hardware I’ve won! I’m the only gelding who’s ever won two Breeders Cup races, and the only horse to do it in non-consecutive years. I still hold the world record for a two year old going 6 furlongs too (1:07:1/5). Racing was great fun, but honestly, I really love my work here. I taught the humans to give me treats after I lay a little kiss on their cheek, they love that stuff, and I love those little orange slice candies. It’s a win win! Actually, I get pretty excited for any kind of food, but I guess that’s where the expression hungry as a horse came from.”

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14 year old Thoroughbred gelding, Funny Cide, and the youngest member of the herd, 10 year old Standardbred pacer, Won the West, were offsite during our visit, but I asked the others about them… “Funny, ironically enough, can be a bit of a grumpy old man trapped in a horse suit. If he’s napping, don’t even think about waking him up without a carrot! He’s the self-proclaimed Alpha of the barn, and takes his retirement as seriously as he took his career as a racehorse.” Funny is known for winning both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness as a three year old, and was the first gelding to take the Derby crown since 1929. He’s also one of the horses who still travels on press tours.

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“W, can make the funniest faces when he’s getting scratched, if you hit the right spot! He hangs out with Bono and Muscleman sometimes, they’re all good friends.” W is one of only eight horses to receive the Dan Patch Award for Best Older Male Pacer in consecutive years, and the 3rd richest pacer in North America, when he retired.

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While I was given the barn tour, and talking with the boys inside, two more were on their turn out breaks in the back paddocks, 25 year old Standardbred pacer, Staying Together, and 20 year old Standardbred pacer, Western Dreamer.

Stanley (Staying Together) no longer participates in the presentations. He now only has one eye, and is blind, so he greets his visitors from his paddock. “I was Harness Horse of the year, Pacer of the year, and Champion Aged Pacer, in both US and Canada in 1993. That’s something! I even set a couple records in my day for the fastest race time on a half mile and one mile track in ’93. It was a pretty good year for me, I guess.” Stanley has developed a reputation as a teddy bear, he loves hugs, and has developed a warm, trusting relationship with his handlers.

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Dreamer’s year of note was 1997. “I was the first gelding to win pacing’s triple crown, and the only gelding of any breed to win one. That’s why they named me Pacer of the year, Harness Horse of the Year, and Champion three year old Pacing colt, back then. Nowadays, I love to play ball in my free time… a stall ball that is. My favorite part of our presentations, is when one of my fans has a dog with them. I always make a point to introduce myself, nose to nose.”

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Lastly, I met the ladies man… Cigar. All time leading money winner at his time of retirement, 1990’s Racehorse of the Decade, and the 18th best racehorse of the 20th century. He was coming out of his stall for treatment at the wash rack, so we got to have a little “locker room interview.”

“I’m Cigar, you’ve heard of me, I’m sure.” Cigar certainly knows how to make an impression. The guy’s a big deal, and he knows it, but above all, a consummate professional. Wes brought him out to meet me, and while we talked, he showed his playful side, by picking at Wes and the leather lead in his hand. I have to admit, I was a bit awestruck. It isn’t every day I get to meet such handsome celebrities (and when I do, the human ones aren’t usually as interesting!). I congratulated him on his remarkable career, we talked about his tie with Citation for 16 consecutive wins, after which, he was quick to point, out he always received a peppermint-one of his favorite treats. “When I lost that 17th race though, I just couldn’t do it, it wouldn’t taste as sweet.” Sadly, he was never able to pass his talents and personality down to later generations. “In 1996, that guy on TV, Bill Cosby, retired me with a big to do at Madison Square Garden. It was a nice little party. After they figured out I wasn’t stud material, I came here to the horse park in 1999.” He went on to share that he feels akin to Wes, because during Wes’ time at Spendthrift Farm, Wes also worked with Cigar’s maternal grandfather, racing legend, Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown Winner.

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In a typical day there, Wes explained, the horses are fed at 7:30am, then room service and grooming. They try to rotate the horses around, so none are shown more than twice in one day. During the course of the day, between presentations, there’s always turn-out time, followed by more grooming and stall-tidying. At the end of the day, another meal time, and back to their private stalls for a good night’s sleep. Wes is a self-described “Thoroughbred man,” with a resume boasting time spent at Overbrook Farm, Three Chimneys Farm, and Spendthrift Farm. His favorite race now though, is the Little Brown Jug, a standardbred race held in Delaware, Ohio every September. “It’s a slice of Americana, you need to check it out.” Thanks for the tip, Wes! It sounds like a great future blog entry to me!

It may surprise you, that all those famous racehorses, are so laid back and social. I think we expect them to act like the human celebrity athletes we see on tv now, vying for endorsements, marketing their personal “brands,” but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. They recognize their path to stardom, and eventually on to retirement, was then, and is still now, lined with their fans. They’re appreciative and humble. But most importantly, they’re all accessible!

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