The Wicked North
We lost The Wicked North today, after an early morning bout of colic. On Sunday, just four short days ago, I watched him tear across his paddock and rear up on his hind legs. I can barely fathom how that healthy, vital horse can be gone.
The Wicked North won over 1.1 million dollars in his racing career, and was the Eclipse award winning Champion Older Male in 1994. He stood at stud in California, New York and Kentucky, before retiring to Old Friends in 2008. Even though he was extremely accomplished as a racehorse, it was his personality that invariably drew people to him.
Visitors to Old Friends were always impressed with Norty. He was a tall, big-chested, coppery horse with a pretty white stripe down his face. People often commented on his large size, and yet I can’t think of anyone who ever was afraid of him. It was Norty’s gift, being able to make anyone, even if they had never been near a horse, feel comfortable enough to pat him. Everyone–adult, child, man, or woman–saw patience and intelligence in his big brown eyes. He was good and kind. Being near him sort of made you feel good and kind, too.
More than any other horse, I think of Norty in a series of mental snapshots. I remember the Sunday he arrived at the farm, a cool October day in 2008. Norty saw our tour group, walked over to the fence and stuck his nose in the carrot bucket like he’d been at Old Friends forever. I always thought he understood his job at Old Friends better than perhaps any horse on the farm. He didn’t need to show off, learn tricks or beg for treats. It was more than enough that he just be himself.
I remember how Norty would stand with his ears pricked while little girls kissed his nose and their moms took photos. He never broke the pose until the picture was taken. Norty got lots and lots of kisses from little girls, and there are lots and lots of photos stuck in scrap books out there.
Then there was the time Norty took a quick swipe with his tongue across the top of a visitor’s open can of Coke. The lady asked me what she should do and I shrugged. She shrugged back and took a swig herself. I think she enjoyed sharing her soda with the big red horse.
Or how, during one of our fundraising events at the farm, we heard Norty in the big barn demanding attention by incessantly banging on his stall door. It was loud, persistent and got everyone’s attention.
One of the Old Friends volunteers, Tim, pretty much learned how to brush a horse with Norty. In my mind, I can see Tim and Norty in the big barn, quietly conversing and never knowing I was there. I know Tim is more than upset today.
Perhaps Norty’s biggest fan was Kent Desormeaux, who rode him in a number of his races. I think of Kent, giving Norty a bath and then hopping on bareback for a ride. And I remember how Norty remembered his jockey, arching his neck, prancing and acting like he was ready to head back to the racetrack.
As I write this, all those moments and all those pictures are running through my mind. Anyone who knew The Wicked North loved him, and I was no exception. His death leaves a large hole at Old Friends, because no horse will be able to quite fill the space he so completely occupied in our hearts.
I’m really glad that my final memory of The Wicked North is that mental snapshot of him in the green spring grass of Kentucky–rearing up, pawing the air and shaking his head like the prince that he was.