Thursday March 24, 2011

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. 




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24 responses to “Thursday March 24, 2011

  1. Viv from Ivytree

    All I could think of is the snapshots I took of him on a fall afternoon….I suppose it’s the obvious that inspired us both to think of Wicked as moments captured in time…his demeanor, his carriage, his spirit. Thanks for painting those pictures again, Val. I am so glad he shared a last shining moment with you on Sunday. He is forever young and running free into the Western horizon. God Bless everyone there at OF. Hugs, Viv

  2. Terri

    What a wonderful blog about a wonderful horse. My favorite on the farm. So very sorry he is gone. He will be missed.

  3. Anne

    Hi Val,
    My condolances to all of you at Old Friends. It must be so diffcult for you to write these obituaries. You know each one of these lovely horses who have become a member of your family. This has been a difficult winter which has shown no mercy for our dear horse friends. I am relieved that your last memory is that strong red flash of light rearing up reminding you that he still had it!
    Norty now has joined that elite group flashing his credentials.
    Many thanks to you all for making his retirement years happy and free of worry. He sure will be missed by all he has touched.

  4. Pam

    Val, I’m so sorry to hear of Norty’s passing. I couldn’t believe it when I read it on You had just been talking about him and all of his heart-warming antics. You brought him to life in my mind, and I’m sure he’ll be missed by everyone at the farm and all the visitors who had the honor of meeting him. Please accept my sincere condolences.

  5. Laura

    Michael, Val, and everyone else at OF,
    I am so sorry for your loss. He was a lucky horse to have been so loved, and I am sure he knew it. No doubt he was glad to return so much love back to you. Val, you brought Norty to vivid life in your blog, and your affection for him always came through. He will be missed by the many fans who got to know him through your posts as well as those of us who were privileged to meet him in the flesh.
    Again, my sincerest condolences.

  6. Lovely description, and what wonderful memories of him you’ve shared with those of us who didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him personally.

    My most sincere condolences.

  7. allie

    I am so sad – Norty was seemly so healthly and doing so well at Old Friends. I enjoyed seeing him and wish that he is happy at at the rainbow bridge – he was so beautiful

  8. So sorry that Norty is gone. He certainly left his mark on many hearts. I always like to remind the folks that love and lose an animal, “It isn’t about the beginning or the end. It is about the love in between.”

  9. Trish Lee

    Sorry about Wicked. I lost a 14 yr. old gelding I raised last month. Down with colic the first time in his life. My first time in 46 yrs. of owning horses. Even after Vet & walking he was gone in 24 hrs.:(

  10. Dear Val,
    I am so sad for your loss, and the loss of everyone who knew and loved this great thoroughbred. It is always so sad for us humans when these beautiful souls pass away. But, hopefully, “Norty” is galloping and frolicking in Heaven with his equine friends, free from pain and forever free.

  11. Dawn

    Your stories and images brought me to tears. We are all mourning with you, while celebrating his life. God bless.

  12. Kathy

    I read your blog every week. I read the entry from last Sunday with special joy because I love it when “the seniors” feel their oats and “announce their presence with authority” ;o) I read that entry again yesterday, too. At the time I wondered what made me click for a second time this week on the Old Friends “favorite” on my list. Now I know. Norty was definitely one of the favorites, and it is easy to see why. It’s always hard when the stars leave us, but they live forever in our hearts.

  13. MRO

    I also want to express my sympathies. Unfortunately, I didn’t take much of an opportunity to meet The Wicked North during my several visits to the farm. Now I will never have the chance. So sorry.

  14. Teri H.

    I am an Old Friends volunteer because of The Wicked North. I visited OF with one mission in mind – must see The Wicked North. I was in awe of his accomplishments and his sheer physical beauty. Although he was every bit as beautiful in person as I had expected, his beauty in many ways suddenly became secondary. There was just something about him, a kindness, a gentle aura that always made me feel at peace. I had tears of joys upon meeting him. Today, tears of sadness.

  15. Colmel (Melissa P)

    As I wrote on Facebook, I know this had to be a tremendously shocking loss for you, especially, Val. I lost my darling Untarnished (Silver Buck – Permanent Cut) at age 5 carrying her second foal to a sudden colic. Hagyard is a marvelous vet (they were ours, too) and you have to know they did all they could. It just is so sad. Twists are expecially difficult. My heart goes out to all of you at Old Friends. We know that your wonderful facility takes in the older bunch and that time eventually catches up with us all, but to lose one who was so vital…it’s a very hard pill to swallow.

  16. Linda Waltman

    Thank you, Val, for the last images you had of The Wicked North and now have left the rest of us with. We can almost see him rearing up. Rest in Peace.

  17. Curt

    When we went back to Kentucky for last year’s Breeder’s Cup & visited Old Friends, our guide Charlie Brown asked who we wanted to see & I immediately said the wicked one. Not only for his accomplishments, but for a presence which set him apart from the rest.

  18. Ruth Ann

    My most sincere condolences to all at Old Friends and especially to you, Val. I know how much you loved Norty. I read your blog this past Sunday and it started with how good Norty was feeling. Life is so fragile, it was such a shock to read about Norty’s passing in Bloodhorse. R.I.P., Norty, you will be missed by many and remembered by all for the champion that you were!

  19. I am shocked and saddened beyond words!! My heart goes out to Kent Desormeaux and his trainer Mr. Bernstein. Although I did not see Norty in person, I’m so very glad I have my July 2010 Old Friends calendar page to cherish his memory. You are so blessed Val to be able to spend time with these wonderful, beautiful animals. I don’t thinks Secretariat had anything on Norty when it came to looks. What a beauuuuuuuuuuutiful speciman.

    • oldfriendsblog

      thank you, everyone, for your kind words. Those of us who are some small part of the Old Friends team appreciate it greatly. And yes, I am fortunate beyond words to be able to regularly spend time with the old guys and girls. They are spectacular, every single one of them. -Val

  20. sercekonia

    My most heartfelt condolences for your loss of the Wicked North.

  21. KLB

    My heart is bereft at our loss of Norty; he is gone too soo-much too soon.

  22. Terry

    The Wicked North was my favorite horse at Old Friends when I visited last year. I wrote next to my photos of him, “The Wicked North who was not the least bit wicked.” He was such a sweetheart. He will be missed.

  23. AbbyfromWNY

    This is a rather late response, but I just wanted to say I was so very sorry to hear about the loss of dear Norty. My condolences go out to Val, Michael, Kent, Old Friends, and everyone else who was forever touched by this kind, old gentleman. This not-so little girl was lucky enough to kiss that fuzzy nose a couple of summers ago, and I am rather bereft that I forgot to take the opportunity to do so once again when I visited in January. The Wicked North was anything but wicked, and he will be so very, very missed. I know more than a few Old Friends fans who teared up when they received the news of his passing through this blog or the OF Facebook. Old Friends won’t be the same without Norty and Polish Navy, but I’m sure they’re looking down and neighing approvingly at the new arrivals. Here’s a toast to Norty, and the new guys, Ball Four and Afternoon Deelites.

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