Monthly Archives: November 2011

Thursday November 24, 2011

 For the past couple of years, The Wicked North has offered to take over writing the Thanksgiving blog.  With his loss earlier this year I just wasn’t sure about who to ask, so I consulted with Fortunate Prospect, our wise patriarch.  He suggested I ask Afternoon Deelites to take over. Personally, I think Gramps suggested him because AD is a major busybody.  As predicted, AD was thrilled to be asked.  So, without further ado….here’s AD!  -Val

Wow, I haven’t even been here a full year, and I’ve been asked to do this.  How honored am I? Of course, I do have some “cred” as far as writing.  My owner was Burt Bacharach, the famous songwriter.  So writing, of a sort, runs in the family.  Plus, I live in the paddock at the top of the driveway.  I supervise everything that goes on here! 

OK, OK, I’m getting to it, cool your jets.  I heard that Norty always asked what we were most thankful for.  So I asked that same question and to tell you the truth, I was amazed by some of the answers. And then, there were the kids–I mean, really?  Carrots and peppermints are great, but they are kind of a given here.  Couldn’t we come up with something, anything, more meaningful than that?  Sigh.  I can see I am going to have to explain the concept of deep thinking to some of these kids.  Well, just don’t blame me if you don’t like the answers, ok?

Gulch-– Meh, AD, you know you can’t expect much from some of these youngsters.  All they want is a new iPad and some attention.  None of them want to work at it.  I mean, what—they race a couple times and off to the shed?  Back in my day we worked for our millions.  Thank goodness there are still some of us old-timers around to remember when we had to race uphill both ways, barefoot, in a blizzard, carrying a humongous rider…

Clever Allemont— Oh for Pete’s sake, Gulch.   Personally, I consider every day a gift.  And boy do I appreciate green grass, my cozy stall at night and all the kids who like to visit me.  What’s better than that?

Ogygian—I am a simple guy, and I do appreciate carrots and attention.  But mostly, I just love to hang out under my tree in the sunshine and daydream.  It’s a perfect retirement and I am thankful every day for it.

I’m Charismatic—Carrots.   

AD—And here is my first student… IC, you mean you can’t come up with something, I don’t know, more interesting?  I know you have had issues with your ankles.  Surely there is something you are thankful for…hint, hint?

I’m Charismatic Okay AD, I think I see your point.  I have to thank all the OF people who have had so much patience with me.  I can go outside now, where people bring me lots and lots of carrots!

 (AD— annd we’re back to the carrots…)

Stormy Passage— Do you think AD is trying to tell us it’s NOT all about the carrots?  I don’t know if I can agree with that…Okay, Okay.  Thanks to everyone who found a way to get me to Old Friends.  And to everyone here who has taken such good care of me ever since.  I’ll happily express my appreciation–by eating more carrots!

Gasconade—snicker, snicker.  I’m thankful I was busy on the day Stormy was gelded.  Tee hee.  

(AD—does he know his day is coming, I wonder?) 

Prized— Been here a few months now.  I am really enjoying it.  People are friendly,  lots of grass, plenty of attention.  I kind of like that little brown dog—Marley?– that comes around on Sundays.  She kisses my nose sometimes.

You and I—This place is still kind of new to me, but I think I like it. My brother Prized is across the way and Uncle Sunshine is nearby, too. It’s good to have them to talk with.  I wish my other brother Kudos lived closer, but he does his own thing with his friends up on the hill. 

Patton—You know what really struck me when I came to Old Friends earlier this year?  Everyone here is so very kind.  I don’t think there is enough kindness in the world and we could all use more of it. So being here, it’s nice.  I figure, maybe if I am kind to our visitors, they will pass it on when they leave.  Yeah.  Anyway, that’s what I think.

Marquetry—I totally agree with Patton.  And a special thanks to everyone who got me to the clinic in time for my surgery a few weeks ago.   It was scary at first, but I’m feeling better every day.  And while my diet is pretty strict right now, kisses are still allowed!  Patton, I’ll be back in my paddock next door in no time. We’ll catch up then…. 

Kudos—hey You!   

Swan’s Way–  Dear Readers:  Please note my recent change of address.  I now reside just behind the farm office.  Do you think I need to notify the post office?  I don’t want to miss getting any of my mail.

Kiri’s Clown—Gulch!  Our grandkids—chips off the old blocks, eh?  I’m so proud of them both I could just burst! (Val’s Note:  that would be Get Stormy and Court Vision) 

Cherono—I really love my new field with Kudos and Bonapaw.  And my new best friend, Ball Four. 

Ball Four—back atcha, bro….. 

Danthebluegrassman—Yeah, we all really fell into it when we came here.  I wish even more people would visit—because we love meeting new people.  And to take a page from the kids—more people does mean more carrots…. 

AD—I give up. How did Norty do this?  It’s like herding barn cats…

Fortunate Prospect—I hate to get too involved in all this blog stuff.  I don’t really understand these computers. And what’s a smartphone, anyway?   But since I am the elder statesman, and I do turn 31 in a few weeks, I guess I need to say something.  So, here goes.  Ahem. Speaking for all of us here at Old Friends—equine, human, canine, and feline—we wish you all a most enjoyable and happy Thanksgiving.  Come visit.  And bring carrots…

 AD—Et tu FP?  That’s it.  Next year someone else can do this!     

(A reminder, AD—you love your carrots, too. So stop trying to fool us! –Val) 

Happy Thanksgiving to all, from everyone at Old Friends!!

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Sunday November 20, 2011

This particular blog entry is one that I have put off for far too long.  I put it off in large part because most of this blog’s regular readers will be aware that I am writing about my favorite horse in the world, and thus, I am perhaps not the most unbiased of persons.  But then, where horses are concerned, aren’t we all biased? 

So this is about Wallenda.  He was a good racehorse, certainly.  But he is also flat-out, no contest the toughest horse I have ever known.  In a world where Thoroughbreds are considered to be ever more fragile, he has shown himself to be smarter, stronger and more determined than anyone could have predicted. 

Wallenda, named after the patriarch of the famous circus family, amassed $1.2 million in earnings over a 33 race career.  As a three year old in 1993 for Dogwood Stables, he won the Super Derby, the Pennsylvania Derby and ran second in the Blue Grass Stakes.  He was Kentucky Derby worthy and in fact ran in the Derby that same year. Whenever I find myself in the Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, I stop to look for his name on the Derby wall.  Even though he didn’t win, seeing his name listed there never fails to thrill me.  After his racing career, Wallenda stood at stud in Kentucky, New Zealand, and ultimately ended up in Japan.  In the summer of 2007, he joined the Old Friends roster.  

I was new to Old Friends as a volunteer at the same time Wallenda arrived at the farm.  Among my first memories of the deep-chested, nearly black stallion is watching the Flying Wallenda family feed carrots to Wallenda the horse, and then performing their high-wire act at a farm fundraiser.  Wallenda the horse is a carrot hound, and a show-off.  He is also a stallion, and not the kind you kiss and fuss over.  He is an active horse by nature, not above taking a nip at anyone who annoys him, and not a particularly gentle or simple horse to be around.  Had I thought about it, I probably would have said he was a not a horse that would be calm and content as an indoor horse.  I had no idea the path Wallenda was about to walk. 

My memory of the time line isn’t precise but sometime after the Flying Wallendas visited, on a Sunday morning, I gave a tour of the farm to a married couple. As we approached Wallenda’s paddock down by the pond he was standing in the middle of his field with no weight on his back leg, clearly in distress.  As we watched, he struggled on three legs to limp the 30 feet over to the fence to greet us. Given how he struggled, those 30 feet must have felt like 30 miles.  And instead of reaching for carrots, Wallenda shoved his head into my arms, heaved a sigh and just stood there, looking for comfort.  Truthfully, I think in that moment my heart just dropped at his feet.  I have spent as much time with him as possible ever since, and I like to think we are friends. 

It turned out Wallenda had all but shredded his left hind suspensory ligament, probably not for the first time.  The vet who scanned it reportedly remarked the ankle looked like “ground beef.”  In many ways, it was a life-threatening injury, because of the repeat nature and resulting cumulative damage to his ankle.  For any horse, inactivity and standing on three legs for any length of time invites all sorts of complications, including colic and the dreaded laminitis.  Laminitis, or founder, is an often incurable disease with a long history of claiming the lives of famous and not-so-famous horses, including Secretariat and more recently, 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.  But unlike Barbaro, Wallenda was not headed to an equine hospital with swimming pools and lift systems to help bear his weight.  No, with this injury Wallenda became an indoor, stall-bound, no-exercise, no-visitors-allowed patient in the big barn at Old Friends.  He was now a horse most at risk for the deadly complications that had taken the lives of so many other horses, regardless of the world-class care they received. 

But Wallenda was, and is, some kind of a tough guy.  He seemed to understand that he had to remain quiet, and he put himself on a schedule—eat some hay, drink some water, lay down for an hour or two, get up and start the routine all over again.  He did this all day, every day, for months. He spent the entire fall, winter and early spring in his stall.  In hindsight, his ability to recognize that he needed to regularly take weight off his legs is probably what saved his life.

Eventually, Wallenda began to be hand-walked—ten minutes twice a day in the barn, then 15 and then 20 minutes.  The day he was allowed out of the barn to be hand-grazed for a few minutes was a triumph.  I remember Janet calling me, telling me to look out the back window of the farm’s office.  When I saw the black horse on a patch of grass in front of the barn, I think I cried.  After that it was a series of small steps.  The day I looked up while giving a tour and realized the horse in the round pen was Wallenda?  I just stopped talking and watched him, for what seemed like forever.  From there, he went out to a flat paddock for part of the day.  Through it all, Wallenda maintained his sensible routine, and even today he lies down regularly to rest his legs.

While Wallenda’s originally injured ankle will never be anywhere close to normal, the people that continue to monitor Wallenda and treat his injuries—Dr. Fraley and the Old Friends team—have nonetheless wrought a miracle.   Now, four years later, Wallenda’s ankle is clearly misshapen, thick and arthritic.  The hoof on that foot is abnormally shaped, and Dr. Fraley provides him with a special shoe that extends out the back, giving him a larger platform on which to support himself and keep his ankle from caving.  Even worse, his long-term inability to bear equal weight on the injured leg has compromised his “good” back leg, which is showing clear stress from having to support twice what it should. His right hock is three times normal size, knobby, and bends at an unnatural angle.  He is forced to bend it oddly in order to support himself.  His good back hoof also needs the support of a special shoe.  

And this is why Wallenda is the toughest horse I ever met: he walks on not four, not three, but on TWO good legs.  Horses just don’t do that; they can’t.  Nature designed the horse to need all four legs—an injury to one leg is often catastrophic, let alone damage to two legs.  But Wallenda is tougher than that.  He not only survives, he does it with determination, verve, and class.  He goes outside every day.  He trots and even canters for a few strides, making me cringe in fear when I see it. But he seems to know just how much he can handle.  He cleans up his meals, his coat is shiny and dappled and his eyes are bright.  I visit him a couple times a week, and he always, always comes to the fence or his stall door to welcome me with a head toss and a nicker.  He loves peppermints, a good back scratching and scoping out the mares across the road.  This month, Wallenda moved to the new Old Friends annex farm, a move that involved a ride in the horse trailer.  No problem—he walked onto and backed off that trailer like it was a piece of cake.  Think about it—a horse with bad balance, balancing himself in a trailer as it goes around curves and up and down hills.  Then, when he has to be tired, move backwards down a ramp, leading with two bad legs.  No hesitation, no problem, just the determination of a horse who knows he can do it.  He enjoys his life and makes the most of it—regardless of the chronic discomfort I imagine he must feel.  

I just can’t imagine any horse tougher than that.  

-Val

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Sunday November 6, 2011

It was another busy weekend (aren’t they all?), starting with the Breeder’s Cup on Friday and Saturday, and finishing with the Old Friends Breeder’s Cup BBQ today.  The weather in Kentucky could not have been better—low 60s, blue autumn skies, and bright sunshine made for an awfully pretty weekend. 

For Old Friends, the Breeder’s Cup was topped off by Court Vision’s win in the Breeder’s Cup Mile.  Court Vision is a son of our own Gulch.  Not that Gulch seemed to care much—he spent most of the party today as far away from people as he could get, with his back turned.  Parties are clearly not his thing.  The other Old Friends horse running yesterday was Kiri’s Clown’s grandson Get Stormy.  Stormy led for much of the way in the same race, giving way in the stretch to finish back in the pack. Still, it was a fine Old Friends kind of race.  

I stopped over to the new farm this morning to see Wallenda (who, by the way, is also a son of Gulch).  The new facility is pretty spectacular—peaceful, green and away from traffic and people noise.  Wallenda has decided he is the mac daddy alpha male of the new farm, and he is spending his time scoping out the mares on the neighboring farms.  I told him to settle down but he still came over to visit at a trot, showing off his new status as the man in charge–at least in his own mind… 

It was quiet at the new farm until Falcon Scott and WC Jones decided to have a competition.  The two geldings live in side-by-side paddocks.  They raced, bucked, kicked and then raced some more.  Each horse apparently was trying to out-do the other, but I’ll tell you this—WC Jones? Not that fast.  Falcon Scott?  He can move

The BBQ this afternoon was great—music, food, and both silent and live auctions.  I think it might have been our best-attended farm party ever, and I saw plenty of new faces.  I also saw many returning friends, and it’s always fun to see them.   I brought Marley to the picnic and that was one dog who had a total blast!  A party animal at heart, she wandered from person to person, greeting everyone.  As Dr. Byers said, that dog knows how to work a crowd. 

I took a short walk with one of our regular, returning friends today, visiting with Afternoon Deelites who was behaving nicely.  Fortunate Prospect took his daily nap, party or not.  Gulch, as stated earlier, was ignoring the entire event and all the corresponding visitors.  Clever was too busy grazing to visit, and Ogygian was halfway napping.  Bull and Commentator were busy entertaining a tour–because you know, people with a treat bucket always trump people with no treat bucket!  On the other hand, no horse loves a party more than Danthebluegrassman.  Dan, along with Flick, ran back and forth from one side of the paddock to the other, from person to person to person. I not so sure we couldn’t have turned Dan loose and he would have wandered around visiting, happy as can be.  Of course, he probably would have raided the BBQ table.  I could see him digging right into the dessert plates. 

I did take a quick detour to see Marquetry, who is in the barn and off-limits on a party day. But people have been asking about him so I thought I’d provide a first-hand report.  As you know, he had colic surgery last week.  He is doing fine and recovering nicely.  And as you can imagine, his diet is carefully controlled right now.  He also is sporting a wide, white bandage around his belly.  But he came over for a bit of cuddling and some kisses.  The thing about Marq is, as much as he loves treats, he’s just as content with love and kisses.  So kisses he got! 

The festivities were still in full swing as I left the farm for the day.  I stopped to say hi to Swan’s Way, who was hanging out near the driveway greeting people as they came and went.  Swannie also wanted some attention, and a mint or two.  He was more than content to give me minty kisses for a few minutes.  It was a nice way to end the day. 

We hope you can visit us soon.  In the meantime, thanks for spending this Sunday with Old Friends! 

 -Val

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