Monthly Archives: March 2012

Friday March 16, 2012

Fortunate Prospect

1981-2012

Perhaps the best horse I ever knew died yesterday.  He was an amazing 31 years old.  There are so many ways to describe Fortunate Prospect but in the end, “best” is the best word.

Fortunate Prospect was not a great big tall horse, although he was sturdy and muscular.  His coat was kind of a deep chocolate color, lighter in the summer sun, but his face became grayer all the time.  As he aged he also developed white spots the size of coins all over his body.   I used to tell him the Appaloosa was coming out in him and although I don’t think he cared for the joke, as long as there were carrots he tolerated the humor.  He suffered few of the maladies of old age—his legs were strong and there weren’t many signs of arthritis.  Over the past few years, he did develop the thyroid issues that are not completely unusual in old horses, but for the most part he was low maintenance in every way.  The most noticeable effect of his age and the thyroid disorder was the exceptionally long, shaggy, very silky winter coat he grew each year.  Every nesting bird for miles probably loved it when Fortunate Prospect started shedding each spring.

As a racehorse, Fortunate Prospect won almost a half-million dollars in 39 races. He retired to stud and sired almost 800 foals, of which nearly 600 were winners.  Perhaps more importantly, his daughters were frequently good producers, making him a sought-after broodmare sire. His grandsons ran in major races every year, including the Kentucky Derby.  His grandson Ron the Greek won the Santa Anita Handicap this year; another grandson, Mark Valeski, is on the 2012 Derby trail for trainer Larry Jones. All of us at Old Friends would tell him about his family’s accomplishments.  Frankly, I don’t think he much cared about that either, although we humans sure liked to keep him up-to-date.

I think the reason Gramps was so great had less to do with his racing or breeding accomplishments and far more to do with his personality.  He was a character in every good sense of the word, with little quirks that were unique to him.  Among them was an ability to chew carrots into frothy, slimy, orange slobber that he happily shared with your shirt sleeve.  Another well-known Gramps trait was his ability to multi-task–he commonly grazed while lying down.  He figured he could rest and munch at the same time, and at his age who would argue with that?  I also don’t think I ever saw him actually inside his run-in shed.  But he sure knew exactly which side provided the best weather protection, depending on which way the wind was blowing.

Over the past few years I have written about Gramps many times.  His daily routine was legendary at Old Friends—breakfast, a nap, some grazing, another nap, a stroll (or a jog or even a canter) around his paddock, more napping, snack time.  It was a simple life for a horse that truly enjoyed everything about his life, on his terms.  He wanted no part of the barn, but he enjoyed being brushed in his paddock.  He didn’t want to be woken up when he was napping but he was happy to visit and accept his share of treats if it was convenient for him.  He paid little attention to the other horses, but he didn’t miss a thing that went on at the farm.

Kindness is a word often used to describe nice horses, but Gramps transcended kind.  There was not a mean bone in his body.  Since he lived in one of the paddocks behind the farm office, he was often the first horse visitors met, unless of course he was busy napping.  He was easy to get along with, friendly with small children and patient with adults who may not have deserved patience.  He accepted kisses with dignity and carrots with charm.  Everyone who met him loved him, especially non-horse folks.  I think for those who were afraid of or unsure around horses, Gramps was especially easy to meet.  He wasn’t aggressive; he wasn’t scary.  Visitors who never felt the connection horses can make deep inside a person would always look at me and struggle to find words for what they were feeling, finally coming up with something like, “but, but…I think he understands.”

And of course, he did understand.  I think Gramps not only understood people, I believe he was one of the few beings in the world who knew and understood the secret to life.

We will all miss you Gramps.  You were the best in every way.

-Val

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Sunday March 4, 2012

Boy, what a weekend it’s been!  On Friday, that strong storm system pushed through, leaving so much tragedy, damage and destruction in its wake.  While parts of Indiana and Kentucky were terribly damaged, the bluegrass region of central Kentucky was fortunate to escape the brunt of the storm.  For everyone who has been asking, the farm and the horses are fine, there is no damage to report.

So while Friday’s temperatures were in the 70s with rain, severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings, today we were in the mid to upper 30s.  It snowed on and off all day, in between periods of bright sunshine.  And of course, the cold wind was just shrieking.  I’m not sure what other weather could possibly have been crammed into one 48 hour period.

It was quite a weekend, for reasons beyond the weather.  On Friday, Janet and I dodged thunderstorms to go watch an off-track Thoroughbred named Spoon River Lew compete in his first horse show.  Lew belongs to Old Friends supporter (and friend of Wallenda) Charlie Pigg.  Lew spent a couple weeks at Old Friends last year after he was retired from racing, so we are a little attached to him.  At Lew’s first show, he won several ribbons, and was named Reserve Champion in his class!  That is pretty amazing for a first show—Lew has a good show career ahead of him.  He sure liked going over those jumps.  And though Lew is still going over “baby” jumps, some of the other classes had horses jumping 3’6”.  Let me tell you, those jumps are big, and the power that the horses generate going over them is every bit as amazing as watching racehorses cross the finish line.  It’s some kind of athleticism, in both cases.

As I said, today was a cold, muddy, windy, frigid kind of day, especially after the teaser warm weather last week. But the horses seemed to love it—I watched Creator run around like a 2 year old.  He ran fast, slid to stops at the fence, and then started all over again.  He bucked, kicked and tossed his head.  He’s going to be sore tomorrow—like so many of us, Creator is too old to be acting like that!  But he sure was having fun.

Dan, Pops and Ring also came over at a run, while Kiri’s Clown was down for a nap and Afternoon Deelites stood inside his run-in shed out of the wind.  There are some new shoots of green grass here and there, so Gulch was hunting the green wherever he could find it.  Fortunate Prospect, whose grandson Ron the Greek won the “Big ‘Cap” at Santa Anita yesterday, alternately grazed and napped.  For those of you who saw the movie “Seabiscuit,” the Santa Anita Handicap is the big race for older horses that Seabiscuit’s owner so wanted to win.  Gramps, at age 31, is seeing his grandsons have a top-notch racing year thus far.  It’s pretty cool, not that Gramps gets too worked up over it all.

Despite all the activity, today’s star was clearly Swan’s Way.  Roberta, Bea and I watched Swannie as he pirouetted, bucked, kicked, and ran around his paddock behind the office. At one point it looked like Swannie had a ghost rider.  He was cantering though show-horse figure 8s, with perfect flying lead changes, all collected up and balanced as perfectly as if he had a rider giving him cues.  Unlike a horse with a rider, however, Swannie ended his routine by making a vertical leap straight up in the air, taking all four feet off the ground and landing in almost exactly the same spot he took off from.  He was channelling the Lippizaners, at least until dropped down for a good roll in the mud! Talk about a horse that felt good and wanted to play.  And the whole time, Gulch watched him and you could just see him thinking, “Stupid kid.  He’s going to hurt himself!”

I finished up the day by introducing my friend Gena’s 11 year old daughter to some of the Old Friends’ horses.  Nicole is quite the young rider and I think she enjoyed her time at the farm.  I also think her mom is going to be learning a lot about horses, as Nicole continues her involvement in the sport.  Might as well start learning the lingo now, Gena…

I can’t say I really enjoyed the weather this weekend—tornado sirens and snow, ugh.  But those are signs of spring in Kentucky, so we have to deal with it.  Again, we are thankful that central Kentucky escaped the damage, and our thoughts are with those who were not so fortunate.

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

-Val

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