Friday March 16, 2012

Fortunate Prospect


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.



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18 responses to “Friday March 16, 2012

  1. tbdancer

    I knew with a post on a Friday that there would be sad news from Old Friends, but after I read the post, I went to Pedigree Query. Loved the picture of Fortunate Prospect there–he’s relaxed and down in the paddock, grazing. It’s always sad when the good ones leave us, but your words paint a lovely picture of Gramps and it’s easy to see how he was definitely a favorite. Thanks for the post, Val.

  2. Val-
    That was very nice- you can tell how much you love horses– oh I mean- humans! He sounds like someone I would have liked to get to know. Nice article

  3. Anne

    I agree with tbdancer. When I saw a post from you on a Friday…I too knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. I just lost a dear friend of 45 years yesterday. I know how much hurts and I know how much hurt you feel, as well, as they are one in the same. Gramps was a great representative of Old Friends and he will be missed. I remember seeing him this past fall and he had his own plan for the day and coming to see us was not one of them. Which was fine. Why leave that special spot he had picked out for the day? You had plenty of loving stories about him and we knew he was a special force in your heart.
    So sorry. RIP dear Fortunate (Gramps) Prospect. You WILL be missed!

  4. Jeanne Wolverton

    I only met Grandpa once, but he stole my heart. He was so kind and seemed to love people right back. I could have stood there all day petting and brushing him. And when I left him at the fence I cried all the way back to St. Louis. I can’t even explain how he stole my heart so fast. When I visit again I will miss seeing him greet the tours at his fence. God bless all of you at Old Friends for the work you do for these wonderful horses.

  5. Shari

    Beautiful words, Val! I am so sorry for your loss. I feel very fortunate to have met him…and experience the orange froth. I too told him about his daughter, he didn’t seem to care much about that. Fortchie was blessed to live his final years at Old Friends. Thank you for sharing his quirks with us. May he rest in peace.

  6. Teri H

    I last saw Fortunate Prospect about 10 days ago. He still looked amazing. He came to fence 2 times for carrots and kisses. His gentle eyes were truly the window to his gentle soul. Everyone loved him. Fortunate Prospect was a class act until his last breath. The cannot be replaced.

  7. Ruth Ann-NJ

    Val, I know how much you are going to miss Gramps, I always read with joy your accounts of him many, many times. When I saw the e-mail come yesterday, that sinking feeling just hit me, I knew the time had come.

    Very beautifully written eulogy of one of Old Friend’s finest, thank you for your blog each week and all of your memories of Gramps!

    Ruth Ann

  8. Vivien

    Dignified, knowing and true…just like Grandpa. He was lucky to have you as a friend, Val. Like you, I will miss burying my cold hands in that sweet, fuzzy coat on raw days. It was the thing I did a few weeks ago. Just like brushing Appy’s unusually smooth and soft mane, I will always remember that feeling. Thanks for sharing the memories….all of his runners will have a set of great wings to help them fly now.

  9. So sorry to hear of your loss! While I never met him, he sounds like he was truly a class act throughout his entire life. You were lucky to have him in your life and he was lucky to have Old Friends. You gave him a good life until the end and that’s all any horse can ask for.

  10. Reading the sad news yesterday felt as if I were punched in the stomach!

    • colmel

      Mike, that’s exactly how I felt. I can only now come close to responding. I’m glad I’m not the only one who had the wind knocked out.

  11. Lois Brooks

    Though I never met Gramps the horses at Old Friends are very vivid in my mind from all of your writings Val, as though I was there and seeing each one of them. He will be missed greatly by all there and by me for no more stories about a true champion. RIP Gramps.

  12. Alexandra

    I have been reading this blog for months (as soon as I discovered Old Friends via a search for horse adoption). This is my first time replying to you, Val.

    Fortunate Prospect was well-named. I only wish all horses had as good a friend as you in their golden years.

  13. MRO

    Definitely missing the old guy this weekend. He seemed invincible to me. I expected him to live forever. I take comfort in knowing he was loved and cared for well. RIP

  14. Carole Bailis

    What a beautiful, loving tribute to one of the best.

  15. colmel

    Oh, Val, and everyone at Old Friends,

    I’m in the same boat as Mike. Viscerally punched. I know that they can’t live forever – somehow, I just thought Gramps was going to. I guess, though, he will in our hearts. Oh, darn, there I go puddling all over the place again.

    God bless y’all – all y’all – for the wonderful, loving care Gramps and all the champions (in our hearts, anyway) get from you.

  16. Dawn

    What a grand old man Fortchie was. My heart aches for everyone at Old Friends and all of his fans. But, it is comforting to know he had the best home a horse could ask for. Old Friends is such a peaceful place,and you can sense the happiness in each and every horse. God bless!

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