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.