A few weeks ago we lost a longtime family member, Genuine Reward. He’d lived with us for three years, established friendships of different kinds with OF’s paid and volunteer staff, and with visitors who often came to see him. A loss like that is like losing an arm or leg. We’ll never be the same without him. Now, just as that wound begins to heal, we’ve lost a horse with whom we were only beginning to form bonds we hoped would develop and deepen. We looked forward to many happy years with A P Valentine.
When he first arrived at the Georgetown farm, he wanted us to know he was special. Very special. In fact, maybe far above the likes of us and of the other horses in the barn. Like all new arrivals, he spent a brief quarantine in a stall connected to a paddock the horse can use at will to stretch his legs and enjoy the early spring sunshine. A P Valentine was an eye-full, his beauty only partly the classy good looks he inherited from his sire, A. P. Indy and dam, Alydar’s daughter Twenty Eight Carat. Even more of his beauty came from within. He was a vibrant, intelligent stallion. At first he had us thinking he was tough. Many stallions do that, come on strong when they find themselves in a new environment, especially when there are other stallions around. They’re making sure these new horses and humans give them proper respect. We got it. A P Valentine was formidable.
When he knew we’d got it, and when he’d settled in and got his bearings, he started opening up to us. The real A P Valentine turned out to be spirited, friendly, and ready to form bonds of kindness and playfulness. It was clear that his racing days in Nick Zito’s barn and his 14 years with Dr. Day had given him a positive, confident outlook on life. During the summer he settled into one of the most beautiful paddocks on the farm, one of the new paddocks with good grass, plenty of trees upwind for a wind block, and two gelding herds as neighbors in nearby pastures. We hoped it was a territory he would enjoy ruling as king.
We enjoyed watching him getting to know his new human family. I know that one of his very favorite new family members was Dagmar Galleithner-Steiner. They had so much love to give each other, if only they’d had the chance.
It’s different from losing a longtime friend, but just as cruel, to have seeming beginnings suddenly end. Like with Charismatic. Like with Stage Colony (d. 2008, and no, we will never forget the ones we love). Like with A P Valentine. Colic is especially devastating because it’s no respecter of age, or apparent health. On his last morning, none of us imagined that A P Valentine would no longer be with us that night.
“What comfort have we now?” Only to care for the living. To give them a happy retirement, not only a secure home and good physical care but the companionship and enjoyment that make an active-minded, affectionate or potentially-affectionate Thoroughbred’s life enjoyable. Most mares and geldings welcome human friendship, but despite stallions’ sometimes forbidding surface impressions I think human companionship is especially welcome to many of them, as each rules his paddock alone. And at Old Friends, for them especially, the people who come to admire and love them (and from their perspective, to entertain them) are a significant part of their happiness.
So to all those people who gave Valentine a carrot and admiration, and all those who hoped to do so, to all those who provide all our retirees with that very real part of their happiness, we extend our heartfelt appreciation and gratitude. Actually, you, our supporters, are the ones who make everything possible for our retirees. Since I quoted Shakespeare, I’ll add some old Roman wisdom: Carpe diem.