My Time At the Races

Posted by letsgoride on July 27, 2013 at 4:40 AM

*** CAUTION have tissues ready! ****

It all started when yet another trainer screwed me over and left me stranded. My future was looking rather bleak, and my usually optimistic outlook on life was beginning to waiver. Out of the blue I received a phone call from a buddy of mine. He was in Iowa working on the race track and told me there was work available. Well, the timing couldn’t have been better if it was planned. After tying up all my loose ends, I found myself on an Amtrak train heading to Iowa. When I embarked on this adventure, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I never imagined that it would leave such a lasting impression and have such an impact on my life.


It was a huge leap of faith, to just pack up my bags and go somewhere I’ve never been, very little money in my pocket and without any friends or even family less than 2000 miles away. For a job I “might” get and “maybe” there is still a room available. (There wasn’t any rooms by the way, but that’s another story for another time)


I arrived in Osceola Iowa in just under 50 hours. Thankfully my buddy was there to pick me up from the so called “train station”. If that’s what you would call a boarded up brick building sitting on a slab of cement, so over-grown with weeds that you can’t help but assume that if it weren’t for the weeds the structure would have completely collapsed long ago. There was a small gas station/diner in the distance and a few houses near-by. The scene looked a little too much like something out of Deliverance for me. I quickly loaded my bags into the car and we headed over to Prairie Meadows in the hopes of landing me a job.


I was pleasantly surprised to land the first job I inquired about working for a small time trainer in barn E1, with only six head. I was the only help, so six horses were more than enough work. The steady pay check was what I was most concerned about and when the “steady” became less and less reliable, I went on to another trainer whose luck had all but run out and was in desperate need of a descent hand.


The horses over in E6 were in bad shape when I got there, bad attitudes due to bad handling, stalls were in terrible condition which caused health problems and poor feeding management. No wonder they hadn’t won any races! I got to work right away and quickly got everyone on the right supplements, cleared up the thrush and abscesses, and was adamant about cleaning the stalls thoroughly. The other grooms didn’t like me very much. Until they noticed how the horses’ whole attitudes changed, they began to act like race-horses! Before I arrived they were hard to saddle nipping, kicking and sluggish in training. Now they looked forward to going to the track to train, would get “racy” in anticipation for the up coming race and became easier to handle. By the end of the meet, we were winning every race we entered!


I have worked so hard for so long and for so many different people. Time and time again, all the extra effort I put forth went un-noticed or even worse, became expected and always seemed to be unappreciated. I wasn’t asking for much in return of all the hard work I did, I still did it knowing it wasn’t required. A simple pat on the back and a “job well done” would’ve be nice. I could feel myself getting jaded and noticed that my work ethic was beginning to decline, I just didn’t see the point anymore. That all changed on the race track. Everyone knows how hard it is to find a good-hand, and the impact having even just one will have on your barn. I earned the reputation of being an excellent hand and soon had offers from several different trainers to run their “shedrow” (barn). I wasn’t doing anything different from what I’ve always done- I just wasn’t being taken for granted anymore.


I have learned so much and have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people and work with even more amazing horses. All of which have had a profound effect on me and how I see life. What’s more incredible is the effect I’ve had on the horses. In one way or another, the horses I had in my care preformed better. Some were on the brink of auction, some were broken down and some were just misunderstood. Because, I took the time to figure them out where others before me had not, I witnessed the transformation each horse made. They all came back stronger than ever.


On the much anticipated flight home, I couldn’t wait to see my horse. I must admit I missed Obie more than anything; my family and friends were only a phone call away and I called often. The reason I was returning home was I couldn’t ignore my aching heart any longer. In 19 years I hadn’t spent more than a couple weeks away from my boy, but a couple of years had passed since I first embarked on this journey. I worried that he wouldn’t remember me. I know he must have felt that I had abandoned him and it just broke my heart to wonder if he ever looked for me at the sound of a car coming down the drive, or how many times did he look to find that it wasn’t me before he stopped looking at all....? He would always whinny at me as I drove up and would be the first to arrive at the gate to great me with a warm nuzzle and soft nickers. I couldn't wait to see him and feel his warm breath on my neck as I hug him....


Alas, I was right to worry, when I finally got to see Obie, he was different. It wasn’t that he was naughty, he just wasn't the same. He didn’t come running when I called him at the pasture gate. No more nickers or whinnies to great me with. When I would try to hug him he would push me away or stand there stiff like he didn't know who I was. He just seemed sad, almost as if his fire went out. (if you know Obie, you know how hot he can be!) He just didn’t seem to care anymore. For as long as I have known him, and I was present at his birth, he has always had an opinion and,boy-howdy, he let you know it! For him to be so “blah” was rather un-nerving.


I knew I just had to give it sometime, he would see me around more and eventually he would forgive me and let me back in. I was right. After a few months I found myself at the barn pretty late one night. I decided to go get my boy out and ride around bare-back while I waited for my ride to arrive. It was a dark moonless night and as I walked out to the pasture I promised myself that I wouldn’t go looking for him if he didn’t come when I whistled. So I just figured I’d be walking back to the barn since he no longer came when I called his name. I called his name once right before I opened the heavy metal gate and stepped inside. I whistled and hollered his name again and stood there listening for the sound of thundering hooves....... nothing. “OOOOOBIIIEEE” I yelled once more and whistled as loud as I could and I waited...... just as I was turning to exit the gate I heard the thunder of hooves and could faintly see a white horse running toward me! I cried happy tears that night, as I wrapped my arms around his neck and buried my face into his mane I inhaled deeply, oh how I’ve missed that smell!! I cried. I couldn’t hold back and didn’t even try. I missed him more than words could ever say, and I know he missed me as much. So yes, I cried. Big crocodile tears streamed down my face as I promised him that I’d never leave him again. And I cried even harder when he nuzzled me and softly nickered. I got my boy back that night and I’ll never lose him again.....


Categories: Life with Horses