Thursday, April 29, 2010

Off To The Races

My personal race season is in full swing & I feel like things are back to how they should be. Racing for me has been a lifelong love…

My birthday is at the end of April and I recall many birthday parties held on the weekend following my actual birth day that paused long enough to watch the Kentucky Derby, which is always held the first Saturday in May.

Some of my favorite memories have been at the track and it probably had to do with the fact that it was a place for me to watch horses. Majestic, powerful and fast! Thoroughbreds have always seemed like the elite athletes of the equine world and they invoke a certain respect from me. These are not typically the horses of my fantasies about galloping through grassy fields or frolicking in the waves at the beach. These are the untouchables…or at least that’s the way I grew up seeing them.

Last summer I had the opportunity to ride my very first Thoroughbred, Cedar County Queen, one of SAFE’s long time residents before she was adopted. She’s a tall horse and I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated. Allison assured me that this was an experience I needed to try at least once. We happened to be hosting the youth group of a local Morgan Horse group that day as they were performing a service day by helping SAFE. So not only did I have to overcome my apprehension about riding Cedar, but I had to do so with an audience, complete with one of their parents who happened to be a dressage trainer. I don’t consider myself a great rider or anything and I’ve managed to ride the wild Arabian (with help, I admit!) but I like to think I can ride a good horse and stay on. The thought of proving myself wrong, especially in front of some really good riders, was probably as intimidating as riding this big mare.

Allison had been Cedar’s primary rider while she was with SAFE so she gave me some pointers about how to make Cedar go. I mounted, got my pep talk from Allison and then gave her a leg to walk off. I apparently found the button to canter because she took off immediately in a slow controlled canter and I thought to myself, “Ok, so we’ll do this first!” She took me half way around the arena and then I got her to slow down. I tried hard not to show how insecure I felt about that first lap but I realized I was going to have to control this ride or trouble was going to be in front of me. The good news was that Cedar was actually very responsive, sensible but forward for the rest of the ride. It turned into an incredible ride and I was beaming. By the time I was done, I felt both triumphant and relieved. I’d conquered my apprehension and had a beautiful experience.

Cedar and I

Photo taken by Lynn Mazer

Later that fall a fellow boarder, Rachelle, allowed me to ride her Off The Track Thoroughbred, Cajun King who raced at Long Acres and had actually been a winner in his day. Knowing that he had a history of running fast kind of gave me a bit of hesitation and he was a very different ride from Cedar. I had the sense that you needed to hold him back, but Cedar has a gentleness about her that instilled a huge sense of calm.

I have a huge respect for Thoroughbreds and those who ride them. I still love the races but now I feel like I have a little hint of their inner minds. I’m no expert, by any means, but now I can say I’ve had to connect with them and I think about that when I see them race.

It was probably a year or more into my relationship with Les that I discovered he, too, had a love of horse racing. One of the few times I have been upset with him was when he asked me if I could make him a reservation for early May in Louisville…and I realized he was heading to the Kentucky Derby WITHOUT me, I could hardly think straight and it was a good three days before I felt like speaking to him again. He returned from that trip informing me that I would not have enjoyed his infield experience but I assured him that a grandstand seat would suit me just fine!

He was eventually forgiven and at some point we got engaged. When talk came to picking a wedding date, he surprised me with the fact that he’d secured Derby Tickets and wondered if I might want to go to that on our honeymoon. ARE YOU KIDDING!?!?!? Of course I would!!!! We planned our wedding to take place the week before the 2003 Derby and after a 3-day cruise in the Bahamas, we had a stop-over in Kentucky on the way back to Seattle for our first Derby together…in grandstand seats! This marks our sixth trip to the Derby and each one brings it’s own adventure.

Racing has truly become a big part of our lives. But even at home, we love racing. Emerald Downs has been a destination for us year after year. Last year I had the amazing good luck to discover that Jan Swagerty, who I met riding at Chrissy’s a few years ago, owned some horses with her husband, Keith, under the barn name of Swag Stables. In 2009 they broke the track record with an amazing 27 wins in a single season and made my year by giving me a standing invite to join them both in the paddock and winners circle any time they race. We’ve had the thrill many times.

No Flies On Doodle

Photo by Corey Reidy

This year we attended Opening Night at Emerald Downs and their proven mare, No Flies On Doodle, took us to the winner’s circle to start the meet off right! The following week we popped in for a quick visit and caught the VERY quick Forener as he went 3 for 3 in his first race of 2010. This is one amazing young horse and has the potential to be their super star. The success of Swag Stables is due to a lot of excellent training and, in my opinion, a good dose of good karma. These are really nice folks who love these horses like family. It might be the family feel or the team mentality that comes from Keith, a former basketball coach, that makes this program work but whatever it is, it’s practically magic... the kind of magic that comes from hard work and persistent planning.

In the Winner's Circle with Forener!

So my race year includes the trip that finds me up late in our hotel room waiting to discover how this one will unfold. Today’s Derby fun included meeting 2009 Derby winning trainer, Chip Woolley. I read last night that he was going to be at the Kentucky Derby Museum giving autographs at 10am but we didn’t get in until 11am, just as they were taking the table down. I was disappointed but noticed that he was still walking around the museum so I stalked him for about 15 minutes until I got a chance to approach him when he wasn’t completely busy talking to someone else. I asked if I could please take a photo with him and he smiled and agreed. As he came up, I reached forward and introduced myself to him “Jeannette Parrett, here from Seattle” to which he replied, “I’m Chip Woolley” and he put an arm around me and smiled while Les took the photo. That was so sweet, he was kind enough to introduce himself to me but I obviously knew who he was. The photo is great but I’ll have to post it when I get back because this laptop doesn’t seem to interact with the SD card very well.

We spent another hour at the track exploring areas we don’t normally get to see during the big event days so I got to experience Churchill Downs in a new way today. Afterward we drove over to a tack store I looked up online but it turned out to be a race supply store. The owner was there and talked to us and showed us his handmade exercise saddles, halters & headstalls. I got some really nice riding gloves and discovered a rack of used leather halters for $15. One of them was big enough for Basil (or small enough if you consider that most of them are made for Thoroughbreds). That was exciting!! It’s in great condition and a little racing souvenir from the track … for my horse!

The weather report says we’re going to have a really nice Oaks day but there’s going to be thunder storms and rain predicted for Derby day. I’ll hope for the best but I asked Corey to send along some of the poncho’s I’ve purchased in the past (and never had to use) as my own little good luck hoping that if I bring it the rain won’t come. My brother-in-law, Mike arrives with a friend tomorrow so he’s got our (hopefully) good luck rain ponchos. Sun dances and blue-sky spells are appreciated too…

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The High Point Of The Show

Again with the big silence…sorry! The hand didn’t do so well casted but it did it’s job and my hand is now free from it’s bright pink and/or purple prison. I am typing a bit better now so I’m going to try to catch up on all of the happenings of the last month…before the BIG excitement of my excellent Horse Year happens this weekend. I brought my laptop along and have free WiFi so hopefully this will work out.

I think I left off going into the big Race & Show weekend…

Dr. Wells told me she’d take off the cast before the show so that I could ride without it at the last Donida Farm Schooling show in the series…the one we were in 3rd place going into and the final show that I was preparing for. I’d been riding in my cast for a few weeks and even though holding a riding crop was a challenge, requiring me to switch to the left hand full time, I was beginning to feel a bit more confident. Chrissy asked me to be open to the possibility of keeping the cast on for the show because by that point it would be three weeks since the break and I’d already adjusted to riding with it. When I went into the Dr. Office that afternoon before the show & they removed the pink cast, I was glad she’s prepared me for the possibility because I might have been very upset to figure out that the finger was still bruised, atrophied & without any strength.

By the look on my face Dr. Wells knew I wasn’t feeling confidant and suggested we re-cast it so that it would be protected. She wrapped me up in a purple cast to coordinate with my lavender show shirt and I arranged to borrow a purple saddle pad from Chrissy. When life gives you purple, make the most of it…and so I did!! Chrissy even joked that we should wrap Coconut’s front right leg in a purple polo wrap for fun. We couldn’t come up with one overnight so it had to remain a funny idea!

We kicked off the big weekend with Opening Night at Emerald Downs…but more on that later…

My family hit the skies early and left me home alone again (and no, I did not hurt myself THIS time!) I headed out early, myself, to do an early haul in to the show. Coconut was flying solo …no friends to distract her this time! We got to Donida and Jack was already there and tacked up. We had about an hour to settle in and get ready for Halter & Showmanship. As I mentioned, we were in third going into the event I looked for my competition, Mona and her incredibly beautiful Friesian, Isobella & Lys with her handsome paint, Ory. There was no sign of Mona or Isobella but Lys & Ory were there & did incredible all day. We actually showed 15 classes that day and got lots of ribbons.

Coconut was pretty relaxed in the morning and I was very happy with her performance but she didn’t place very high. About three riding classes in she started to act up & we had to go out to the practice arena with Pete who was out to support Ruth and Jack but graciously coached us again. He has a great sense of Coconut and it was great to hear the deep voice with a hint of that German accent as we went around the arena when things were going well and hearing “You look good!” and when Coconut was acting up and doing that bit-rooting thing I had to crack up with the “Noooooo Coconut!” almost like she was his daughter! He’s firm but connected. I do think she likes and respects him a great deal. I’ve joked with Ruth that I’m going to leave Coconut to him in my will!

On my team was also Chrissy & Kelli who were valuable in keeping focused and minding the details…and making sure I was signed up for classes…and very importantly, collecting ribbons so we could keep riding. We also had our very important cheering section of Monica (and her fabulous camera!) and the big, bright and supportive smile of Kim! We also had a visit from “The Nut” fans, Cathy & Chelsea. It meant the world to have everyone there.

In the events we rode with Lys & Ory, they out rode us every time. We may have done more classes, but in the end, they racked up the very important placement points. Overall, however, I was extremely happy with Coconut’s performance. I actually think by the end of our classes, she’d never held herself better. Monica did a great write-up about the show with some awesome photos and tells about our encounter with the Easter Bunny very well...Check it out over at HorseBytes.

I am very proud of how far we’ve come over the winter and this series truly gave me goals that got me out there riding and working with her more than I have any other winter. I came home with nine ribbons but I can’t even tell you exactly which classes I placed in what order. The most important part actually came after the High Points were awarded.

I had seen Lys loading Ory to leave before the show was over and in my head I was sure they had surpassed us in points, even though we were only 6 points behind them going in. I figured it was close but we had a chance… They called the contenders to bring their horses to the arena. I dressed Coconut in our (now) traditional pink halter for the post show activities and walked back to the arena. The Open Division High Point winner was announced…. Lys & Ory…I felt bad for them that they’d already left and didn’t know they’d won a whole table full of award gifts!

We're Number Two!

The photographer, Krista Davis, was in the arena taking the High Point formal portraits and we were standing there waiting to ask the show folks a question. Krista came over and asked if we were ready to take our formals and I said, “No, we didn’t win” but she said she thought my mare was pretty and looked cute in her pink halter and she’d like to shoot her anyway. So we agreed. During the shoot, she asked about Coconut, commenting on how much she liked the name. Kelli told her about my work with SAFE and Krista said that she was a huge fan of the SAFE website and followed the horse’s stories all the time. Then she lowered her camera and said “This is THE Coconut!…the actual Coconut!!” It turns out that she’s also followed Coconut’s story and has been a Coconut fan.

It’s hard to express the feelings I had at that moment. Tears came to my eyes. Coconut, this little mare from a remote pasture…who has become a piece of my heart and both challenges & inspires me…actually makes a difference in other’s lives. She may not have a registration or any fancy titles, but she has fans! I share her story because I want to make people aware of neglect and how rescued horses can go on to be productive equine citizens and live fulfilling existences with the people who step up for them. They also, apparently, become spokes-horses of sorts & there are actually people who care about them…people they’ve never met. Knowing she means something to others is incredibly amazing…and that touches my heart very deeply.

Krista was so sweet. She went on and on about Coconut, giving her kind of a Rock Star moment, even asking if she could please take some more photos of Coconut, leading us outside to take some really beautiful shots on the grounds of Donida Farm (Missing about 30 minutes of the trails & hunter/jumper classes). It was actually the last shot she took that got her the most excited. She later emailed it to me and shared that it was probably her favorite shot ever and so I’m sharing it with you.

So it seems we came in second…but it turned out to be the perfect place. It all led up to meeting Krista whose love of my horse ended up being the best prize of all and the High Point of my day!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I'm still working on the next Great Paint Project entry but have some other stuff going on this week in my horse world.

40's WAY too many...

There's been a local story about 40+ horses in Roy, WA that have been living in deplorable conditions and Pierce County Animal Control has been working on a case, actually having already seized 3 of the horses. PCAC has officially allowed Ripley's Horse Aid Foundation to go in and assist with rehoming as many of the horses as the owner, Darlene Wilson, will allow. We're hoping for ALL of them to be surrendered but apparently the number is dwindling. If you can help financially or can provide a foster or permanent adoptive home, please follow their link above to find out how you can make a donation or offer assistance.

Read the latest update to the story in The Dispatch

2 Days until OPENING DAY at Emerald Downs & 3's Company for SWAG Stables...

I have been looking forward to Opening Night for the 2010 Race Meet at Emerald Downs for some time and on Friday we've got quite a group going! The plan was to sit in the terrace and do the traditional buffet dinner but when I called at 10am on the first day you could reserve tables there were SOLD OUT in the terrace so we've decided to take our chances on getting a table to base from. Corey & I plan to go over early and watch the simulcast of the Apple Blossom Invitational from Oaklawn Park in Arkansas to watch the incredible ZENYATTA run for the $5,000,000 purse! Hopefully that's early enough to snag a table for the group.

But the LIVE Excitement starts as our own race season kicks off that evening.

Keith & Jan Swagerty SHATTERED the longstanding win record of 23 trips to the winners circle in a single meet with a whopping 27 wins last year. I was fortunate enough to join them on several of those trips and am hoping for another great year for their amazing team at SWAG Stables. These are one of the "Good Barns" in the local racing scene, not only in their amazing success but also in their dedication to their horses. Each one is a member of the team ... with many of them actually named for members of their family, you could say the horses are family too.

I met Jan riding at Chrissy's a couple of years ago and really liked her from the start. She's just a gentle and kind woman and I've since learned this is a common trait in their family. She invited me to join them in the paddock last season & told me to join them ANY time they were in the winner's circle. Being a life-long race fan, this was like a dream come true & the big bonus is that they are truly just the nicest people.

They've got 3 horses in the Opening Night line-up.
Race 2 - Suzanne's Blast
Race 6 - No Flies On Doodle
Race 8 - Sweet Jumper

Les says never bet against a SWAG horse...and I've seen No Flies On Doodle and Sweet Jumper in the winner's circle before. I'm guessing Suzanne's Blast, who's new to me, is in the line up for very good reasons so, of course, they'll be MY picks!

3 Shows, 1 to go and 87 points have me in 3rd place so far...

Saturday morning is our last show in the Donida winter/spring series and we've crunched the numbers so I think I've figured out the scoring system and based on the 4 show requirement, Coconut and I actually have a chance at the High Point title...and would be THRILLED to come in 2nd or 3rd! We've been practicing and my "pink glove" is not making the task easy by any means. I'm excited none-the-less and believe it's going to be a great show! How can it not be with so many of my friends coming to support us? I'm going back with Kelli on Sunday to support them right back and ...just might have a little surprize, myself.

I was hoping to be able to sport my spiffy new helmet but the box came today and it was brown :-/ so I'll be sending it back, opting for the black one I requested...which is disappointing since I wanted to SHOW it off this weekend! Oh well...there will be other shows, right? Let's hope so!

TOP 20 Blog Honors!

Equestrian Collections announced their list of their favorite Top 20 Horse Blogs and Hoofprints Across My Heart was listed among them...Awwww, THANK YOU Equestrian Collections, you make me feel so loved! Special congrats to my friend & fabulous Web designer, Cathy Atkinson who's FUGLY Blog also made the Top 20 list! I'm either in great company or you're slummin' ;-)

I will be busy for the next few days so I'll continue working on the Great Paint Project in my free time. I will update that Maeve has been taking Basil out more regularly and he's been such a sweet young man. There've been a couple of inquiries on him but I had to turn one down flat and the second never followed through. It's true when you hear that the crazies come out of the woodwork when there's a horse available...geez!!!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Great Paint Project

First off...Happy Birthday to Basil who turned TWO on 4/1/2010. I started writing the story as a way to honor his birthday but the right hand is still casted and it's slow going...and much like the Coconut Chronicles, much too much tale to tell in just one sitting so here's the first installment, Enjoy!

You’d think his story starts with his birth day, but in Basil’s case it goes back farther than any of us imagined so I’ll start with where I came into the picture. Back in September of 2007 a new boarder came to KCJ with her paint mare. At first I noticed how the coloring of the mare, sorrel spots on white, almost perfectly matched the three Bassett Hounds the family owned. The red on all four of them matched the hair color of the owner, Billie Jean. I wondered if it was coincidence or preference (and I’m not talking the hair dye brand!). We learned that the mare’s name was Sugar and that she was in foal.

As months went by I began to ask if any of the other boarders had seen Billie Jean out because I certainly had not and it struck me odd. It was possible she just came during times I was not there but it seemed to be a common concern as no one had seen her out for quite some time.

Sugar was housed in a paddock with a wood shelter but it’s in a location toward the back of the farm that gets pretty muddy. When I used the round-pen I’d see her standing under her shelter but she never seemed to be curious about us enough to come to the fence even when I tried to bring her treats. I began to see her as disconnected or aloof.

As she got bigger and bigger under that blanket that had been in place for months now I began to wonder what they were going to do with her and a foal once it was born. There didn’t appear to be foal safe paddocks anywhere on the property and the April 14th due date was approaching fast.

On April 1st, 2008, Ken went out to do the morning feeding and discovered a newborn colt on the ground in the mud but Sugar attending to him. She’d foaled two weeks early, before anyone had prepared for it. Right there in her paddock, in her blanket and it was cold. Ken called Kelli to come down and help and she arrived to find him on the ground, spooning the colt trying to warm him up. They led Sugar and her new colt down to the barn where Kelli offered her stall to them before running out to get a foal blanket and halter.

The calls went out and by the afternoon we’d all been told that there was a new baby already. We were all very excited and everyone came down to the barn to meet the new arrival…everyone but the owner.

Sugar was a kind mother. She allowed us all to get in the stall with her and love on her baby. She appeared quite proud of him. In fact it was the first time any of us had really interacted with her and the first real inkling I had that she had any kind of personality. She clearly loved the attention. I brought my 3-year-old grandson, Daemon, down to see the new baby and to this day he remembers and reminds me when we pass the stall. The interesting thing is that while Sugar let us get in close to both her and the new baby, when my Grandson entered the stall, she carefully placed herself between Daemon and the colt. We tried several angles before I caught on that she wanted to keep them separate. I happily granted her that wish. So we held Daemon up so he could see from the gate. It was a happy day for most of us. New babies are adorable and he was probably the youngest horse I’d seen so far. I was smitten. A visit to the barn was not complete until I got to peek in the stall and see Sugar and her baby. Every day I gave her a smile and told her what a good Momma she was.

A few weeks passed before I heard that Billie Jean had come to visit the horses. Her husband had come down with their kids at some point in the first week, snapped a few photos to give her but I never quite got why she hadn’t come down herself until the following week. When I saw her I asked what she named him and she said she wasn’t sure but she thought she’d put “Spirit” in his name somewhere. I’m sorry, but to me Spirit is a stereotypical name for a horse, like calling your dog “Rex” or “Rover”. He seemed too cute to be saddled with some spiritual reference but it wasn’t my horse…

At 17 days old, Sugar and her colt were moved to an outside paddock where Ken had strung an extra line of hot-tape down low to be more colt-safe. That happened to be the day I met Leah Anderson when she came out to take photographs for a project she was working on about rescued horses: a photo book called “Forgotten”. As she was getting ready to leave I took her up to meet our newest neighbor and she took a couple of photos of him too. While we were there he came up and put his nose on the hot-wire and got his first lesson in fencing respect…poor little guy with his long legs and adorable face…. flying backwards unsure of why these ladies would do that to him!?

I believe he was six months old when I saw Dr. Best come out and was giving them shots. To my knowledge that was the first time a vet had seen either of them. The next day I noticed Sugar was gone, having been moved back down to her old muddy paddock with the shelter. Meanwhile high-pitched whinnies could be heard as the colt called for his Dam.

We have a rule at our barn that you stay out of other boarder’s paddocks and we don’t give other people’s horses things like treats or food without their permission. I’d go up and pet the colt through the fence but I could see his foal blanket, once too large, was now far too small & that his foal halter was looking pretty tight.

Late November I heard the rumors that the owner was behind on her board but I stayed out of it.

About this time I received an email from Artist Maeve Harris inquiring about volunteering for SAFE and offered to donate a painting that we might be able to use as a fund-raiser. She was having a show coming up and wanted some info on SAFE so I sent her some brochures. In the email exchange we discovered that we didn’t live too far away from each other so I invited her to my barn and lunch at some point. I think it was late December when she came out and I gave her a tour. As I took her past Sugar and mentioned that her owner never came to see her or the baby. She agreed that it was a sad situation but remarked that she really didn’t like Paints that much. I thought that was pretty funny since the name of the breed alone would make me think she would automatically be drawn to them!

After the barn tour we had lunch and just really connected. I told her later that I really enjoyed the day and felt like I’d spent it with an old friend. She agreed, but neither of us knew how fateful that day would become. Over the next few weeks she confessed that she just couldn’t stop thinking about those Paints.

About this time Ken asked me to check with my sources to see if anyone was interested in taking either of the Paints. He informed me that they were several months behind in board and were looking to get rid of them. I did start asking around and mentioned to Maeve that the Paints were at risk because the owner was looking to unload them and had even advertised on Craigs List, lowering the price each week and finally asking $800 for the pair. No one was buying…or trading (for quads according to one ad!).

SAFE was full and so I worked hard to find a way other than to have them go into rescue but I was told at one point that someone was coming to pick up the horses the following week. When I asked who, all I was told was that it was a someone that someone knew that knew Billie Jean. This unknown factor sent my rescue gene into full-tilt and the sight of a generic gray stock trailer rolling down Pacific Highway had me panicked thinking Ollie the slaughter guy was coming to get Sugar and her baby. I called Maeve and we decided to do something ourselves making a plan that we’d take the horses and try to rehome them after we evaluated them but we’d have to get permission from Billie Jean first.

John, my farrier, happened to be coming by on the same day I had Dr. Tooman out to see Coconut and we talked to them both about the horses. With Ken’s permission, I had John go out and give a quick look/minor file to the colt and had him trim Sugar. We determined that it had probably been two cycles since her feet had been done and he wasn’t even halter broke enough to lead out of his paddock. He’d obviously never had his feet handled before but he was fairly cooperative. We all agreed that Sugar needed to have her teeth floated and she was just an awful mess. I doubt she’d been groomed in months. We groomed her up a bit and she seemed to enjoy that a great deal. After her trim, Maeve took her down to the arena and did some basic leading around and discovered that if she trotted, Sugar would too & when she stopped, Sugar would do so on a dime! She seemed engaged for the first time ever.

I called Billie Jean and left a message saying that I wanted to talk to her about her horses but for two days she did not return the call. Maeve and I both felt helpless and frustrated. I think we both decided that it wasn’t in the cards for us to step up for these horses. The day we finally gave in and decided we were not going to be allowed to help, we pretty much gave up & Maeve left to go shopping. I stayed at the barn with Coconut until my phone rang…

It was Billie Jean! She had just gotten my message and wanted to talk about the Paints. I explained my relationship with SAFE and warned her about the current horse market and the chance that her horses could end up at the auction and/or slaughter. She broke down in tears and asked me if I would please take both horses and help them!? It turns out that she was going through some very difficult personal issues and could no longer care for them emotionally or financially. She’d grown up around horses and when she hit a rough patch in life, her husband bought her the pregnant mare in hopes of helping her through it. It turned out that having the horses there just made her feel guilty. That turned into a sad state for all of them.

I quickly called Maeve and caught her mid-purchase of a pair of shoes with the money she had set aside to help out with the Paints. She put the shoes back and headed to the barn where we made our plans and came face to face with our new project and the precious faces that embodied it. That day…. everything changed!