Monday, February 15, 2021

Meet My Endurance Horse: Marie’s Gold

by Merri

Marie’s Gold aka “Luna”
15-year-old Thoroughbred mare
Outofthebox - Dancelikethedevil, by Devil’s Bag
owned by Jo Harder

125 LD Miles
425 Endurance Miles
2020’s AERC High Mileage Thoroughbred

Marie’s Gold was one of those thousands of Thoroughbred racehorses who fall through the cracks after their racing careers are over. She’d raced three years, winning 1 race in 12 starts. She ended up as a rescue with Horse Protection Association in Florida as an 11-year-old in November 2017 because her owner had dementia and wasn’t taking care of her.

Jo Harder fostered the mare in early summer of 2018. “She was a body score 1 at the time HPAF rescued her,” Jo recalls, “and they weren’t sure if she was going to make it because she was so emaciated.” Jo adopted her in the fall of 2018. “Luna” had recovered so well from her ordeal that Jo took her on her first slow trail ride just weeks after settling in. She easily completed 10 miles in the summer heat of Florida. The mare went on to complete an intro ride and then 5 LDs/CTRs in late 2018/early 2019.

“She is super athletic and recovered fabulously,” Jo says. “After a 25 in February of 2019, I had her blood tested and asked one of the vets if she was ready for a 50.  He told me that there was still a lot of gas left in the tank and that there were no indications that she couldn’t do it. A month later, she completed her first 50 [in the Florida FITS ride] with energy to spare.”

Luna is Jo’s third OTTB, and the only breed she’s ridden in endurance. Thoroughbreds who have raced aren’t just get-on-and-go horses. “OTTBs are wonderful, but they take some extra effort, especially at the beginning as they adapt to the trail.

“Keeping in mind that OTTBs are generally just taught to run fast in a controlled environment, the rider has to learn to throttle the horse and adapt to endurance. 

“The rider has to keep in mind a few things too… like if you lean forward to duck under branches and pull on the reins, you’ve just told the OTTB to go faster.”

In addition to being named 2020’s AERC High Mileage Thoroughbred, another highlight of their endurance venture together so far is the completion of Luna’s first 75-miler at FITS last March. “We completed the last loop alone and almost totally in the dark with all kinds of forest creatures making noises around us. She just kept going and going and going. We truly completed as a team.”

Luna and Jo are developing a very special bond. “Luna has had a hard life, but she trusts me,” Jo says. “She raced over a dozen times, and it was apparent that her life at the track wasn’t a picnic.  

“In the beginning, she would sometimes become unnerved over simple things, probably because of some bad memories. Once she gained the confidence to ride off alone, she was superbly happy because she could really use those long legs at a pace that works for her.

“When she sees a hill, she puts that 16.1 body into a 6th gear.  I just hang on and enjoy the ride because I know she'll get me up that hill safely."

**Top photo by Becky Pearman

**Bottom photo by Maria Phillips

Friday, February 5, 2021

Meet My Endurance Horse: Jailhouse Waylon

by Merri

Jailhouse Waylon, aka “Bubba”
6-year-old Standardbred gelding
owned by Anita Rees

100 LD Miles
100 Endurance Miles
2020’s AERC High Mileage Standardbred

Jailhouse Waylon was bred to impress on the racetrack, but he was injured in race training and made only one start. Anita Rees obtained him in the fall of 2018 as a 4-year-old from a friend who has a Standardbred adoption program.

“He’d been adopted out and returned 3 times in about 2 years,” Anita says. “I wasn't exactly looking, but my endurance gelding was rehabbing from an injury so I told her I'd take Bubba. Who can resist a free horse?”

Bubba hadn’t been hard to start under saddle, and he was broke to ride (“sort of”) when Anita got him. She describes him today as very easy going, such a pleasure to ride, especially compared to her horse Shag who is insanely competitive.

Bubba debuted in endurance in 2020, and he completed all 6 of his starts, 4 LDs and 2 50s. With COVID affecting the ride season across the country, Anita felt lucky to be able to do 6 rides with him. The combined 200 miles resulted in Jailhouse Waylon being crowned as AERC’s 2020 high-mileage Standardbred, a breed competition award sponsored by the United States Trotting Association (USTA).

Anita’s most memorable ride aboard Bubba (so far) was their first 50-mile ride in the October Spook Run in Indiana. Anita had agreed to accompany a friend Sarah attempting to finish her and her horse’s first 50. They rode conservatively to get both horses through the ride, and all was well until the vet check at 40 miles, where Sarah rider-optioned from feeling ill. Anita picks up the story from there.

“We had a 50 minute hold with just 10 miles to go. I knew it would be dark before we finished, which normally wouldn't be any big deal except when the Ride Manager came over and said there were tornado warnings - as in ‘take shelter NOW’ warnings. Yikes!

“We’d been hearing some thunder off in the distance, and it had been raining a little on and off for most of the ride.

“Bubba was under my canopy. Eating. He never stopped eating the entire hold and had been passing the vet checks fine.

“If I was smart I should have pulled after hearing that forecast, but I figured it was only 10 more miles, and if a tornado did come through we'd have just as much chance surviving it in the woods as parked in the middle of a field. Seemed like logical reasoning at the time, anyway.

“Bubba reluctantly picked his head up from the feed so we could get tacked up. I also slipped off his bridle and rode him in a halter that last loop. Another first.

“He was not thrilled to go out into the storm, but he did it anyway. The first few miles the wind was so bad, the rain was almost horizontal. There were branches coming down all over, and even a few small trees.

“And lightning. Almost non-stop lightning, which in one way was good because I could see the trail markers, since by that time it was pretty dark.

“The trail was so slick and muddy it was hard to do more than walk in most places, and at more than one point I was seriously questioning my judgement about taking a young horse on his first 50 out in those conditions. What if he tied up? What if a tree fell on us? What if he slipped and broke a leg?

“But we slogged through and finally came to a section of gravel road we'd done on the loop before. Bubba knew camp was close and broke into his big Standardbred road trot.”

Anita and Bubba finished the ride (and finished Top Ten, by attrition) with a half hour to spare, and got the Turtle award, which Anita doesn’t even remember. She was just thrilled to finish with a sound, willing, and confident horse. “Such a great feeling, I was so proud of this young guy!”

Even though it rained through the night and the temperature dropped 30 degrees, Bubba stayed warm and dry under his shelter at his trailer, and he ate non-stop.

You probably get the picture: Bubba LOVES to eat. “He's now known at the rides as that horse who brings a huge cooler full of nothing but carrots. He'll easily eat 40 or 50 pounds of carrots in a weekend. And more if I had them.”

He’s a very personable horse. “He acts more like a puppy than a horse sometimes - an 1100 pound puppy who gets into everything. He’s super friendly, always the first horse to come up and offer help when we're working on fences or doing things in the pasture. He also plays with his tongue and makes silly faces (it's a Standardbred thing).”

Anita started riding endurance in the early 1990s, and started riding Standardbreds around a decade ago. She’s had 7 over the years and sings their praises.

“Standardbreds are such an under-appreciated breed,” Anita says. “Most off the track are very easy to transition to new careers under saddle. They're tough, athletic, and sensible. Bonus if you do get one off the track, since most have years of slow jogging for conditioning.

“They make great endurance horses and we're gradually seeing more Standardbreds at the rides.”

For more information on adopting a Standardbred, see:

** Top photo by Noelle Snyder