Monthly Archives: April 2013

Life on a CANTER farm

I am always questioned about what our CANTER farms are like and my answer is always that they are the horse version of heaven. I truly believe that the horses donated to CANTER are very lucky horses. What makes our farms so perfect is that they are just huge open fields filled with grass. The horses get to live in big herds. They have access to lush grass or hay. They have shelter with run in sheds. They have auto waters. They just get to be horses. They sleep when they want. They eat when they want. They get to pick what their day will be like. I think I would enjoy their life 🙂

When we get donated horses we actually do just turn them right out. Yes, they may run a lap around the 30 acre field but then they put their head down and learn to eat grass. They let go of the physical and mental issues that may have been created by life in a 12×12 stall at the track. They are not the crazy horses that people might think they are. If they were crazy at the track they tend to lose that quickly once at the farm. We don’t treat them like hot-house flowers. I think sometimes their trainers and owners get a bit worried when they drop them off and see nothing but wide open fields. Yes, very different from the track!  They get checked on several times a day but it is almost a period where the horses just don’t get a lot of human interaction and that is a good thing. They make friends with their field buddies and they get a chance to be independent. They come in to get their feet done and whatever else is needed but there is no riding that is done for horses on the layup farms. It is true rest and relaxation.

Sometimes in the let down process they will look a lot worse before they look better. It is hard not to panic but they all bounce back. Our horses don’t eat grain (unless absolutely needed) and that can be a transition but they all do really well. I can honestly say these Tb’s live out on huge fields and they are all fat and happy. Their feet get a chance to grow out and spread because they go barefoot. They do gimpy for a month or so but we give them time to let their feet be natural.

Horses in the field at the farm

Horse stay at the layup farms anywhere from two months to several years. Frankly, a lot of it depends on how successful we are at selling the horses that come into retraining so that we have room at our retraining farms. They get a minimum of two months but it is always a bit longer than that. When we go out to pick out the horses that are going to come into the retraining program we look for the horses who are ready. What is ready? Ready is the horse that comes up to you with interest. The horse that appears to be ready for a job. It is almost like they are putting their head in the halter like pick me..pick me. They look physically and mentally ready. We lunge them to check to make sure they are sound (even sound horses can take a long time to heal their bodies so sometimes a horse could be sound but still need time off).

They aren’t exactly unfit because our farms are quite big and they do a lot of moving around as seen in this video that Allie took of the horses all running up because they were interested in her dog.

I would venture to say that we really don’t know a whole lot about the horses at the farm. They come from the track and we just sort of ignore them until we go over to evaluate those who are ready for retraining. They are getting good care so we know they are just fine. However, we don’t know much about them in terms of size, movement, personality and sometimes soundness (although we do know if they have injuries coming off the track they all tend to be a bit body sore so the degree of body soreness can vary). I try to go every few months and just take an inventory (pics/video) at the farm that is closest to me so that I can have an idea of what stages of let down each horse is in. We aren’t worried about selling them at this point so it takes the pressure off. My inventory is often more of an evaluation to see who is next in the retraining pipeline.

The fun part of the trips to evaluate horses is that you get some awesome surprises. Hey, we know we have nice horses (everybody else might not know but we always know :)) but we often don’t even know just how nice they are which makes it fun to video them. Allie just made a trip out to one of the farm and it is fun to see her pictures.

For example, this mare has been at the farm for over a year. She actually was at Delaware Park but our closer farm doesn’t take mares so she went to the other farm. It takes us a lot longer to sell mares so she was still just hanging out. They went to video her and were just shocked. I got a call to say this horse is world-class. Potential high level dressage horse in the making. One of the best movers she has seen. Just wow! Who knew!

This isn’t even as good as she trots!

Sure, this one (sired by Medgalia D Oro)

Now looks like this

But..that is okay and even welcome. We want them to have this chance to get fat and furry. Just to be a horse for a bit. It sure makes the retraining easier.

I think this one would like nice in my barn 🙂 He is a horse that was donated because a former owner asked if we had any idea how he was doing. We didn’t but I reached out to his trainer and told him that a former owner would help him out when he needed to retire and a month later he was in our field. Lovely big sound gelding that everybody will fight over.

Easy to tell the horses that have only been at the farm for a short time. They are in the yuck phase of muscle loss and overall loss of body condition.

Do you recognize this guy? This is Corcho who was at my farm for a bit before we decided he just needed more time off to deal with some muscle soreness. Allie said he has grown and is now 16.1 and once he sheds out his two-tone coat he is going to be stunning.

This is a new arrival at the farm closest to me and I can’t wait to meet him.

He is a neat 8 yr who has made $150k in 70+ races. I love these war horses and I look forward to meeting him. He just has the look of one classy horse.

We decide who goes into retraining by whatever horse is most ready but that doesn’t mean that I still don’t get pretty excited about certain horses and anxiously await the time when they will be ready. I once in a while call dibs on a certain horse. Hey, I have worked hard and Allie gives me the allowance to call dibs if I really really want to work with a certain horse. I have been very excited about bring Gib to my farm for whatever reason. He has just always struck me as a special horse and I am excited to see if I am right. He comes home with me after Rolex and I just can’t wait!!!! More on that later.

Samantha Clark from Eventing Nation interviewed Allie and the article was great-

I especially like this part:

In any given week, there will be three or four CANTER Mid-Atlantic volunteers visiting the half a dozen or so tracks in the area that weekend. “We’ve been very lucky that we’ve been able to grow an awesome group of volunteers.” Depending on the funding level at the time, if people are in a situation where they need to get rid of a horse immediately, then CANTER Mid-Atlantic will take them as donations. Once again, depending on funds, CANTER Mid-Atlantic takes in anywhere from 60 to a 100 horses a year; those horses will be turned out for three to six months depending on what they need, then re-trained and re-homed.

The extensive retraining is what probably stands CANTER Mid-Atlantic apart from a lot of other OTTB programs. “You can’t truly evaluate a horse in one or two rides; you can only evaluate those two rides. We started insisting on 30 to 60 days of re-training so that we could really go about re-training and evaluating them in a very thorough, systematic way. Our success rate in placing them in new homes is at about 99 percent. I think we’ve had two horses come back ever that were not the right match.”

Obviously this makes the process extremely costly. “It’s much more expensive, but our service has to be to the horses and not the bank account, and we’re not doing the horses the right service if we’re placing them in a home that has unrealistic expectations of them, both mentally or soundness wise. We are extremely transparent in our re-training process. We write extensive blogs about each horse, and we document everything. I call it ‘The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Really Ugly!’”

Funded by donations and grants — a very generous grant from ASPCA enabled them to double their efforts — most of their funding comes from donations and the sale price of the nicer horses, although “for every horse we sell for $3,000 or $4,000 or sometimes even $5,000 if it’s been to a few shows, we’ll probably give 10 away for a dollar or a couple hundred.”

I think it highlights this process of really letting the horses just mentally and physically relax before we start the retraining. I do think we stand apart because of this process. I have been buying enough horses fresh off the track that it makes me realize just how much easier it is to work with these CANTER horses that have been lucky enough to get all this time off before they begin retraining. It absolutely makes the retraining easier.

We head off for Rolex tomorrow. I am so very excited!  I get to see lots of awesome ottb’s in action. Kurt and I hope to fit in some visits to some of TB farms.

One last outing for Halfway and I

One of my very favorite events of the year is the benefit ride over at Mid Atlantic Horse (the scavenger hunt). We try to go every year because it is an opportunity to ride across gorgeous country and of course it benefits a great rescue.

I think that I have been on a different horse every year we have went which always makes for an interesting time 🙂 This year was extremely special because the course weaved in and out of Woodstock farm. Woodstock farm was owned by Mrs. Allaire du Pont who died in 2006. Read about her here- She owned Kelso (5 consecutive horse of the year titles!) and other stakes winners such as Politely and Shine Again. Her farm is over 500 acres of the most beautiful land that you have ever seen.

I have a bit of a horse shortage at the moment with Letterman and Legend still on layup and Slugger and Sky not quite ready. I was going to take Junior and ride out with Doris (Ridge’s new owner). That meant Kurt couldn’t go but he was okay with that. At the last minute the shipper was delayed in picking up Halfway so I got to take him so that Kurt could go on the ride too. Halfway really hadn’t done a lot since the show so it would be an interesting test. Not to mention they had been in overnight due to rain and it was cold!

Halfway reminds me of Junior when Junior was younger. You get on him and he is ready to go. He isn’t too keen on standing. He doesn’t do anything bad but he threatens to be silly if you insist that he wait. I just walked some circles while Kurt and Doris got ready and then off we went. The horses were actually all quite behaved for being so fresh and they walked flat footed for a bit until we got to some good trotting spots. Halfway is my kind of ride because he is so soft and easy to move between your hand and your leg. Nice to have a horse so light in the bridle and adjustable (even if he is still green).

We did some nice trots just to let them relax. Halfway spent a lot of time looking at changing colors in grass and anything that didn’t look like it belonged. That is his version of being fresh. We came to the water crossing fairly early on in the ride. I should have taken a picture but I forgot. It had rained the day before and the water was running pretty good. You have to walk over this concrete pad that has water rushing over it and there is a drop off on the left hand side (pretty good drop off) and on the right side there is a bit of slope so the water is like a waterfall. Halfway and Ridge were pretty dug in and I had a feeling that if we did get them to go across they were going to get worried once that rushing water hit their feet. I decided to get off and so did Doris. Junior was walking back and forth like the experienced trail horse that he is and didn’t see what the fuss was about.

I walked Halfway across and sure enough he hit the water and went OMG and jumped in the air but then walked across. It was super slippery and I almost fell down but thankfully I didn’t. Doris started walking with Ridge and he is spooking at the waterfall on the right and almost pushed her off the drop on the left side! It was a bit wild but he figured it out and walked nicely. We then had to find a spot to get back on. Wait…my horse is small. Hot damn!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I position him down a hill and hop back on. Doris uses the same hill but is having a harder time getting up. She gets stuck halfway on Ridge and Kurt and I are howling in laughter. She is doing a preying mantis on Ridge’s back. Legs behind the saddle and stuck by the crotch of her breeches. I almost peed myself I was laughing so hard. Ridge is the best damn horse in the whole world because he just stood there waiting for her to climb her way out of this position she got herself into. We totally should have gotten a picture of this!

We have a nice canter up the hill and we come to a neat barn. The clue had us walking through the barn and I said I bet this is where Kelso lived. Sure enough there was his stall still decorated. Talk about chills! Wow, what a piece of history.  We stopped and took some pictures outside of the barn.

We had to stop in the next field and just look around. I really felt like I needed time to soak up the surroundings. Just amazing to be riding through this property. Very special.

Junior’s sire (Thor of Greystone) stood at the farm where we started the ride from (Unicorn farm owned by Lana DuPont Wright) and I swear this is one of his favorite rides too.

You see that Kurt and I are standing apart. Well that is because Junior and Halfway are two alpha males and they spent most of the ride in a pissing match with each other. Halfway kicked at Junior and then Junior kicked at Halfway because he was mad and getting revenge. Junior hates that Halfway gets to canter and gets really mad when Halfway gets to go in front. Ridge was just staying away from the both of them because he doesn’t see the need to participate in their antics.

We had some awesome trots and canters across the open fields. I think we were all just laughing and having a great time. I had to reel Kurt in a few times as he just went cantering all over the place and wanted to go faster and faster. Doris was doing her first really big trail ride on Ridge out in the open and she wasn’t quite ready for the big gallops but I was so proud of her!!! She did more than I thought she would (probably because she didn’t want to hold us up) and she was just beaming the whole time. She kept saying that she just LOVED this horse and she was so happy. Hard not to love Ridge. He was so good and he had never been on a ride like this before (neither had Halfway) so we were very impressed with how they both handled themselves. We passed some riders along the way and had some riders pass us going the other direction. It seemed like everybody was just having a great time. Halfway and Ridge had become experts at crossing water, mud and ditches by the end of the ride!

I am so glad we all got to enjoy this ride. Thanks again to MAHR for hosting this ride. I believe I read that they had 130 riders and made over $3k. Awesome!!!

Halfway headed to his new owner yesterday. He hopped right up on the step up slant load. She let me know that he settled right in. Dug into his hay and drank a big bucket of water. I am so excited to follow his progress.

I am also getting excited about our next batch of horses but even more excited about my upcoming trip to Rolex. Yay!

Long overdue show report

Life has gotten a bit crazy here lately and I just haven’t had the time to sit down and write. The show was awesome! Wow, I was really impressed with the show grounds. I had never shown at Winter Place Park and it was a gorgeous set up. Really great for a big show. They had two huge grass rings set up with the nicest courses. Each ring had its own warm up ring (you know how important that is for cutting down traffic). They also had a dressage ring set up away from the jumping rings which was great for those people who just wanted to stay away from the chaos. The people were fantastic. The footing was great. It seemed like everybody enjoyed the show.

Our tentative plan was that we would compete Halfway and Ridge in one jumping division and then do a few dressage classes. However, it didn’t quite work out like that because the jumping classes ran over into our dressage times. Probably for the best as it was a long morning. I am not really into the whole hunter show scene but the girls love it. Whitney wanted to leave bright and early (5:30ish) so they had time to warm up. Uh!

We got there and Ridge and Halfway seemed to be fairly relaxed. This was Halfway’s first show and Ridge’s third show. Halfway was very awake but seemed to be very sensible which was awesome. You just never know what you are going to get at a first show so you prepare for everything. I brought the lunge line out just in case it was needed.

I told the girls to just go out and have a trot around and canter if needed. Nothing worse than trying to make a tense horse walk around. Just let the move and don’t really worry about their heads or anything at first. The warm up was quite busy with horses jumping down the lines and just the general chaos of a warm up ring. Ridge was very relaxed (LOVE him!) and Halfway was behaved but forward. Forward is always his response to his nerves but now that he knows how to use the energy to round his body he was much more rideable.

The jumps in the warm up were set at 2’3″ which Whitney and I were just a bit unsure of in terms of how Halfway would handle it all. He is a brave horse but has never seen jumps decorated like this. We warmed up over the x-rail and vertical gate in the small warmup area and then started with one fence out in the big ring. Yeah, he totally didn’t even blink an eye. I don’t think he even noticed all the decorations or maybe he did and just thought this was way too cool and proceeded to jump around like a champion. This horse seriously impresses me with his willingness. His new owner got one heck of a nice horse!

Ridge hadn’t been schooling jumps at home at all. His owner’s daughter was riding him in the show and our plan was to just do the x-rail division and maybe not jump. He really wasn’t fit and I don’t like to overface them.

Halfway was competing in the 2ft division. He was so good! Yes, he really isn’t a hunter but all that matters is that he went in and did his best. He had some awkward jumps but we had just started jumping out of the canter so for a horse with 2 months of training what more could you ask for!

In between classes he stood quietly just hanging out. That is huge for him because he is a horse always on a mission. I think he realized his job was to just chill and then go jump and then chill again. Smart!

He didn’t get any ribbons but we expected that at this point. It was a bit of a rush to get him ready for this show with minimal training so I am just thrilled that he went there and rocked around the jumps.


Ridge is just such a relaxed horse. His flat classes were packed! There was a horse near him running backwards and spinning and I think maybe he took a little look at him and rolled his eyes in contempt. Ridge doesn’t have time for fools.

Ridge pinned 4th in the huge walk/trot class. I thought he would pin in the w/t/c class but he didn’t and I wasn’t really sure why. Ha, see I don’t know this hunter stuff! He looked good so that is all that matters. His new owner was absolutely thrilled with him. She has been enjoying him and I took her out on her first trail ride on him this weekend and there may have been happy tears as we cantered down the trail. That is what it is all about!!!!!!

The added bonus of the show was seeing Ramblin Romeo in action. He was the really cool horse that Bev from Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue found at New Holland we ended up taking in. Such a classy horse with a great brain. He was 2nd in the large leadline class and placed well in the 2’3″ hunter derby and handy hunters.

The horses and people were all exhausted so we left around 1pm. Most of the girls fell asleep on the way home. This horse showing is hard work.

Halfway will leave for his new home this week. I will be bringing the next batch of CANTER horses over the first week of May.