Monday, February 10, 2014

Eulogy for my Friends

On Sunday morning, my husband and I awoke to a conflagration in one of my barns.  The barn was already engulfed in flames and all we could do was call 911 and watch in horror as our horses and lives went up in smoke.  I have had an incredible outpouring of support from my friends and colleagues, which is strengthening during a time in which I am paralyzed with grief.  I have plenty of work to do, and need plenty of sleep, but whenever I sit to work on the computer or close my eyes, I imagine all my horses burning alive. 
It wasn't just a barn full of horses, or Thoroughbreds.  These were my children in some cases the third generation that has been in my family.  I hear so much negativity about the Thoroughbred and racing industry and I can't understand it, because I live this industry and it is wonderful. The greatest highs and now the lowest lows of my life have come from these incredible animals.  When you hear of a tragedy like this one, you think, how awful a bunch of animals perished.  And then the story passes on to something else.  Well, this is a eulogy for my animals.  They were not just animals, some raised to race, some raised to sell, some destined to be riding horses and some just retired: all cherished.  They deserve for the world to know that each one was an individual, and carried one veterinarian's hopes and dreams for their futures.

My first thoroughbred Broodmare, Miss Red, was in that barn.  Her first foal, a colt named Warm Courage (Howard) got loose from my help as a weanling with a chain hanging from his halter.  He freaked out, and ran around the farm, flipped over a fence and fractured his pelvis into a thousand pieces.  Two surgeons recommended euthanasia.  A third said to stall rest him for four months (after all, "you can always euthanize them later").  For over a month, you could walk into that stall and gently rock his pelvis from side to side and the bits of fractured bones made a sound like a bag of potato chips crunching. 

After four months of stall rest, he gradually made it to turnout and never took another lame step.  On the racetrack, he was a two year old workmate for a Canadian Champion, and regularly trained with good horses as a racehorse.  However, in two starts, he bled so much in his lungs that it streamed out his nose.  We turned him out for 6 months to recover.  Back then, I rode the racehorses, so when it came time for him to start back into training as a four year old, I tacked him up and rode him down to the arena on a loose rein.  He was perfect and quiet, walk, trot and canter like a seasoned show horse.  Thus he began his second career.

Howard went on to be a successful Dressage horse with my highest score on him at first level, 68.  He was a successful show hunter and jumper (3'6") on the A circuit, usually in the ribbons, and competed at Novice in eventing.  He was schooling at third level Dressage when he died, and I even bought new white breeches with the plan of starting back into my own show career this spring.  Most of his show career was with 12 and 13 year old girls.  While he had spurs in his hocks, and needed those injected occasionally, his pelvic fracture as a weanling never bothered him.  Never let anyone tell you an OTTB can't be a wonderful, talented and quiet kid's horse.  And don't give up on a pelvic fracture in a young horse, because you can always euthanize them later.  RIP Howard.

Miss Red, a Red Ransom mare,  went on to an unremarkable career as a broodmare.  During the "Tent Caterpillar Crisis"  of 2001-2002 in Kentucky, she developed pericarditis, an inflammation of the specialized membrane covering the heart.  I drained the pericardial sac, and treated her with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories and she recovered.  She went on to have a number of foals, but after they all excelled as show horses and NOT as racehorses, I decided to breed her to a Showhorse stallion in 2008 and get myself a fancy showhorse.  In the last month of pregnancy with that foal, she went into heart failure.  She was diagnosed with restrictive pericarditis, a sequela of the original pericarditis.  We nursed her along and I got my fancy showhorse (although a little small), Sweet Southern Style.  The mare's heart was fine as long as she was not pregnant, so she was retired at the age of 14.  RIP Miss Red and Sweetie.

A 23 year old Exceller mare who was a multiple graded stakes producer had been unable to have a foal for several years and the owners decided to give her up.  I took her on and got two foals out of her, before retiring her at the age of 25.  I spent the next four years of her life pampering her and nursing her through arthritis and other conditions of aging, with the help of other experts.  RIP Excedent at the age of 29.  Never thought something like this would take you.

My husband is a Thoroughbred horse trainer, but we met in graduate school.  He has a Master's Degree in Genetics.  He spends hours researching pedigrees to come up with the best matches for our broodmares.  For the first time in years, we had several commercial yearlings that we could expect a payday at the sales.  Despite the likeliness that they would go to the sale, he would watch them run and play and talk about how he hoped we could afford to keep them and put them in training when the time came, because they looked like great prospects. 

One yearling was a Proud Citizen colt out of a homebred mare.  We raced the granddam of this colt.  She won her first start and ran through her conditions easily in Kentucky, not an easy thing to do.  As a four year old, she was starting to develop marked arthritis of her hock joints:  a condition that would ultimate resolve with time, but it became difficult to keep her sound, so rather than wait out the joints to fuse, we bred her (She was a half to a Champion).  The first foal out of the mare was by Proud Citizen and was gorgeous.  He sold as a weanling for $140,000.  She went on to produce some beautiful foals, of which we raced several.  One day in the spring, when she was in foal to the stallion, Malibu Moon and had another Proud Citizen by her side, I was walking down my farm lane to feed the horses, and I heard her nickering to me.  This was not a usual thing, especially since she had a foal by her side.  I ran to her paddock to find her with a fractured cannon bone.  No, they don't just do this on the racetrack, they can do this in a paddock.  The foal by her side had a femur fracture.  I had to euthanatize them where they stood. 

We still had a filly out of the mare, whom we promptly retired from racing and bred.  Her first foal was a Flatter colt whom we sold for $160,000.  Her second is a Tiz Wonderful filly (3 yo) who is in training, and the third is a Flatter filly (2 yo) who is also in training.  The fourth was a Proud Citizen colt, as beautiful as his 3/4 brother.  RIP Proud Citizen - Saint Savior 2013. 

One of the yearlings was a Pure Prize filly out of one of our own homebred mares.  The mare, Veiled Vow, had been a hard knocking race horse, winning four of 19 starts, all in gutty fashion.  As a seven year old, she was in the lead by 5 lengths in a wide open 5 claimer (which is actually a very tough race, as many old class horses race in these), suddenly stopped, finishing third.  It was completely out of character for her.  She had torn in impressive fashion a ligament in her pastern.  While the mare's pedigree was not really strong enough to breed her in Kentucky, I looked around for someone in a different state market to give her to as a broodmare.  I could find no one I felt would take care of her, and give her the rehab needed to recover from her injury, so we decided to go ahead and breed her ourselves.  If she throws her heart, she will be a great broodmare, despite not being a producer for the commercial market.  So we found a season to Pure Prize and got a beautiful filly.  RIP Pure Prize - Veiled Vow 13.

The third yearling was the first foal out of a young mare we claimed for a broodmare.  As the industry looks to be turning around, we thought it was time to get a commercially viable mare.  She was a beautiful Successful Appeal filly that my husband was desperately hoping we could afford to race instead of sell when the time came.  RIP Successful Appeal - Miss Hanky Panky 2013.

There are always cats and dogs being dropped off in the country by people who realize that they are unable to care for them.  The local small animal clinic identifies them as "Fenger Barn Cat #x"  when I bring them in for FeLV/FIV testing.   A few months ago, a black kitten showed up and adopted us.  We named him Spooky II, since our farm is Spooky Hollow, and we always have to have a Spooky.  We kept him locked in the tack room at nights to protect him from the coyotes, who get pretty bold this time of year.  RIP Spooky II.
Thank you for allowing me to write a long eulogy for my friends and livelihood.  I love my farm and the business I am in, but am having a hard time seeing how I can continue in it.  I keep having to meet with adjusters and fire marshalls and walk through the burned out hull of death, and just felt like I had to express what those burnt carcasses meant to my husband and I.  I'm sure time will heal, but having a hard time right now seeing how.