It’s hard to believe he’s been with me for five years and that he’s eleven years old. I pulled his papers when I decided to write about him and discovered this. I got Bear when he was six, and time has flown by. Dark bay or brown Gelding named Grandpa Cat, out of Grandma Peg and by Noble Cat. That’s Bear’s description, but that doesn’t even begin to describe who he is. He is the most gentle, sensitive horse I have ever known. He appreciates everything we do for him and every moment he has with us. He would never ask us for a single thing, but is so grateful for what we give to him. Bear has a perfect, lovely soul.
I met Bear on December 13, 2005. It was a cold, raw day and they were calling for ice rain/snow mix. I picked up his trainer around 8 a.m. that morning to go take a look at him and another horse. This guy was living nearby and had mentioned them to me a month earlier, but I just wasn’t looking for a horse and he wanted too much money for them. Since then, Graycie had made some money racing and Ernie had told me he was desperate to sell these two horses.
Ernie wasn’t awake, but his housemate got him out of bed and we headed to see the horses. I knew they would look bad. This guy was a druggie and had been ruled off the racetrack because of it. I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. The farm where they were located was about fifteen minutes from my farm. As we drove I told Ernie that my farm was full and if I decided to buy either of them I would need about a week to move horses around to make room. He was fine with that. We drove into a subdivision with upscale homes and to a cul-de-sac. There was a house to the left and a field straight ahead with a driveway that went along it to a house that was connected to a barn. There was a turn out shed in the field that must have been made for ponies or goats or something smaller than a Thoroughbred. There were two horses in the field, a brown one and a gray one. I became silent as we walked toward the fence. My mind started to race and I told myself to stay calm. I had never seen horses this skinny before. I had seen pictures, but I now know that pictures do not convey the despair that surrounds these horses in person. I knew that if I did not take these horses they would die. As I touched one of them his hair came out in my hand.
I looked at Ernie and I suppose my face was reacting to what I was seeing. He said the reason he needed to sell them was that the people were not taking care of them and they had become thin in the last three weeks. I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t say anything at all. These horses had obviously been starving for a very long time.
I felt their legs and the brown horse was nervous and touchy. The gray was aloof, but interested. Surprisingly they had very decent legs – considering. We walked back and got in my truck and there was silence for the longest time. I knew they were severely dehydrated and there was no water to be found. I really didn’t think they had time for me to even call the ASPCA. I told Ernie we needed to get those horses out of there immediately. He said he’d take $4,000 for the pair. I know what you’re thinking, he should have given them to me, but I knew he was a drug addict and that he’d let them die. I couldn’t let that happen. I told him if he got the papers and got a signed a bill of sale that day, I would pick them up and give him $2,000. The rest would have to come later. Apparently there was a partner involved.
Ernie left for Charlestown in the snow to get the papers and paperwork. I was stunned. I knew I was paying for two horses that should be for free, but I told myself that if just one of them made it to the races, they would pay me back. They both were good racehorses on paper. The gray was named Charolais and he was by Holy Bull. He had made over $40K for this guy. The brown was named Grandpa Cat and had only run four times getting a second and two thirds. These boys could run.
The ice rain came down as evening approached and I didn’t have any stalls open, but I knew they would be better off with me. Besides, they were going to spend the night out in the ice rain either way. Ernie showed up at around 5 p.m. and we left to pick them up. JK came along to help. As we drove Ernie told me Grandy would be difficult to load and that I should school him to the trailer a lot. He said he had beat him for four hours to get him on the trailer to go to a race. I didn’t say anything.
When we got there it was dark. As we drove into the cul-de-sac I thought to myself what was wrong with these people? They drove by these horses every single day and even if you had never seen a horse before, it was clear these horses needed help. How could these people bear to see this every day?
We pulled in front of the house/barn combo and Ernie went into the barn and dragged out four bags of Reliance feed. He also gave us his tote box filled with various treatments and medications. It was really weird, and I turned my attention to the horses. Charlie/Charolais was rather easy to catch although he was suspicious of our intentions. Grandy was another story, he was frightened and wanted nothing to do with us. Ernie kept telling me we had to tranqualize him. I was afraid to do that because he was so thin and frail. When horses are in this condition it’s natural to treat them like they’re going to break if you touch them. I wanted to try to load them without giving them anything. My hope was that if Charlie went on, Grandy would follow. It was hard to ignore Ernie’s chant to use tranqualizer. I thought to myself, “you don’t care about these horses, that’s why you can’t see how dangerous giving them drugs is.”
Charlie went right on the trailer. His attitude seemed to be, anywhere is better than here, let’s go. Grandy wouldn’t even get near the trailer and once Charlie went out of his sight he became even more frightened. I think he only expected things to get worse. Grandy had no hope left that anything would ever be okay again. I was overcome with grief but I held myself together. It was obvious that the only way we would get this horse on the trailer was to tranqualize him. It made me sick to do it, but I knew we would all be better off once we were headed to Leighton Farm. The ice rain kept falling as Grandy began to relax and hang his head. It still took about a half hour to load him, but eventually he went on.
It was a long drive back to my farm, mostly because I couldn’t get away from Ernie soon enough. All the way down the road he offered suggestions on how I should train them to win races. He recounted their performances when he trained them. Oh and he was their exercise rider too so he told me how to gallop them as well.
That was the last thing on my mind. I was afraid. What should I feed them? If I fed them too much I might kill them. Of course when you looked at them you wanted to feed them everything in your barn. How I wished I had stalls for them. The thought of putting them back out in the cold rain was killing me. Still, they were going somewhere that people cared. That would have to get them through this cold hard night.
I couldn’t sleep. They were out there in the cold rain. I got up at 2 a.m. and loaded two horses onto my horse trailer. I quickly cleaned their stalls and brought Grandy and Charlie in. They were wet and Grandy was very suspicious of me. Charlie almost ran me over to get into his stall. I wondered how long it had been since they knew the safety of a clean stall. I had placed a small amount of hay and some hay cubes inside. They dug in and I felt a sense of relief.
I left for the racetrack. When I got there I talked about these two horses and found out that they had been famous at Bowie. One trainer told me Ernie tortured them. It was amazing that any horse could run like they did with the way they were treated. I found out Ernie didn’t feed them regularly when they were racing either. People were amazed they were still alive. I couldn’t accurately describe how they looked.
My helper at the track came back to the farm with me. I tried to groom them, but I couldn’t because their hair would come out too easily. As I tried to brush Grandy’s tail, the hair fell out. You couldn’t groom them. I just wanted to do something to make them feel better. To let them know they were safe, but there wasn’t a lot I could do just yet.
Rafael held them while I took pictures. He didn’t say much, but his eyes widened when he saw them. He was very kind and gentle with them, like he feared they would break. I was disappointed in the pictures, because they didn’t show how thin the horses were since their hair was standing straight up. The vets told me that when they are severely starving the hair stands up like that, even on their faces.
I called my blacksmith and warned him “you’re never going to believe what I bought”. We dug out blankets and I felt really good putting them on. I believe the more comfortable you make a horse, the quicker he will recover. I set out to get their feet done and their teeth done asap. I wanted to deworm them but decided to wait at least a week.
The next day I tried to turn them out and Grandy went, but Charlie would not come out of his stall. He looked and me and said, “Lady, I’m staying in here where I’ve got food, water and shelter.” I didn’t blame him and decided to allow him to stay in as long as he wanted. It was a week before he agreed to go out. He rolled, did a trot and came back to the gate. I took him back in. They were both so foot sore.
Steve Guy is my dear friend and the best blacksmith in the world as far as I’m concerned. He not only has knowledge and talent, he has a love for horses similar to my own. He was sickened by what he saw when he arrived. Steve did Charlie first, and he looked haunted as he said there is no foot on this horse. “I’m going to be putting these shoes right on his sole, but it’s the only way we’re ever going to get any foot on him.” You see, when horses are starving the quality of the hoof suffers, and the feet don’t grow. Grandy was frightened and didn’t trust any of us. He wasn’t bad, it was just clear he expected to be hurt. He knew we would betray him even if we were being nice at the moment. Getting shoes on him was a long process. It took around two hours, there were so many cracks in his feet that Steve had to drill nail holes in special places to avoid nailing into the cracks. As he hammered the shoes on, Grandy resisted. Steve was upset because it was hurting him when he hammered. He didn’t want to cause Grandy pain, but the shoes were necessary. I love Steve Guy. He got shoes on both of them that day and Grandy walked down the shedrow sound when he was done. He charged the regular fee for shoeing, even though he was at my farm most of the day for two horses.
I’ll be adding to this for a while……..