This Blog is dedicated to the Noble and Great horses in our lives and throughout history. Visit the land of the unicorns in Behind The Mist, the horse lover's fantasy for pre-teens to adults.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BEAUTIFUL BARBARO - Destined to become a Unicorn!

Some animals capture my heart...actually LOTS of animals capture my heart. But one of the standouts was Barbaro. Everyone loves a winner and everyone loves to root for the underdog (or I should say: "Under Horse!") Barbaro was both of those.

Barbaro was born on April 29, 2003. He was bred and owned by Gretchen and Roy Jackson at Lael Stables in West Grove, Pennsylvania. He was only the 6th undefeated horse to win the Kentucky Derby when he bested the field of 20 by six and a half lengths in the 2006 running of the roses. However, tragedy struck just 2 weeks later at the running of the Preakness. Barbaro broke through the starting gate prematurely. But the second start appeared fine. Within a short distance, right in front of the grandstand, Barbaro shattered his right hind leg in more than 20 places.

Dr. Dean Richardson at Univ. of Penn's New Bolton Center performed a difficult five hour surgery the next day. He fused the fetlock and pasturn joints by attaching a steel plate with 27 screws. Barbaro was then put in the recovery pool (see my post on Ruffian from January 5th) and Barbaro woke up calmly.

At first, all looked good. But by the 1st week in July, complications arose. Horses are designed to support their weight on all four feet. When one foot is injured, the horse tends to protect that foot by carrying more weight on the companion leg. When too much weight is shifted to the other foot for too long, Laminitis can develop. Laminitis is the inflammation of the Laminae in the hoof. Abscesses can then form which will leak out the white band on the sole of the hoof or out the coronary band at the top of the hoof. The swelling can pull the bones in the hoof away from the wall. This is, obviously, very painful.

Five more surgery's were undertaken to help this. 80% of Barbaro's left hoof was removed. It was unknown just how much would grow back. Now both hind legs were in casts! He was put in a supporting sling for hours at a time to help relieve the pressure and pain. His condition went up and down for the next few months. Thousands of cards, flowers and gifts arrived at his stall wishing him well. I remember well the press conference on Dec. 13th when his vets said he was doing well. Then Laminitis developed in both front feet. The owners and the vets decided there was nothing more they could do and had to put Barbaro down on January 29, 2007. I was so sad that day.

Barabo was cremated and buried in front of Churchill Downs. A bronze sculpture was created by Alexa King and was unveiled in front of Churchill Downs on April 26, 2009.

In his honor, Beanie Babies and Breyer both made horses in their respective mediums. Three scholarships were established for Vet students at the University of Florida. (I don't know the connection there...maybe one of the Jacksons went is in "Jacksonville" you know!) Books have been written about him and in 2007 Universal Studios announced that they would be making a film about him titled: "Gone Like the Wind." It has been shelved, however.

For readers of Behind The Mist, Kit is an appaloosa mare, the Alpha Mare of the herd of trail horses in Rocky Mountain National Park. However, in real life, Kit is my beautiful, bay, thoroughbred gelding with a white star on his forehead...just like Barbaro!

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

BLACK JACK - Earned his Unicorn horn in the Army

November 22, 1963. That morning is seared in my memory like a brand on a horse's haunches. I was sitting in Mr. Lomax's music appreciation class at Lake Oswego Junior High School. It was a windowless room made of cement bricks that had been painted a pastel color, probably blue. Mr. Lomax was desperately trying to get a group of seventh graders to understand some aspect of music theory, a subject that I wouldn't appreciate until I was thirty, when a voice came over the intercom and interrupted, permanently, Mr. Lomax's lecture. President John F. Kennedy had been shot. A few other events are equally embedded in my memory: my marriage, the birth of my children and historical events like the first moon walk, 9/11, and today's anniversary...the Columbine shootings (we Coloradoans really remember that day!) But surprisingly few. If you weren't alive at that time, you probably can't envision what it was like. The media had made us believe that we were living in Camelot with King Arther (or, perhaps Lancelot) at our lead. It was like looking in a mirror and having it suddenly shatter before your face. I remember watching the funeral on our black and white T.V. I remember seeing a lovely, lean black horse being led down the crowd-lined avenue, riderless with riding boots placed in the stirrups...backwards.

(Photo taken by Ron Williams from the Arlington National Cemetary Website.)

I want to share with you what I found out about this horse. His name was Black Jack. He was named for the General of the Armies: John "Black Jack" Pershing. He was foaled on January 19, 1947 and became the last of the Quartermaster - issue horses. He entered the 3rd U.S. Infantry Stables at Ft. Myer on September 22, 1953. He was given the last Quartermaster brand on the left shoulder and the army serial number 2V56 on the left side of his neck. Black Jack served a long and honorable army career, including participating in the funerals of President Kennedy in 1963, President Hoover in 1964, President L. Johnson in 1964 and Five Star General Douglas MacArthur in 1964. When a riderless horse is led in a funeral procession he is called a "Caparisoned Horse." He is the symbol of a warrior who would ride no more. Apparently the tradition started with Genghis Khan. The draping on the horse, including the backward boots are part of the tradition. Black Jack died on February 6, 1976. His remains were laid to rest in a plot at Fort Myer, Virginia. He joined Comanche as the only other horse buried with full military honors. In the horse fantasy story, Behind the Mist, it is the noble and great horses that are chosen to become Unicorns once they enter animal heaven. If they complete their training, they are inducted into the prestigious Legion of the Unicorn. I, hereby, nominate Black Jack, the last Army horse, to the Legion of the Unicorn!

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

BLACK BEAUTY - The fictional horse that still deserves to become a Unicorn

ANTHROPOMORPHISM! How many of you know the meaning of that word? It means to attribute human characteristics to an animal or a thing. That is what I did in Behind the Mist, although I really believe that horses and animals have those characteristics if we would just pay better attention to them! But, I digress. Anyway, one of my favorite books, and I'm sure yours too, that used this technique was Black Beauty. This wonderful book broke new literary ground when it was written in first-person, or I should say "first-Horse," from the horse's point of view. The author, Anna Sewell wrote the novel, not intended for children by the way, in the last years of her life. She wrote it as a bed ridden invalid between the years, 1871 and 1877. It was published in 1877 and became an immediate success. It has since become one of the best-selling books of all time having sold over 50 Million copies! Anna died just five months later but lived long enough to see it become popular. Anna lived in England. At the age of just fourteen, she fell while walking home from school in the rain and injured both her ankles. This left her crippled for the rest of her life. As a result of not being able to walk or stand for very long, she became dependent upon horse-drawn transportation. Black Beauty tells the heart warming and heart-breaking story of a beautiful Black horse while following him from one home and owner to the next. Some of these owners were kind, loving and knowledgable, others were not, especially the taxi driver! Regardless of the circumstances, Black Beauty always put forth his best effort...a lesson for all of us! It has been said that this book lead to the formation of several societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals..."Humane Societies." There is a very happy ending which I won't spoil just incase you are one of the few people who hasn't YET read it! Black Beauty was made into several movies, cartoons and a T.V. series. I hereby nominate Black Beauty to the Legion of the Unicorn and give Anna Sewell flight as a Unicorn Rider!
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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

NOBLE FLAIR - A Fancy Future Unicorn

I started taking riding lessons on a weekly basis as an eight year old at the Portland Riding Club in Portland, Oregon. Soon, thereafter, I switched stables to Highlands Hunt Club located by the Portland Zoo. Sadly, it isn't there any more. Anyway, my trainer was named Johnny Johnson and I rode under his tutelage until he got married and moved up to Seattle. At that time, another man named Gary began training there and changed the stable from a hunter/jumper barn to a saddle seat barn. I have vivid memories of gazing over the stall doors at his horses in all their artificial braces for necks and tails and their long, weighted hooves. It made me very sad to look in their hollow eyes. One of the things that attracks me to Dressage is the emphasis on working with the horse's natural movement and biomechanics. Very little artificial equipment is used by most trainers. (We could get into a discussion about "Rollkur" at this point but I won't.) However, with all of that said, I am sure that the training techniques for Saddle Seat and Park Harness showing have improved. I want to tell you about one of the most famous Park Harness horses. He was a Morgan Stallion by the name of Noble Flair. Noble Flair was foaled in 1984. He was sired by Noble Command out of Lost River. He was bred by Bob and Judy Whitney. This beautiful horse with obvious potential was purchased as a yearling by Herbert V. Kohler of Kohler Stables and lived there for the rest of his life. Noble Flair won numerous world Championships in Park Harness Driving. His first big win was in 1986 when he was the champion two year old Park Harness driving horse. His three time world championships in 1988, 1989 and 1991 are unprecidented. Noble Flair retired from showing in 1991 and became an outstanding stud. PARK HARNESS DRIVING: This is something that I know VERY little about. I do know that the horses are judged on action and animation. They are shown at the park walk, park trot and "Show Your Horse" which is the show-off time where you want an even more active trot without excessive speed. The horses are driven to a four wheel buggy. The following video shows the 1986 championships but not the 2 year olds so I don't have a video of Noble Flair but you can see what goes on at a show. Noble Flair is surely one of the Noble and Great horses that will become a unicorn in the animal heaven. I can just see him prancing across the fields of Celestia with the other unicorns galloping beside him. Read about the unicorns in "Behind The Mist," the horse lover's fantasy story for teens and adults alike!
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