Dr. Bowman’s Inn Filling Fast

Richard Bowman DVM 7-13-13It’s like trying to remove sand that slides back into the hole after being piled at the edge. Sometimes it’s even worse, like trying to bail out a boat that is filling with water faster than it can be removed.

The effort we speak of here belongs to Dr. Dick Bowman, whose pastures sometimes fill with retired racehorses at his North Dakota equine orphanage faster than he can find new homes for them. Dr. Bowman has a ranch in Bowman, (no relation) N.D., on which he currently has 59 thoroughbreds that once raced at Canterbury Park.

Find a nice spot for one and another one retires. Find nice homes for two, and three retire.

Sort of like walking on a treadmill. Lots of effort and hard work without gaining any actual ground.

“The most I’ve ever had is 80-some last fall,” he said. Up until three years ago I was able to clean out a year’s supply within a year and then start over. Last year I wasn’t able to do that. Then I took another 42 out there and moved another eight or 10 back here. We really worked at finding homes for them this winter.”

Sort of like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul sometimes.

Yet that’s the nature of the racehorse business as the good doctor well knows.

He was mulling over what he would say to a gathering of potential horse owners the other day and carrying on another conversation at the same time.

The two subjects were related nonetheless.

Both had to do with horses naturally. Both had to do with making a decision once a horse’s racing days were done.

That might be five years after buying the animal, six years, maybe even seven or eight. It might also be no longer than six months, as he’s witnessed on more than once occasion.

“I don’t know what I’m going to say,” he said.”We’ll see what I can come up with. Sometimes my mind just rambles.”

Bowman was scheduled to speak to the group and intended to inform these future owners about the responsibilities of owning racehorses not only when they are on the racetrack but after their racing days are over.

Bowman had to conduct a balancing act with whatever he said. After all he was speaking at the request of the Minnesota HBPA and TOBA whose intentions were to convince people that owning racehorses is a pleasurable and entertaining pursuit.

“I’ll be talking to people about what their options are,” he said.”I usually speak off the cuff. I ramble.”

Nonetheless, he knew his bullet points.

“I’ll tell them what to expect with a thoroughbred when it retires,” he said. “What the options are at my place. Other things they should be looking at as prospective thoroughbred owners, what they’re going to do with the horses when they’re done racing.”

Many people haven’t given those topics much thought.

“They haven’t thought about what they’re going to do if a horse cracks a sesamoid,” he said. “Some owners have the wherewithal to keep a horse on their farm when he’s done racing, but most don’t. These are living, breathing creatures that we need to take care of, not a used tissue that you simply throw away.”

Bowman and Dr. Lynn Hovda, the Minnesota Racing Commission’s chief veterinarian, are constantly on the lookout for good homes for the retired thoroughbreds they come across. It is another matter with quarter horses when they retire.

For one thing, at Canterbury Park anyway, there are fewer quarter horses than thoroughbreds, but the Qs, as they’re known in the press box and beyond, are in short supply nonetheless. “There seems to be a big market for speed horses,” said Bowman.”The barrel racers and rodeo people are always looking for them. There’s an active market. You can’t hardly find them.”

Bowman and Hovda have placed hundreds of horses with good homes in the past. As they continue to point out, it’s an ongoing, never finished task.

Bowman has given plenty of talks before, but the one he gave on Saturday was a first. “Most of my talks have been about what vets do on the backside,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve spoken directly to this issue. I’ll tell them what they can do. We want to instill in them a thought process about the horse when he goes out of the racing business.”

There is some relief developing in the operation of Bowman’s massive undertaking that goes far beyond merely taking a horse from Canterbury to the western reaches of North Dakota. It costs anywhere from $200 to $300 for each horse he ships, and as we’ve seen some are shipped to North Dakota and then back again when homes are located in the Twin Cities area.

Bowman also just returned from Bowman to Shakopee after putting in a couple of weeks haying for the upcoming feed requirements as well as vaccinating and worming the horses on his ranch.

Now, a group has developed and will soon have a website available to assist in finding homes for his horses.

“This group of ladies has gotten real good at ferreting out people who are looking for horses,” Bowman said.

“They’ve moved seven for me this spring already.” The group comprises a number of Bowman’s clients for whom he does dental work on their animals and is calling itself the “Bowman Second Chance Thoroughbred Adoption.”

Thoroughbreds looking for a second chance are plentiful. Adoptive parents are not.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

A True Magician

Boodini2012The most famous magician and escape artist in the world at the turn of the century was one Harry Handcuff Houdini, who escaped from straitjackets, handcuffs, and storage chests chained shut and then dropped into the bay.

He was so widely known that even novices capable of no more than beginning legerdemain were sometimes referred to as “Houdinis,” throughout the world.

Now meet Harry’s (near) equine namesake and modern-day counterpart, a five-year-old called Boudini, who escapes halters, lead ropes, you name it. Just leave him unattended next to the trailer some time, with available grass nearby, and Boudini will free himself from any restrictive device in the way of an awaiting snack.

Boudini once thought about becoming a racehorse and instead wound up in the barn of Cathy DeGonda, a member of the Twin Cities Polo Club.

Like many former racetrack horses, Boudini found his new vocation fun and interesting. “Thoroughbreds are wonderful,” said DeGonda. “They love playing polo. I haven’t had one that doesn’t enjoy it. They actually love to chase a ball, to move within a crowd of horses, which I’m sure they got from the races. They are used to having contact with other horses.”

Boudini is no different and fits the description well.

He, like other racehorses, doesn’t take to all aspects of the game naturally. “In polo they have to learn how to stop and turn. They don’t do that naturally,” DeGonda added. That, too, is partly muscle memory acquired while training to run in one direction.

Boudini is one of five horses DeGonda has acquired, from Canterbury Park trainers or owners through track veterinarian Lynn Hovda, for retraining to the maneuvers required for polo.

This former racehorse, perhaps not well suited to the racing profession, has demonstrated a true willingness to chase a ball through a chukker or two.

A polo player needs at least two and sometimes three or four horses to play a game, dependent on the number of chukkers being played.

“Some games are six chukkers, some are four,” said DeGonda. “I usually play four chukkers so I get by with two horses, switching off so one doesn’t have to play back-to-back chukkers.”

Boudini is DeGonda’s most recent acquisition from Canterbury, 2 ½ years ago. “He only raced twice and failed so miserably that his people probably just wanted him out of there,” DeGonda continued.

Wasn’t it Ulysses S. Grant who failed miserably in every business venture or endeavor undertaken until the Civil War presented him with the perfect opportunity to excel.

It is often no different with horses, as is certainly true with the magician of Maple Plain, Boudini.

“He’s an absolute sweetheart,” said DeGonda, who began working with Houdini the autumn after acquiring him.

DeGonda also has a horse named Mary from Canterbury that raced under the name It’s All About Mary. “She’s really a very pretty chestnut,” DeGonda added.

“She’s a nice, steady horse, a little taller than Boudini at about 15.2 hands.”

She also has a horse named Susie that has acquired the barn name “Susie Q,” another “sweetheart” according to her owner.

DeGonda started playing polo 11 years ago after taking up an invitation to watch a chukker of two from a friend who played the game.

“I went on a trail ride with some girlfriends and one of them said she had just started playing polo. I decided I needed a hobby so I came out and took a couple of lessons. After watching it, I thought ‘oh, my God, I have to do this.’”

She was hooked.

And she has discovered that retrained thoroughbreds are actually good polo ponies. “All of them have been pretty easy to train. She (Lynn Hovda) has a great eye for horses and has pointed me in the direction of some pretty nice ones.”

There are exceptions, of course. “A lot of them are a little nuts coming off the track,” she said. “But I’ve found that if you keep on riding them right away, instead of turning them out the way some people do, they get to know you and trust you.”

Nevertheless, some habits die hard or are never changed. Escaping the bonds of a halter, for instance, with a tasty grass snack nearby.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

A Novel Idea for a Racehorse

Hannah with Cat at Mason City IowaWho knows, maybe someday this particular thoroughbred will appear in a best-selling novel, assigned perhaps to literary flashbacks or streams of consciousness when the world was just starting to emerge in the young writer’s imagination.

There might be scenes in which she directs the anxious horse through the next jump, reveling in the adrenaline rush coursing through her as the animal gathers itself at the approaching hurdle… and then the satisfaction of accomplishment that settles in after each attempt.

Ahhh, how good it feels to ride this wave of power, execution and athleticism over hurdle after hurdle.

Welcome to Hannah Page’s world as a teenager on a thoroughbred out of the Troy Bethke barn that she helped adjust to its new life as a jumper.

A Blake High School graduate, Hannah is a junior-to-be at Columbia University studying creative writing, a passion equaled perhaps only by her love of horses and jumping, a love now on hold as she devotes herself to the lessons that will illuminate the way to writing those novels aching to emerge.

Hannah and her mother, Roberta Brackman, are long-time friends of Canterbury Park veterinarians Kathy Ott, from whom she bought the horse, and Lynn Hovda.

“We bought the horse from Kathy,” Roberta said. “Hannah was twelve-ish at the time. She wanted a horse to use as a jumper.” The horse was there at Canterbury Park and would soon be known as “Cat.”

“Cat was loving and terrific,” Roberta said. “She had high energy which make her perfect for my daughter and jumping. I joke around that she could only turn left (from her years on the racetrack) but that wasn’t true. She loved jumping. She loved her job.”

And Hannah loved Cat.

“She was a handful at times,” Hannah recalled. “But I really loved her. She had a big personality. I like that she had a personality.”

Jumping levels range from 1-to-10, from beginner levels all the way up to Olympic levels, 10. Cat achieved a level five, jumping and competing at local shows. “I don’t think she would have done well in the higher jumps. She was a little too quick,” Hannah recalled.

It is likely that Cat never completely shed her training at the track. “She could be a handful at the gate,” Hannah said. “She got very excited when the buzzer went off. I had to be careful not to get her to the ring too early or she’d start to prance.”

Nonetheless, Cat proved perfect for Hannah’s age and level at the time.

“She was a great jumper but she’d flatten out if we got going too fast or if the jumps were too high,” Hannah recalled.

Although Cat was Hannah’s first serious competitive jumper, she did some jumping when she was younger with a pony she had.

“I think she was a Welsh mountain pony,” Hannah said. “Her name was Erica but her show name was Calendar Girl. I can’t believe I gave her that name.”

Nonetheless, Calendar Girl was a part of her life, just as Cat was and just as another horse will be at some later date. Cat was turned out for a couple of years after Hannah outgrew her and eventually found a new home with a young girl in Texas.

Hannah had a good cry with Cat when they said good bye and then took solace in the knowledge that the horse was going to a better place. “The little girl who got her sent me pictures,” Hannah said. “They looked very happy together. I was happy that she had found a good home.”

As for Hannah, she intended to become an equine veterinarian originally but switched gears and intentions after falling in love with Columbia University and discovering that the school didn’t have the pre-veterinarian courses she needed. The change in majors wasn’t difficult.

“I’ve always had a talent for writing,” she said. “I really have a passion for it. I want to write novels.”

It’s a good guess that if those stories include any horse scenes, they will also include a horse named Cat, and, who knows, maybe even one named Calendar Girl.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Paying it Forward

payIf a horse gets a second chance, shouldn’t that apply to a teenage boy, too? Or is it the other way around? It’s hard to tell sometimes at Sioux River Stables where the Pay it Forward program has been giving racehorses a chance to give young boys a chance, or vice versa as the case might be.

Sometimes a former racehorse is adjusting to a new life or healing from an injury when he or she is turned over to a class of five youngsters in the program from one of three Prentice Houses in Ashland, Wis. Take a horse named Good Thunder, for example. He was healing from a bowed tendon when turned over to the boys, who then became responsible for overseeing his care and well-being. Once the horse was sound again, the boys had to decide as a group what kind of home would be best for the rehabilitated thoroughbred.

Sioux River Stables is located in Washburn, between Ashland and Bayfield. “We’re about an hour and 15 minutes from Duluth,” said Callaee Hyde, who operates the 40-acre farm with her husband, Dave.

Hyde has gotten former racehorses from various locations since establishing Pay it Forward in 2008, primarily from Canterbury veterinarians Dick Bowman and Lynn Hovda.

Sometimes Hyde has made a trip to the barns in Shakopee herself. Another time a meeting was set up in Duluth, and the Pay it Forward program has wound up with horses named Good Thunder, Candy Quik, Rex, Black Bob, and Lamb in the Mist among others.

Hyde has offered two 12-week classes in the Pay it Forward program each year for “at risk” youngsters from the Prentice Houses. “They’ll come out to the farm for two-to-three hour stretches at a time to work with the horses,” Hyde said. “The idea is to teach life skills through rehabilitating the horses. Sometimes it’s as simple as (correcting) a behavioral problem. Other times a horse needs physical rehabilitation before the boys can oversee its adoption.”

The process includes learning to groom the horse, attending to its needs – feeding, vaccinating and worming. “A lot of these horses are fairly anxious in their new settings at first,” Hyde added. “The boys can relate to that.”

Hyde herself has found interesting some of the youngsters’ reactions to situations, one in particular. “These boys get to see how a horse’s anxiety might play out in the herd,” she recalled. “One of the boys said ‘I know exactly how this is going to work’ when we turned out an anxious horse one time. He said ‘that horse is going to go into the herd and find the lowest man on the totem pole and buddy up to him. When he gets more comfortable he’ll start making friends all the way up and then move on and not have anything to do with that first horse again.'”

The boys in the program are residents of Prentice House for any number or reasons. Some don’t have families or are from dysfunctional settings. “There are a variety of reasons,” said Hyde. And she never asks.

“We don’t ask why they are here,” she said. “They’ve been through counseling and can give you a book on what is wrong with them. When they’re here they are just ‘John’ or ‘Paul’ or ‘Bill.’ That’s all.”

The boys are taught that commitment is necessary with a horse that learns to trust and depend on them, that they need to make good on that commitment. Once that is completed, “they get to fill out the adoption forms and screen the adopters and choose where the horse is going to be placed,” said Hyde. So far, so good. “We haven’t had any problems with decisions about placing a horse,” she added.

The adoption fee, usually $500, is used to help fund a subsequent Pay it Forward class, and so forth. “We’ve had horses adopted to race barrels, for dressage or simply as riding horses,” she said.

The farm also offers therapy sessions for the physically handicapped, speech therapy by licensed therapists using horses in their sessions, as well as the usual riding lessons. Graduates of the Pay it Forward program have sometimes returned to help out with a class.

Callaee says her inspiration for starting the Pay it Forward program came from her son, Robert, now 24. The name of the program, of course, came from the movie starring Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey. “I saw that movie and I bawled and bawled,” Callaee said.

She didn’t know the author of the book that inspired the movie, however:

Catherine Ryan Hyde.

Hyde, Callaee that is, continues to pass on the message, to Pay it Forward.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

It Takes Three to Tango

TangoWhy would a man leave the land of the gauchos, the pampas and the tango for someplace miserably cold and snowbound during the winter and – it is now clear – the spring as well, a place devoid of the romance and history associated with his homeland.

The answer is lengthy and includes a couple of switchbacks and roundabouts, although three thoroughbreds that formerly occupied stalls at Canterbury Park have become the beneficiaries of that decision.

It is a long way from the outskirts of Tres Arroyos, Argentina, to Maple Plain, Minnesota, but Ramero Martinez seems quite content today with having made the change. There are three pleased thoroughbreds too, the beneficiaries today of that relocation made 15 years ago, and it appears at least one of them is destined to become a polo player.

Argentines play polo nearly the way Americans play baseball, in pickup games from the time they are strong enough to handle a horse, in youth leagues on up to the professional ranks. Polo is a game of the people in Argentina, much as baseball occupies the attention of people in the United States.

“I didn’t play competitively,” said Martinez. “But my dad owned an old Mercedes Benz that looked like a WW II truck. We’d load up two or three horses and head out to play polo, like a pickup game here at the ice rink”

You can see that Senor Martinez has acclimated well to Minnesota, substituting ice hockey for baseball without a moment’s hesitation. He has indeed made the change, from pampas to frozen tundra.

About those horses:

They are ex-Canterbury horses that wound up in Bowman, N.D., at Dr. Dick Bowman’s ranch, the orphanage for many retired or overmatched steeds awaiting a second lease on life as a hunter-jumper, dressage protege, barrel or pleasure horse or, in this case, a place on the grounds of the Twin Cities Polo Club in Maple Plain.

Jodi Martinez, Ramero’s wife, picks up the story from there:

She, Ramero and daughter, Jackie, made the trip in late September to North Dakota for a couple of days last autumn and narrowed their choices from the vast herd that occupies the Bowman ranch.

Seven horses were set aside for them to consider, and the Martinez family returned to the Twin Cities. “We started researching the horses’ histories, their trainers, what they had done on the racetrack,” Jodi said.

Long story short. The Martinez family returned to the ranch armed with what they had learned and chose a horse named Yasureubetcha, now known as Betcha, and another named Dallas, that now answers to Bowman.

The third horse, Janelle Kae, is now simply Nellie.

There is an early verdict on the three as possible polo ponies.

“They all have fantastic dispositions,” said Jodi, who allows that only Betcha has indicated a proclivity for polo at this point. “I think Nellie might be a fantastic barrel horse because she turns so nicely,” Jodi said.

Dallas is another matter. “He seems to want nothing more than to graze in the pasture. He has the attitude ‘hey, I put in my time. Let me do this and we’ll be good.'”

Jodi says the horses might still be transitioning, but Betcha already shows an inclination for the game.

“He’s the best so far,” she said. “He has a big heart. My son, Kenny, 12, will kick a soccer ball with my husband and Betcha wants to get in on it.”

Time will tell just which horse acclimates to what, but one thing is certain. “All three of these horses are so much a part of our lives,” Jodi said. “If they can’t play polo, we’ll find something for them.”

Ramero came to the U.S. at the urging of his parents and intended to study veterinary medicine at the University of Minnesota. School didn’t occupy his heart the way horses do, however, and he eventually landed a job at the Twin Cities Polo Club, where he met Jodi. A few years later, he took a hiatus as a welder and also studied to become a farrier. “I had to support my family,” he explained. But the horses continued to beckon and he returned to the club, knowing he will have to supplement that decision during the winter months in some fashion.

Under any circumstances, it seems that Ramero is here to stay. “A bad year in the States is better than a good year in Argentina,” he said, although he and his family do enjoy trips home on occasion. Time has mellowed his resistance to boyhood aversions he has discovered on those trips.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I grew up listening to tango. My grandma played it all the time. I hated it as a kid. Then I come here and I kinda missed it.”

So now, on those trips home? “When we go to Buenos Aires we want to go to the tango clubs,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Retired Racehorse Makeover

HopScotchIt’s a moniker, a handle, an appellation, a diminutive or, just plain and simple, a name. Yet, the process by which a racehorse acquires his or hers is sometimes complex, convoluted and misunderstood.

Often, the horse’s dam or sire is taken into consideration, and just as often a process never before applied results in the given name as it did in the case of a mare now under the hand of Dr. Jennifer Selvig.

The mare in question here is Hopscotch Ali, a former racehorse now training to participate in the Thoroughbred Makeover competition scheduled the first weekend of October at Pimlico Race Course.

Bred and raised by Canterbury Park Hall of Fame breeders Art and Gretchen Eaton, Hopscotch began her arrival into the world in the middle of the afternoon, of all things, with the Eatons and their veterinarian at the time, Dr. Dave Hermann, looking on from afar.

The delivery was taking place unexpectedly in the pasture that May day in 2005 and the Eatons were there as quickly as possible in the “Gator” and transported the newborn back to the safety and warmth of the barn with mama close behind. “We began calling her Ali, short for alligator,” Gretchen recalled. “That was her barn name.”

Sometime later a high school student who worked in the Eatons’ barn made an observation. “She’s so good on her feet that she’d be good at hopscotch if she were a person,” the girl said.

A name was born. “Hopscotch Ali,” said Gretchen.

Trained by Mac Robertson, Ali didn’t break her maiden in three starts, finishing third once for show money. “Mac simply told us that she might be put to better use off the track,” Gretchen recalled.

Now, turn the clock ahead to 2013. Hopscotch, whose racing career ended briefly after it started due to a stress fracture to the left front cannon bone, had been living life in the pasture at the Eatons’ farm the last four years.

Selvig, now the Eatons’ vet, had tended to Hopscotch and knew her well, at least on a doctor/client basis. Then she decided to give the horse and rider relationship a try.

“She hadn’t been ridden in four years. I got on her and she didn’t buck,” said Selvig. Definitely, a good start.

It didn’t take long for Ali’s other traits to show. “She’s really smart and – one of the reasons I picked her – is that she has really great movement, a correct, beautiful gait,” Selvig added. “She seems to have a very good mind and learns fast. The first time I got on her I thought she’d be perfect for the Thoroughbred Makeover Challenge.”

The Retired Racehorse Makeover competition includes demonstrations in three disciplines: jumping, cross country and dressage. Ali might be just the ticket.

“She’s very agile and quick. She floats when she covers the ground,” Gretchen said.

Jennifer has had Ali a little more than a month and says the horse’s mind might be her greatest asset. “She’s taking well to dressage,” Selvig said. “It might take her a little more time to figure out the jumping part, but she’s certainly got an aptitude for dressage.”

So, the good doctor has a thoroughbred who is smart, agile and quick, all good traits for working with any horse, but she not only looks good while running. This horse looks good merely standing still.

“People who stopped by the farm would also notice her,” Gretchen said. “There are lots of horses here but she is special.”

Special looking that is.

“She’s dark bay or brown but almost looks black,” Gretchen explained. “She has that full forelock and is kind of snorty, like a mustang. There are horses, just like people, who are strikingly pretty and that’s her. She’s just a very striking horse.”

She is not only strikingly pretty but athletic looking too, and she has the controlled, fluid movement of a runway model, an eye catcher anyway you care to look at her.

The Eatons turned down $15,000 for Ali when she was a yearling. They had other plans for her.”She was supposed to be our winner,” Gretchen said. “She was always one of our favorites and she had lots of talent.”

Ali still does – in a different arena is all.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Puppylove at First Sight

SuzPuppyExtendedTrot

Thoroughbreds often evoke mystery, myth and misconception for those in the horse world unfamiliar with the breed. Sometimes Suzanne Wepplo can’t believe the ideas – some approaching folklore – that she hears about this horse, particularly thoroughbreds who’ve had careers at the racetrack.

The beliefs run varied and deep, although Wepplo is doing her best to dispel notions that thoroughbreds are incorrigible, usually crazy and incapable of turning over a new leaf, or learning anything new, once they’ve run a furlong or more.

Some of the folk tales put thoroughbreds in a category with, say, Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster and Vlad the Impaler. They’re ornery, single-minded and destined to stay that way.

Wepplo, who once wanted to become a veterinarian, studied education and psychology and has a teaching degree from Hamline University. She is sometimes astounded at what people believe about this breed of horse.

“People, even horse people, think they’re crazy, that they can’t canter on the right lead because they’re always running to the left,” Suzanne said. “It’s all such a myth. If you watch these horses at the track, the way most of them are treated and groomed every day, it’s amazing. The horses that are sane on the track usually excel afterward. A horse with a good mind at the track will have a good mind anywhere.”

Take her first acquisition from Canterbury Park, a horse who ran under the name “Rainy” and is known now as Puppylove. Suzanne has worked with this son of Shot of Gold since acquiring him from Vic Hanson in 2009 and in that time turned him into a national dressage champion.

“He wasn’t much of a runner from what I understand,” she said. “But he’s been wonderful to work with.”

Good enough to have won national titles at the third level and attracted enough attention that Suzanne was one of two Minnesotans – Dr. Jennifer Selvig is the other – chosen with 24 others to compete in something called the Retired Racehorse Makeover, sponsored by the Retired Racehorse Training Project.

To compete, a horse has to have a racing history, at least one start, and no other training since leaving the racetrack. Trainers will chronicle the horse’s progress on the internet and then demonstrate what the horse has learned in his or her new discipline the first weekend in October at Pimlico Racetrack.

Thus, Suzanne is in the market for a new horse, preferably between the ages of four to nine,” at least 16 hands, sound, with a good temperament and an aptitude for dressage or jumping.”

She is looking for more than a horse. Sponsors are sorely needed to help with the expenses associated with this project – vet, farrier, feeding, training equipment and shipping. “Sponsors get publicity on our blog pages/social media/you tube,” Suzanne added.

Suzanne changed directions in college simply because she missed her time with horses. “I wanted to be a horse vet,” she said. “But when I was going to school, doing pre-med, I didn’t have time to ride. I wanted to ride and train professionally.”

She is doing both. Wepplo operates Sisu Sporthorse out of the Pegasus Riding School in Medina. “Sisu” is a Finnish word meaning inner strength or fortitude. “I wanted to recognize my heritage,” Wepplo explained. She teaches beginning to experienced riders in dressage or hunter jumping and trains horses in those disciplines as well.

Wepplo rode as a youngster growing up in Forest Lake, working in the barn where she rode to pay for her riding lessons. “I was a barn rat,” she said. “Luckily there was a good trainer living nearby (about five miles from her home) so I worked for my lessons.” That trainer was renowned Grand Prix dressage trainer/rider Anne McKay.

Wepplo hasn’t had the “funds” to buy a Warmblood, a horse bred for dressage with an elastic supple movement and a body conducive to carrying its weight behind for better balance and collection.

Nonetheless, she has been delighted with Puppylove. “I’d ridden thoroughbreds before, but he is the first I’ve owned,” she said.

Actually, it was love at first sight. Suzanne had just watched the horse gallop, which told her nothing beyond his ability to run a straight line. “I went back with him to his stall. He had just galloped and he got all snugly with me and put his head on my chest,” she said. “He was quiet and gentle, even after galloping and all the grooms loved him.”

That was all the information she had. So choosing the right horse takes some luck, too. You want an animal work, study his disposition. Ask questions of those who have spent time with him. And then…

“Then you roll the dice,” she said.

It was her come-out throw with Puppylove, and she rolled a seven.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Wiley, The Wily One

A horse once owned by Dana Isaacson is now being used in mental health therapy after a racing career that included a victory in the Claiming Crown Iron Horse. His name is Superman Can.

Local HBPA  executive director Patrice Underwood was reminded of that tale recently because she, too, has a horse once raced by Dr. Isaacson.

“My horse is a therapist, too,” she said.

Her substantiation comes directly from her husband, track chaplain Ed Underwood. “I was horseless for several years,” Patrice explained. “When I got Wiley Grey from Dana, Ed told me that I had my High Pro glow back.”

In other words, a missing sheen to her demeanor had returned.

Isaacson, of course, is the founder of the George Bango Dental Clinic on the backside and donates his dental services to the stable-area community. The clinic is named in honor of Isaacson’s trainer, who handled Superman Can.

Wiley Grey, it turns out, probably fits the definition of “student” more accurately than he does “therapist,” because he’s always learning new things and enjoys doing so.

Patrice knew she had a cerebral one shortly after they first met.

Originally, she bought the horse intending to sell him but those plans changed quickly. “He was a pretty dappled gray,” she said. “But then I began playing with him and realized how smart he is.”

She got her first clues shortly after acquiring Wiley seven years ago. “Someone had a round pen back by the pool,” she explained. “When I’d walk away from him, he’d follow me. If I stopped, he’d stop. If I turned, he turned around with me.”

Wiley Grey is learning to speak “human.”

“If I ask him to show me his tattoo, he’ll lift his lip and his head so I can see it,” Patrice said. Wiley also enjoys a bit of recreation now and then. He’ll push his very large ball around the arena, even run it up a wall.

This former racehorse was not overly impressive on the racetrack, but part of the reason is now quite clear.

He had mystery lameness. “Sometimes it looks like he is off on the right front, other times it appears in his behind,” Patrice said. “It just changes.”

Wiley had “kissing spines” that would affect his movement depending where they pressed on the vertebrae. So, he can’t jump or do hill climbing, but he is perfectly fine for trail riding, or learning new things in the arena. His feet were another concern at one time. He wore two different shoe sizes, but now gets along just fine shoeless.

“He’s very bright and he learns quickly,” Patrice added. He continues learning, right along with his rider.

Patrice uses “natural horsemanship” on Wiley. She uses a rope halter when she rides him, occasionally bareback. “I’ve put a bit in his mouth only four or five times in the time I’ve owned him,” she said.

She still resorts to more traditional methods on the trail, however.

In a nutshell, natural horsemanship is a technique that has horse respond to your body and inclination atop him. The horse feels and responds to the energy and body language of the rider.

Thus, Wiley will stop when he feels Patrice completely relax. He’ll turn in the direction her body turns, or he will pick it up when her body sends a corresponding message.

These techniques are perhaps illustrated at their best by a master of the technique like Pat Parelli or Stacy Westfall (video below), who won a national reining competition without saddle or bridle.

Wiley, for the record, had 49 starts with two wins, four seconds and nine thirds for earnings of $52,802. He is by Ferrara from Timely Impression, was foaled in 1999 and raced from his two-year old season through June of 2004.

Underwood pointed out that Man O’ War is included on his papers, “six generations back.”

There is more to the Parelli method of handling horses with kindness, touching and gentle stroking. There is also the matter of desensitizing them, teaching them that any number of elements are not monsters bent on their destruction.

Underwood can pull a tarp over Wiley’s back and head without disturbing him in the least. A plastic bag on the road won’t annoy or frighten him. “Nothing seems to bother him,” she said.

The Parelli method gets additional support from Hall of Fame rider Julie Krone. “She was interviewed about it in a Thoroughbred Times article in 2003,” Underwood continued. “She spent some time at Pat Parelli’s ranch and said that she wished she’d known all of this stuff before she was at the racetrack.”

There is evidence that horses respond better to gentle attention than to rough handling. “A horse can feel a fly before it lands on him,” Underwood added. “Horses are more sensitive than we imagine. If you pet a horse’s neck and can hear it, you’re petting too hard.”

There is more to the Wiley Grey story, a lot more. For instance, he was lost for five days in the northern Minnesota woods at one time and was dehydrated when found. Patrice was thinking perhaps the worst when his hoofprints were discovered before he was, and they were followed by those of a wolf.

That tale will have to await another day, another occasion, because the 2012 race meet has come to an end.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

Tiny… the Big Horse

She wasn’t quite sure what kind of horse he was the first time he walked past the barn, and there are times yet today, 12 years later, when she must wonder, too.

This much seems clear: The horse doesn’t know when to quit working, and he chows down as if he hasn’t had another meal in a month. Sounds like a Class A personality, and that sometimes concerns his primary rider, Kari Hardy, who runs the local barn at Canterbury Park for her husband, Ed Ross Hardy.

“I tell my mother that he might go into cardiac arrest sometime while we’re feeding him,” Kari said.

The animal in question here is a 19-year-old quarter horse called Tiny, who is anything but. That’s not his given name, of course, but imagine referring to him by his registered name – Hezamypress. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it. But neither did “Midget,” the nickname Art Wilmes, Kari’s father, suggested for the horse after they purchased him outright at Manor Downs.

So what this horse is, in fact, is a retired racehorse who’s never left the race track. The Hardys ran him three times after buying him and he’s basically served as the barn’s pony horse since. Hezamypress is by The Sporting Press from Sheza My Choice. He was 3-0-4 from 24 career starts with earnings of $9,646.

Tiny is not that tall, maybe 15.3 hands, but he sort of resembles an equine version of a squat heavyweight wrestler. He has a massive chest on him. He’s big boned and goes about 1,300 pounds.

People have wondered if maybe there’s some draft horse in him he’s so massive.

Kari was befuddled the first time she saw the horse. The Hardys’ barn at Manor Downs was right by the gate so they got plenty of traffic near that spot. The first time Kari saw him prance past she thought maybe the horse was an Appaloosa. “He was higher than a kite. His tail was up over his back,” she recalled.

“I asked my dad, ‘what the heck is that thing,’ because they did run Appaloosas at Manor Downs.”

“He was just so big and powerful. He was impressive looking.”

Art Wilmes spotted the horse at the races a couple of days later. He told Kari that the horse had finished fourth, but ran a 95 speed index and might make a good barrel horse.

Kari competed in barrel racing while growing up in Le Sueur, and the idea of having a horse who might fit that discipline appealed to her. A couple of days later, her father bought the horse for $2,500, The Hardys raced him three times and Tiny got a first, a third and a fourth. That concluded his racing career, and when the Hardys came to Canterbury later that year Tiny was with them.

Tiny has been in the barn at Canterbury every meet the past 12 years but one, and Kari is on him every morning when he leaves the barn, prancing the entire distance to the track.

“He was a racehorse and then a pony horse,” Kari added. “He’s never left the racetrack and always thinks he’s supposed to work.”

Try taking him on a trail or a pleasure ride and Tiny acts as if he needs Prozac. “He gets very nervous when you try to ride him just for pleasure,” Kari added. “He just doesn’t understand.”

What Tiny does understand is the difference between an adult rider and a youngster. “He’s a pretty lively horse,” Kari added, “but when our kids, Jordan, 6, and Austin, 3, get on him, he turns really quiet.”

Not bad for a horse that spends most of the day on the muscle because he regards himself as simply a work horse, a workaholic if you like.

“He’s always on the muscle,” Kari said. “And if you want to go faster, he’ll go faster. He always wants to work.”

The Hardys at one time used Tiny as a work partner for green two-year-olds, although it’s been maybe three years since he’s filled that role.”

Although people sometimes wonder if Tiny has some draft horse in him, they seldom think he’s 17 years old. “He has a little sway in his back but it’s always been that way,” Kari explained. ”He’s rock solid with really good muscle tone.”

Tiny generally behaves himself and has taken to the Hardy children, but at feeding time he raises quite the fuss. “You can hear him a mile away,” she said. “And boy can he eat.”

Tiny, the erstwhile racehorse and now pony horse, is really the Hardy horse. “He is the family horse,” Kari added. “We (Kari and Ed Ross) both rode him a lot but now the kids are riding him, too.”

Occasionally, they’ll get on Tiny in the barn when the chores are done. Jordan rides him without assistance in the ring at home. Her little brother needs an adult hand on the reins when he’s in the saddle, but that could change in the next year or so.

During his racing days, Tiny won races at 330 yards, 550 and 870. “We ran him at 440 and 550,” Kari said. “He was pretty versatile.”

Still is, for that matter. Doesn’t seem to matter who’s in the saddle, Tiny knows how to respond.

“He knows what he’s supposed to do,” Kari said. “He’s a real professional.”

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.

SecretsforAshley Enjoying Rodeo

The lyrics to Hadley Murphy’s song might not fit Chris LeDoux’s lamentation of the loved one left behind while he chases the buckle every cowboy – or cowgirl – covets. The rodeo, in this instance, had to wait on Hadley.

There is college, of course. Murphy is a senior at Winona State studying mathematics and statistics. More significant to the delay, however, was Murphy’s horse, SecretsforAshley. Ashley, as she’s more commonly called, was not ready for competitive barrel racing when Murphy acquired her in September of 2009.

“She wasn’t as seasoned as I would have liked,” Murphy said.”She had been working on barrels and knew where to put her feet. She did everything correctly, but I still had to put speed in her.”

Even that had to wait. Ashley developed an abscess in her hind left ankle shortly after joining Hadley and underwent surgery to clean out the tendon sheath, sidelining her for three months. Hadley now considers the delay a blessing in disguise. “She was laid up for three months and it gave me time to get to know her personality,” she said.

What there was no doubt about whatsoever from day one was that Ashley, now 13, would thrive in a second profession after originally leaving the race track at age five.

Ashley has demonstrated a clear preference for being first in just about anything you care to name. She demands to be first out of the barn in the morning and the first in at night. She insists on being the first to be fed or there is nothing short of a brouhaha in the barn.

Hadley, a native of Rochester, describes this characteristic of her beloved Ashley in no uncertain terms. “She’s definitely a high maintenance horse,” she said. It is apparent that Ashley is willing to give as well.

After a career at Canterbury Park and a 12-0-0-2 record, this daughter of the thoroughbred Champagneforashley from the quarter horse dam Secret Sounds has taken to her new occupation with a relish.

The summer of 2010, Hadley and Ashley competed at the 4 Star Challenge in Cannon Falls. They finished third overall in their first run, second overall with their second run. Ashley was demonstrating on the job improvement.

Then, in 2011, Hadley purchased her Pro Rodeo card. She and Ashley began learning about life on the rodeo circuit.

There were, and still are, plenty of Jack Pot competitions, limited exclusively to barrel racing, of course, without the hoopla of the rodeo itself.

Ashley began showing her stuff in September of 2011 when she and Hadley took first place against 150 riders at the Barrel Blitz in Deerfield, Wis. They qualified for the WPRA Finals in Lincoln, Nebraska, and made it to the final round there.

This year, Hadley has been giving Ashley a larger taste of rodeo life. “I’ve taken her to a couple more rodeos,” she said.”She’s still scared to death of the bulls and she can’t handle it when the cowboys pass by swinging their ropes. She gets a little flighty. It’s like I’m on a different horse at the rodeo than at an event with just barrel racing.”

There is another difference, too.

“At the rodeos, we’re running with the big dogs,” Hadley said.

Despite Ashley’s restive reaction to the rodeo, she’s all business when it’s show time. “When we’re coming down the alleyway, she’s all focused. She blocks everything out,” Hadley said.

She is willing to learn, too.

“My first rodeo this year in Madison, we were two out of placing,” Hadley said.”A couple of weeks ago in Nebraska, we were one out of placing. We’re running against some of the toughest out there and she’s really matured. I’m proud of her.”

Ashley is most content when in the company of her friend, Little Beauty, a miniature horse Hadley purchased as a companion. “They are really buddies. They took to each other almost from the start,” she explained. “She’s small enough that she can fit underneath Ashley in the trailer when we travel. I thought about getting her a goat, except that I don’t like goats.”

Horses have been part of Hadley’s life since early childhood. “I’ve been riding since I was probably three or four,” she said.

So how did a girl from Southern Minnesota, who played soccer at Rochester Mayo, wind up on the rodeo circuit.

“Well, I don’t think I ever had a choice,” she said.”My mom (Jamie) did college and pro rodeos so I grew up traveling with her.”

So, maybe the lyrics to Hadley’s two-step aren’t all that different after all.

Although her goals are realistic – say, reaching the circuit finals in Louisville some year, does she ever let her mind wander to Las Vegas in December for the Super Bowl of rodeo, the NFR finals?

“Hey, yeah,” she said.”That’s every girl’s dream.”

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.