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Steady Eddie

The life of a broodmare manager is not a glamorous one – which means that the life of the significant other to a broodmare manager isn’t either.

Sun up to sundown the work is hard, demanding, and it never ends.  And that is just during daylight.  Once dusk settles, the real labor begins.  The mares are programmed to undergo parturition in darkness – both from a survival as well as an endocrine perspective.  And because of that, us mere humans must adapt to their schedules.

Vet work at 7 am, mucking out until lunch.  Treatments and medications spaced throughout the day in 6 to 12 hour intervals, and the constant leading to and from the pastures.  And then the deliveries begin.  Sometimes 2 to 3 mares a night.  Always in the most inclement of weather, always in the most inappropriate of times.

From January 1st until mid June, this is a broodmare managers life.  I left this lifestyle when I returned to school to obtain my doctorate, and yet somehow found myself living it vicariously through my manfriend Luke. He has worked on and managed some of the most successful nurseries in Lexington, Kentucky.  And with that means a lifestyle dictated by the equines within the program.

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Long sleepless night to produce this.

So it came as no surprise when we received a phone call a few years ago to meet the nightwatchman at the clinic.  Although it was technically Luke’s “night off,” as the broodmare manager he was required to oversee all extenuating circumstances regarding his charges.  And with one of the mares colicking – this would mean telling the waiter to cancel our order and run to the nearest equine surgical unit.

While Luke ran into the surgery wing of Hagyards Medical to assess the situation, I waited in the wings.  Standing in heels and without a jacket, I silently shivered in the barn aisleway.  From one farm manager to another, we all acknowledge this lifestyle.  We all know that the horses come first and everything else second.  And because of that – I could handle being cold for a couple of hours.

To keep myself distracted, I began roaming down the cement aisle and peaking into the other stalls.  Assessing the other patients, I looked at one after the next, and then my eyes locked onto the most pitiful case.

A chromey chestnut newborn colt was nestled into a deep pile of straw with his nose tucked in between his front legs.  His right hind leg was plastered in a cast from hoof to stifle, and a catheter protruded from his neck.  His eyes were tightly shut as he slept, and his breathing was deep – completely unaware of his rather unfortunate start to his life.

I shook my head at the unfairness of life and the hurdles it places in front of us.  But then giggled as I heard him begin to awaken and knicker out for attention.  One of the technicians let herself into the stall, and Luke appeared from behind me to stare into the stall alongside me.

“Oh, thats another one of ours. He came in a few nights ago. His leg was completely useless to him immediately after we got him out.  Dr. Rodgerson says that he tore his gastrocnemius muscle and will have to have that thing on for a few months.”

I shook my head and then looked back into the stall as the technician assisted the colt in standing to allow him to nurse. I asked what the prognosis was for this injury – an injury to a crucial part of the infrastructure of a healthy racehorse – what this colt was bred to be. It didn’t look great.

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And as the technician planted her left leg under the weight of the plaster cast to give an anchor for the shakey colt to lean against, she mumbled “steadyyy, steady now buddy” under her breath.  And with that, the journey of Steady Eddie began.

Eddie spent the first month of his life in the clinic where he could receive around the clock care and intensive treatment.  With his leg encumbered by a 30 lb. cast, he was unable to stand up or lie down on his own, requiring assistance.

But Eddie was smart, he quickly learned how to get the attention of the technicians and residents in the barn with his incessant knickering.  He would whinny when he was hungry, knicker when he wanted to urinate, and scream when he wanted to play.  He became a 250 pound labrador retriever, and the entire staff of the clinic fell in love.

And then he came home and was placed into the isolation barn with just his mom for attention.  Luke quickly texted me to let me know that this personable foal was back on the farm, and I hurried to the barn to assess him.

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Eddie being a heathen…

His leg was still in the cast, but he was stronger.  He was able to get up and down on his own, and was happily romping around the 12 x 20′ stall with his right leg dragging behind him.  It was a pitiful sight to see, but the sparkle in his eye and his desire to talk his way through a snuggle session were enough to warm even the coldest of hearts.

For months this was his life. A large foaling-sized stall, a plaster cast, and the attention of his mother.  We attempted to change his behavior of dog to that of colt, but to no avail. Most nights Luke and I would take the dogs for a walk up to the barn to check on him, and this usually ended up with extra snuggles,a romp, and a giggle or two.

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When even Luke gets attached, you know its a cool one…

He quickly became a member of our family, but as is life, we knew in the back of our mind that we didn’t actually own him.  And on top of not owning him, he was owned by a large thoroughbred breeding operation that bred their horses to either sell or run.  And if Eddie couldn’t do either, he would be of minimal use to them.

Even worse, if Eddie couldn’t even be turned out, he would be of minimal use to the world.

So with diffidence, we awaited the removal of the cast. And then the big day came, and Eddie became a free man…only he didn’t.  His leg had almost no strength, and the muscles were completely atrophied.  His gait was irregular, with little impulsion offered even at a walk.  And as we all stared at the otherwise beautiful colt with grimaces on our faces, we acknowledged that this journey might be over for Eddie.

But we just couldn’t give up.  He had become a favorite of not only ours – but the entire farm.  From the lowliest of grooms to the owners, he had become a point of pride and a creator of smiles.

Eddie went through extreme physical therapy and rehab, but never fully regained strength in his hind leg.  And our efforts to turn him into a racehorse quickly became a campaign for his life as a pasture ornament.  But at 4 months of age, Eddie had never been turned out.  By 6 months of age, he had never met another horse besides his mother.  And again, it was made apparent that he wasn’t ours.

His owners had already put over $50,000 into vet bills, and were looking at a lifelong commitment to an apparently useless horse.  A horse that would require future vet work, farrier bills, feed and water, not to mention a paddock and a stall.  And in exchange, he wouldn’t earn them a dime.  He would never be ridden, nonetheless run. And for an operation that is in this as an investment, this appeared to be a cash poor one.  A money pit. 

So this is where the story ends – right?

Everyone knows that the thoroughbred breeding and racing industry is in this entirely for the money.  For the pewter and the roses, the accolades and the press releases?  The public assumes that the end of these stories end up with an unwanted horses – either euthanized or sent to slaughter. The owners back on their bluegrass farms toasting each other with their decanters of bourbon.

Wrong.

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I can see over 4 plank!

Because Eddie is soon turning two years old.  He still walks with a hitch, but he gallops out with a strong, although irregular, stride.  He exists within the same stone walls that he was born on, and happily grazes within his personal 30 acre field.   He has a best friend  – a retired graded stakes winning gelding who earned the farm almost a half a million dollars.

One horse was profitable,  one was not.  One earned the pewter and the notoriety, one earned them nothing but sleepless nights. One horse’s name is recognizable by many, while the other was never actually named.  The only thing that bonds these two colts is that of a great owner who cherishes the horses who bring her joy.  And both horses bring her joy, albeit in different ways.

So Steady Eddie is here to stay.  As the best useless colt to ever exist.

 

 

 

The facts behind science, and the science behind facts.

I just left a meeting where one of the highest faculty members of my department said something both resoundingly honest and yet fantastically appalling

“We live in a society where facts and data are not even considered.”

And those of us around the roundtable giggled, acknowledging that he was referencing the current climate of our nation and the most recent presidential election.  And then as the laughter faded out, each of our expressions faded to one of alarm and disconnect.

Because we are scientists.  And this is true.

It is not easy to become a scientist.  You must first draw the ability to write in cursive, and add 2+2 in order to be considered an elite member of your 2nd grade class.  You are then run through the gauntlet of academically heightened classwork before entering high school.  While in high school, you are placed in the AP classes and shoved towards the stone walls of liberal arts educations, ivy league institutes, and mass advancements. Organic Chemistry is a bitch, and you learn the inner workings of the Biology Department, not Phi Kap. And while you learn to brew your own beer, you most likely don’t get the chance to perfect the keg stand.

Following this, you being your masters and doctoral research.  You are taught not only how to conduct an experiment, but how to draw from the data with which you obtain.  You are instructed on the proper analysis of data, and the statistical model which will give you both power and breadth. You are instructed of what a controlled setting means, and how to achieve one.

And that is when the first month ends. Because those are not the important parts of being a scientist – at least not to most.

Because the most important aspect of science is the ability to be the most negative, analytical, and pessimistic person possible.

We are taught to see the glass half empty.  If the project worked 92 times out of 100 – it was not repeatable.  We set our goals to lofty heights, and those heights must be reached in order for us to find any significance in our data. In agricultural worlds, this means a predicted measurement to 90%.  In medical fields, this is tightened up to over 99.9%.

That means that when our science tells you that something doesn’t happen, it means that more than 99.9% of the time that it doesn’t.  That also means that when our science tells you that someone does happen, it means that 99.9% of the time it does.

And that is just the beginning.  Because just like our government is supposedly doing, there lies a labyrinth of checks and balances to prove that we are neither cheating nor lying. Science is not a Facebook status.  It is not an episode of The Blaze where Tomi Lahren gets to make statements without retribution.  No, we have editors to thank for that.

For every experiment that we perform, in order to have it have any merit in the scientific community, we have to submit it to a journal of repute.  A board of our peers will review the manuscript and determine if it is both worthy of that repute, in addition to being fact based and full of merit.  This eliminates the ability for Big Pharm to control the results, and to moderate the findings.

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Getting your research into a peer-reviewed journal is actually harder than it looks.  And kind of a big deal. 

They analyze the experimental model, they assess the statistics.  They recompute the math, and they evaluate whether or not the basis of the ideology was even worth studying. And then after months of edits, responses, and lengthy debate – the study is possibly published.  This is why it is called a peer reviewed process.  

Science: Experimental Design. Data. Ethics. Statistics. 

A career, a subject, and a skill that still exists in the world – and yet one that people find little to no approval of until their loved one is dying of a terminal illness.

My life is surrounded by naysayers.  From farm managers who couldn’t possibly believe that inflammation in their broodmares uterus is not always in fact caused by bacteria, to anti-vaxxer’s on Facebook who would rather believe a Playboy Bunny than a case-controlled and peer reviewed manuscript written by an MD/PhD.

These scientists have demonstrated life-altering or life-saving strategies.  For your pets, for your industry, for your economy, or for yourselves.  Fact-based.  Controlled. With true statistical models utilizing numbers, not opinions.

And these things can give you data on any manner of things – from drugs used to treat cancer to exactly how much the economy is affected by the legalization of marijuana.

Just the other day, it was stated that more black men shoot police than police that shoot black men – but was that done with a paired T-test?  Or with a nonlinear regression?  Or heck, was it just a “55% is higher than 45%” statement that didn’t take into consideration the number of people evaluated or the non-controlled environment.

That is what science is for.  That is what a proper experimental design contributes.

And that is what is lacking in our world. Facts. Statistics. P-values and controlled studies.

Only I shouldn’t say that they aren’t lacking – for they exist. They are just dismissed as quickly as the screaming child in the backseat.

There are scientists that walk among us. So maybe next time, instead of consulting your newsfeed on Facebook, you take the time to see what science has to say.  Use Pubmed instead of Google and take the time to educate yourself.

And then with that education, change the world.  Because Lord knows the scientists are trying to. They just need you to help them do it.

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How I do science. 

 

+ Hinkle 1

5 Guidelines to Success in the Horse Industry

I have led an interesting life.  In just 30 short years, I have experienced some of the highest of highs and some of the lowest of lows.  I have witnessed things happen that one should not witness until grey hairs appear, and yet at the same time I am considered young to most.

Recently, I have gotten to speak of these experiences to a variety of students.  From the women who enroll in my Equine Reproduction class at Midway University, to the kids who enrolled the agricultural department of the Greene County Career Center, my range of audience has been wide.

Most recently, I was invited to talk to the Equine Scholars at Georgetown College, and was asked to explain “my life.”  What got me to this location?  What made me choose a career in horses?  How did this passion for riding and managing horses lead me to a doctorate in veterinary sciences?  And more importantly, how did I get to experience these things in such a short time line?

Because my resume is not normal.  My last name reading Fedorka does not ring a bell in any inner circle of the thoroughbred breeding and racing world.  I didn’t experience my first horse race until the age of 22, and I didn’t see a mare deliver a foal until I was 23. Only 7 years ago.

But my story is one that most of these younger generation can relate to, one that motivates them.  Because my name and my connections got me nowhere.  Instead, a lot of hard work, intelligence, dedication, mixed together with a bit of desperation did.  I have blogged of many of these experiences – from working as a wrangler at a ranch in Wyoming, to being hired at my first breeding operation moreso due to my ability to construct a website than my ability to lead a yearling.

But I made it work. And I grew both as a person and as a horsemen. And I fell in love with this industry of breeding, selling, racing, and retraining thoroughbreds.  In less than a decade, they convinced me to go from outsider and wary observer to insider and champion.

So with that, I am now being asked to speak to this next generation of how to get to that foot in.  And then more importantly, how to dig deep with that foothold and continue to climb the ladder.

These are my guidelines; my rules for success in this industry:

Don’t consider yourself above any job. Ever. I truly believe that this was how I moved up so quickly, and how I got to experience so much. Drive the truck and trailer? Sure. Wash foal butts? Yup. Go muck out and power wash the isolation barn? Ok. Do it all, and with a smile on your face and some country music blasting.

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This was the first thing I learned on Chesapeake Farm when I was hired.  I couldn’t tell you the difference between a Storm Cat and an A.P. Indy, and I sure as heck didn’t know how to put on a sweat.  I had never heard of animalintex, and had never handled a hickory twitch.  But what could I do?  Show up every day on time with a smile and say yes.  Come an hour early to meet the vet?  Of course.  Stay late to meet the shipper? Why not!  I was a yes woman, a skill that every young person should learn to be.

2. Admit any insecurity – and then learn how to change that to a security. If you don’t feel comfortable handling stallions-that’s fine. I would rather you and the stallion stay safe versus having a bruised staff member, a lacerated stallion, and 2 mares that now need lutalyse. A good manager can teach much more rapidly than they can undo.   

I call this my “Jackie” story.  I interviewed a young University of Kentucky undergrad one spring as a potential candidate for an internship.  She would be working under me as I completed my masters research project on the farm.  And while I needed someone competent around horses, moreso I needed someone who was able to help me at a moments notice.  Jackie Barr showed up and immediately admitted that she had zero experience with mares and foals, had never seen a rectal ultrasound performed, and couldn’t tell you the difference between oxytocin and hCG.  But, she adamantly proclaimed with a smile that she was always on time and wanted to learn.

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Jackie handling her favorite stallion, Zippy

And learn she did.  Within weeks, she was fully competent on the mare side of the research, and by the end of the summer she was handling and collecting stallions.  Jackie admitted all of her insecurities, but then made her want to learn apparent.  By the end of the summer, we had offered her a paid position throughout the school year, one which lasted two years.  Jackie because the right hand woman for every graduate student in our lab, and in exchange, we offered an education second to none.  And at the end of her college education, it was our lab and its faculty that wrote glowing references for Jackie’s future – where she works at one of the premier warmblood breeding farms.

Be tough. Don’t cry. Ever. And I mean that. So many women have paved the way for you to convince the farms and their staff that we are just as tough as the men. And I don’t mean you won’t be upset, or that you won’t cry at home, but compose yourself when you’re on the farm. Always.

There were so many days where I felt frustrated, overwhelmed, exhausted, or had my feelings hurt.  There were moments where I had to stand my ground and combat unhappy employees or fellow managers.  I lost horses I loved, and was battled by horses I didn’t. And there were certainly situations where things didn’t go to plan and I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders.  But I stuck to the motto that there is no crying in horses – at least not in public.

So walk quietly out to that farm truck, drive to the hay barn, and let it loose.  But you will wipe those tears away, slap some cold water on your face, and get back to the job the minute those tears dry up.

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Taking a moment to myself while still focusing on the job at hand

Be a team player. These guys that you are working alongside have probably been on that farm for 5-10 years, if not more. And just because they speak with an accent, or don’t speak English at all, doesn’t mean that they are automatically beneath you. These guys can be your best friend or your worst enemy. But when you are considered an insider, you will receive the most support and the best source of knowledge and information.

I was blessed by one of the best staffs in the business when I started at Chesapeake.  At first they were hesitant – who is this little blonde thing who doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish?  The one who gets to go inside the office in the afternoons instead of mucking out the rest of the barns?  The one who gets to ride with the manager when we go on vet rounds?  And yet they quickly grew more welcoming and less standoffish with every day that I picked up that pitchfork and mucked alongside them or offered to take the muck to the field when it rained.

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Being a team player, even if it meant wearing these god awful man shorts. 

And those men who I didn’t know, nonetheless understand, became my family.  They were the first to hand me a warm sandwich on a cold day, or a hug when I found out my grandmother had passed. They welcomed me to their families celebrations and handed me a beer at the end of a long day.  And truly, they became the first friends I made in Lexington; friendships I still hold dear.

Be professional. This might be a farm job, and you might simply be in charge of mucking 60 stalls a day, but that doesn’t mean you are any less than the CFO of a company. So be on time. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Be cordial. Make connections with everyone around you. And realize that everyone is watching, at all times. You don’t know who that person is who you just made wait for 20 min to see a yearling. So always be polite. Always.

This goes for all aspects of life – from the farm, to the breeding shed, to the sales, and even the local pub.  Some of the best connections I made in this industry were by sharing a pint at the local Irish bar.  I have been offered jobs by people at the sales who I didn’t even realize were watching me.  And I have met people who share that they had read my most recent blog and I had no idea that they even knew my blog existed.

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Someone is watching you.  At all times.  So hold your chin up, keep your hands soft, and be the first one to the rake or the hose.

You are your own business card.  And they might not know your name – first or last – but they will soon recognize your face.   So hold that face up.  Say yes.  Be professional.  Be humble.  And still be confident.

And perhaps most importantly – the most important rule of them all – is to be in this for the horses.  Because they will never know if your last name is one of fame and fortune.  And they will never know if you can’t spell Eskendereya.  But they will forever be impacted by your hands, your mind, and your presence.

+ strong-women-2

Pantsuits instead of Policies

I woke up this morning and began preparing for my day.  I had qualified for the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition at the University of Kentucky, and the final round was this evening at 5:30pm.  Standing on a stage in front of a plethora of people, explaining the last four years of my life as a doctoral student and the research it encompassed – all in 3 minutes.

I would have to be witty and charming, knowledgable and entertaining.  And perhaps even more importantly, I would have to be professional.

So I started rummaging through my closet in an attempt to find an outfit that would convey all of these things.  What would make me feel powerful?  What would make me feel good? And more importantly, what would be appropriate?

I put on one of my favorite dresses, and noticing that it only barely covered my shoulders, I added a navy blazer.  And then I buttoned the blazer, and unbuttoned the blazer.  I rolled up the sleeves  and unrolled the sleeves, all the while looking at the mirror making faces to convey my distaste.

I loved this dress, but the minute the blazer went on, I felt frumpy.  It in no way exemplified my shape – a shape that I was proud of, as it demonstrated the numerous hours a day that I logged in the barn riding horses, bucking hay, and carrying water buckets.  But I knew that it would be deemed “too revealing” in academia, even though it was nearly a turtleneck. The blazer would have to be put on, and my self esteem would have to drop just a smidgeon.

But then I had an internal thought. Maybe if I looked a bit frumpier, I would actually be taken more seriously.

So sad, but so true.

This is the battle that I have been undergoing for the last 4 years. Heck, the last 30. It is a battle that I know is not my own, as both my sister and my sister-in-law have lamented over the same issue.  Both of them are forces to be reckoned with.  Intelligent, passionate, and with looks to boot.  My sister Katie being a board certified orthopedic surgeon, while my sister-in-law Stephanie finishes up her 3rd year of law school at Syracuse at the top of her class.

Both are tiny women with large minds and even larger opinions.  Both are stunning and love fashion.  And yet both are constantly attempting to find that happy medium between feeling pretty, and looking “appropriate”.

And I don’t mean appropriate according to societies standards, for as long as you aren’t showing nipple, just about any outfit is apparently considered ok these days.  No, I am talking about the standards that were constructed by male-dominated industries and offices over 100 years ago – standards that have barely changed in that century since.

We are told to wear skirts because pantsuits are considered too aggressive.  We must wear heels, but only of 2″ or lesser, as any higher would be considered hypersexual.  Our hair must be controlled and styled, but preferably placed back in a no-nonsense bun.  Makeup must be applied, but only to convey the idea that we tried, not the idea that we care. Oh and don’t even dare consider showing cleavage.

And sure these things are easily done while still looking attractive if you are gracing the pages of Vogue, but not all body types fit into this mold of the shoulder padded blazer, button down, and non-form flattering pencil skirt.  And lets be honest – absolutely no one looks good in kitten heels.

But perhaps more important than the fact that we are uncomfortable in our attire is the fact that it is being dictated. By the men in the office.  By the audience watching our presentations.  By society.

Just look at the most recent presidential campaigns – or hell, the most recent 8 years.  The double standard is glaring, and exists on numerous levels.  Eight years ago the media actually covered the fact that Michelle Obama was not wearing pantyhose.  She was constantly spoken of on the talk shows because of the fact that she showed her – GASP -arms.

God forbid this woman who campaigned for healthy eating and exercise actually be proud of her body.

She was always dressed in high style.  She had fun with fashion, and yet never revealed too much – unless, of course you are like my grandmother and are still horrified at her lack of pantyhose. And yet she was constantly crucified. And perhaps more importantly, it was constantly mentioned.

She could be giving a speech on the current developments in cancer research, or the kidnapping of 100+ young female students in Africa, and yet the headlines the next day would be that she had worn Roberto Cavalli and that her arms were looking a bit flabbier, a bit softer. And I am not saying that this hasn’t been happening for decades – because good lord, I still call my sunglasses my Jackie O’s. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK.

And it became so much more evident in the past year.  Hillary Clinton could do no right according to everyone from the fashion bloggers to the extreme right and left wings.  God forbid she dress in a pantsuit when she is not a man.  God forbid she wear kitten heels when Melania was wearing 5″ Manolo’s.  If her hair was parted to the left or to the right, or if her wrinkles appeared deeper.

Her male counterpart could barely button his jacket over his rotund gut, and yet it was the always polished HRC that took the heat. Whose outfits were discussed instead of her policies.  Who’s heel height was mocked instead of the height of the wall that Trump was declaring he would build.

Pantsuits instead of policies.  Biceps instead of bipartisanship.  Fashion instead of fascism.

This is what our daughters and their peers are seeing.  It might not be discussed at your dinner table, but they are growing up in a world that considers what you wear more important than what you say.  They are taught to be pretty, but not too pretty.  They are taught that beauty usually equals ignorance, and that what you wear conveys a message.

And they are growing up into adults like me, or Steph, or Katie.  Progressive women who have spent the last 30+ years defining themselves as independent thinkers, opinionated minds, and passionate employees.  Women that any many would hopefully want beside them in surgery or in court.  Women who have earned every last initial both in front of and behind their names.

But women who still look into the mirror in the morning and wonder, “Will I be taken seriously today?   Will my thoughts be considered over my hem length?  Is my eyeliner applied too thick, or is this lipstick too bold?”  We are told that we won’t get the job unless we play the game.  That looks might get you in the door, but that they should be gently masked by the protocol.  The standards.  The rules that were created so long ago.

These thoughts should not exist.  I should not worry about what I look like.  I should not worry about my pantsuit conveying a message.  What should I worry about?

How about — will I kick ass today?

So go out there, kick ass.  Break the glass ceiling and the stereotypes.  Be emboldened to wear that pantsuit or show that shoulder.  Be strong.  Be powerful.  And at the end of the day, feel not only good about what you have accomplished, but beautiful while doing it.

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Strong women looking fabulous.

+ gage

The Cinderella Strategy: One shoe (strategy) does not fit all.

If you are anything like me, your newsfeed has switched from one of pretty ponies to wrinkly politicians.  The riders and horse owners who had previously been so united by their love of equids are suddenly divided.  And what once had been a discussion of whether to buy a pale pink or baby blue airvest has been over shadowed by whether you voted red or blue.

And if you are like me, you are trying to find any distraction from the name calling and horrendous images.  So, for the rest of you who are exhausted after this week, I have decided to become the distraction.

I will replace one controversy with another.

And what topic might just be as divisive as the presidential election?  Well, shoeing horses of course.

This morning I met my farrier as the sun was rising to pull my horses shoes.  We had been discussing this possibility for quite some time, and had come to the agreement that it was both plausible, and a good time to do it.

Nixon had come off of the racetrack in May of 2015, and we had slowly and carefully transitioned his feet to those of a sport horse.  It wasn’t easy at first – as we went through cycles of glue on’s, to transitioning him from side clips to front – but at the root of all of this, Gage Morgan and I agreed that he had exceptional feet.  With good angles, a thick sole, and a strong wall – he was doing better than most.

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A healthy hoof.  On a thoroughbred no less!

I decided to wait until after his last competition of the season, as I had kept him drilled and tapped in case we were ever cross country schooling and I felt he needed the addition of studs – although in retrospect, I never used them.  Being quite the balanced horse, in addition to the level he is at in his training, combined with the footing with which we schooled in, we never needed the additional traction.

So with November rolling in, and the event season in Kentucky grinding to a halt – I called my farrier, and off they went.

Attempting to distract my fellow horsemen from the surge of negativity on social media, I posted this to my status and was met with shock, awe, horror, and a high five.  And as I listened to some of the most intelligent horsewomen discuss this transition, and their own experiences with this topic, I felt as though a blog was needed.  To give them a voice, and to educate the readers.

And more importantly – to allow everyone to realize that just like Cinderella, one shoe (strategy) does not fit all.

 

This morning, I was bombarded with the comments of both celebration as well as astonishment.

A thoroughbred going barefoot?  The reactions were pretty scary, and they read something like this:

  • “Oh my gosh, that is amazing!  I shall immediately pull my rarely sound thoroughbred shoes tomorrow!”
  • “Oh wow.  No thoroughbred should ever be barefoot. He will immediately go lame – you just watch.”
  • “How dare you have put nails into a horses hooves!  Here, let me connect you with my barefoot trimmer – he will do a better job than your podiatrist”
  • “Every horse should have their shoes pulled in the fall.  When the weather reaches exactly 42 degrees and the frost has begun. They shall only be replaced when the moon is gradually passing the sun during the vernal equinox. My animal psychic told me so.”

And with the help of two fellow eventers – both fantastic horse women – I have a response.  One of which is Dr. Kristen Brennan, and the other being Melissa DeCarlo Recknor.  All three of us have two thoroughbreds – one barefoot, one shod. And we all agreed on the same thing.

 Some horses can be barefoot, some horses need to be barefoot, and some horses need shoes.

Melissa’s first story was that of Shooter, aka Nixon’s little brother.  They are so similar on so many levels, but where they verge apart is in their feet.  While Nixon went barefoot because he could, Shooter went barefoot because he had to.  Melissa had known this horse for years through her work as a trainer at the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, and knew that he had previously had perfectly fine feet.  But a few years of separation, different management, and a transition in geography had brought Shooter back into her life, and with feet that crumbled.

 

Shooter’s feet May 26th, 2016.

Melissa had tried to keep shoes on in an attempt to progress his training from that of maverick freak (did I say he reminded me of Nixon) to that of well behaved show pony, but his feet were the main setback.  So after relocating to North Carolina and fighting lost shoe after lost shoe, she, alongside her farrier, decided to pull them.

But she was lucky.  Because her trainer advised her to reach out to Hawthorne not only for their products, but for their guidance and support.

So with the additional support of both a fantastic farrier and a team of professionals advising her, Melissa sacrificed her summer show season in order to better her horses hoof health.  Painting his feet with S-Pak, packing his soles with their medicated sole-pack, and painting with the paste, she saw results within a month.  And within just a few months, Shooter was walking soundly on hard surfaces and back to being rideable.

The thoroughbred with the “horrible feet” was officially barefoot – and Melissa was going to try to keep him that way for as long as possible.

Shooter September 26th, 2016

But Melissa was quick to add that her other eventer would most likely never be barefoot, in addition to the fact that she wouldn’t even go without hinds.  Fly has severe arthritis in her hocks, and the hind shoes have helped support this – keeping her sound, happy, and able to be ridden.  Coming up into her later teens, Melissa has had Fly as a partner for years, and knows her inside and out.  Alongside her veterinarian and farrier, they have agreed that it is better to leave her shoes on.

One owner, two thoroughbreds, and two very different decisions regarding their shoeing practices.

Kristen was quick to agree with almost everything that Melissa had to state, and had surrounded herself with similar minds.  But she had one addition – nutrition.  As an equine researcher herself with a doctorate in animal science, she now leads the team at Alltech’s equine nutrition program, and had a ton of great advice for those intrigued by the idea of hoof health.

While her horse Frankie was what you would call an “easy keeper” by all means in regards to his weight, she strategized a feed plan that would enhance both hoof growth as well as strength and overall health.  Kristen immediately made sure that he got a combination of a 10% protein textured feed, but with the addition of a ration balancer that includes an organic TM.  As a true scientist, she was quick to point out that this addition of organic TM’s (trace minerals) provided the horse with a more bioavailable form of Zinc and Copper – both elements that are extremely important in keratin, which is the primary constituent of the equine hoof. She also added the supplement Farrier’s Formula to add additional biotin.

Kristen was quick to point out two things – that all horses need a balanced diet, but that you can add additional proteins and elements that may help your horse transition to that of barefoot. But with that in mind, just like Melissa and I, she was quick to point out that while this was working for Frankie (along with the guidance of Kim from Hawthorne Products that Melissa was also using), her other thoroughbred Marcus was different.

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Frankie’s hoof with the Hawthorne Sole-Freeze Hoof Hardener

Marcus was on the same feeding program, received the same level of care, and yet he was fully shod.  Just like my horse Mak, Marcus needed to stay on a strict shoeing schedule of a full set of steel shoes every 6 weeks.  And just like Mak, Kristen had attempted every alteration to this cycle, without luck.  What had worked for one horse did not, and would not, work for all. It came right back down to educating yourself with great professionals, but also listening to your horse.

So those are our stories.  And these are our responses.  Our opinions.

Should every horse go barefoot?  Heck no.  But can a thoroughbred go barefoot?  Why, of course.  But more importantly, should you have to make these decisions on your own?  No.

Surround yourself with a great team of professionals – from your farrier, to your veterinarian, and then add a nutritionist. Talk to your trainer, and even your local tack or feed store.

Educate yourself on what this is involves, and the management practices that will potentially need to change.  Examine yourself internally as a horse owner to conclude whether or not you have the time, money, and patience invested for either of the outcomes. And more importantly, listen to your horse.  He will be your best advisor.

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Bluebloods

I am not a blueblood.

At least not to the racing industry.

My father was not a famous trainer, my mother did not own Secretariat. My brother never tacked up a horse, and my sister couldn’t tell you who Chris McCarron is.

But 9 years ago I moved to Lexington, Ky. And with 2 cents and a broken heart, I was hired as a groom on a thoroughbred breeding farm. Lost in the world after recently losing my father, a father who hated horses and his daughter riding them, I decided to forge my way into this industry.

To prove to myself that I could. To prove to the industry that a tiny blonde from Meadville, Pennsylvania could. And maybe in the back of my mind and my heart was to prove to my father that I could. That horses could lead me to financial stability. To greatness. Maybe most importantly to happiness.

So here I am, nine years later. Sitting in a hotel in Pasadena, California, preparing for a second day at the Breeder’s Cup–the World Championships of horse racing.

And I receive a text message from my mother–a woman who had no desire to attend the racetrack just a decade ago. She was asking when to tune in, and who to cheer for. And as I ramble off times, race names, and the horses I love–I started to realize that today is special.

Because today, these races, and the magnificent horses running in them is also full of stories of hope. Of try. And the ability to turn those things into greatness.

I met Dawn Mellen at the Clocker’s Corner the other morning. Her arms full of Breeders Cup hats, with a bright purple one proudly adorned on her own head. My friend Tara introduced her to me, proudly stating that this woman not only had a horse in the BC Turf, but that she was also passionate about aftercare. And I struck up a conversation with Dawn, fascinated by what brought her into this industry, and her own humble beginnings.

She spoke so proudly of her horse–Ashleyluvssugar. Of his own humble upbringing-being a California bred by Game Plan, an unraced stallion that is now deceased but who stood for only $2500.  But Ashleyluvssugar was special. She had bred him herself and he was named by her young niece. And his journey had been special to her thus far – having come off of back to back graded stakes wins and earnings of almost $1 million dollars.

And while Ashleyluvssugar prepared himself for the toughest race of his life,  Dawn was running around the backside collecting hats. Her charity, After the Finish Line, would be auctioning off these hats in order to gift funds to the aftercare organizations that helped find homes and second careers for horses like Ashley when he was done racing.

And although Dawn was very excited about this upcoming race, she became even more animated when speaking about After the Finish Line. Her hobby was horse racing, but her passion was so obviously in helping secure a safe landing for all racehorses. And although the field is stacked in that race (which airs on NBC at 6:22 eastern), but I will be cheering for the little guy in that one–and screaming myself hoarse for Ashley.  And more importantly, for his owner who is so passionate about retirement and aftercare.

And then there’s The Mile. The race preceding The Classic. And in it are two girls that I love equally as passionately. Tepin and Miss Temple City are both taking on the boys in the battle of the sexes that has been occurring all year. In a sport where the fields are usually kept separate between the colts and the fillies, we have this monumental race where there is not just one amazing girl trying to take on the boys–but two.

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Miss Temple City at Keeneland.  Photo by EquiSport Photos/Wendy Wooley

One of which was bred by one of the fiercest females in this industry, Carrie Brogden of Machmer Hall, and the other whom was named after the wife and mother of Bob, Sean, and Madeline Feld-a woman who is no longer with us, but whom I have been blessed with stories of her amazing character and brilliance.

And while these fillies may no longer be considered underdogs by any means, having earned their spots in the books as two of the greats–their beginnings and now their ability to prove once again sex has no impact on ability or earnings, they will still be in a race for the races. The girls against the boys. Or maybe, if dreams become realities, it will be the girl against the girl, with the smelly boys trailing the field.

And last, but certainly not least, there is Chrome. The horse who stole America’s heart in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Who was bred by good old boys front California, but still found his way to the winners circle on that first Saturday in May. California Chrome is back, and in 2016 he has proven once again that where you come from means nothing. That setbacks and road blocks are just there to prove to the world yet again the ability and determination you contain.

He didn’t retire to stud immediately after his 3 year old season. And his 4 year old year was riddled with injuries, ownership changes, and being shuttled from place to place. But at the age of 5, he has galloped for the most epic comeback of racing history. 5 races, 5 wins, and $7 million in earnings, pushing his overall earnings to just below $13.5 million.

A horse who was bred for next to nothing. Owned by people who had just gotten into the business. And now the highest earner of any racehorse in history. He. Is. Unreal.

So no matter where you are in your life, today’s races are for the history books, and more importantly–for your heart. The undertones of these races mimic what we are seeing in this world. Women’s rights? Check. Humble beginnings with minimal opportunities?  Check. Retirement plans and finding your next step? Check, check. And more importantly — watching the inexplicable beauty of 1200 pound animals running down the homestretch with their ears perked forward and their connections screaming, jumping, and crying? I can only hope.

So run on. Run on Ashleyluvssugar. Run on girls. And run on Chrome. Do it for the fans, do it for your connections, but more importantly–do it for yourselves.

The Elephant

I have big dreams. For each of my horses, I have big dreams.

For Nixon it is the upper levels.  A win at a 1*, some top tens at the 2* and 3, and a completion at Rolex – ya know, the normal.

For Mak it is the hunters.  Packing young adults or old ladies around the 3’3 A/O’s, or even some equitation rounds.

But for Kennedy, affectionately known as the Elephant, it has always been different.  It will always be different.  Because my goals with him were always get him home, keep him safe, and if he is sound enough to be ridden – the joy that will bring will be unconfined.

And that is why this weekend was one of the best of my life.

It wasn’t Rolex, or the Maclay’s, heck – he was doing an intro dressage test and jumping 2′ poles…but it was a milestone.  A goal that was set almost a decade ago, and one that I never thought would happen.

I met Marilyn’s Guy as a naive 22 year old who had just faced the greatest heartache of her life.  My father had left this earth, and with him went my ability to function.  And I moved to Lexington Kentucky and drove around from farm to farm, begging the owners and  managers to let me work.  And I was finally hired – at Chesapeake Farm under the tutelage of owner Drew Nardiello, manager Kent Sweezey, and veterinarian Jorge Colon.

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Babies.

Unhappy in my relationship, unhappy in my life – I turned to the farm as not only a means to a paycheck, but also a means to happiness.  I jumped at every chance to be there early or stay there late.  What these men considered the most enthusiastic worker was actually just running, or numbing.  Consuming myself with menial tasks to keep my mind off of the truth.  I was fatherless and lacking support.  Lacking love. 

But I finally found that support and that love, and it came in a 17.1hh 3 year old named Marilyn’s Guy.  He came to the farm for a surgery and a lay-up, and I was quickly tasked with his recovery and rehabilitation.  And each day, I knew that after hours of being abused and berated by the yearlings and the race-fit colts, I could sneak into his stall for a groom and a snuggle.  I would wrap my arms around his massive neck and he would carefully lift me off the ground in an embrace.

 

It was a fact, I was 100% obsessed.

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Marilyn’s Guy during a quick stop to the farm as a 4 yo.  So stunning. 

But Marilyn’s Guy’s story didn’t end there.  It wasn’t the story that we love to read – where the girl falls in love, the horse wins $1 million dollars, and then the owners give him to the girl for happily ever after. No, Kennedy’s story didn’t end like that.  Instead he ran.  Again and again.  And he was claimed.  Again and again.  And he aged.  Year after year.  And I felt my love of this industry and this world dissipate.  Call after call. 

Because we reached out to every owner, every trainer.  And our plea’s for his safe and happy retirement fell on deaf ears.  Until finally, at the age of 8, our demands were met with support instead of defense.  Marilyn’s Guy was coming home – we finally had him.

And I drove to the farm the day he shipped home with envisions of long hacks, cross country schools, and horse shows swarming my head.  I hopped from my truck, ran into the barn, and threw open the door – expecting him to immediately recognize my and lift my heart up again.

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The day he came home…now nearly 9.

But he didn’t.  The twinkle in his eye was gone.  The gorgeous steel grey coat dull.  And the beautiful top line that I meticulously perfected with long 45 minute walks and supplementation was missing.  Marilyn’s Guy wasn’t there.  And in his place was a large, bitter, no-nonsense creature.

So we turned him out. Drew was tasked with the day-to-day job of attempting to bring back the horse I had loved, and he succeeded.  He spent 18 months getting his weight back on, his feet strong, and his coat to gleam.

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Kennedy during his 18 month break.

And then I got the call.  Did I finally want him?  I already owned 3 horses, and knew that on a graduate student budget, it would be impossible to take on a fourth.

So I scrambled.

I reached out to everyone I knew to see if they would want this task of taking on the large grey.  And I found the perfect scenario.  The man who owned the barn where I boarded said that he would take him.  At 6’1, Jeff needed a large horse – and at now 17.3hh and 1500 lbs Marilyn’s Guy seemed perfect.  I told him that I would assist in everything – training rides, blanketing, turn outs, and any treatments he may need.  And he laughed me off, and told me to just treat the horse as my own.

We brought Marilyn’s Guy back to Kurnikris Farm in February of 2016, and were quickly tasked with the retraining of this giant.

And we did it.  Yesterday I took Marilyn’s Guy, now known as Kennedy – or the Elephant – to the Kentucky Horse Park for his first horse show. He was bathed and braided, hacked around and warmed up, and then performed to the best of his abilities.

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His dressage test was full of both moments of baby, but combined with moments of brilliance, and I giggled my way through the end as he popped his head up to 8 feet above ground – as only an Elephant can.

I warmed him up in a busy atmosphere for his stadium round, and was pleasantly surprised when he wasn’t perturbed by any of the distractions.  This war horse and graded stakes winner was unphased by the horses galloping around him and the rails flying.  His wizened brain and slow demeanor were evident in that moment – just like an Elephant should.

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And then I took him into his stadium round and found myself smiling from ear to ear and he carried me around his course as if he had been doing this his entire life.  There was no moment of hesitation, and no confusion over this new endeavor in his life.  And he walked out of the ring with his head held high, his ears up and forward, and the twinkle was finally returned to his eye. He was so proud of himself – just like an Elephant would.

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Proud of our completion ribbon

 

We didn’t win any fancy ribbon or pewter cup, as Kennedy finished 12th out of 14.  But every day that I get to experience something with Kennedy, I am winning.  It has been almost a decade in the making.  From falling in love, to getting him secured in aftercare, to getting his body back to a rideable one, and finally the journey that we have gone on to teach him the basics of his new career as a show pony. It has been years in the making, and yesterday was just the icing on the cake.

Because I am truly just happy that we have him.  That every day I can go to his field and see him.  That I can watch him play with the other thoroughbreds in his herd, and that the twinkle in his eye is back.  I am even more blessed by the fact that we finally have his body in a place where he was be utilized as a riding horse. That because of this, I can place training on him that will secure him a future if he ever needs a home outside of the barn where he currently resides.

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Kennedy is now 10 years old and just beginning his second career as a lower level show horse.  His first show just shy of his 11th birthday – an older horse in many fields.  But thats ok, because we are in no rush.  I do not need Rolex in his future, nor the Maclay’s.  I just need a horse that is sound, happy, and most importantly – with me.

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Kennedy with his best friend Nixon