I walked up to the paddock and saw the the most rotund horse I had ever laid eyes on. His thick black tail was dreadlocked, his forelock so long that it covered his eyes. He slumped in the middle of the field with his back to me, one hind leg cocked up, his head low, but his ears swiveled, letting me know that he knew I was there. A day earlier, I had been asked by the owner of the farm where I was working as a groom if I was liking my job and this entry into the Thoroughbred industry, and I had responded as any rider would have, “it’s going great, but I just miss riding.”
I had finally found a job after moving to Lexington 6 months prior. It was enough to pay my bills, but I was still in a severe depression after having lost my father, stuck in a relationship that I didn’t know how to get out of, and in a city where I knew no one. Twenty pounds overweight, and without the therapy of my horse, I had begun driving “door to door” to the thoroughbred farms asking for work, and was finally hired at Chesapeake.
And that’s what brought me here. The owner responded, “well we have the pony back near the teaser – he’s rideable.” I asked him if it would be ok for me to hack him on the farm, and he quickly agreed – letting me know that this “pony” had been used by a previous farm manager to do just that – pony the yearlings, in preparation for the summer and fall yearling sales. But he warned me that he hadn’t been ridden in some time, not since that farm manager had left years before, leaving this horse behind. The farm had done what any respectable one would have – kept him, fed him, vaccinated him, and trimmed his feet, but besides that, he was simply the definition of a pasture ornament, and hadn’t truly been handled except for on these specific days. No one else on the farm was a rider, and none of the recent or current farm managers had ever seen a need to get him re-broke.
And that’s what led me to the paddock the next day. This mammoth of a horse stood before me, looking neither intrigued in my presence, or really thrilled at my invasion of his space. I climbed the fence and walked towards him with my hand outstretched, expecting him to turn and face, put his ears up, and whinny in excitement of finally receiving attention, but instead he FLED. Running to the far corner, he spun and faced me, snorting out a roar through his nose. I looked upon him in appraisal and thought, “pony, my ass.” He had to be at least 15.1, maybe 15.2 hands, and instead of a lithe thoroughbred, his chest was as wide as the section of fence he stood in front of. His muscles quivered in anticipation of my next move, so instead of moving, I just croutched in the field – the same technique I had recently learned in catching a nervous foal. The pony dropped his head and took one nervous step towards me, still blowing tremendous breaths out of his nose.
I realized at this moment that this was going to be an endeavor that was going to involve much more than just saddling up and swinging over, but at this time in my life, I needed nothing more than an escape from the current state I was in, and I just knew deep down, that this was exactly what I needed. I began to take very slow small steps towards this beast of a horse, and with each step towards him, pieces of pain in my life began to be chipped away. He kept his focus on me, unsure of why I was coming towards him, but he held his ground, and when I got close enough to him to touch, he lowered his head and blew into my hand – taking in my scent. I calmly put my hand on his neck, and let him just stand with me. We sat there, both a little unsure of why we were at this location in our lives, both confused at the uncertainty that had been our previous lives, and both a little nervous of the future, but as I began to scratch his neck and rub his face, the uncertainty dissipated, he began chewing, and I realized that I finally had my first friend in Lexington, KY. And thus began the journey of the horse formerly known as The Pony; Frank the Tank.
Frank and I began having our daily dates after I had completed a long day of work, meeting up behind the stallion barn for some long groom sessions, some intense bonding building walks, and some long nights where I did nothing but sit in his field with a 6-pack, enjoying his company more than the company of my current relationship. I would park my truck next to his paddock, climb over the fence, and spend hours just detangling his tail or currying his winter coat off. We quickly became thick as thieves, and the sight of my F150 would cause a guttural whinny and coerce him to trot to the fence, fully prepared for his massage, some peppermints, and maybe even a sip of my beer if he was exceptionally good. He was as good of a friend as any; letting me voice my frustrations, cry on his shoulder, and share a beer and an apple as we watched the sun set over the farm.
But as is such in life, I soon found myself ready for more in life. In 18 months at Chesapeake, I had gotten out of the relationship that had made me so miserable, I had found the happiness in my soul that had been so badly lacking after the loss of my father, and I had begun paving my way into the thoroughbred industry – and began looking for employment with a bit more responsibility. I was hired on at Hinkle Farms as their yearling manager, and within a period of two weeks, I found myself uprooting my life and heading down the road to Paris, KY, but I promised Frank (and the staff at Chesapeake) that I would be back often to visit, not knowing just how much of a hole would be left in my heart as I said good bye to this rock in my life.
I hadn’t been at Hinkle for longer than a few weeks when the owner Tom Hinkle, sat me down and asked how I was liking my new job and the responsibilities that came with it. I told him that I absolutely adored the job. The 1200 acres that the farm encompassed were stunning, the yearlings that I had begun prepping were all top-caliber horses, and the staff had all been warm and welcoming. He asked me to let him know if there was anything that I needed, or any way that he could help make this transition go more smoothly. I thanked him for taking the time to care about how I was doing, and as I stood up to leave, words left my mouth without a filter, and I blurted out “I do miss my horse.”
With a confused look on his face, he responded “I didn’t know you had a horse? Where is he? Back in Pennsylvania?”
I explained that I had a horse who wasn’t really my horse, but who had been a steadfast part of my life for the past two years. I stumbled over my words, trying to explain why I enjoyed this horses company so much – he wasn’t athletic, he wasn’t well bred, or really anything to look at, hell, he was barely broke, but he was my friend. Without hesitation, Tom just turned to me and said “well then, if you miss your horse, you can always bring him here.”
I left his office and immediately picked up my phone and dialed the owner of Chesapeake’s number. He answered with a giggle and asked if I already wanted my old job back so quickly, and then asked why I was calling. I stuttered over the words, briefly trying to explain how Tom had offered me a place to keep a horse, and since Frank wasn’t doing much more than taking up a paddock on his farm, and costing him bills for his farrier, vet, and feed bills, if he wouldn’t find it in his heart to let me come get him? Maybe as a free lease? Just for some time? Drew hesitated only briefly, and then said with a giggle, “of course. Come get him whenever.”
Frank was picked up and brought to Hinkle Farms where he and I quickly settled into a routine. After a long day of yearling prep, I would tack him up and hack him around the immense farm. Checking horses, checking fence, or just roaming around aimlessly, he quickly became a fixture on the farm. We soon put him to work as a babysitter for weanlings as a calming figure during the stressful weeks immediately following weaning. He then venture up into the world as a pony horse, and got to be the personal trainer for many a future racehorse. He did trot sets with two year olds who were being legged up for the track. But most importantly, he kept me happy. At the end of even the most stressful of days, Frank would still see my truck and immediately come loping to the fence line to say hello, nuzzling my cheek, and nip at my jacket, putting a smile back on my face.
It has now been six years since I stepped into that paddock. Frank is now approximately 20 years old, and has moved from farm to farm as my life continues on in its strange and windy path, most recently getting brought to a farm to babysit a pony who needed a friend as she battles laminitis. He has quickly become her friend, her protector, and her personal trainer as she ambles along. We know so little about his past, but what he do know is that he is worth his 1600 pounds in gold.
Many people have asked me why it is that I own Frank. He is not some big stunning thoroughbred or warmblood that I take galloping over fences. We don’t even know what his pedigree is, but I’m sure if we did, it wouldn’t be full of millionaires or blue-bloods. He does not ripple with athleticism, or quiver with potential. But what he lacks in athleticism, he makes up in personality. He eyes twinkle with a mischevious glimmer, his days are spent plotting ways to get more attention, more carrots, and a longer groom, and if that takes ripping down fence boards to achieve that attention, then so be it. His escapades have been chronicled on my Facebook posts, drawing in fans from around the country. Some who have never met him, others who have made plans to journey to Lexington to visit me, and end up demanded to meet Frank as well, and all who preach their adoration for this horse. Most of them witnessed my life fall apart at the age of 22, and watched with hesitation as this pony brought back the Carleigh that they knew.
Most importantly, Frank brings joy to my life. He might not be ridden more than twice a year, but he gets sat on bareback weekly. He puts up with my eccentricities, while I entertain his. There are horses that are used for sport, as the other 99% of mine are. There are horses that are used for work, as Frank has in his previous life. And then there are horses used for nothing. But I don’t think it is nothing, I think, at least in Frank’s case, it is something much more important than sport or vocation. These horses are used to put smiles on faces and to fill hearts with happiness. They are therapist of sorts. And, the in grand scheme of things, they are the most valuable to us as humans.
And that is Frank. My therapist. My joy filler. My heart horse.