Three of my personal horses are Thoroughbreds retired from racing, OTTB’s. The horse pictured above is Ballast. He spent about 8 years racing in 57 races; he is what is referred to as a War Horse. One of his good fortunes was he ran on the turf. Another is he began his racing career with Graham Motion and Herringswell Stables based in Fair Hill, Maryland. Ballast is 17 years old, now, and has lived with me for 7 years.
He began his “let-down” on a farm that introduced him to turn out and trail riding after they determined he was not going to make a combined training prospect, he was off the track about 30 days when it was decided he could live the rest of his life with me. When Ballast arrived he was a bundle of energy, demonstrated as he bounded off the van ramp in two strides.
A small group of people were at the farm to greet Ballast to his new life, and admire him as I turned him out in a small paddock to allow him time to acclimate to his new surroundings. He was lovely to watch move around the space. Forty-five minutes later I took him for his first trail ride with me. He was wonderful!
Several months later I rode him in a field with a friend. There was a tree line along the field on two sides. Ballast was felling frisky, he performed a half-pass across the field at a gallop. There was no way of stopping him, I held onto his neck strap and laughed. When he finished, he pulled himself up, stopping perfectly square with his leg placement, lifted his head, looked at me and said, “How did you like that?” While caught unaware at the beginning of his exuberance, never once did I feel I was in danger. He was confident and happy. He wanted to share this moment with me, not to scare or dislodge me.
Ideally Ballast would have spent several months where he lolled in the field eating grass and taking sun bath naps. However, he had other ideas. He thought that idea was the equivalent of purgatory. His previous life was very structured; OTTB’s generaly have superb work ethics. Ballast wanted to work. He did not know anything else. It did not matter that he was exhausted. The mere fact he was not at the race track in a semi-constant state of stimulation, the reality was he was letting down. Over the course of the following six months he allowed himself to gradually not be ridden daily, though he continued to ask.
One thing that demonstrated itself was, and is, Ballast’s finest attribute his ability to empathize and care about others. At the time of his arrival, there was a 32 year old TB named Tattoo. Ballast became his companion and protector within a week. One of the dearest things Ballast did for Tattoo was, allow Tattoo to lean against him for support, as he napped. Tattoo did not lie down for fear he would not be strong enough to get back up.
One lovely day during the late winter or early spring, I was spreading lunch hay in the field. Ballast and Tattoo looked at me and said, “Watch this, Mom.” They moved off in unison, their legs moving exactly in the same rhythm and time and performed a Pas de Deux at the trot. Each movement was beautifully balanced. They did this for about one minute. They ended their performance, stood proudly looking at me with smiles on thier faces. The other horses had lifted their heads to watch. One could have heard them clapping, if they had the ability. What an amazing gift I was given.
The first spring and summer I had Ballast, he went to several paper chases, a hunter show and a jumper show. To this day he LOVES participating in paper chases. He would prefer not to go to another hunter show. He enjoyed his jumper show experience. His favorite activity is going out with children riding on his ponies.
Ballast has a Quarter Horse mare, Lily (15 hands) and a Connemara gelding, Merlin (14.3 hands) that he shares his life with. I call them his ponies. I can lead (pony) both ponies with children from Ballast, at the same time. He pushes the slow one and slows the fast one and adjusts his step to create a smooth and fun ride for all. He does all the work, all I do is steer him and tell him to walk or trot. He taught himself to do this. I had no influenece in this process.
While I am having a wonderful time extolling the joys of Ballast, one might ask, “How does this have to do with the body and energy work of your business?” Simple. The bond I have with Ballast has been aided by the work I do with him, he trusts me. He knows me. He wants to please me. He has the ability to trust himself. He can move with grace and dignity without pain or discomfort. His true personality has come to the front.
He still has issues that may or may not dissipate. There are times he cannot be in his stall. He demonstrates this by walking, trotting or spinning while in the stall. There does not seem to be an outward reason. He is living one of his personal nightmares, perhaps. He is feeling trapped, perhaps. The one thing that is known is he is not happy during these times.
Sometimes I can turn him out for a few minutes, bring him in and all is good. Sometimes he has to be out with a friend for an hour before returning to his stall. Sometimes it will last for a few days. This is the hard one for it often happens when the weather is such he ought not be outside, according to me. These times are happening less and less, I do not know why he has to have these unpleasant experiences. My job is to help him have fewer of them and when he does, to make him as comfortable as possible as he moves through and finds his way out. Perhaps he is overly attached to me and is telling me I have to pay attention to an emotional issue I am experiencing on a different level. I do not know, now; he is teaching me more every day.
I love this horse. He loves me. We share a very good partnership.