Friday, August 21, 2009


I know right, 3 posts in one day- now you won't hear from me for months.

When I was 14, I got my first job working on the backside of the horse racing track. I was so excited to be doing ANYTHING involved with horses, I (usually) overcame my deep hatred for early rising and not only rose before the sun, but did so willingly to go and shovel shit. The trainer I worked for a was a good woman who loved each and every one of the horses in her care. She taught me a lot about horses and for that I will always be grateful to her.

For the summer season, we were at a track where the stalls in the barns faced each other over a wide walkway. Directly across from us was a trainer/jockey that we'll call "Mike". Mike was not a nice man and epitomized generally every negative stereotype that surrounds those who handle race Thoroughbreds. The two camps never fraternized much as the two trainers could not have been more different.

One day, Mike came back in swearing and kicking and jerking on the horse he had just worked. The horse was sweating and trembling so bad, the lead line looked like it was made of jello. Mike continued to swear and slam things around while he walked the horse around to cool him down until he could put him in his stall. Anytime the horse got too close to him, he recieved a sharp jab in the nose followed by a string of threats about being sent to the butchers.

Eventually the horse was so wound up that he started rearing a little and knocked a few muck buckets over which only increased his terror. He slipped out of Mike's grasp and bolted for the one small patch of grass he could find.

I didn't bother to see what punishment the horse had received when Mike caught up to him, but about 10 minutes later, he was jerked into the barn and thrown (as much as one can throw a 1,000 lb animal) into his stall. Mike immediately got in his truck and left. Our work was almost done for the day, but since I was only 14, I had to wait for someone to come and get me. Before my boss left, I asked her what was going on with the horse who had been so traumatized this afternoon.

She told me that he was a "frustrating" horse for Mike because despite his fairly impressive pedigree, he was stubborn and not much of a racer. For someone like him who was only in this sport for the money, he seemed to take this as a personal slight from the horse and has always treated him like less than a living being. He called the horse "Heart Attack" because his racing name was something similar, but Heart Attack was always jumpy and fearful of everyone and everything he came in contact with.

After everyone left I took some peppermints from our jar and peeked into Heart Attack's stall. He looked dejected and barely even bothered to notice that someone was outside his door. Soon enough his curiosity and the smell of the peppermints that I was now eating since he had little interest in them lured him over to the door. I talked softly to him and gave him the last of the mints. I told him he was a good boy and began rubbing on his face and neck. It is *SO* cheesy, but a friendship was born that day that I have never forgotten.

Heart Attack became one of the best reconciliations for my inability to get myself to and from work as I would spend time with him while I waited for my ride. Some days I would see if I could get someone to give me a ride over to the track in the afternoons or on my day off just so I could see him.

He would answer promptly at the stall door when I would peek around the barn door and call his name very softly. Sometimes I'd sit on the ground outside his stall and he'd "groom" my hair while I read. I liked to think that our few moments of quiet and friendship made his days just a little more bearable on the track. Obviously, our friendship did nothin
g to improve his talent, so he went on being hated and bullied by his trainer.

After I got pregnant with Big, I never worked on the track again and lost all contact with the people I had befriended in my youth. Before I left my job, I had my boss promise me that if she ever got wind that Heart Attack was actually going to be sent to the butcher's that she would do everything in her power to stop it. Like I said, she was a good person and agreed to make a teenage girl feel better. I'm sure, however, if she had ever known that his life was in danger that she would have remembered her promise and tried to honor it.

But life on the track is hectic and crazy, people go from track to track and buy and sell horses not only through private sales, but through claiming races that it is very hard to keep up with someone unless you are in direct contact with them.

Still, I never forgot Heart Attack. I always wondered what had happened to him and on occasion would try to search for him online to see if I could find any race reports or anything for him. Unfortunately, while I knew his "barn name", I didn't actually know his registered name- I had an idea of what it was, but could never find anything on him by guessing at his full name.

Wednesday I woke up from my nap with Little thinking about searching the Jockey Club registry for what I thought was his name. I have ABSOLUTELY no idea why on earth I would have woken up thinking about that after all this time, but I did. The registry search would come back with results for all horses with names similar to that, so maybe I could find him that way. I did some sleuthing and came up with nothing, so I tried searching under the trainer's name knowing as always that it was going to be futile. About 11 pages into a Google search, I found his real name under a race result report for the trainer.

I couldn't believe I had finally found his name! Now that I had that, I could really look to see if he had been doing anything lately. I put it in a search and the second result was from an organization that helps owners find new homes for their old racehorses and he was there.

Since I'm a big pregnant ball of hormones, I started sobbing. I really thought that he had been sent to slaughter years ago and never dreamed I would actually find him. I called Jason immediately and told him that I'd found Heart Attack. Because he can be a good husband when he wants to be, he must have been listening at least one of the times that I spoke about Heart Attack and knew exactly who I was talking about.

He said that he would call the woman at the "rescue" and see what information he could get on him (since I was blubbering like a fool, I was in no shape to be talking to anyone). He called me back to tell me that the owners were no longer in contact with the rescue, but the woman was pretty sure he was still available and that she would pass along their information.

We called them on Thursday only to find out he had been given away about 3 weeks ago. The owner seemed genuinely upset that we had missed out. She offered to call the current owners and ask if they would be willing to sell him for what they paid for him. She wasn't sure what would happen, but said she would try to get back with us one way or the other.

Jason has been out of town working all week. I picked him up from the airport today and was irritated with him as I was trying to call him to let him know I was there and he wasn't answering. Finally he came to the car and was on the phone which would explain the unanswered calls.

As he got in, he got off the phone and told me he brought me home an awesome present from New Mexico to make up for his rather shitty gifts he had brought me from he recent travels. (For example, he spent a week in Hawaii and brought me back a bag of sea salt to cook with- I am a terrible cook- and a glitter babydoll T-shirt that said "Hawaii" on it in a medium. I was 5 months pregnant.)

I kind of rolled my eyes wondering what desert rock or Mexican spice packet he had brought me back. He smiled and told me that he just bought Heart Attack and he would be arriving on our farm next weekend.

It is a dream that I *never* expected to come true. It's so weird that I can remember daydreaming when I was 14 about having a nice farm and bringing Heart Attack to retire with me. He is 15 years old now and ready for a nice quiet life which is exactly what I can provide him with.


Trinity! said...

Oh Angela, what a fantastic story!! It sounds like a LIFETIME movie in real life, lol. How awesome you've rescued him!!!

LLife with 4 stinkypants said...

Angela- that is so, so awesome. I am so glad you get Heart Attack. That made me teary. YAY. I'm so glad you get him. HUGS.

Traci said...

So very happy for you. It's awful to see someone or something being mistreated, want to rescue them and not be able to. I'm so glad your story had an amazing and happy ending! I can't wait to hear the reunion story and see pictures soon! :)