Thoroughbred Logic, Presented by Kentucky Performance Products: It’s (Not) Fine.

“Letting it be hard is hard in this industry. There is no good ability to stop. The chores need to be done, the other horses’ care doesn’t get to waiver.”

Welcome to the next installment of Thoroughbred Logic. In this weekly series, Anthropologist and trainer Aubrey Graham, of Kivu Sport Horses, offers insight and training experience when it comes to working with Thoroughbreds (although much will apply to all breeds). This week ride along as Aubrey shares her logic on why and how we keep going even when things seem to be crumbling around us.

It is Valentines Day. I could write some pithy bit about why I love Thoroughbreds or the types of gifts they would like. Hell, if the following gets too tough, I might just scrap it and do that. But right now, there’s another story-based thought process that apparently I’m going to share here. Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. AKA you can’t make this stuff up. Stay with me…

Monday night, on my non-existent day “off,” I was trying to get barn chores finished up and get back inside to eat something and get to bed. It was 8:00 and I still had at least an hour of work to do, and I was exhausted. Note, I’m always tired — welcome to horse trainer life — but this ‘exhausted’ is new and mostly from the self consuming worry and utterly useless anger about the situation with Koops (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, hang tight — I’ll get there).

I saw the police lights start to spin on the road next to the lake pasture when I walked Neumann (Bubba Bob) and Lad (Megan’s Lad) out to their field. About 10 minutes later the gunshots were what stopped me in my tracks while leading Needles Highway and Tetris (Not a Game) to the same field’s gate (about 300-meters from the barn). We all stood still and looked at the now seven-to-ten cop cars with more screeching in and to a stop, search lights… and listening hard… did they have their K-9 unit out too?

Quick bad image I grabbed while it all got started and cars were rushing to the scene. Photo by author.

To perhaps set the scene better: It’s dark, I’m alone on a farm at the end of a 1/2-mile driveway in a hollow bordered by a creek and a river. The tucked-from-view farm has always been a good place for “sketchy” activity — just ask the last renter and his dog “breeding” and “business” activities. It is still raining, we’re flooded so high that all you can see are the very tops of the dock support pylons — the lake has become part of the creek and South River. It is also nearly 60-degrees outside but will stay damp until the wind kicks up and rushes in the cooler front, dropping the temp down into the low 30s overnight. Horses are in sheets or blankets depending on clipping, but they all would rather be running around naked.

So the three of us stop and stand there. I’m lightly wondering if this is how it all goes down — a fugitive on/near the farm… because this sure looks like a manhunt. And while I have a lot of Thoroughbreds to choose from to get the hell out of Dodge fast if needed, my life is not a Primetime Western and none of them are going to put up much fight against folks with guns. And where the hell am I going to go at this hour anyway? And who is going to debride Koops’ wounds if I’m not here?

Two of my “watch the police lights” partners, Needles Highway (right) and Tetris (Not A Game) center. Photo by author.

I’m just standing there wondering why I’m not hearing return fire to the shots, trying to assess mentally where everyone seems to be going — it appeared they were searching into the wooded areas on the other side of the road, not towards my rented pasture line. Suddenly, I’m snapped back to reality by splashing. Splashing — wait, WTF?

Four of my idiot geldings — in their winter blankets — are now pawing, rolling, and swimming up to their bellies in the swollen pond. I stand there with my baby Thoroughbreds watching the fools down the hill in the lake field act like damn sweater-wearing hippos — soaking themselves as if there is not a set of cops and guns nearby and rapidly falling temperatures. On a normal night, I would curse my way out into the field and strip them out of their blankets. But in the dark, on this particularly eventful evening, I can’t justify walking out into that huge-ass field alone to find them, as they will have galloped obliviously off into the darker corners by the time I get there.

A very old photo of a different set of Thoroughbreds being utter hippos in the flooded lake. Photo by author.

So I assess life while Needles and Tetris stare wide-eyed at the pretty blue lights. This feels latently dangerous — like the kind of situation that could go sideways, but probably (hopefully) won’t. I also realized that I have no more energy or f*($s for anything else beyond getting done and taking care of the horses. There’s a “just get it done” floor I have reached. It is called, “it’s fine.”

I turn the boys out, resign myself to hoping that the ones in the field soaked to their shoulders in lake-water don’t get sick, put my elderly dog and way-too-happy-to-make-new-friends young dog inside to keep them safe (some protection you two are) and head back to the barn to finish chores, keeping an eye out for unusual movement in the area while trying to finish blanketing, hay, turnout and waters.

It’s fine. It’s all fine. And of course, it is not. Not really. But we’re tough horse people, so we keep on keeping on, despite hitting a bottom, despite the fact that we don’t feel like we have the luxury of shutting down and stopping or packing up the dogs and driving somewhere that feels safer, or you know, choosing a life that is easier.

An hour later, I did a last check on Koops, and made it inside to pour a glass of wine, lock the doors and make an abbreviated form of dinner.

The quick backstory is that Koops (yes, that is his Jockey Club name; yes he is named after mustard), a handsome four-year-old resale project was in a trailer wreck on the way to my farm 10 days ago. The tough little horse survived a separated trailer floor and enough mangled metal that multiple jaws of life had to be used to saw the trailer in half and pull him from the wreckage. Oh… that is after going through a guardrail and down a steep hill into a culvert in middle the of absolutely f*&%ing-nowhere, Alabama. The call in the early hours of the morning, lack of good data about the wreck and Koops’ wounds, and managing his injuries and uncertain ‘who is paying his bills’ has left me — a typical horse person who likes being in control of their animals and situations — completely reeling and trying to operate a high paced equine business through a fog of ‘I’m not sure what to do next’ anxiety and pretty significant anger.

(Koops is now home and getting regular, daily care for some serious to-the-bone lacerations and swelling. There isn’t any joint involvement, but it’ll be four to six months before we have any data on soundness and potential for a riding career. He’s also not out of the woods yet — a recent low-grade fever and bleeding have all compounded the situation. But Koops is now no longer a resale and gets to stay here with me as long as he likes and has a hell of a team of vets, body workers and friends helping out along the way).

Koops hanging out post-treatment at home at Kivu. Photo by author.

This is hard, sure. I’m not writing this for pity (put that away, please). I’m not writing this so folks can tell me I should rest or take time off or so folks can suggest how to help myself (has saying anything like that ever worked with horse people… or any people?). I’m writing it because all of us horse people have been here. We have been over our heads, out of our depth, sat on the proverbial bottom. We have hit the “it’s fine,” where you look at the literal or figurative cop cars and the swimming horses and you go back to the barn and finish chores. And it is the horses themselves and the community that pull you back, bring you up, and allow you to keep on and somehow find solace in the “how the hell did we get here stories” (well… at least after the fact).

This situation might be extreme and of the ilk of “you can’t make this sh*t up,” but this is just one of so many “it’s fine” situations for so many people I know right now. I started to write out the situations I know folks are “It’s fine”-ing at this very moment, but realized their tales are not mine to tell. Suffice to say, there is colic surgery, health emergencies, family emergencies, human surgeries, loss of loved ones, loss of partners, financial stresses, future stresses, and farm disasters. Everyone is still running their business, making sure stalls are cleaned, horses are ridden, cared for and (if for sale) advertised. And in every situation, all critters are as safe as possible.

Worry not, even the pig still gets fed. Featuring Curry and Koops in the shadows. Photo by author.

Letting it be hard is hard in this industry. There is no good ability to stop. The chores need to be done, the other horses’ care doesn’t get to waiver. And when we’re out of our depth, and over our heads, it is really only the horses themselves, our own bootstraps and the amazing equine community that save us.

So for this Valentine’s day, perhaps this wandering tale is as much a thank you and love letter to both the horses that make that “it’s fine” bottom a solid, soft, warm place to rest, and to the community that reminds you that while you might be alone at the end of a half-mile road, in fact, you are all somehow in this crazy, often unbelievable journey together.

Go hug your pony and your friends, folks. It’s a wild ride out there.

(Oh and for those wondering about the “fugative” — the report was that they were hunting for a missing person. Not sure why you use gunfire to do that… but alright, better than a proper manhunt. And my hippos survived the temp drop with wet blankets with only some new fungus to show for it). It’s all actually fine.

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