Monday, November 10, 2014

Good-bye, Horse

Our year of the horse has overlapped much of the Chinese Year of the Horse. Unlike that year, however, ours has, somewhat surprisingly, come to an end.

I have longed for a horse for decades, and the Resident Teen longed for one for at least a decade; finally we get one, and yet here we are, once more unhorsed. We have given Avi away, and he is off to a new life in an eastern-Washington setting, where he will surely learn new skills and find new patches of gravelly dirt in which to roll.

I know...who goes around giving away horses? (I suddenly cannot stop thinking of Jerry Seinfeld in the immortal "Pony Remark" episode: "Who wouldn't love a pony? Who wouldn't love a person that had a pony?")

Suffice it to say that the Resident Teen is temporarily putting horses on hold as she ponders what to do with her future (and that Avi is much more horse than someone like me can handle), so as Avi's not the kind of pony who should be loafing around in a pasture, it was best all around to let him go to people who could bring out the best in him.

But I always meant to write a bit more about Avi and who he is because, even though he's only 7 years old, he's already got enough material to write his own memoir, if he ever learns how to write.

Avi (full name Avram) was born May 2, 2007, on Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky (full pedigree here). His mom is a mare named Bisbee's Prospect, who raced at Emerald Downs in Washington and won three of her six races. 

His sire is a stallion named Eddington, a champion who won six races, finished in the money in 15 of his 17 starts, and placed third in the 2004 Preakness, going on to beat the likes of Funny Cide (2003 Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner) in his last race, the 2004 Pimlico Special.

Eddington is a great-grandson of Secretariat and occupied that legendary racehorse's stall at Claiborne Farms when he was there at stud. Today he resides at a breeding farm in California. 

Thanks to this genetic heritage, Avi was blessed with stunning speed and captured a lot of attention in his workouts when he started his racing career at Emerald Downs. He won his first race there on April 24, 2010. (You can see a bit of that in an Emerald Downs "Where Are They Now?" feature here--Avram's story starts at 3:50 in the video.) 

Unfortunately, Avi had a defect common among Thoroughbred racehorses: a condition called Laryngeal Hemiplegia ("lazy flapper" or "roaring" in layman's language), in which one of the two cartilagenous flaps that make up the larynx becomes paralyzed. 

So instead of firmly snapping open and shut--open for breathing, shut when swallowing--the paralyzed flapper billows around in the horse's windpipe like a loose sail on a boat, impeding the efficiency of breathing while running at high speed. 

Not exactly a recipe for success in a racehorse, and surgery to stitch the offending flapper in place didn't work; Avi stopped and appeared to go backward in his second and final race. 

Fortunately, however, a lazy flapper doesn't prevent a horse from thriving in plenty of other equine careers. Indeed, with excellent training Avi went on to become a lovely jumper, winning ribbons at shows before he became ours. He's often described as an honest horse, one that willingly jumps without hesitating. 

The Resident Teen found him to be a lovely ride, offering enough of a challenge to her to make her a better rider and rewarding good riding with a fine performance. His new owners will surely likewise find him to be an exciting horse to work with.

She also found that the lazy flapper certainly didn't affect Avi's speed when galloping down trails (after all, when you're just out for a gallop, you're not asking the horse to fly at 40 miles per hour over a distance of a mile while beating out other horses). She vividly describes rocketing along a trail and seeing the woods streak by in a blur on either side. 

Around the barn, Avi displays an interesting personality--he can be goofy and affectionate, but he also has a curmudgeonly side. Show up to say hello, and he makes that lovely rippling nicker that is horse for "hello," but as soon as he sees you haven't got any treats, he flattens his ears back, clearly expressing the opinion, "Dang it! Stupid human." 

We called him Mr. Angry Face when he was peevish. Of course, when he was being sweet, we fawned on him and stroked his velvety nose, cooing "oh, pretty pony!" (no doubt much to his disgust).

Real horse ownership, of course, is a heck of a lot different from reading about and dreaming of owning a horse. 

There are many fine children's books (especially British ones) that include the harsh realities associated with maintaining a large, delicate, working animal, but in most stories the horse usually just "goes lame" before the big show, or has a bout of colic, which makes for a nice dramatic chapter that involves staying up with the horse all night long until it recovers. 

There is nothing wrong with such stories, mind you. But in actuality, it seems there's a whole lot more in the way of fungal skin infections, thrush in the soles of the feet, scrapes inflicted on the horse by its own silly hooves (what else other than a horse would open up a gash on its leg simply getting up awkwardly one morning?), and absurd things like a gum abscess that explodes while out riding, showering the horse's neck with blood and freaking out little children passing by.

We've all learned a great deal during the Year of the Horse. We've met wonderful people, and we've enjoyed the ride. And we're curious to see what Avi--former racehorse, jumper, and part-time therapy horse of sorts--will achieve next.


  1. Best of luck to Avi in his next chapter. And best of luck to The Resident Teen in hers.

  2. I can only imagine the cost, seeing as how much my 14-pound terrier costs me.