By Kathy Serio
As a horse lover, I like to go to the ring and cheer on friends, clients and my husband. Watching all the pomp and circumstance it takes to get a rider to the ring is often overlooked. During the 2015 Winter Equestrian Festival, I was watching a dear friend of mine competing in the Low Adult 2’6” hunter classes. This is the place to be. With a zillion entries and a zillion spectators, it feels like you’re watching the Olympics! They have such a terrific fan base and the spouses, parents and grandparents all line up in the spectator stands to video, take pictures and cheer on the horses and riders.
As I was waiting for my friend to walk into the ring, I noticed a gray, very sweet, smaller horse standing by the in-gate “parked out.” In fact, he was standing with his front feet nearly on top of each other and his hind feet stretched far, far apart. I immediately worried he wasn’t feeling well — colic, tying up or something. It wasn’t your typical stance. Horses were flying by him at the gate, warming up over jumps and cantering around and he stood there unperturbed, just hanging out.
I walked over to the lady holding him and quietly asked, “Is your horse okay? He’s standing a little oddly…” She smiled and said, “Oh, he’s okay, he’s 32 years old; he likes to stand like that.” I was intrigued and so smitten by him — he was darling. Nicole Wright, his owner, sent me his history. Her daughter, Madeline Wright, placed second and fourth over fences out of 32 in the Low Children’s Hunter 2’6” division during week two of WEF, and was Reserve Champion out of 28, winning over fences and the hack, during week three! He also packed around a different lady, who borrowed him in the Low Adults during week six of WEF, and was seventh and eighth over fences out of 66!
His name is Off The Cuff or “Brookson.” He’s a little Thoroughbred who used to be roan, now gray, and raced until the age of 4, winning a substantial amount of money under the name Goodtime Sunny. He was sold as a dressage prospect but ended up hating it and was later sold again as a hunter. As a young horse, he was a little naughty and liked to kick other horses — sometimes even running backwards to kick them in the hack class. Like all horses decades ago, he wore many hats — hunter, equitation horse and jumper. Since then, he’s done everything from the hunters and equitation to the jumpers. His first hunter owner, Ashley Grant, bought him for $3,500 as a 7-year-old when she was just 10 years old.
Ashley told stories of him fearlessly jumping anything that was put in front of him — regardless of distance and if she stayed with him or not. As Ashley grew out of horses, she gave him to someone that said, “I’ll keep him forever and he’ll retire to a turnout field in Massachusetts, living out his retirement years.” However that didn’t seem to happen for little Brookson since years later Ashley recognized him at a horse show in Old Salem with his new owner of seven years, Nicole. Brookson had apparently been sold to a local horse trader and, fortunately for him, Nicole saw him and scooped him up. This boy is a saint, and oh, the stories I’m sure he could tell. As he marched around the course at WEF with a nice loping stride, you’d never guess his age. Brookson’s story is such a wonderful one, with such a happy ending.
I share a similar heartwarming story about my very first pony, My Fair Lady or “Lady,” who was given to us as a Christmas gift — we were both 5 years old at the time. Years later, in 1996, I was just starting to get back into horses after taking a long break. I brought my young 2-year-old to Devon to do some in-hand showing. Standing at the in-gate was an old friend of our family that used to ride locally with us as kids; she was now a local trainer. We reminisced about school, life, family and marriage.
The conversation then drifted to Lady, who was notorious back in the day for her inconsistent performance under saddle. We could win every pony hunter class one day and the next day she’d run away with you on the outside pony courses, like a Thoroughbred at the track. By the time you made it back to the in-gate, you couldn’t see because your eyes were all glassy and teary from sheer wind forces. I said to my friend, “Gosh, I wonder what happened to Lady?” My friend laughed and said, “Oh she’s still around. In fact, I’ve had her for years in my barn. I teach lessons on her and she still tortures little children every now and then when she’s feeling naughty.” I was 31 years old; so was Lady. It was such a relief to hear she’d been cared for all her life.
I read this story to my horse, Chapeau. The only difference in outcome I’d like for his life story would be that it doesn’t take him until his 30s to start behaving. He told an animal communicator once that he “didn’t want to behave because then he would get sold.”
I told him the other night he had it all backwards … I said, “Let’s make a deal, Chapeau. If you do behave, I’ll never sell you, capiche?” He also told the communicator that, “he was in my life before my husband Tommy, so he likes to mess with him from time to time and be naughty.” This might be a long 30 years for all of us…