First things first: Meet Echo Tango, my new eventing prospect. These pictures are of him as a three-year-old, in racing condition.
Echo's sire is Medaglia d'Oro, who is also Rachel Alexander's (the filly who won the Preakness and the Belmont a few years ago) sire. So he was royally bred for speed, and sold for an obscene amount of money as a two-year-old. Fortunately for me, he was too slow and had an abysmal race record. He raced two times as a 3 year old, and was then off for a year with a saucer fracture (which healed perfectly). He raced six times as a four-year-old and never finished any better than 2nd, then was retired.
Currently he lives at GoldMark Farm, which is where I visited him this weekend. If you want to see a truly drool-worthy place, go check out their web site. Racehorses are just in another league, aren't they?
The "service" entrance.
Part of the main barn.
Usually the horses owned by GoldMark are simply put out to pasture (they have 2600 acres) if they are too slow - they are generally not adopted out. When I started looking for a horse after it became apparent that Saga wasn't going to be rideable, I put word out with pretty much everyone I know to see if anyone had a prospect or knew of one. I got to meet Echo because one of my childhood trainer's brother is the head trainer there, so it was very much a friend-of-a-friend sort of thing.
Echo has been out to pasture since his last race in May 2011. He was ridden twice over the Christmas holidays to make videos for me. I didn't want to share any information prematurely, but I've had my eye on Echo since just after Christmas and we've been slowly moving ahead since then. This last week, we were able to do the vet check on him. He's got a bit of wear-and-tear from his racing days, but two different vets have looked at him (including mine), and I've had several people I trust look at him as well, and everyone agrees he's a great prospect. So, I found a last-minute plane ticket to Florida for the weekend to go see him.
I think he was a bit put out about being pulled from his life of leisure and asked to work. He's not currently a terribly personable fellow - actually he was rather aloof. However, he hasn't been handled much in almost two years other than worming and farrier work, so his lack of human interest was understandable. However, he enjoyed me rubbing his face and he wasn't mouthy, so that was good.
Our first ride was rather awkward. The grooms groomed and tacked him for me, then hand-walked him for 15 minutes in the covered round pen. I got a leg up into the saddle (no mounting blocks to be seen!) and got to sit in a racing exercise saddle for the first time in my life. There's not a whole lot of substance to those things, that's for sure! He was also decked out in a racing bridle with a racing martingale. They have 1.5 inch thick rubber reins which I could barely wrap my hands around, so I sort of muddled along. I'm pretty sure Echo was wondering WTF I was doing up there, since clearly I hadn't a clue. Fortunately he walked around quite nicely. It's really hard to give subtle cues with thick, heavy reins, so I'm afraid our circles were less than fabulous, but he listened to me well enough.
When we went to trot, it was apparent that he was sore from a chip in his hoof that had just recently come off (it was a BIG chip, down to the laminae, and right in the toe. More on that later). I hopped off, they called the farrier, who called back in 5 minutes and showed up 10 minutes later. (Meanwhile I'm thinking, GEEZ! It takes a day or two for my farrier to get back to me!) He tacked on a couple of racing plates and we went back to the round pen again. This time I was able to WTC both directions, and wow, I didn't want to get off! He's got a huge walk, a big, ground-covering trot (but sooo comfy!), and a nice rolling canter. He was also more than a bit lazy - I really had to smooch him on to get him to canter, but better lazy than running off with me, right?
When I hopped off, Echo was immediately escorted away by his groom, and was untacked and cooled out for me. It was sort of awkward, to be honest. I'm used to doing everything for myself, and here everything was done for me! It's a little hard to bond with a horse that way, you know? But that's just they way they do things at the track. I chatted with the grooms and trainers, and by about 12:30, it was clear that everything was done for the day. They get a crazy early start (4 am!) but they are also done early, so I headed out to go visit my grandfather for the afternoon.
Sunday I went back for a second ride. Echo was again groomed and tacked for me, and I got to witness some of his not-so-exciting TB behaviors. He picks up a front foot (as if to paw) sometimes while being groomed, and does not like being touched on his off flank much. But grooming is clearly a very businesslike affair at the track, not a chance for bonding like most of our pet horses are. I am guessing that with time, his attitude will change.
I learned that they pick feet in a different order at the track. It's LF, RF (from the left side), RH (also from the left side), LH. Also, the horses are ALWAYS walked left, both for warming up and cooling down. No wonder he's a bit odd about his off side, nobody ever works him from that side. Interesting, eh?
My second ride was fantastic! I did a little W/T warmup in the round pen again, where he offered to do nothing worse than not trot when asked. We moved to the outdoor arena and proceeded to do some serpentines at the walk, followed by some nice 20 meter blobs at trot. Did I mention how hard precise steering is with racing reins and a martingale? I rode on a soft, loose-ish rein and he was content to pick a steady pace and occasionally ask if he could walk now, especially near the gate. We got a decent canter both ways, although he decided that one 20 meter circle each direction was plenty and sort of died on me after that. He definitely made me work, but to be honest I'm glad he had more whoa than go! He was game enough and did what I asked, although he was not terribly engaged with me. Still, he didn't spook, buck, or do anything even the tiniest bit bad - he was just green. I even got a smidgen of leg yield in the walk (which is to say, he shifted his weight away from me when asked), and threw in a flying lead change at the canter when asked.
Not a bad view from up here!
I was grinning ear to ear when I was done, and told the assistant trainer that I could not wait for him to come home with me. So that's where things stand now, we're waiting to get the paperwork signed and make shipping arrangements. I CAN'T WAIT TO HAVE HIM HOME!!!! Too bad I couldn't fit him in my carry-on!
Maybe he could go in checked luggage?
Back out in his pasture.
And if that's not enough, I had a really funny experience while I was in Ocala. I'd stopped off at Starbucks for a chai (chai is the nectar of the gods, in case you didn't know), and TWO girls walked in wearing breeches and boots. I asked them where the best tack store was in town, and as it turned out it was close to GoldMark. Not only that, but H.I.T.S Ocala was going on this weekend and was only 3 miles further on down the road, so you know I had to stop by both.
HITS 4' jumper course
Fortunately I emerged from both shopping venues with minimal damage to the credit card. Which is a good thing really, since I am BUYING A HORSE!!!!