Lessons Learned Along the Way – Part 2
Leave the price tag on the van.
Working with hunters and jumpers at Nimrod Farm in Weston, Connecticut, was my first exposure to seriously valuable horses. But along with the expensive show horses were the “hacks,” school horses of no particular breed used for lessons. Jack Adams was the manager there, and he taught me another important lesson. “When you bring a horse in the barn, leave the price tag on the van. We take care of every horse in this stable as well as we can. We don’t take special care of special horses.” Years later, I was reminded of this lesson when the cover story in a trade journal was about two champion fillies retiring at the same time to the same Kentucky farm. In the interview, the manager was asked if they gave special attention to these two fillies. His answer was yes, they were in the choice paddocks and under constant observation. If I were a client of that farm, I would be thinking: “What about my mares? Are they turned out on the back 40 somewhere?” And some years later when we became responsible for Seattle Slew, friends frequently asked, “How do you sleep at night?” and I would remember Jack.
Learning to notice.
My next job was with Glade Valley Farm in Frederick, Maryland. My boss was a man named John Barr. John was not an educated man, but he had grown up on a Thoroughbred breeding farm in Virginia and was a skilled horseman. Early on in my time with him, John said to me: “Boy, it ain’t no good to just look at these horses. You’ve got to learn to notice.” John could look at a foal across a field, and say, “That foal’s not right.” Sure enough, the next day that foal would have a temperature or a cough or quit nursing. Under John’s tutelage, I learned to look at horses with a new eye. At first it was a conscious effort to go over them systematically from nose to tail, overall demeanor in addition to nostrils (runny? breathing normally? bloody?), eyes (bright and alert? sunken? dull? runny?), coat, belly, flanks, stance, demeanor. Then the legs and feet, for swelling, lumps, bumps, scrapes. After a while, what was wrong just started jumping out at me like it was in neon.
Where there is life, there is hope.
The owner and manager of Glade Valley was a veterinarian, Dr. Robert Leonard. I always had questions for him about what we were doing and why, and he always answered in detail. He was a great teacher. He taught me about reproduction, anatomy, physiology, disease, and injury. Most importantly, he encouraged me to pursue my career. But there is one particular lesson I have never forgotten: Where there is life, there is hope. It was my first breeding season on a breeding farm and one of the foals developed serious diarrhea. This was before it was possible to ship them off to a clinic, and I was assigned to 24-hour nursing duty. For several days and nights, we ran fluids into him round the clock and administered oral and injectable medications, also round the clock. The foal got weaker and weaker until at last he was as limp as a dish rag, unable to hold his head up even for a second, eyes dull, unresponsive. Dr. Leonard came to the barn to administer more fluids, and I asked him: “Why are you letting this foal suffer? He’s dying. Why don’t you put him out of his misery?” His answer was simple. “When there’s life, there’s hope.” The foal lived and thrived.