Sunday, November 20, 2016

Forget A Village, It Takes An Army!

Welcome home, Peaker. Photo from Renee Fukumoto.

Peaker has been home four weeks now, and I've been meaning to write this update post with The Whole Story since she got here, safe and sound, because it's been quite an adventure. Firstly, thanks to everyone involved, from those who were hands-on, right down to those who just thought, "I hope she gets back safe!" In the midst of everything that happened, I did think it takes an army. Several friends helped in the outcome in various ways, LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement provided moral and financial support, many of my very loyal art collectors contributed to the funds raised, Ecclestone Horse Transport saved the day and brought her home in style, and so on! So grateful to everyone.

For those who don't know who Peaker is, I foaled her at my farm on February 10, 2007, on a very cold morning. She was the first foal of the mare Too Clever, who had been purchased by my client, UnStable, and also their first homebred. Officially named Clever Peaks, she became the first of their homebreds to win a race, and was always trying, always competitive. Unfortunately one winter she was claimed from them, at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. Her new connections took her back to Minnesota after the winter.

She did well for her new connections. They were good people, and when she injured herself in a race, they retired her. I was actually trying to get her back at that point, but they ended up selling her to a local man with the agreement that she was not to be raced. This was written on her foal papers, though not formally sent back to the Jockey Club, which is quite an involved process. This man intended to breed her, so I just had to hope that in a few years we'd be watching her babies on the track.

The morning after she arrived - not the robust mare I remembered.
Jump forward to this February, two years later, when I was shocked to get a work notification for Peaker, at a track I'd never heard of, in Iowa. The owner who had sold her to this man contacted me and updated me on what she knew. She asked, if she were able to talk him into giving her up, would I still be prepared to take her, and naturally, I said yes. He had apparently tried to breed her, not gotten her in foal, and put her back in training!

That middle owner went to the track and explained that the papers were marked as not for racing, and the track agreed not to let her run. However, this man (who I'll now refer to as "trainer") hired a lawyer to contest that, and as the papers had not been sent to the Jockey Club through the official process, they had to let her run. All of us who knew this mare, and the story, were horrified.

Her first race back was June 23/16, and I watched online and cheered backwards, you might say. "Go slow, Peaker! You don't have to run, you don't have to do this." Maybe she heard me, but either way, she clearly did not have what was needed to be a racehorse anymore, and finished last, beaten over twenty lengths. On the one hand it was hard to watch, as she was always such a trier, but given the injury she was racing on, I was still glad. I hoped after this he would retire her. But no. A month later, she showed up with another work, and then August 28/16, she was entered to race again. This time, she was beaten more than 30 lengths. I was angry and frustrated and heartbroken all at once.

Not long after than, I saw her photo on the Canter Minnesota Facebook page – and was relieved that at least he was sort of doing the right thing and not just shipping her to an unspeakable fate. He was asking a ridiculous sum of money for her, and the post was full of untruths about her physical and breeding soundness, but I wasn't prepared to have some unsuspecting person take her, only to discover the truth and discard her. I contacted him, and we agreed on a price, which I resigned myself to pay, just because she needed to come home safe. He was, at this point, quite cooperative, and took care of her health papers and kept her while I worked on transport back to Ontario.
A glimpse of the Shield Maiden within.
Just so you know - getting a horse from Minnesota is not such an easy thing. LongRun was helping me with the transport, and first option was to get her to Winnipeg, where one of the big local companies could pick her up on the way back from out west. I began to try to arrange transport from Minnesota to Winnipeg – with absolutely no luck.

I was given the name of a professional US shipper, who I contacted about doing that trip. They came back immediately and said they could bring her right to me in Ontario. Yay! The price was reasonable, so I started putting that together. I paid the broker they wanted me to use, and then waited...and waited...and waited...for them to give me a date. One excuse after another. The health papers are good for 30 days, and time was running out, as was the trainer's patience. Finally, they gave me a date, October 25, after a month of erratic communication. I paid the deposit, and then...I waited, again. I emailed for an no response. I emailed again...still no response. I called...and the phone kept cutting out, so that I could not hear what was being said. I emailed again...and was now told it would be another 2-3 weeks. I was back to being angry, and frustrated and bordering on distraught – and more than a little worried about Peaker, as I didn't entirely trust the trainer to take care of her properly.

Then I heard about a new, local company, who travelled to that area. I contacted them – they told me they had a van coming back from Minnesota that Friday, and could certainly bring her back. They assured me that while the health papers would have just expired, they were used to dealing with that and it wouldn't be a problem. Their rate was competitive, and they took off the brokerage fees which were included in their quote, saying they could use the company I had already paid. And, Peaker would travel in a box stall, rather than the 1.5 standing stall I had booked with the other company. They also strongly suggested that company, whose reputation they knew (wish I had!) SHOULD give me back the deposit, given what had gone on. On the one hand, I didn't care about the deposit, because Peaker's health wasn't worth waiting for whenever they got themselves sorted out enough to get her, but on the other, considering the cost of this whole adventure, it would be nice to have.

Definitely not the shiny, muscled horse from the CANTER photos. Photo from Su Schmerheim.
The driver for Ecclestone Horse Transport picked her up on Friday, October 19, Peaker the only horse on this huge,  posh, air-ride transport van. The driver, Su, gave me updates, and talked about how sweet Peaker was, what a good passenger she was. She said she thought Peaker looked a bit thin, and sent me a photo. More heartbreak. I can only assume the trainer stopped feeding her as soon as I paid for her, so I was all the more grateful that EHT had been able to step up and pluck her out of there so promptly.
Travelling in style! - Photo from Su Schmerheim.

They arrived at 9pm on Saturday, October 20. My good friend Renee came out to lend me a hand, as I had to walk her back from the road because there's no way a semi is getting down my lane – which is about half a mile (0.6km). She practically dragged me down the lane, back to the barn, and into her waiting stall. Ribby, undernourished, dull coat, still with Minnesota mud that had been on her a while...but she was home. I groomed her and put a blanket on her, because it was a cold night, and she settled right in.

Even in a few days, she was looking better. Now, she's regained a lot of muscle mass, and has her energy back. She's not fat, but her coat has a nice glow, her eye has that spirited look again, and so much of that tension in her body is gone. Her injured ankle is pretty ugly, though she's sound per se, and I will be getting it looked at so I can know what she might or might not be able to do.
Even a few days made a big difference! Our official "before" photo.

That transport company that let me down so badly? Refused to give me my deposit back. They finally conceded a credit, so if anyone in the midwest US/western Canada needs to move a horse, let me know. I'm sure they think I'll never use it, so I'd really like to see that proven wrong! Not that I in any way recommend them. They out and out said, after I contacted them about refunding the deposit, that they don't like coming to the Toronto area. Why they strung me along and said they'd do the job, I don't know. So...please, if you're looking for horse transport, be aware that Elliot Equine Transport is rather horrible to deal with! On the other hand, I can't say enough good about Ecclestone.
Mud therapy!

So...there you have it. Last week Peaker had her teeth done, which will help her continue to gain weight. She's got a lovely turnout buddy, another hard-knocking mare with a happily less dramatic history, who has just been retired sound. Between them they have 65 starts, eight wins, and $290,000 in earnings. I call them the Shield Maidens, as I've started watching Vikings, and been intrigued by the culture where some of the women fought alongside the men.  So here's to the Shield Maidens, and the War Horses:  tough, hard-knocking Thoroughbreds who are a testament to the breed.

The Shield Maidens welcome visitors...especially those bearing carrots!


Karen Thumm said...

Poor Peaker!

Thanks for sharing her whole story as I've been wondering how you happened to get her back. She is one lucky girl to have you for her savior. I'm sure you'll find her a wonderful and happy home.

Final Furlong said...

Incredible story - truly it took a village but the village was mobilized by you. So glad to hear she is back with you finally. Thanks for sharing your story, so many good people : Long Run, Eccleston...

Juliet said...

I am so glad that you shared the whole story with us...and to know that Peaker is home and safe forever.

Judy Wood said...

What a harrowing story. It's people like that scumbag owner that give racing a tarnished reputation, and you and the other owners that help restore the shine. Peaker is a lovely looking girl who now has a future, thanks to your persistance, and to the help of your army.

Arlene Lewis said...

I cried through most of your story. I am so glad that you persisted so glad you shared. I am keeping note of the names of the angels and the demons in your story. I will tell everyone I know and come to know. Thank you, hun. You are also a shield maiden.