|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.|
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.|
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 update...got 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.|
|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.
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!|