Huey's Legacy: Fear Not
Horsemen know that each horse has lessons to teach you.
As my horse Huey lay dying on March 6, 2012, four days after his 29th birthday, I reflected on life lessons I learned from Huey.
I purchased Huey in New York state as a 3-year-old Thoroughbred (actually, he was 21⁄2; however, all Thoroughbreds age on Jan. 1). He had raced, although with a dim record, never breaking his maiden (meaning he never placed first in a race).
Upon receiving his papers (his official name was Real Burn), I was surprised to see that his grandfather (In Reality) had been a stakes winner as a sprinter. Huey seemed to have inherited his mother’s genes.
Huey was a stallion and a skeleton when I purchased him. Obviously when he didn’t perform on the track, they gave up feeding him. He was 15.3 hands when I first saw him and off the track about three months. After he was gelded, he grew to 16.1 hands.
The same trainer who had sold me my first horse introduced me to Huey.
I had three hours to make up my mind if I wanted to buy Huey because another person wanted to purchase him as an open jumper prospect. I made the sale contingent on him loading on the trailer. I should have made it contingent on unloading him from the trailer. When delivered to my farm, he panicked and went off the trailer backward at race speed. Ah, an omen of things to come.
Huey had only gone from the race track to his stall. He had never been turned out in a paddock. I know this because the first time I put him in a field, I found him a few hours later standing under a tree completely washed out (all sweated) and shaking like a leaf.
The open space was too much to cope with. And so that was Huey’s ball and chain to carry his whole life — the world was a scary place. There was too much stimulation coming at him.
He never reached his potential as a show horse because off the farm, the distractions were overwhelming. His security was in a riding ring — put him in that situation and he was fine. So I managed his life around his fears.
Not to say that I didn’t try to help him work through them. I put in hours of work on the ground and on his back, but ultimately Huey was what he was and I wasn’t going to change his temperament — a lesson I learned after years of owning him.
The lesson helped me when picking out my filly Kismet years later. I chose the yearling in the bunch of four that was the bravest. And so all the training I put into Kismet was icing on the cake.
There is a saying, “Show me your horse and I’ll show you who you are.” Huey reflected back my sensitive side. We recognized that in each other. He always did everything I asked of him at home, even if off the farm, it didn’t always reflect that effort. I came to respect what he taught me about riding and caring for a sensitive Thoroughbred.
So back to the day that cancer finally took my boy from me.
As I looked into his terrified eyes, I could appreciate his fear. I thought how comforting for him to be going to a place where he will never be afraid again. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could bury my fears with him? As my chapter with Huey ends, a new chapter begins.
Fear sometimes courses through my blood at racing speed, something I know Huey could appreciate. I will have to take the same mindset that I applied to managing Huey’s fears and apply them to myself.
And so that is Huey’s legacy to me — a gift I received on the day he died.
Patricia Smith is a former equestrian correspondent for The Pilot.
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