When I bought The Quantico Kid off the track in fall 2021, I decided to aim for the Retired Racehorse Project’s 2022 Thoroughbred Makeover. We were eligible, and I wanted Kid to be my next forever horse, so I might never get another chance to go to the Makeover.
Well, we’re going to have to take reaching that goal day by day, and I’ll be here to write about it.
Back in the fall, I thought by March we’d be trail riding, shipping out to get some experience off the farm, and maybe jumping some cross-rails.
In December, I noticed that Kid would sometimes try to bite my right leg when we trotted. But before I got to the bottom of why that was happening, my senior horse kicked me in the head, and I was out of the saddle for a month. Once I healed, I got in a few rides, then Kid cut his face badly. When I finally started trotting him again, he was still biting my right leg. My veterinarian, Dr. Kim Hafner, thought ulcers were a possibility, or even a cracked rib, but first we wanted to rule out Lyme disease.
While we waited for the Lyme test to come back, I was so stressed out that I felt like I was the one with stomach ulcers. I felt awful that this had been going on since December and I hadn’t acted on it sooner—I had missed Kid clearly saying “ouch.”
What if it was his back? His stifles? What if he had cracked a rib? Would we ever make it to the Makeover in October? Would he have to be retired as a pasture pet at age 5? How could I ever afford another pasture pet on top of my retired gelding? Would I have to stop riding to finance my retirees? I Googled all the things you can Google and freaked myself out.
When Kid’s Lyme test came back negative, Dr. Hafner suggested scoping for ulcers. I considered just treating without scoping, due to the expense, but Dr. Hafner and I agreed that we’d rather know for sure. The treatment is expensive, too, so I didn’t want to do it unless it was necessary. Dr. Hafner’s practice doesn’t have a gastroscope, so I called Dr. Amy Polkes, who came highly recommended. I wasn’t sure when she would be able to come out, so I continued to freak myself out with Dr. Google. I even tested Kid’s poop for pH by mushing it up in a plastic bag and using a drug store pH strip. According to Dr. Google, the pH was normal, but according to my husband, the conversation about horse poop on our dinner date was not normal.
While we waited for the gastroscope, I took a field trip to the farm where Kid was born. His breeder, The Elkstone Group, has a facility in Chesapeake City, Maryland, about an hour away from where I live in Baltimore. My mom and daughter came with me for a tour from Michelle Walker, assistant broodmare manager. We saw so many adorable babies!
Kid’s full sister, Living Legacy, had a new foal, and he shyly gave me the sweetest nose boop. We got to meet Kid’s mom, Refrain, who is retired. She colicked shortly after his birth, so he was raised by a nurse mare, but Refrain pulled through. Michelle taught us a lot about the breeding and birthing process and told us stories about the horses who were born there—and many who ended up back in her care after their racing careers. She tries to keep track of all the babies she helps bring into the world, and it’s been wonderful to get to know her through Kid.
A few days after our field trip, Dr. Polkes and her vet tech Jo Kemper came to scope Kid. Sure enough, she found ulcers almost immediately. It was beyond cool to watch the screen and see the inside of his stomach and the little dark spots that Dr. Polkes pointed out as ulcers.
Dr. Polkes talked me through everything she was seeing, and then we chatted about treatment (Gastrogard) and prevention. We theorized—though there’s no way to know for sure—that between a leg injury in December and head injury in February, Kid was getting ulcers whenever he was getting hurt, going on stall rest, and taking bute and antibiotics. Dr. Polkes assessed Kid’s diet and suggested a preventative low dose of Gastrogard for the next time he was injured or stressed (like if we make it to Kentucky for the Makeover). She also suggested giving him alfalfa while I groom so I never ride him on an empty stomach.
Unfortunately, Dr. Polkes wasn’t sure whether the ulcers were causing the biting behavior. I would love to tell you that after a couple weeks of treatment, I’d had some great rides. I really would. But … about a week after starting Gastrogard, Kid developed an abscess. So I am left to spiral about the biting behavior and whether something else might still be wrong. He is less sensitive about grooming on his right side now, so I am hopeful (but also very impatient and frustrated, let’s be real). Keep your fingers crossed for good rides in our near future!
After I talked with Dr. Polkes, I knew Kid needed a lifestyle change. In turnout with a big herd, he loved playing games like “bitey face” and “I rear, you rear,” but he kept getting hurt. I made a plan with my trainer and barn owner, Holly Gilmore, to move him to a smaller field where he’ll have just one buddy and a giant bale of alfalfa at all times. That didn’t keep him from getting an abscess, but his cuts and scrapes from the big field are all healing.
Kid is still learning while he’s healing. We’ve been working on tying, leading, standing still and sniffing lots of interesting things like trailers and blue tarps. Kid is a curious little puppy, more inclined to chew on scary monsters like shiny silver crutches than spook. We’ve also been working on moving away from pressure on the ground, as Kid prefers to “just stand there harder” instead of yielding.
Will this slow and steady training get us ready for the Thoroughbred Makeover in October? Time will tell. I get jealous when I see on social media that other makeover trainers are taking their horses to shows and events already. Then, I think back 20 years to when my senior horse was 5. A week after I adopted him, he broke his splint bone and needed surgery. We spent almost a whole year of training on the farm before he traveled to a show. Then, he proceeded to do everything I ever asked of him with confidence and zest. His slow and steady start paid off big time. So, if that is what Kid needs, that is what I will do. But man, it would be fun to go to the Makeover!
Tracy C. Gold is a writer, freelance editor and mom living in Baltimore. She rides her ex-race horse at Tranquillity Manor Farm in Maryland. An alum of U.S. Pony Clubs and the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, she competes in local hunter shows and rides for pleasure now. She is the author of the picture books “Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat” from Sourcebooks and “Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby” from Familius. You can learn more about Tracy at tracycgold.com.