- Bonnie McRae
Graduate Spotlight: Brothers Forever
Today's feature surrounds Brothers Forever, a 2012 gelding by Colonel John, out of an Awesome Again mare. This horse walked through the doors of ATR and captured everyone's heart with his adorable snip and sweet personality. He came to ATR in partnership with Second Call Thoroughbred Adoption and Placement, the Monmouth Park, track-based retirement program. "Brotie" as he's now called retired with a bowed tendon which he rehabilitated most of the way at ATR. Even being on stall rest, once Brotie was prescribed tack walks for exercise, he was quiet enough that our volunteers could take him out alone to walk, and eventually, trot for his prescribed exercise. A few weeks into this exercise, Whitney entered the picture. Whitney hadn't dealt with a bowed tendon before, but he squirreled his way into her heart like he did with all of us.
We hope you'll enjoy their story.
1. I know you've adopted a few horses from ATR now, but I believe Brothers Forever was the first. How long have you had him now and what drew you to him?
Goodness, I think it was September 20, 2017? Wow. Really? I lost my forever horse of a lifetime, Awesome Wizzard, to a horrific colic in February of 2017. I'd had several horses by Awesome Again (including Wizzard) and loved every single thing he seems to throw to his babies. I wasn't even looking for another horse when I went on the AtR website and saw Brothers Forever ("Brotie"), but the breeding (Awesome Again and Tiznow!) and his super adorable snip drew me in right away. Admittedly, the snip just stopped my heart before I even looked at pedigree.
He was on stall rest, or was just coming off stall rest. I'd never dealt with a bowed tendon before, but the pictures spoke to me and I just had to have him. I harassed Bonnie a little bit and I think I was up there loading him in my trailer by the end of the week. Brotie is only the second horse in 30 years of horses that I can honestly say was absolutely love at first sight.
2. Did you have any reservations about adopting a horse still in rehabilitation? Any advice for someone considering it?
Yes and no. I'd never dealt with a bowed tendon before but figured it was worth taking a chance, and I trust my vet completely. I sent her the ultrasounds from AtR and she basically said she knew she wouldn't be able to talk me out of it and that we would work through a treatment plan. Dr. Google gave me so much information on bowed tendons. After lots and lots of reading, I knew a reasonable rehab would be doable and relied on my vet the entire way. I firmly believe that horses tell you what's going on and when they're ready for more, and I just tried to listen. My advice to other adopters is to lean on your vet, and if you can't, find a new one! When I got Brotie I didn't know Bonnie at all so I believed what she told me, but didn't necessarily rely on that info. There were a lot of questions initially just because it was new, but I actually think dealing with a bow might be the easiest injury to treat! My recommendation it's alright to be cautious. Be ok with taking rehab more slowly then you probably need to, and listen to the horse! More than five years later, and Brotie is probably the most sound horse on the farm! 3. You also knowingly adopted a horse that cribs. Did that play any role in your decision? How do you manage this behavior?
I did! And it didn't play a role . A good horse is a good horse is a good horse. Brotie wears a DARE collar 24/7 and the first couple years we worked through some health issues I sort of indirectly attributed to the cribbing. But now he cribs probably 80% less and gets some free time without his collar. He gas colicked maybe once a month the first year or so, and we went through multiple ulcer treatments, played with supplements and grain, created a specific routine, all little management things that definitely helped him. Some people believe cribbers cause cribbing in other horses to which I'd say - nonsense. Brotie has lived with quite a few others and it's never been an issue. I do believe in the collars when they're used properly. It's also important to provide sources of entertainment...whether it's toys like Jolly Balls, hay, friends, whatever it takes. Brotie definitely does best when there's something to just take his mind off the fixation. 4. I know the two of you are doing dressage now. Did you have different goals for him in the beginning, and how did things change over time?
I've done hunters and equitation for 30 years. It's literally all I know, so that's what my original plan was for Brotie. Brotie started over fences and was doing amazing until about 2019, in December. One winter we'd been doing regular lessons and were schooling 3' courses. He was so fun to jump! He loved it. We ended up having to take a few weeks off because of the weather and when we started doing lessons again, he decided he didn't want to jump. (I'm a firm believer in not jumping when you're alone, and I always rode at home alone.) That's basically it.
All these years later, I honestly still wonder what happened in his brain - he hadn't been overfaced and hadn't given me a single indication he wasn't enjoying it. But when we started back, I couldn't even get him to trot a crossrail without a meltdown. I ran him through another ulcer treatment, got a lameness exam done, bloodwork, everything I could think of, and it literally just seemed like he just didn't want to do it anymore. There was no medical or physical reason. I wasn't going to force the issue!
In 2020 we started playing in the sand box (dressage) and it was like a switch flipped. I said earlier, I believe horses speak very clearly if we listen to what they're saying, and Brotie had pretty adamantly told me he wasn't going to jump anymore. Dressage, though... dressaging was FUN. We didn't do a lot of shows in 2020 because of COVID but in 2021 we had some awesome Training Level scores (dressage is literally a new world for me... I'm taking it slowly more for me than for him!) and this year we moved up to First Level.
I pulled the trigger and did USDF Lifetime memberships for us both, and we're hoping to move up to Second Level next year to start getting scores for our Bronze Medal. I find that Thoroughbreds like to work, more than probably most other breeds. Find what they like to do AS work, and you have a combination that won't be beat. Brotie is an incredibly emotional horse and expresses his emotions pretty explicitly. He's taught me to pay careful attention and to listen all the time. 5. You had a pretty scary accident with another horse not long ago. Has that changed your relationship with your horses, particularly Brotie? August 28th, I was kicked in the side by a horse I'd had for less than 48 hours. I'd bought him sight unseen from across the country. He broke treeh ribs and exploded my spleen. I also have a hematoma on my left kidney that's killed all renal function in that kidney and is causing all kinds of other health issues. The doctor said it would be 8-10 weeks before I would be able to handle horses again, much less ride. I took that with a grain of salt. I spent a week in the ICU and when I was discharged, I was back to doing barn chores and feeding within a week or so. I didn't ride for five or six weeks, but that's only because I literally couldn't physically get on.
Brotie was before the incident, but even moreso now, my emotional support animal. Sometimes I just have to hug him (which can irritate him a ton. He often chooses to express that irritation in unsavory ways like biting... but I know he really likes it!). Sometimes I just sit with him in his stall. The kick happened in the stall next to Brotie's, so since then I've had to force myself to be calm when closed in with a horse. Brotie had six weeks off with my incapacitation but he's the only horse I'd trust to jump right back on as soon as I could... and I did. And he was a perfect gentleman. He can be sassy and opinionated, but I trust him with my life. 6. Any favorite memories that you've made together?
It sounds cliche but every day with him is a favorite memory! There isn't a moment with him and his quirks that I don't absolutely love. We're learning this new world of dressage together and every day we grow in our partnership. I've had horses or ridden for more than 30 years and August 28th changed so much in my life; Brotie is helping me work through the now frequent flare ups of fear and anxiety. Honestly, I sort of owe him my sanity right now. I'm looking forward to THIS being a distant but positive memory. 7. Do you have any advice for someone considering adopting a Thoroughbred?
DO IT!!! Bonnie is amazing, honest and really wants the best for these horses. If it's not AtR, my only other advice is to make sure the organization is reputable, the reseller is reliable and do research on the horse. Check Equibase. Check social media. But there is no breed better than a Thoroughbred!
Also have a trainer or friend you trust in your pocket. Ask questions. Thoroughbreds are sensitive, but if you prove you're worthy of it, they'll give you their entire world. Don't be afraid of rehab and downtime. And listen. Let them speak, because they do. 8. Anything else you want people to know about Brotie? Take chances on the horses with demons. Brotie was a Navarro horse (a notorious trainer who was indicted in PA a few years ago), and while he was always sweet and cuddly, he had issues. It took a long time for him to trust me the way he does. Lyme sucks. We have fought it for almost three years and finally got the "cured" stamp last year, though I am paranoid all the time of a flare up. And we're gonna get our Bronze together. I jokingly told Bonnie I could talk about him all day long and I absolutely could. He honestly is my world and I can't imagine how life would be today if I hadn't randomly checked out AtR's website and saw a photo of a big bay horse with the cutest snip.