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  • Bonnie McRae

Graduate Spotlight: Canecao


If you thought last week's horse had quite the journey, this one was born 5200 miles away in Argentina. Canecao was born in September of 2011 and made the move to the US sometime around late 2014/early 2015. He ended his career of 12 races at Penn National and came to us in partnership with New Start for Horses, the track-based retirement program at Penn. One of the first things anyone noticed about Canecao was his coloring. He was this rich shade of chestnut and his mane and tail were black and silver, with more silver coming out the longer the hair grows. I've truly never seen anything like it in a Thoroughbred. Canecao came to us after fracturing a splint bone and had quite the adventure here before being adopted. He even got out with his pasture mates one night and ran a couple miles down the road, where he overnighted at a dairy farm. Luckily without a scratch on him! After about a five month stay at ATR, he was paired up with adopter Dominique, who tells us more about his story below.


How long have you had Canecao? What inspired his new name?

Canecao became a part of the family in August of 2017, so it's been a bit over 5 years with the best boy. Prior to adopting him, I had already wanted to name my first horse "Archer." He just so happened to already have Archer as his AtR barn name, so I definitely think it was meant to be!

What drew you to him/her when you were searching for a horse? How did you know he was "the one?"

That smile says it all.

Archer was the one and only horse I looked at for potential ownership. I had come off of a long-term lease situation and was looking to own rather than lease my next partner. Given my college-student-status budget, and insatiable desire to find my diamond in the rough, I knew adopting an off-the-track thoroughbred was the right move for me. Two AtR-ers at my previous barn had told me all about Archer as soon as they heard I might be able to finally buy my own horse. His kind, soft, exotic eye initially drew me in, but his unique coloring sealed the deal. I had to at least go and see him after hearing about how perfect he'd be for me and my situation. Upon arrival at AtR, I already knew subconsciously he'd be coming home with me, but just hadn't come to terms with it yet. When I went to greet him, he seemed so small and uncertain in the corner of his stall. I rode him around in the round pen, more as a formality than anything. I'd like to say there was a defining moment of knowing he was "the one", but his fate was already sealed as soon as I put the idea in my head that he'd be a part of my family forever. I've always had a passion for the success of the underdogs, and I knew he'd be the right horse to invest my ambition and efforts with.

I know you've done a few different things riding-wise with Archer. Can you tell our audience what all you've done with him and what you're working toward together (if you have any long-term goals)?


First and foremost, our sport of choice is eventing, with a heavy basis on classical dressage. However, I find cross-training to be absolutely essential for both the progression and confidence of the horse. In addition, we need to have lots of fun in the meantime! Goal-wise, I would love to get us through preliminary level in eventing and 3rd level dressage (perhaps Bronze medal but dressage isn't our favorite!).


With regard to our "extra-curriculars," we've done jumpers, bareback with a neck rope, an amazing number of clinics with Olympians (shout out to southern Chester County PA!), hunter paces and paper chases galore. We've done miles and miles of solo hacking through Fair Hill and beyond, and even a winter trip to Aiken! There's a lot that I'm probably forgetting, time flies when you're having fun!

How did he take to his new job(s)? Did I hear you did some bridleless work with him?

Archer loves cross country with a passion; Honestly, at this point he'd probably finish a course without me on his back. That being said, getting him to the point of being a competent and successful eventer was a long road. He had quite the explosive reaction to environmentally-induced anxiety in the beginning of our story. I spent subsequent weekends for years taking him anywhere and everywhere to increase his confidence in both myself and his new life.


And, oh boy, has that paid off. He is now the level-headed lead that can take a greenie baby over something scary, or the bombproof trail horse that can cross any bridge or water. While some early times seemed very hairy and daunting, I am here to say that the effort we put into these racetrack babies to transition into their new lives is 100% worth it. He's the best partner now and I trust him more than I'd trust a pair of jeans buttoning up after Thanksgiving dinner. Given that, we have done lots of bridleless flatwork and jumping - I figure, if we can do it without tack, we can do it way better with tack! I know you had a real struggle with one of his splint bones. Can you tell us a bit about what happened there and how he's doing now?

Layup isn't so bad with friends. Shoutout to his little brother Haywood.

Ah yes, the infamous splint bone (haha!). Archer retired off the track when he fractured his distal RF splint bone while racing. AtR did his rehabilitation post-operation and he had no limitations. He then fractured the same splint, just a bit higher up, about 2 or so years later. This timeline isn't exactly accurate, but paints the picture of how random and spread out this all is. We decided to leave the fractured piece in so that it could form a callus and heal. After 6 months of downtime and healing, he goes back into turnout and re-fractures it within days.


We then decide to have the pieces removed surgically and he gets another good four months off. Fast-forward some years to 2022, we get back from Aiken, finally sign up for our big move-up event, and he fractures the proximal little nubbin' of a splint bone that he has left in his leg. I gave him the spring and summer off to heal. This fall, he hit the area again but did not fracture any pieces off, more so just agitated the surrounding scar tissue into a big angry lump. I attribute this difference to him being in turnout boots.

Good thing he's cute!

You all may be thinking, because I know I was - why does Archer do this?! The answer is: nobody has any clue. I was told they want to use him as a case study. He's had many full work-ups, bone scan, neuro evals, even hoof and gait tracking technology on his body. I saw with my own two eyes the test results of his gait analysis showing his hoof flight arc deviation as LESS than any other prior horse it had been used on. Meaning, he was nearly pin straight. So while he does have a bit of a 'knees in - toes out' conformation, him hitting himself is purely random and unpredictable, unassociated with anything. He would come in from turnout with the injury and was not linked with any sort of stress-related injury due to the location of the fractures - simply put, he just tends to whack himself in the same spot. We all know the frustrations of having to stop and restart a horse in work over and over again, and how limiting it feels in terms of training progression. I like to think I've mastered the art of leg rehabilitation at this point. However, each and every time, he has come back sounder and stronger than ever. Currently, he's back in work and feeling quite legitimately better and happier than ever. I knew I had to change some things though, as this perpetual cycle of training to injury to time off had to stop (at least as much as we can have it stop!). I am at a facility near my school that cares for him with the eagle eyes that he requires. He lives in turnout boots when not in the stall. I came up with an alternative shoeing plan with our farrier to help reduce his hoof weight and alter his angles a bit for the better. With all of these little changes, I think we may have found his perfect formula for soundness. While we have struggled with a couple other health-related issues beyond the pesky splint, every moment of progress and success with him proves it all to be worth it. Do you have any favorite memories from your time together so far?

Crossing through the finish flags at Pine Top in Georgia is probably high up there in the favorite memories section. After a few years of health and competition struggles, finishing a huge recognized event on a double-clear jumping effort during a bucket list horsey trip to Aiken will be a difficult feeling to top. I also like to think of all the countless hours we've spent alone meandering through Fair Hill, while not as "exciting," are the times we've truly built up our bond and relationship. By this, I mean I always get us lost for a few miles and he directs us back to the trailer. Any advice for someone considering adopting a Thoroughbred?

While my case may be a bit unique, I feel that this advice still applies to anybody considering adopting a thoroughbred. They may come with baggage, physically, emotionally, and/or mentally. They may seem to be a lot at first, or maybe not. They might take a while to figure out all that allows them to click and jive with their new life. They might not be the top movers at the dressage show, but does that really matter in the end? They will give you their all. The bond of a thoroughbred is unlike any other. Their desire to work and ability to adapt is unparalleled. In short, my advice is, try to stick with them through all of the thick and thin. One day, when you least expect it, you'll show up to the barn and there they'll be waiting for you - the horse that'll do anything for you, the one that'll reciprocate the endless hours of effort and love you've given them. All-in-all, I wouldn't trade him, or the feeling he gives me, for anything. Anything else you want people to know about Archer? Archer has been my total mental health outlet for while I've been in veterinary school. This year, his personality has completely bloomed and he's now the biggest ham. Whenever I'm feeling stressed or overwhelmed, his cookie-related quirks always serve as a gentle reminder that, while the world is always revolving and life goes on, it's ok to take a step back and enjoy the little things. After all, the little things are what we look back on the most.



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