- Bonnie McRae
Graduate Spotlight: FiftyTwoWeekHigh
This week we're sharing the story of an early ATR graduate, FiftyTwoWeekHigh, called "Marley," by both ATR and his adopter Amy. Marley was born in 2009, the son of of Mr. Sekiguchi and Maybe Lin (by Fly So Free). He raced just 4 times and retired in early 2012 with a nondisplaced slab fracture in one knee.
He came to ATR by way of Turning for Home and in need of rehab for the knee. He was one of the first slab fractures to come through our program, so I remember it well. It healed beautifully and let him move on to his next career without any limitations. Even though he was just a 3 year old when he came through, he attracted the attention of longtime volunteer Amy who had been with ATR since nearly the beginning. He had a false start with another adopter (that fell through), but ended up exactly where he was meant to be.
First, thank you for participating. You have been with After the Races since nearly the beginning. I even think you were the first person I ever heard use the acronym "ATR" when talking about the program. Can you tell everyone how you got started with ATR?
I was in college, browsing horse sale ads, as I did often at the time. I stumbled on a horse Bonnie posted, which led me to After the Races' website. I wasn’t riding much at the time, besides the occasional lesson when I was home on the weekends. ATR was looking for volunteers to muck stalls and exercise horses and I thought, "score!"
I contacted Bonnie and started volunteering. We would muck stalls and then we would ride (out on trails back then as there was no ring!). We would sometimes hack across the street and ride in the neighbor’s ring, which was very exciting because they had jumps! Bonnie introduced me to cross country riding and I experienced my first foal being born on the farm. I truly had some of the best years of my life spending my time with Bonnie and the horses. I always looked forward to the time at ATR and never wanted to leave.
What drew you to Marley early on and can you tell me what it was like deciding to adopt your first horse?
If I remember correctly, Marley and another horse were actually adopted but the adoption fell through. Working as a volunteer, there were quite a few horses I'd fallen in love with only to watch them leave. So when Marley’s adoption status changed I jumped at the chance. Marley was my first horse as Bonnie said. Being honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I trusted Bonnie through the process. I’m sure quite a few people thought I was crazy. I mean who gets a three year old OTTB for their first horse without having a trainer? Of course, everything worked out in the end. Marley will be fourteen this coming winter and we’ve spent nearly ten years together now.
What types of riding have you been pursuing with him, and how did he take to it?
Marley and I have tried quite a bit. We started out eventing, but as the jumps got bigger (and scarier), I felt I couldn’t give Marley the confidence he needed. We turned to the jumper ring where we’ve been for about five years now. Marley absolutely loves show jumping; he’s been thriving in the 1.0m. I had my first child this past spring, so we took the show season off, but I'm hoping to get back into showing this coming year.
He’s also a solid trail horse. We even did a thirteen mile endurance ride at one point. We trailer out quite a bit, sometimes just the two of us and ride for miles. We even tackled a few paper chases solo!
Were there any challenges you had to overcome together?
No challenges per se… Marley requires a super confident handler. He will take advantage if he senses any nerves coming from his handler. I’m talking like fire breathing dragon. Thankfully the two of us work well together.
Did your relationship change at all while you started a family? Did you ever consider rehoming him during that time?
Never! Marley is part of our family, for sure. He will never go anywhere. Prior to my daughter being born, I was at the barn every day, sometimes twice a day, riding up to 6 days a week. I provided a lot of extra care for Marley, something I knew I wouldn’t be able to do once I had a baby at home. I ended up moving Marley while I was eight months pregnant. He’s at a fantastic show barn now.
His attitude has never been better. He had eight months off and came back better than ever. It helps we have a fantastic trainer - Leigh Berman at Two Bit Farm. With our two lessons a week and weekend rides, it may not be as much as previously, but it gives me a nice balance of horse and baby.
Any advice for someone considering adopting a Thoroughbred?
If you’re looking to adopt a horse of a lifetime, a thoroughbred is definitely it. Marley has a heart of gold. He always, always gives me 110%. In the ten years together, he has never failed to turn a bad day into a good one.
Anything else you want people to know about Marley? Any favorite facts or stories?
I still question whether Marley likes me or not. He’s not very personable and only tolerates being brushed. He would rather work than have a spa day. He does come when I call for him in the field, so there’s that. Overall, he’s always kept to himself and has a difficult time making horse friends. He doesn’t understand why another horse would kick at him when he stuffs his head up their behind. I feel like he never matured past kindergarten socially!
Then there’s my most embarrassing moment, when I fell off at a Phillip Dutton clinic. What's more embarrassing is I always ride a bit defensively because I know Marley looks to me for confidence sometimes when jumping. I let my guard down that day, since we jumped the same exercise the day before. Marley decided to stop and, well, I didn’t!
It sounds like you definitely have a sense of humor after ten years together! I think as much as he gives to you and you to him, it's safe to say the love is mutual. Thank you, Amy, for sharing your special horse with us.