A Very Special Dad

By Becky Adler Fagan

I was born on an American Army base in Landstuhl, Germany in 1971.  My father, a radiology resident at the time, was drafted in 1968 when my brother, David, was only 6 months old.  My parents made the move to Germany with little David in tow and Dad spent three years working as a radiologist at 2nd General Hospital, now Landstuhl Army Medical Center.  He started out as a Captain and was later promoted to Major.

Captain and Mrs. Jonathan Adler leaving for Germany

Captain Jonathan Adler

Dad in his dress blues

Now a family of four, we returned to the States and my dad finished his residency, continuing on to a successful medical career.  All the while he was very supportive of Mom’s horse activities and ultimately mine and David’s too.  He even managed to find time to ride once in a while (Mom had given him some lessons along the way).

Click here to read more about how my family’s life with horses started

Dad with Mom’s first horse, Ramada – 1974

Dad and Ramada in the ’80’s

Mom and Dad watching me compete at Madison Square Garden – 1988

After all the hard work I had put in over the years, Dad realized that riding was more than just a hobby for me and understood when I decided to pursue a career with horses after graduating high school.

When we brought our horses home, Dad became more involved with the daily horse routine, often after a long day at work and on weekends.  He even still enjoyed an occasional ride.  When we started a small boarding and lesson business, Dad’s help was indispensable – fence repair, stall cleaning, medical and moral support when horses were sick or lame. Watching his little girl practice backing up the horse trailer was a new challenge for Dad and he had to trust the great job he had done teaching me to drive.  A passion not originally his was becoming a way of life.

Dad riding Ramada at the family farm in the ’90s

Dad and Toby – 2012

After almost two decades of learning about and experiencing all the ups and downs involved in life with horses, the arrival of Grady on the farm added a whole new dimension.  On the day that Grady had broken loose with the crossties chasing him,  Dad was awakened from a nap by the sound of thundering hooves.  Looking out the window, he saw that he was not dreaming.

Click here to see last week’s post and read more about Grady’s breakout

Then there was the time that Dad was standing near the paddock when Grady leaned against the aging fence just enough to cause the top rail to snap.  Grady curiously tip-toed over the remaining lower rails to see if the grass really was greener on the other side.  Dad calmly walked in Grady’s direction raising his arms and Grady turned and stepped back into his paddock.  Another fence to fix!

Curious Grady

Perhaps the most memorable story is the time I was having a lesson on a late December day and it started to get dark.  Grady and I had been having issues and I had just started working with Jayne, a trainer that a friend had recommended.  During this lesson, as the sun lowered in the sky, Grady began to have a breakthrough and we were really into it.  We had to keep going and could still see perfectly fine.  However, it had gotten so dark that Mom had to stop recording because she could no longer see us.

As Grady was figuring out what we were asking of him, he began to whinny which he sometimes does even to this day when he is having a particularly poignant lightbulb moment.  Toby, our older quarter horse, began to answer him from the barn.  We took it as a good sign but poor Dad, hearing the commotion from inside the house, wondered what was happening and came out to check on us.  It was only my second lesson with Jayne so he had no idea what a wonderful and compassionate trainer she is and he couldn’t figure out why we were riding in the dark.  To say I was mortified is an understatement.  Here I was, 40 years old, riding with a new trainer and my daddy comes out to “save” me.  Fortunately, we were almost finished and Mom was able to explain to Dad that we were ok and that Grady was having a big moment.  Jayne, being the cool person that she is, totally understood my dad’s concerns and we still have a good chuckle about it all these years later.

There were often times that Dad was doing some yard work while I was riding, but Grady had become very sensitive to noise and Dad usually had to go off to do something else as Mom or I would call out “you’re spooking Grady!”.  Dad came to understand and knew to pick quiet chores if he saw us heading out to the ring.

Me riding Grady at our farm in 2009

That noise sensitivity eventually became a big problem for Grady along with some other issues, and he went through a period where I could barely ride him.  I’ll go into much more detail about this in later posts but needless to say, the original plan of selling Grady was becoming less likely.  And besides, in going through the process of working through his issues, our bond had grown and I just knew that he was meant to be with me.  Once again, Dad understood and the little bay Thoroughbred who stole his daughter’s heart became a member of the family.

Thank you, Dad…for everything.


A Descendant of Racing Royalty

By Becky Adler Fagan

It was a hot day in August and I had just finished a ride.  The training process over the last four months had been pretty basic – some days Grady would be more relaxed than others but overall the progress was good. On this day, I had been pleased with how Grady had gone especially because the delivery truck with our shavings and supplies had arrived and was being unloaded at the end of the aisle near the ring.

I brought Grady in through the door at the other end of the aisle to untack and put him on crossties facing the truck. Most of the time he was fine on the crossties but this was the day I learned that if something scared him, he would go backwards, feel the pressure and then go backwards some more until something broke.  On this day, that something was the crossties along with all the hardware from the wall.  Here’s what happened…

The delivery guys finished unloading the truck and slid the big door on the back of the truck down with a loud grinding to a thud sound.  Upon hearing this and seeing the big door slide down into its closed position, Grady began to panic and back up.  Once he felt the tension from the crossties, he panicked more and backed up harder.  The baling twine that was tied to the ring linking it to the crossties must have been really strong because instead of that breaking like it was supposed to, Grady managed to pull all the hardware out of the wall and take off running out of the barn with two crossties plus all their hardware flapping beside him.

Our barn had a fence around it with a gate opposite the barn door through with Grady had just made his exit.  A few minutes earlier, I had gone out of that gate for something without closing it behind me thinking “well, I’m going to take him through this gate to graze so no need to close it”.  In the time I had that thought and was walking back into the barn only feet away from the gate, I saw the whole scene unfold and Grady was now running past me and right out that gate onto the back lawn behind my parents’ house.  This was also the day that I was reminded of the all-important rule: ALWAYS CLOSE THE GATE!

Now completely terrified, Grady ran at top speed toward the back of the property but the pond at the end convinced him to turn back, still at top speed, still with crossties and hardware chasing him.  He was running towards me as I stood near the gate cursing my complacency for not having closed it.  Wondering if he had any plans to stop when he got closer to me, I watched helplessly in complete horror as he continued his panicked run.  Luckily, he then stepped on one of the crossties which caused his halter to break, freeing him from the monster that had been chasing him.  He finally slowed down and I was able to convince him to stop before he headed past me toward the street and beyond.  Thank goodness he was unharmed (physically at least).


Grady’s ability to run at top speed was no surprise.  At the time of his purchase only four months earlier, we had been given Grady’s papers and were amazed at the fact that he had some royal bloodlines.  “Seattle Slew?” I exclaimed when I first saw the name listed as Grady’s grandfather on his father’s side.  My mom and I were not exactly avid racing fans and we think about his early days at the racetrack with concern as to what he must have experienced, but to think that our “little prince”, as we sometimes affectionately called him, was related to the great Seattle Slew, 1977 Triple Crown Winner, was pretty cool.

It wasn’t until a closer look at Grady’s papers that we saw the royalty went even deeper.  His great grandfather on his mother’s side is Secretariat, 1973 Triple Crown Winner.

copyright The Jockey Club Information Systems Inc.

I began researching Grady’s racing history through the Jockey Club website.  I was able to find some win photos (he won three races) and even one video of him coming from way behind to win by six lengths.  I was impressed with my new little buddy.  He had some chutzpah!

copyright Hoofprints, Inc.

copyright Hoofprints, Inc.

copyright Four Footed Fotos

I felt proud of him and sorry for him at the same time.  I was proud that he was successful but I still couldn’t help but feel bad for the fact that he was running races at age two and had fifteen different jockeys over the course of his career that ended just before he turned five.  But that’s a topic for a different blog.


When I met Grady that day in February 2007, he had just turned six years old and was only a little over a year past his last race.  He had made a nice transition from racing and whoever started his retraining process did a great job because he enjoyed his work and didn’t seem to have any lasting scars from his early life of hard labor.  I was determined to see that through and continue his education to the best of my ability.  And I would definitely never leave the gate open again.

2015 Halloween Dressage Show at Mistover (Replica of Seattle Slew’s silks)