A New Direction

By Becky Adler Fagan

Hi everyone!  Sorry it has been so long since I have written.  Life has been very busy so writing had to take a back seat for a while but I am really excited to finally share the next part of our story with you.

Because it’s been so long since the last post, below is a link to the story if you need a refresher.  This post picks up where that one left off.  If you’re new to the blog, you’ll definitely want to start from the beginning.  Thanks for reading!

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The visit with Francie that day in October 2010 was a very pivotal day in my journey with Grady.  It didn’t fix everything, but it started me on a search for what to do next. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I was looking for answers about how to help him, I was finding the path to future training concepts that not only helped him but other horses as well.   

During the time when Grady had become unrideable, something in my gut was telling me to try working with him from the ground.  My life of showing horses always consisted of just getting on and riding but as I researched articles and videos about groundwork, I was fascinated.  I tried methods of desensitization to help Grady with his fears and spent time teaching him to stay present with me while we worked together.  This is when I really started to learn the importance of thinking like a horse and the understanding of my sense of empathy with horses began to evolve.

One day, Francie and I were talking about what I had been doing with Grady and she had a thought.  “You should call my friend James.  He might really be able to help,” she told me.  I had known James socially and knew that he rode, but I had no idea that he was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  In his practice, he incorporated work with horses to help clients gain awareness of issues they might be having.  Horses are mirrors and very often we can learn a lot about ourselves by paying close attention to their behavior. 

James came to the farm and I filled him in on what had been going on with Grady.  During a few sessions together over that winter, we explored some of the more spiritual aspects of the horse-human relationship.  I learned about the different chakras (energy centers) of the body and how Reiki (energy healing) can be used to enhance the flow of energy throughout the body.   Once again, not one specific thing was a quick fix, but what I realized through the time spent with James was that I was embarking on a new journey with Grady.  For the first time in a long time, rather than feeling exasperated by the fact that I was having so much trouble riding him, I was excited about the all the new things I was discovering and where it was going to take us. 

A big emotional breakthrough occurred after attending two workshops that James was holding in the spring of 2011.  These workshops focused on mindfulness, compassion and learning to listen to our intuition. The group discussed how authenticity and intention are crucial in helping us achieve our goals in life.  During individual sessions with horses in a round pen, we were given the opportunity to observe the horse’s behavior which often helped bring feelings to the surface, allowing us to examine them and come to realizations about what we were experiencing. 

Below is an article I wrote for James’ newsletter almost a year after attending the workshops describing what I learned about myself and my relationship with Grady.

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Accepting Fear and Finding Compassion

by Becky Adler Fagan

 Just shy of a year ago, I had the privilege of working with Apple Jack in a round pen session during my first Equine Energetix workshop, Finding Your Path. After learning of his passing, I pulled out my workbooks from that weekend and the next one I attended, Seeing With The Heart. When you experience something as powerful as these workshops, it can be difficult to remember the details when you return to your busy day-to-day life.

Over the course of Finding Your Path and Seeing With The Heart, two themes seemed to come up for me: fear and compassion. As a trainer for both horse and rider, I contend with these two emotions quite a bit. I sometimes have to deal with a nervous horse or a fearful student and I do my best to handle these situations with compassion. It’s a delicate balance between empathizing and knowing when to push.

In the round pen with A.J., the idea of my own fear had emerged but I wasn’t sure where it was coming from. I didn’t feel scared of anything in particular, but when James pointed out that it could also show up as being afraid of failure or as worry about not being good enough, it began to make more sense.

I had come to these workshops looking for possible answers to the issues I had been having with my own horse, Grady, an off-the-track Thoroughbred, purchased for me to re-train at my family farm and eventually sell. Things started off really well but began to go downhill after about the first year. We explored every physical issue we could think of but there was nothing that completely solved the problem. After some improvement, the issues seemed to eventually return and each time they did, they were worse. The issue of fear spoke to me, not because I was afraid of Grady and what he might do when acting out during our rides, but because there was a lot of emotion that went along with it.

I worried about what would happen if we couldn’t “fix” him. I was okay with the idea that he might not be able to be ridden anymore, but he was only 10 years old and the question of what we would do with him for the rest of his life weighed heavily on my mind. He was a wonderful companion for my older horse, Toby, but my parents were getting on in years and who knew how much longer they would keep the farm going. How would I afford to keep him at a retirement facility for the rest of his life? In addition to these questions, the simple fact was that even if someone wanted him, our connection was strong and I had to admit that I no longer wanted to sell him. Could Grady have been feeling the effects of all this uncertainty?

As I read through my workbooks and reflected on my experiences at the workshops, I saw a connection with fear, compassion and my relationship with Grady. I realized how overprotective I had become of him, always worrying that something was wrong.   Of course, we needed to rule out physical issues but it was as if trying to figure out what was wrong with him became what was wrong with him. It was time to stop looking for reasons and just start over, one day at a time.

I needed to find a balance between being overly concerned about Grady and being frustrated and angry with him. I was completely at a loss for what to do, but every time I felt like giving up on him, something made me come back out the next day and try again. I started to wonder if the frustration and anger I was feeling was really directed at myself for not being able to figure out the problem, for sometimes feeling like giving up, for being frustrated and angry.

James helped me see that I had to learn to have compassion for myself. I needed to acknowledge my fears about the future and accept them, rather than try to suppress them. Bringing those feelings to the surface and accepting them would allow me to be in the moment with Grady and approach his issues from a truly compassionate, mindful place.

Finding that acceptance allowed me to see that Grady is with me for a reason. It may not be the one that I originally thought, but he has taken me in a new direction. I had gone through some changes in my life not long before Grady came along and his presence has led me on a journey of self-discovery that I never could have imagined. He led me to James, who has joined us on our journey and introduced us to new opportunities. It hasn’t been an easy road, but as I begin to embrace this experience, I’m finding comfort in the belief that Grady and I are right where we’re supposed to be.

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It was during the second workshop I attended that I began to explore the idea of taking my career with horses in a different direction.  In the round pen with a beautiful bay horse named Astaire, I tried to figure out what that direction was.  Then I had a thought that I shared with James.  “What if Grady is trying to tell me it’s not just about the riding anymore?” I asked James.  He was floored by this revelation and Astaire, who had been meandering around the round pen, came over, stood quietly and listened.  I was on to something. 

After the workshops, I continued to do the groundwork exercises I had been doing with Grady, but I wanted to continue riding him as well.  I hoped that the groundwork would help the riding issues I had been having but the frustration began to creep back in when the riding didn’t improve.  I felt like I wanted to have someone else ride Grady to see what they thought.  Maybe I was just too emotionally involved.  After years of riding hundreds of horses as a professional, I couldn’t ride my own horse! 

Over lunch in December 2011, James and I discussed the issues I continued to have with Grady.  That is when James made a suggestion that would turn out to be a life changer for Grady and me.  That is the day he suggested I give Jayne a call. 

Best. Move. Ever.

March 20, 2020 – Adjusting to a Different World

As I sat on my living room couch this morning sipping my coffee, some movement outside caught my attention.  A little brown puffy bird was flitting around and landed on a post just outside the window.  There was a lot of other activity including squirrels and other birds but this little bird seemed to want me to notice him.  He sat on that post for a few seconds and then he chirped his beautiful song.  Just a few short, high-pitched notes.  He continued to sit there and every few seconds he sang the same song.  As I watched him, I felt a wave of emotion come over me and before I knew it there were tears in my eyes.  It felt as though the bird was singing to me; as if he was trying to lighten the somber air that was surrounding me as I watched the morning news.

Some of you may think this sounds corny but I believe in signs from animals.  I feel that if we pay attention, we can get some pretty important messages from what would otherwise go unnoticed…like a little bird singing a song on a post.  I took a picture of the bird, and after some research I discovered that it was a Carolina Wren.  Then I looked it up in my book, Animal Speak, and although it only had one page for “wren”, here is what the last paragraph stated :

“If wrens have come into your life, it is time to ask yourself some important questions.  Are you using the resources available to you?  Are others?  Are you not displaying enough confidence?  Are you so wrapped up in daily worries that you are forgetting to sing?  Are you not staying grounded?  Are you not seeing the forest because of the trees?  Are you not attacking your life with enough gusto?  Wren holds the medicine for using what is available, and it can teach you the most effective means to build within your own environment.”

This paragraph really resonated with me, especially the question about being wrapped up in daily worries and forgetting to sing.  The last sentence was also poignant.  With much of the world practicing social distancing right now due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we are spending much more time at home and for some, alone.  Thank goodness we have technology on our side and can stay connected, but we’ve all had a sudden and significant change in our lifestyle and we’re having to adapt fast.  It’s hard not to be wrapped up in daily worries these days but I hope that people will remember to sing.  We need to keep the song in our hearts and remember to savor some of the more simple things that our otherwise busy lifestyle can rob us of.  It can be something as simple as paying more attention to the little signs of new life erupting from the ground and on the trees.  I’m grateful that spring has not been canceled.

During the past few days as people in my neighborhood have been home due to school and business closings, I have noticed neighbors spending time outdoors with their kids, people taking walks or jogging and I have even felt camaraderie among others for just knowing we’re all in the same boat and trying to get through a scary time.  I could have done without seeing multiple rubber gloves lying in the parking lot at the grocery store today – people it’s still not cool to litter!  But I digress….

My point is, that in between news briefings and home schooling our kids we need to make sure we are all taking time for our mental health and trying to focus on doing some things that we enjoy.  For me, that thing is writing.  I’ve been wanting to write my next blog post, but because life just kept getting in the way I wasn’t sitting down to do the work.  I decided that the little wren outside my window was trying to motivate me, because right after that experience I suddenly had this urge to write and I felt more creative than I had in a long time.  I realized that my next post didn’t necessarily have to be the chronological story of my journey with Grady, but it could be something in the present.  This huge thing we are all going through right now definitely seemed worthy. 

These days, the only place I am going regularly is to the barn to take care of Grady.  I haven’t been riding him that much lately, but we’re both enjoying lunging and long lining.  He is quite content.  I spent a bit of time today hand grazing him on the slowly greening grass in unusually warm temperatures for March which was enjoyable for us both.  There’s something very soothing about watching a horse eat grass….

On my drive home, while shuffling songs from my iPod through my car stereo, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” started to play.  “Wow,” I thought to myself.  I cranked the volume way up, opened my window to enjoy the warm air and I sang as loudly as I could….and it felt great.

They say this situation will most likely get worse before it gets better so I hope we can all be kind to each other, have patience and remember to feed our souls with as much good as we can find around us.  The world is depending on it.  We’re all in this together.

Thank you to all who are out on the front lines keeping the rest of us safe.

And thank you to the little wren outside my window who reminded me to sing.

If I Only Knew Then…

Grady stood like a gentleman at the mounting block as he always did.  I swung my leg over and settled gently into the saddle.  He continued to stand quietly until being asked to walk off.  After only a couple of steps, that sinking feeling that I had felt all too often lately resurfaced just from the energy that bubbled underneath me.  It is hard to describe but it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt in a horse before…and I’ve ridden over 500 horses in my life.  It was Autumn 2010 and I was at a complete loss.

To call it tension would be an understatement.  To call it freshness would be inaccurate because he wasn’t fresh or wild……he was terrified.  Of what, I had no idea but it was my mission to find out.

It would start with just that indescribable feeling but would often escalate quickly to what I began to call panic attacks.  Mind you, this was just at the walk at home in our ring in which he had been working successfully for the past couple of years. The panic attacks weren’t scary and he never felt like he was going to buck me off, but they were extremely frustrating because I didn’t know what was causing them and therefore could not prevent them or fix them.  They consisted of his tension building to such a level that he would bolt sideways, always to the right, like he was running away from something.  I was always able to stop him so it was never really a dangerous situation and we were in a controlled environment, but when he was like this our rides were never fun, never successful and often ended with me in tears because I didn’t know where my sweet little Grady had gone.

 

{Click here for a little video snippet of what I’m talking about…}

Even though I didn’t know what he was afraid of, I did know that to him, the fear was very real.  Of that, I was 100 percent sure.  If only he could talk…

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She’s right, you know.  I was terrified.  It used to be just an uneasy feeling that she was able to work me through.  But over time, it became this thing that consumed me.  This terror that overtook my entire being and I was no longer myself.  I hated that I was letting her down (even when she told me I wasn’t, I knew I was) but I couldn’t help it.  It was like I was trying to escape my own skin. 

It wasn’t always that way.  Things had started out pretty well and I liked the work we did together.  I even let other people with less experience ride me and I liked feeling that I had something to offer them. 

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Over the couple of years leading up to this time, Grady had been doing so well that I began putting some of my students on him for lessons in order to give him more experience with different riders.  He was always well behaved and everyone that rode him enjoyed him.  I took him on some off-property schooling sessions and, other than having some trailer loading issues, he did well.  We had started addressing nutrition and saddle fit concerns during these couple of years and it was always a little tough to get Grady to gain weight but he was coming along.  His level of relaxation during our rides varied but overall his training was progressing nicely.  Since the original goal had been to train and sell him, I decided it was time to advertise and see what happened.

It was August 2010 when I got a call from a woman who was looking for a project horse.  We set up an appointment for her to come to the farm and ride Grady.  She was not a professional but did not come with a trainer.  She said she had some experience with Thoroughbreds.  I rode Grady around for a few minutes so she could see him go and then she got on.  The walk and trot work started out very promising with Grady listening to everything she asked and keeping a nice rhythm.  I had been giving her some pointers here and there but then, out of nowhere, while heading down the long side of the ring toward the barn, she decided to ask him for a left lead canter.  He was obviously surprised by this and over-reacted, picking up the incorrect lead and gaining speed toward the gate.  She was able to make the turn and Grady changed leads out of self-preservation but he was not slowing down.  I told her to bring him onto a circle and then she was able to get him back to the trot.  After regrouping from that, she did a little more at the walk and trot and we even added in some short bits of canter on a circle and it ended well.  She didn’t seem scared by the experience and told me she would give it some thought and let me know.  She called back a couple of days later and had decided that she wanted something a little less green and I agreed that was a good idea.

Grady and I went back to the drawing board and I was pleased that he didn’t seem affected by the slightly scary experience…..right away anyway.  After about a week, I started feeling more tension in Grady.  He seemed very nervous and, over time, his tension and spookiness increased.  Ultimately, the panic attacks began and I could barely ride him anymore.  We investigated every aspect of his physical well being.  His eyes were fine and, although he did have some stomach and back issues, none of his practitioners felt that anything he was dealing with was severe enough to cause him to behave in such a crazy way and none of the treatments we did improved his behavior. To me, he felt like he had literally lost his mind and it broke my heart that I had no idea how to help him.

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Funny thing is, as she was trying to help me, I started to sense that I was on a mission to help her.  It’s something I began to feel deep down.  Maybe that’s what this fear was inside of me.  I knew her plans for me weren’t what was supposed to happen.  I wasn’t meant to go on to someone else and do whatever it was that person wanted me to do.  I was here for her; to change her life.  But she didn’t know that yet and I desperately wanted to tell her.

One day when Francie, the nice lady that came once a month to give me a massage, came to work on me, I felt like I had a chance to spill my guts.  Becky wasn’t there that day and, not that I couldn’t open up in front of her, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to speak up.  Francie had earned my trust and I thought she might be able to hear me……and she did.  I could tell when she put her hands on me that she felt it.  Strong emotions came over her and I could tell she knew this visit was different.  I told her I was not going anywhere and that I was here for a purpose.  I told her I needed to help Becky make changes in her life and show her a different way.  I knew it deep down in my bones.  I knew Francie heard me loud and clear and I knew she would tell Becky and that she would listen.

Watching Francie leave

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I can’t remember why I wasn’t at the barn that day in October 2010 when Grady “spoke” to Francie, but I got chills when Francie told me about what happened.  Although Francie is not a communicator, she has very deep connections with animals and is a very intuitive person so I felt there was complete merit in what she had experienced with Grady that day.  I knew it didn’t mean he was thinking “I have to misbehave so that she can’t sell me” but I knew it meant something.  Now all I had to do was figure out what to do with this information…

“Help me with what?” I wondered.

Looking back now, nine years later, it is all beginning to make sense but back then I just had to have faith and keep going.  It was time to start thinking outside the box and figure out what it was that Grady needed to get through this difficult stage in his life.  If I only knew then what an exciting journey was in store for me.

Stay tuned…

 

 

 

 

Remembering 9/11 – 18 Years Later

The view from Dylan today – 9/11/19

This is the same field in which I was riding on September 11, 2001 at 9:00 am.  The sky was just as blue and the grass just as green but little did I know that when I returned to the barn from that ride, our world as we knew it would be forever changed.  I was riding in this field today with thoughts of 9/11 on my mind when eerily, a plane flew by overhead and I couldn’t help but feel emotional as I thought about the events of that day.

Before heading out for the ride, I had heard something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center but thought it was just an accident, as did many that day upon first hearing the news.  I was lucky enough to be at work, on a horse in a beautiful field enjoying peace and serenity when, unbeknownst to me, all hell was breaking loose less than 60 miles to my south.

Upon returning to the barn, I was told what was happening and couldn’t believe my ears.  The events of the day continued to unfold and we all know how it ended.  Almost 3,000 lives were lost and now, even more lives are being lost every day as a result of the toxic conditions that were present in the aftermath.

Even 18 years later, the tragedy of 9/11 is unfathomable.  It’s impossible to wrap our heads around it.  And now, we must teach our children about the day that has become a part of American History.  Children who don’t know a life before the towers fell but who have the task of growing up in a scary world that has become our new reality.

May we all take a moment to remember the lives that were lost, the heroes that gave all and the kindness that people showed each other that day as they faced the most ultimate evil.

God Bless America

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).

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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.

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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)

 

The Wind Beneath My Wings – A Mother’s Day Tribute

By Becky Adler Fagan

My mother, Judy, was born with a love of horses.  She can’t understand where this came from since no one else in her family shared these feelings.  She never had a horse as a child, but she used her imagination by building small barns for her toy horses (long before Breyer) and the stairway banister, with ropes attached as reins, became her imaginary horse.

On one summer vacation when she was 11 years old, my mom had the opportunity to get on a friend’s horse for the very first time.

Budd Lake, N.J. – 1953

The following year she was thrilled to begin riding lessons with the Watchung Junior Troop near her home in New Jersey.  Her lessons continued for a few years and she competed in some shows at Watchung.

After graduating high school she attended Douglass College where she was able to ride for phys. ed. credits but riding soon took a back seat to marriage, work and starting a family.  While finishing college, my mom married her high school sweetheart and they welcomed my brother, David, into the world six years later.

My mom and dad would occasionally ride at Claremont Stables in Manhattan, enjoying the Central Park trails but it wasn’t until they relocated to Germany while my Dad served in the Army that she was able to ride seriously at a German riding club.  This is where her interest in dressage developed.  After learning she would be having her second child (me) before returning to the States, riding took a back seat once again.

Mom and Dad in Central Park – 1967

Upon returning home in 1971, my parents began the search for their first house.  One day they were being shown a house in New Rochelle, NY and my mom saw horses going by in the woods behind the house.  At that point, she thought to herself, “I don’t care what the house is like – there are horses nearby.  We’ll take it!”

The house did end up being suitable and after getting settled in, my mom began her quest to bring horses back into her life.  She found Flying Arrow Stables (now Twin Lakes Farm) only a few miles away.

Many opportunities were available to her there, including taking lessons with trainer Ed Hill and then teaching lessons.  The purchase of her first horse, Ramada, led to dressage lessons and competitions with trainer Mike Miller.

Mom and Ramada – 1974

Showtime!

Eventually, David and I began to ride.  The first time my mom put me on a pony at age 2, I burst into tears.  Mr. Hill told her not to worry and to just keep bringing me around the barn to watch the other kids ride.  Well, that plan must have worked because when I was around 5 or 6 she tried again and it went much better.  Mom started David and me with lunge line lessons and once we had the basics, she was ready to turn us over to the trainers at the barn.  She figured she would never have the nerve to take us off the lunge line so she had to let go – literally and figuratively.

David on Griffin, a Flying Arrow Stables school horse

Me on Whitey, another Flying Arrow Stables school horse

That was not the end of my mom’s involvement in my life with horses.  In fact, it was just the beginning.  David and I took lessons regularly and started showing in schooling shows at our barn.  We even did summer camp where we rode every day and learned more about taking care of horses.

Summer camp 1979 – David and Festus, me and Magic

As we began progressing and competing more, Mom was very supportive and was always there for us.  She decided to put her own showing aside to become the ultimate horse show mom.

David on Pumpkin, me on Chestnut – 1980

David soon discovered his talent for playing the guitar and drifted away from horses as he followed his passion and future career path in the music world.  I, on the other hand, was obsessed and continued through the levels with Mom always there by my side. Our mutual love of horses helped us develop a close relationship that still remains to this day.

Mom on Ramada, me on R.W. – 1983

When my parents purchased a small farm after my graduation from high school, we brought our horses home, including Ramada who lived to the ripe old age of 31.  We started a small business with boarders, lessons and even a few sale horses over the years.

Me on Ramada, Mom on R.W. at the family farm around 1990

We enjoyed spending this time together, not only as mother and daughter but as business partners and friends.

Me on Chauncey, Mom on Toby – late ’90s

As my professional riding career started to grow, I wasn’t able to spend as much time at the family farm but we still enjoyed our horses.  When I was on the road showing horses for clients, my days would always end with a phone call to Mom to tell her about the day.  She shared my triumphs and failures, the good days and the bad, and kept things running smoothly at home.

All these years later, she is a huge part of my journey with Grady.  Of course, she was with me through the whole decision to bring him into our lives and for the seven years he lived at the family farm.  But even now that we are boarding him, she stays involved in all decisions regarding his care and visits regularly.  It was through Grady’s training that my interest in dressage developed, bringing everything full circle.  The little girl who once dreamed of a horse of her own, then watched her little girl follow her dream. And she was content to let me shine.

Mom and Grady at Inner Circle Farm – 2018

Bookends

By Becky Adler Fagan

Before Grady, there was another special Thoroughbred who influenced my life a long time ago.

On March 30, 1983, a twelve-year-old girl received a most precious gift.  R.W. was honest and forgiving, quirky and lovable….and he was my very first horse.  

I had outgrown ponies and R.W. was going to help me make the transition to horses, although my mother distinctly remembers the day we went to try him and feeling that he definitely was not the one for me.  I don’t remember this, but apparently just after I got on, he trotted off into the traffic of the busy indoor arena.  My mom thought “no way, this is not the horse for my little girl….”.  Well, in this case, the first impression was misleading.  The small black Thoroughbred was all business and knew his job well.  He had just been ready to get to work.  Ultimately, he did end up being the one for me and a beautiful partnership began.

Being a young teenager in junior high school, I crafted pillows in Home Economics class in the shape of the letters R and W, one black and one white.  I needle pointed another black and white pillow with the name “Pooky” (my pet name for my new BFF) on it and I often wore the visor I made that said “I ‘heart’ R.W.”.  Needless to say, I was smitten!

But my relationship with R.W. was more than a fleeting teen crush.  Through caring for him, I learned a sense of responsibility.  Through riding him, I learned how to win and how to lose, and how to work hard for what I wanted to achieve.   Together we achieved more than I think anyone ever expected. By the time I was thirteen, R.W. had brought me to the highest level of junior equitation when we competed in the ASPCA Maclay Finals at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Madison Square Garden November 1984

Over the next few years, we competed both locally and at prestigious venues such as Devon, The Pennsylvania National Horse Show and once more at the Garden.  I grew up with R.W. and he became an important mentor, shaping who I was going to be as a person and as a horsewoman.

1985 Pennsylvania National Horse Show   –  copyright Action Video

 

copyright Pennington 1987

R.W. didn’t have the biggest stride or the most scope but he had tons of heart.  He always tried his very best, but as the ’80s rolled on and the larger warmblood horses started to come on the scene, R.W. began to struggle with the increasing difficulty of the courses.  It seemed that I would need to move on to a younger, bigger horse to finish out my last two years as a junior rider.

When that time came, my mom took over the ride on R.W. with a focus on her passion – dressage.  After I graduated high school and my mom realized her lifelong dream of having horses at home, R.W. moved with us.  She enjoyed riding him for another ten years after I stopped showing him.

Mom and R.W. at home – photo by Dad

In 1997, after a brief illness, R.W. died at our farm at age 27. I was 26.  He was part of our family.  He was my partner, my teacher, my friend.  He will always be with me.

How fitting that now, all these years later, there is another small Thoroughbred who has stolen my heart.  I may not craft pillows with Grady’s name, but I am smitten nonetheless.  Similar in many ways, R.W. and Grady impacted two very different stages of my life and for that, I am truly grateful.

“Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you”

“Bookends” by Simon & Garfunkel

 

There’s Something About Grady…

By Becky Adler Fagan

It was a chilly February day and the small, bay thoroughbred stood on the crossties with a sweet expression.  He was thin, with not much muscle and he sported a deep brown winter coat with rubbed spots on his shoulders from his blankets, but his face is what drew me in.  I had responded to an ad on a website and decided that he would be worth looking at.  After some recent changes in my life, I thought that it might be a fun challenge to buy an off-the-track thoroughbred to retrain and sell and Grady was the first horse I was trying.

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I had spent years on the horse show scene, first competing as a junior rider, then as an amateur and finally as a professional showing mostly hunters for 13 years.  I had always loved competing but was feeling a little burned out and in need of a change.  I left my current position with a successful show stable thinking I was taking a break from horses, but fate intervened and took me in another direction.

I would still ride and help take care of my own two horses at my parents’ farm.  My mom took care of Toby & Chauncey and I was looking forward to spending more time there, especially since Chauncey had been going through a mysterious illness for quite a while.  I had been on the road so much that I hadn’t been able to see them a lot and for that I felt guilty.  I was especially grateful for this new found time because Chauncey succumbed to his illness about two weeks after I left my job.  This left Toby all alone and we knew we would have to decide pretty soon what our next step was going to be.

My mom, Judy, with Toby (left) and Chauncey (right) in 1998

My mom was getting older and the barn work was getting more difficult for her so it was really up to her to decide whether she still wanted to have horses at home.  With winter coming, we decided to look for a barn with an indoor ring and board Toby for a few months while my mom gave some thought to the future.

As the winter rolled on, my mom came to the conclusion that she still wanted horses at home.  She wasn’t quite ready to give that up.  The next question was what to do next.  I had picked up some freelance riding over the last few months and some of the horses were thoroughbreds. I realized I hadn’t ridden many thoroughbreds over the past few years and was really enjoying their intelligence and work ethic.  I had grown up riding a thoroughbred and my mom’s first horse was a thoroughbred so I had the idea that it would be fun to buy one to train and resell.  My mom liked that idea and the search began.

We hadn’t “shopped” for a horse in years and now with the availability of the internet, it was easy to find lots of possibilities.  I browsed through many websites, replied to a number of ads, made some phone calls.  Some people never got back to me, some did but the horse didn’t end up being quite what I was looking for.  Then one day I saw the ad for Grady.  He was a good looking little horse that was advertised as being good for a junior or amateur (with more miles) and very level headed.  After speaking with one of the trainers involved in his sale, we decided to go take a look.

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When we arrived at Grady’s barn on that cold February morning, Katie was there to greet us and to ride him so we could see him go.  Looking through his winter coat and blanket rubs we could tell he was very handsome.  He had a beautiful eye even though it sometimes lacked expression.

Katie tacked him up and brought him into the attached indoor ring.  She told us that he hadn’t been ridden very much lately and that he had his heavy winter shoes on so he wouldn’t move as nicely as he normally would.  He went around the ring fine, not in a very hunter like way and a little tense but he did what he was asked and was very businesslike.  Katie put him through his paces and then jumped a few little jumps.  I was pleased with what I had seen so far so I decided it was time to get on and see how he felt.

When I first got on, I wanted to see how he responded to some simple exercises at the walk.  He listened well and seemed to be trying to figure me out.  We continued on with our ride, working at the walk, trot and canter.  He was definitely quick and not very broke but I liked the fact that even when we were going faster than I wanted, he felt safe and sane.  He hadn’t been off the track for that long so he was still in racehorse mode.  He had been in training for a few months, doing flatwork and learning to jump, but he still had a lot to learn.  That was a job for whoever bought him.

After we finished working on the flat, I decided to jump a few small jumps.  I only trotted them since his canter was not really developed yet.  His natural balance seemed good, but he was lacking the ability to adjust his stride so cantering jumps would probably have been difficult and wasn’t really necessary at this point.  He did everything I asked so we decided to end on a good note.

I cooled him out and we brought him back into the barn.  Katie put him in his stall to eat some hay and we talked a little more about him.  Then, right as my mom and I were about to leave, we both turned and looked toward Grady in his stall.  Right at that moment, Grady slowly lifted his head from his hay and looked at us.  The expressionless eye was now soft and relaxed and he held our gaze for a few seconds.  I knew my mom saw what I did and we looked at each other and smiled.

We went back a couple of weeks later to try Grady again and it went well.  He hadn’t done too much in the time since we’d seen him last but he was pretty much the same as the first time.  We really liked him but he was still the only horse we had tried.  We decided to hold off and go see some more horses for comparison.  We told Katie that we did like him a lot but we weren’t quite ready to move forward and we would be in touch.  If it was meant to be, he would still be available when and if we decided he was the one.

Over the next few weeks, we did go to see a few more horses but Grady continued to be the frontrunner.  Finally, I called Katie to find out if Grady was still available and was happy to hear that he was.  We went to try him one more time.  Patti, his usual rider who wasn’t able to be there for our first two visits, was there to greet us this time.  Grady seemed to have lost a bit of weight since we saw him last but we weren’t too concerned.

Grady in March 2007

Patti had been doing more with him and with winter slowly coming to a close, we were able to ride in the outdoor ring.  There was a nice course of jumps set up and Grady felt more relaxed so I did more jumping than we had the times before.  He did great, really listening between the jumps and even giving me a few lead changes.

Watch a short video clip of Grady jumping

I felt like we were ready to make our decision, but there was one glitch…..I had to be away for the next two weeks and was leaving the next day.  We couldn’t do anything until I got back so they agreed to take a deposit on him and keep him for the 2 weeks until I returned and we were able to set up the pre-purchase exam.

The exam was scheduled for two days after I got back from my trip.  Patti would trailer him up to our farm and wait while the exam took place.  Based on the results, we would either write a check and keep Grady, or he would go back with Patti.

Everything went smoothly and the vet went back to the office to develop the x-rays.  We invited Patti inside and sat down around the kitchen table with some hot chocolate and waited.  About an hour later, the phone rang.  The x-rays looked ok although there was one little wing fracture in Grady’s left front hoof.  This was probably an old racing injury and the vet didn’t anticipate it being a problem.  My mom & I looked at each other, both of us knowing what the other was thinking.  A few minutes later, Grady was ours and Patti headed back to New Jersey with an empty trailer.

 

 

 

Writing, Riding and the Horse That Changed It All

By Becky Adler Fagan

When I was a little girl, I used to write short stories and they were usually about horses.  I don’t really remember them vividly but I most likely still have them somewhere, probably in the basement of my parents’ house.  I can see the pages; the script handwriting in pencil on the college ruled notebook paper.  I can even see the light green folder I kept the stories in.  Over time I seemed to get away from writing as life got busier, although the desire to write has always stayed with me.

All these years later, I’ve enjoyed a life full of horses and have been lucky enough to have made it my career.  I’ve ridden hundreds of horses and have had meaningful relationships with a lot of them.  But I never could have imagined that one horse would come along and change the course of my life.  I started riding in a new discipline.  I met many new people, some of whom became lifelong friends.  I changed the way I looked at riding and at my relationship with horses.  When I met Grady, I had no idea that this was what he had in store for me.  I was going to train him and resell him and put a little money away.  Haha.  Grady had other plans….

Grady in February 2007 – The day we met

As I experienced many highs and lows during Grady’s training, I began keeping  a journal about our progress (or lack thereof) and thought it would be fun to put it all together and share with others.  I thought it might resonate with people going through similar situations.  So here it goes…..I’m putting together my passions for horses and writing and have created this blog.  Grady came into my life 12 years ago and we are still learning together every day.  Feel free to follow this blog as I tell stories of the past, update you on the present and move into the future.  I hope you enjoy the journey!