A week later, Hawk's owner Kathryn was grooming him at Covert Farm to prepare for her first-ever riding lesson. Kathryn is 27 and stands about 5’2". She was about to get her first riding lesson on a horse who recently weighed in at 1,475 pounds and stands 17.1-plus hands tall. I had faith in Hawk and maybe Justin and Kathryn did, too—and perhaps they had a crazy faith in me, as well? My grandmother, Marilyn Mitchell, has been teaching riding lessons for more than 40 years and even she was concerned about Kathryn getting on ‘The Beast.” In addition, she was putting Kathryn on a longe line to start; did Hawk longe?
All the "what if"s disappeared as the teacher in Marilyn came out and explained to Kathryn how to go about grooming a horse—not only the process of learning how to groom a "normal" horse, but how to groom Hawk in particular. Hawk, if you remember, was not the easiest of horses to groom or be around, and now it was no longer me grooming or tacking him up—it was someone new. (Horses don’t know who pays the bills. They only know you through respect or lack thereof.)
Hawk's owners, Kathryn and Justin, are allergic to nearly everything in or around a barn, but they both have a love of horses and, most importantly, a soft "feel" that cannot be taught. As Kathryn groomed Hawk, you could see his worries eased away, and then he fell asleep in the cross ties. Kathryn learned about Hawk's favorite brushes and where he does and does not like to be brushed with them. All the while, a certain understanding was made between the two of them. After Hawk was tacked up, Kathryn ventured into the indoor arena for the first time.
To give Kathryn credit, she did her best to be professional. The first lesson was about balance, connecting with the horse through steering and communicating while stopping, going and maintaining the circle on the longe line. Hawk went around under his newest jockey like a true professional, too. We couldn’t have been more proud of him! After the first lesson there were more to follow, and Kathryn has started to learn how to work off the longe line. She has been working on her posting trot, and during her last visit, went on a short ride around the Covert Farm property while I rode the newest Ninety North Racing Stable retiree, Two Months Rent, who I’m sure you'll hear more about later!
During the development of Hawk's second career, he has continued training in the ring in the hope of another horse show debut. This November, Hawk went to his third horse show under the guidance of 16-year-old Victoria Latham, who borrowed Hawk as a mount for the Junior Equitation division. Equitation classes are judged on the rider’s position and his or her ability to ride the horse correctly with effective aids, given that a horse that performs poorly is a reflection on the ability of the rider. Victoria has been a student here at Covert Farm for nearly two years. She has helped work with the horses that I bring in, but her main focus is working with her horse and showing in the High Children’s Jumpers. When her primary mount was sidelined for a few months this fall after a small field-related injury, she was without a ride.
I explained to Victoria that if she was going to be a part of Hawk's life, she needed to understand him, and she needed to form a trust with him. It didn’t take long for Victoria to come around to the concept of loving on her horse when she came to the barn and then, ever so carefully, sneaking carrots and love to Hawk when her horse wasn’t looking. She, too, discovered how Hawk likes to be groomed and learned to ride and jump him in her lessons. He was much greener than her "made" show horse, but she was able to use what her horse taught her to continue learning and growing with Hawk.
After a bunch of lessons with Marilyn, Victoria was ready to test the waters on Hawk at their first show together. The pair ended up with a 2nd and a 5th in the equitation class, proving that the bond between them had paid off. Although Hawk still does not come when Victoria calls him out in the field (her horse does), she has remained determined to accomplish this. In working with off-track Thoroughbreds, there is an element of helping others learn and hoping that they, too, will share this compassion with other people, horses and animals.
Though Hawk's story is not finished in the lives of those he'll continue to touch, I am pleased to say that he has grown into a very happy horse that accepts love and all that we ask from him.