Fly Lite was adopted three times, and rejected three times.
Her personality, it would turn out, was not for the faint of heart. Yet, the same hot spirit and hard-to-ride ways that sent her back to the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center time after time, tugged at Melissa DeCarlo Recknor.
And so it was that the fourth time was the charm for the former racing mare.
“I don’t know exactly why I liked her so much, but I decided to take a chance,” Recknor says.
She was working as an adoptions coordinator at the time, when she struck a win-win deal with the center. She would take on Fly Lite, train her, and take over her care, and the Thoroughbred adoption center would allow her to stable her at the facility, where she would become something of a spokes horse and a mascot.
“We took her to elementary schools and public events … all the kids would pat her,” and Fly Lite accepted the praise and handling with aplomb, Recknor says.
But under saddle, the mare’s naughty side came out.
“We had a rough start,” Recknor admits.
They zigged and zagged and sweated out a small horse show in August 2009 with such a poor showing that Recknor began to doubt the mare. “She was unrideable,” she says.
Race name: Fly Lite
Sire: Fly til Dawn
Foal date: March 10, 2000And although an outing at Masterston’s Station in Kentucky went a little better, it was still not what she had hoped for.
“She pulled on me and barreled around, but she’d stop at the jumps and dump me,” she says. “That was her signature move for a while.”
Somehow, Recknor dug deep within herself for the nerve to saddle back up after those falls, and carry on.
The turning point however, didn’t come all at once. There’s been a gradual progression from bad rides and bumpy dismounts to winning classes and championships. And, it started with an understanding trainer who is coolheaded with hotheaded horses.
“My trainer, Whitney Morris, understands how to work with a hot horse. A lot of trainers want a rider to force a horse to do something, but that would only upset Fly. Whitney’s approach is to accept the horse’s personality and try different techniques until something works,” Recknor says.
She also believed in taking it slow.
Before Recknor and Fly had mastered jumping, Morris suggested they spend weeks walking over trot rails on a loose rein.
What may sound simple proved to be extremely helpful in getting Fly to relax around obstacles.
At the same time, Recknor un-learned her habit of sitting forward in two point, instead sitting solidly back.
“I rode hunters before and I always sat in two-point. That only made her go faster,” she says.
“As soon as I learned to sit back, it translated to her approach. Now she thinks about a fence, and jumps it instead of running through it.”
The approach has also helped their dressage efforts.
“Her dressage used to look like jig-jig-jig, and she’d rush through it,” Recknor says. “She’s so much better now, and our scores have gone from the 40s to 30s!”
And this past Memorial Day, after three years of spills and frustrations, Recknor’s belief in her mare paid off: they won the TIP Award at the Kentucky Dressage Association’s Spring Dressage Show, as high-scoring Thoroughbred in Training Level.
And two days after that high point, they hit an even higher note: they finished sixth in an open division three-phase at the Kentucky Horse Park’s May-Daze Show, beating professionals and high-class horses alike.
“It wasn’t easy. I tried a bunch of things and went to a lot of different people for advice, before it finally worked out with Fly,” Recknor says. “After I found Whitney and my dressage coach, we put it all together.
“I did have a moment when I wanted to give up, but I couldn’t. She’s my first horse, and everybody else gave up on her already. I couldn’t do that to her again.”