Elusive Sky was a dangerous horse.
Desperate to evade the touch of humans, the darkly brooding animal flinched away from the brush, pinned his ears if someone got too near, and even cow-kicked CANTER Mid Atlantic volunteer Jessica Morthole to the ground.
But the impeccably bred 16.1 hand dark bay wasn’t a bad horse, Morthole says. He was a body sore horse. And that was the big difference.
“When he arrived last spring (at my farm) for retraining, I realized immediately that though he was sound, he was super body sore to the point that you couldn’t even run a brush down his side,” Morthole says. “And he quickly became sore all over his body to the point that he experienced what we call ‘the racehorse crash.’
“He quickly dropped 200 pounds and looked so bad that we jokingly said we should hide him behind the barn” so nobody could see him.”
Though there’s no telling what hurt or why—all his x-rays and ultrasound reports were normal—Morthole suspects that the abrupt change from track life, and change in feed and any medications he may have been on, caused a strong withdrawal reaction.
Sire: Sky Mesa
Dam: Elusive Joy
Foal date: March 7, 2008
Earnings: $69,040“I’d given him a month off, but when I tried to get on him, he was violent,” she says. “You couldn’t put your legs near him. One day I was standing on the mounting block next to him and he kicked me really badly; he was that angry. He knocked me off the block” onto the ground.
When she stood back up and brushed the arena dirt from her britches, Morthole decided a change in plan was in order. With all the potential she saw, she wouldn’t give up on him. But instead, shipped him to a trainer who could teach him to behave at the mounting block.
“My friend spent a month just getting on and off him,” she says. “He was still at that point really body sore, and he looked very bad. There was nothing you could put your finger on to explain it. Just everything hurt him.”
But hidden beneath the pain and the bad attitude lurked the robust heart of a willing sport horse and cuddly equine friend.
While nobody else could see any good that could come of Sky, not Morthole’s associates who stopped by her barn, nor prospective buyers, Morthole and her friend Amanda Froelich were certain that beneath the rough exterior was a gem of an animal.
Working together, the women dissolved the anger and the fear, like an art restorer who lovingly pulls out the original beauty of a painting.
“Sometimes we had five-minute lessons,” says Froelich, who worked with Morthole to teach Sky to accept their presence. “If he behaved, the lesson would end. We did this for a while, and built up to half-hour lessons.”
As the pair worked, Sky began to show a different side to himself, she adds.
“He used to hide in the corner of his stall. He was very angry,” Froelich says. “Slowly he showed us this incredible personality, and he follows us like a puppy.”
Subsequent riding lessons also revealed that Sky had a huge jump in him, and the bravery to power through a private schooling lesson on a cross-country field in a thunderstorm. He didn’t turn a hair.
After that ride, soaking wet from the storm, Froelich was overjoyed as she announced to Morthole who had come watch her ride: “This horse is sold, I’m buying him.”
Says Froelich, “I used to get so defensive and upset when people would come to the barn, see him, and rip him to shreds. I knew this horse had so much potential. That’s what really got me. Nobody else saw it. But I did.”