Such a gentle mare was Minstrel Blues. Her large, kind eyes being what Susan and Bobby Gardner first noticed when they met the former Thoroughbred broodmare from Florida on a November day in 2011. But before that the mere mention of the breed, threw their coach into a state of worry and apprehension.
“Don’t get a Thoroughbred!” was what they were told, as they drove from Jacksonville to Ocala, Fla. with Susan Gardner’s riding instructor. She was adamant that a racehorse was the very last type of horse the first-time buyers should consider, Susan Gardner says.
“At one point my trainer turned to us in the car and said, ‘Susan, Bobby, you know I love you guys. But pick another breed!’ She kept telling us not to get a Thoroughbred, but to pick anything else, because they can have a high-strung temperament.”
But after the trio arrived at the farm to take a look at the fire-breathing racehorse, the concerned trainer heaved a sigh of relief. “As soon as my trainer saw Blue, she grabbed me and whispered, ‘I’ve never seen more gentle eyes on a horse in my life!’ ”
And her looks did not deceive.
Though it had been 11 years since Blue had carried a rider—she had been serving as a broodmare delivering very fine foals in those years—she accepted the tack as if no time had passed, giving Gardner an “easy breezy” ride.
Barn name: Blue
Sire: Cure the Blues
Dam: Glorious Minstrel
Foal date: May 10, 1996“I rode her for a half hour and I had a smile, from ear to ear, the whole time,” she says. “I had wanted my own horse since I was a little girl, and I was always asking for horses to go with my Barbies. The day we went to see Blue, my eyes popped open at 5 in the morning. I was overwhelmingly excited.”
And since that first meeting, when Gardner says she felt an “instant warmth” from the mature mare, she somehow felt everything would be all right.
“With Blue it was a mutual love at first sight,” she says. “Not because of her majesty, power and gentle spirit but more so from the loving expressions I felt directly from her.”
Gardner and her husband had never owned a horse of their own, but had been bitten by the bug about a year earlier, after the pair started volunteering at a Florida retirement farm for working horses. Their Saturday grooming sessions soon inspired them to take riding lessons, and Susan Gardner, who had ridden throughout her life, began to feel a stronger pull toward ownership.
Their search brought Blue into their lives at a time when she needed the warm broodmare to hug, most of all.
Shortly after they purchased the horse, Gardner miscarried her early pregnancy, and the horse assuaged her sadness.
“Blue took my grief and pain away, it was as though she was able to drain my pain right from me,” she says.
At the same time, Blue bonded with Gardner’s husband and son so easily that in a family picture, with her son sitting on Blue’s bare back and hugging her withers, and her husband holding Blue’s halter, the mare seems almost to be smiling too.
“This horse is amazing, and she makes a beeline for children,” she says, noting that Blue loves to tousle her son’s hair.
Now a permanent member of the family, Blue traveled with the Gardners last year when they relocated to northern Maine, where, like a dream come true, they have settled onto farmland overlooking the ocean.
From the windows of her house, Gardner can see the Atlantic, Canada, and most importantly, Blue. “I’ve always imagined what it would be like to look out my windows and see my own horse outside,” she says.
And to honor the animal who has helped make her childhood dream a reality, Blue’s name will be given as a middle name to her expected daughter, due in about four months. A pair of infant riding britches and tiny pink Polo shirt is waiting too.
In the meantime, Gardner has made it a point to provide Blue a life of wildflowers and trail rides. She’ll never train her for show, she says, because she has done enough, between winning races on the track and providing foals, to warrant a life of leisure, richly deserved.
“She has spa days now,” she says. “I have her on beet pulp and electrolytes and Flax. She runs in the meadows and I won’t let my husband mow the wildflowers because they’re for her. One day one of neighbors mentioned something to us about our backyard and the flowers, and said we should get after them, and I think I surprised him when I said no, they’re for Blue.”