In the dark of midnight tractor lights lit up his fine head, which lolled as his long Thoroughbred legs dangled like a marionette’s limbs, only inches above the ground.
‘”Damn it! We should have put him down. We shouldn’t have put him through this!” said Beverly Strauss at the time. The director of Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue recalls saying those words as her throat caught, and she watched him dangle like a ragdoll last March.
As hope of saving the young bay gelding faded, a man who assisted in hoisting the starving animal up after he had been down and unable to stand for hours, gently took the racehorse’s head in his hands, and shouted: “Come on! Stay with us!”
Dam: The Chase Affair, by Black Tie Affair
Foal date: March 28, 2005And the poor guy must have heard because he picked his head up and looked toward the sound of the voice, and then he began to thrash.
Those frantic movements marked the return of ex-racehorse Rubber Duckie—a horse who bounced back from the nightmare of starvation.
Duckie was discovered last year on a routine veterinary call, and was handed over to Strauss, and to Tina and Marvin Clark of Windmill Farm of Elkton, Md., to oversee his treatment from malnourishment, Strauss says.
After a week in their care, Duckie went down one afternoon and didn’t get up. By the time a crew from Da Vinci Equine Transport, with equipment to hoist the horse up could be assembled, it was midnight.
With hope fading by the hour, Strauss and the Clarks watched every shallow breath the gelding drew, and fed him handfuls of grain, which he could barely lift his head to receive.
And by the time the gentleman yelled at Duckie to stay with him, Strauss was bracing for the worst as the animal was lowered so slowly to stand on his feet. If he could not stand, he would have to be euthanized, she says, explaining that the way he looked that night, it seemed a done deal.
But Duckie surprised them.
At first, it looked bad: “They lowered him to his feet and within a few minutes they took the sling off and he was walking like a drunk,” Strauss says. “He walked in little circles, and the more he walked the better he got.”
But then came a glimmer of hope: “After about 15 minutes he was pulling Marvin over toward the grass to eat. So they walked him to a stall, and he had his dinner as though nothing had happened,” Strauss recalls, chuckling. “He didn’t go down for a while after that. And when he did eventually lie down again, he was strong enough to get back up.”
After the ordeal, he received painstaking rehabilitation and careful re-feeding under the 24-hour watch by the Clarks, says Strauss, noting that the pair of horse lovers watched the animal like a hawk in the critical days and weeks following the scary episode.
In time Duckie rebuilt his body mass, and Strauss discovered that he remained a really good horse: a kind horse, a healthy horse.
“After all that, he still really loved people,” she says. “He was just so wise.”
When it came time for Strauss to find a new home for Duckie, she chose from among the droves of people who had followed the animal’s story on Facebook.
Kathrin Shenk, a financial supporter of Strauss’ charity, and on the lookout for a new mount, was just one of those followers. But she hesitated when Strauss first suggested the plucky gelding might be a good match for her.
“I remember when she first suggested Duckie, I told her I didn’t know, because it would be like taking a celebrity. I was nervous that my every move would be scrutinized,” Shenk says. But even her husband encouraged her to try the horse, who he had been following on Facebook as well; so Shenk agreed.
In August, Shenk drove out to try Duckie and four other horses.
“The first horse I was given to try was Duckie. After we brushed him off, and got him ready, I got on. I knew instantly. I just got this vibe, and I knew it would work out. So I told everyone not to bother bringing out the other horses!”
She has no regrets.
Under saddle, he is proving to be exceptional in many ways. “He’s incredibly responsive and so willing that if you ask him to do something, his next question is, ‘What else can I do for you?’ ”
And when Shenk brought him to the Pimlico racetrack in May to participate in Canter for the Cure, he was a ball of nerves, but never once refused anything or acted up.
“We walked the entire track together, and he never lost it. We kept it at a walk, and he kept it together,” she says.
He even stopped to pose for a photograph in the winner’s circle, all muscled up and proud-looking. Well, he certainly stopped in the right place: The winner’s circle!