In his heyday the plain bay with the unusual moniker Wooden Phone was undoubtedly the topic of many excited conversations. In 19 starts, he amassed more than $800,000; even beating the pants off Hall of Fame champ Tiznow in 2001.
But off the track, his prowess as an athlete did not quite translate into a winning personality.
So says Suzanne Minter of LOPE (LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers), “He had a lot of stress issues and was very attached to his buddies in the pasture; popping his lip in distress, and rearing and spinning at the drop of a hat. But Minter looked past all of the antics and what she saw was a remarkable animal.
“I met Wooden Phone for the first time about four years ago when I started working for LOPE and he was instantly my favorite,” Minter says. “I loved his conformation and I hung out with him in his pasture every chance I got.”
Barn name: Watson
Sire: Pick up the Phone
Dam: Teasberry Road
Foal date: April 15, 1997
Earnings: $833,236Her hopes of adopting the brown gelding were soon dashed however when LOPE founder Lynn Reardon explained that Wooden Phone was “not a huge people horse” and certainly was not a candidate for adoption.
“I was secretly heartbroken,” Minter says. “But it was funny. I remember when I first told Lynn how I felt about him; she looked at me with surprise and asked why I liked him. Lynn of course loves all her horses, but Wooden Phone.” was not one she would have selected as anyone’s favorite.
Over time, Reardon started to pay attention to Minter’s interactions with the old grump, especially noticing how he behaved when Minter was away. And she noticed that the affection appeared to be mutual.
“She told me he was getting depressed when I wasn’t around,” Minter says. “But when I was around, he lit up.”
It was no walk in the park, but on March 2012, Minter adopted Wooden Phone, nicknamed him Watson, and started ever so slowly with him.
At the beginning, training consisted of walking him from the pasture to a round pen, she adds. “That was a big deal. He was rearing and jumping around, and he used to pop his bottom lip out when he got nervous, like he was sucking his thumb.
“Once I got him into the round pen, he’d race around … and the first time I rode him, a ride might consist of me riding him at a walk for five minutes until he relaxed and took a breath. Then I’d hop off.”
In the last two years, their mutual trust and friendship blossomed to the point that a horse once afraid of his own shadow has now started to school at third level dressage! And with some help from a Peter Campbell clinic, which was sponsored by a LOPE scholarship, the pair has worked diligently on some very basic flat work.
And the 16.2 hand bay, who looks like an old-time, big-boned Thoroughbred is about to debut at his first show in September.
“He’s a total racing warrior. He’s had a lot of injuries. He fractured his shoulder, he had a chip in his ankle and two bowed tendons,” she says. “So it’s amazing to see him today. Even to this day, people remember him. Someone recognized him at my barn and started rattling off his racing stats to me. People are amazed that age 17 he’s still going strong.” ♥