The river was high, the current fast.
Maureen Bussier Pruitt looked around at the other endurance riders as they fell off, one by one, almost comically. Legs and arms akimbo, seasoned riders popping out of their saddles in various inelegant positions, and landing inescapably in the drink. That was the scene in Dawsonville, Ga., as small Arabian horses tried in vain to leap the fast-moving current.
Pruitt’s Thoroughbred Tour Miyuki had never seen anything quite like this river either.
Unsure about the situation, he tried first to enter it sideways, reconsidered, and finally plunged forward like “the tank that he is,” Pruitt says.
Barn name: Toukie
Sire: Tour d’Or
Dam: Royal Roberto
Foal date: Feb. 20, 2003“The water was up to his neck, and he’s a good 16.3 hands,” she says. “We were warned that it had been raining heavily, and that the river was up and it was running. So we were advised that once we got in to keep moving and try to stay up. It was crazy!”
But the thing that wasn’t crazy on that 25-mile endurance ride was her ex-racehorse Thoroughbred, whom she introduced to the endurance-ride discipline in 2011, and who has blossomed in the sport ever since.
“He really took to it. Everything is so routine to him now that he self loads onto the trailer, and he has seen just about everything out on the trails— deer have jumped in front of him, wild pigs have blocked our path, and he has navigated 45-degree climbs,” she says. “This horse amazes me.”
Pruitt, a former exercise rider at Suffolk Downs in Boston, Mass., purchased Toukie in 2010 after settling down in Florida.
After switching gears in her own life—she traded her track job for a career as a firefighter paramedic— Pruitt married and bought a small farm where she could house a couple off-track Thoroughbreds of her own. “I never thought of having anything else other than Thoroughbreds,” she notes.
Immediately after putting the finishing touches on the barn, she met Toukie’s owner, a woman who loved the horse so well that she insisted Pruitt promise never to race the horse again. “He was 7 at this point, and I told her I had no desire to run him.”
When her new horse arrived in 2010, she hit the trails near her farm, getting to know her new partner, and teaching him to trust her. And together, they learned to believe in each other when the challenge of endurance riding first presented itself.
A friend suggested Pruitt try the sport, and always game for a challenge, she started Toukie in 2011.
“There’s really no way you can prepare ahead of time for something like this,” she says. “Endurance riding is the most amazing thing. After being on a flat racetrack, all of a sudden, you’re out in the middle of nowhere, and you’re riding, and we have to become so brave,” she says. “We’ve had miles and miles and miles together, and we’ve got this bond now. He knows me and he trusts me. He has become an amazing horse.”
They’ve done many endurance rides, traveling great distances from their farm in Ft. Myers, Fla. to Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina.
Each trip is filled with surprises; challenges demanding horse and rider really puzzle out their approach. “For example, we went up to North Carolina to ride in the mountains. It was incredible. Climbing down 45-degree hills, horses have to learn to put their hind ends under them” to get to more even terrain.
“It’s all about the horse with endurance riding,” she adds. “After you’ve completed a 10-to 20-mile loop, the horse has to undergo a vet check to make sure they’re physically OK. I keep a heart monitor on Toukie, and we approach the training the way a marathon runner would. We start off slow and long, and right now, he’s so fit it’s not even funny.”
Fit and fabulous!
Crossing the river last month was a real highlight for Pruitt.
“He’d been through ponds before, but he’d never crossed a swiftly running river. I never doubted he could do it though; I know him,” she says. “In endurance riding, the sport is dominated by Arabians. I think it’s great that Toukie and I can show people hat Thoroughbreds can do anything.
“There’s nothing that I have asked him to do that he wouldn’t do. He’s gotten, I don’t want to say fearless, but he takes so much in stride now. I’m confident in him, and I think he feels that.”
Toukie, just another Off-Track Thoroughbred who will do anything for a loving owner. — Originally published on July 29, 2013.