A homicide detective with a wasting disease and an ex-racehorse who lacked the appeal to attract a new owner, each found their second chance, with one another.
After Susan Kimball was diagnosed with Mitochondrial Disease, a rare degenerative disorder that can confine its victims to a wheelchair, she said goodbye to her longtime career with the Biloxi, Miss. police force, and in 2009, began looking for another outlet.
“I was on the police force for 10 years and a homicide detective for eight of them. I was very passionate about what I did, and after I had to retire, I started thinking about how I’d be home during the day, and I wasn’t even sure how long my strength would hold up, but I needed to do something.’
Always suspecting she was a “horse person” at heart, just one who never had the time or opportunity to ride, Kimball picked up the phone one day and called the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation at James River in Crozier, Va.—a Thoroughbred facility situated 2,000 miles from her home.
Race name: Excessively Crooked
Sire: In Excess (IRE)
Dam: Inca Tern (GB)
Foal date: May 16, 2004 She learned there was a plain bay waiting there who raced under the Jockey Club name Excessively Crooked. He wasn’t particularly flashy, and he was just learning to jump. Kimball can’t recall what it was that they said about the horse, only that she was seized by the desire to give the animal a second chance; as she so much craved for herself.
Her father volunteered to take her, since her condition prevented her from safely driving a vehicle long distances, and off they went on a two-day road trip that would prove to be her new beginning.
Arriving to find the object of her quest, Kimball liked the animal on sight. “I liked the fact that he was a bay and that he wasn’t considered flashy, and also, that he might be something others would overlook,” she says. “He has just about every bad habit—he cribs, he weaves, and he also has these cute little quirks—he’s kind of a jokester.”
Kimball figured she needed a good laugh, and when the nosey Thoroughbred insisted on flipping the baseball cap off her head, she say she could “see the humor in his eyes.”
“I felt like this was something I needed in my life.”
He sailed easily into her world. On the long journey home, the unlikely trio often pulled into truck stops and raised more than one set of eyebrows as the ex-racehorse gingerly and politely off-loaded to graze and stretch his legs.
“He was unfazed by all the activity of the trucks,” she says, noting however, that some of the truckers were indeed pretty fazed by her horse. “We got a lot of second-takes and strange looks,” she says.
Finally arriving home in July 2010, Kimball and her trainer Christine Vedros of Foxwood Farm set about training Excessively Crooked (nicknamed Cricket) to tame his nervous energy and make him a suitable riding horse.
“As calm as he was on the ground, he was a nervous horse,” she says. “He was afraid of ground poles, and he leapt them like they were three-foot jumps. He used to refuse cross rails all the time, and when he finally started jumping those, he refused verticals.”
She adds, “It didn’t help that I was a green rider.”
Those somewhat awkward first rides built up her confidence and skill in the show ring, and eventually led doctors to marvel at how well the daily physical exercise helped her alleviate the symptoms of her disease.
At a doctor’s appointment to determine the effects of her disease, which is progressive and degenerative, muscle measurement testing found that her strength and conditioning had held steady. “I haven’t gotten any stronger, but I haven’t lost strength either,” she says.
Her doctor was so encouraged by her progress, she adds, that he asked her, unable to hide his surprise and excitement, what she was doing to take care of herself.
“I told him that I ride almost every day, and he told me to never stop doing it. He says that’s what’s keeping me from deteriorating.”
The total effect of riding horses has given Kimball her self-respect back.
Coming off two recent blue-ribbons wins in Jumper classes at the Gulf Coast Classic in Gulfsport, Miss., her first rated show, Kimball feels her strength surge through her limbs, and a deep pride in her progress with Excessively Crooked.
“To come from where we came from, as partners, to win ribbons at our first rated show, was one of the happiest moments of my life,” she says.
Kimball doesn’t know how long her strength will last. But with her new partner, she says she feels “unstoppable.”
“Every morning when I wake up, my first thought is my horse,” Kimball says. “I have never been this happy and complete. And I look forward to many more years together, and many happy trail rides.” — Originally published on Oct. 13, 2013.