What Sue Hutchinson remembers of those last moments spent with her 29-year-old Thoroughbred Presidential Way, has the sharp focus and detail that comes from reliving the day, again and again.
“It was a Wednesday last July, and he was in the barn like he always was, waiting to be fed. He usually went in around 5 a.m. to wait for someone to feed him. If somebody didn’t come by 6, he’d start hollering,” she says. “When I walked in on this morning, he was in the founder’s stance.”
A foundering horse, or one who has developed laminitis, a leading cause of premature death in horses, characteristically stands in an exaggerated fashion to alleviate pressure on the affected hoof.
When Hutchinson saw how P Way, as she calls him, was standing, she knew immediately. It had been about a month since he started additional grain in his diet in attempts to put weight on him. But weight was difficult to keep on him since he developed Cushing’s Syndrome the year before. “He just got old really quickly,” she recalls.
Time seemed to go in slow motion after she found P Way that morning. The wait for the veterinarian to arrive seemed interminable, and with each passing moment, P Way’s pain got worse.
Race Name: Witty Bill
Foal date: March 4, 1998“When the vet arrived he had me walk him over to the fence” a short distance from the barn, and with skill and kindness the animal’s suffering was put to an end.
“That day was just so terrible. He was so special to me,” Hutchinson says.
Over the next year, the Vermont nurse got on with life, working for a nearby health clinic and keeping busy with everyday routines. Not to mention, she still had her other horse, a Standardbred mare named Franc, to ride.
But her daughter Randee noticed Hutchinson was still so sad after losing the horse she’d owned for 10 years. So her only daughter, and fellow rider, took matters into her own hands.
She started looking for another Thoroughbred for her mom, and discovered ex-racehorse Witty Bill listed on CANTER New England’s Facebook page.
The 11-year-old ex-racehorse had spent the last five years in a nearby Macrae’s Farm in Concord, N.H., where he received “wonderful care.” It was just too convenient not to at least go have a look at him.
“I knew when I met Bill that he was right for us,” she says.
She took Bill home on May 22 and is teaching him to take relaxing trail rides on snow paths through her hilly neighborhood. Bill is figuring out how to walk, trot and relax on the shadowy trails, and Hutchinson is learning her horse’s little idiosyncrasies. “He doesn’t like mud, unless he’s rolling in it. And he doesn’t like a fly mask. Put one on, he’ll take it off,” she says, noting that it’s still a mystery how he gets the mask off in tact.
Having grown up with a Thoroughbred bought for her as a little girl, Hutchinson waited a long time to rekindle that love.
And while she’s quick to point out that she loves her mare, there is just something about a Thoroughbred. “They’re demeanor is like a big, playful dog. “ Presidential Way rekindled the childhood joy she felt riding Thoroughbreds, while he quietly taught just about every kid in her neighborhood how to ride.
Now Hutchinson’s barn is again filled with the antics and new life of another off-track Thoroughbred, but P Way left some pretty big shoes to fill.
Recalling that last walk together, Hutchinson describes the Herculean effort the horse made to follow his owner to where the vet stood waiting.
“He had to walk about 400 feet up a grassy knoll, so that he would be on the side of the barn and not in the front,” she says. “He gave me all the effort he could to walk up that knoll, no question. He gave 100 percent, like always.”