Jennifer Quail spent more cash filling her closet with ballroom-dance dresses than she did buying Lucky, a racehorse she hoped to bring on a different type of foxtrot.
“But I can hang a dress in my closet,” she says. Horses need just a little more legroom, and the financial outlay for upkeep and veterinary maintenance is more pricey than sequins and lace, she adds.
So for the years she lived in Greater Boston, a region of the country not exactly known for its inexpensive property, Quail satisfied her dancing bug, but merely “window shopped” for a horse.
“I used to look at the Trainer Listings in the Finger Lakes all the time,” Quail admits, “but I knew I couldn’t afford it in the Boston area.”
But when the Michigan native relocated to her home state about a year ago, that all changed. Calculating that her mortgage was cheaper than her Beantown rent, she realized she could afford a horse, and she set out immediately to buy a Thoroughbred like the one she had when she was younger.
“I grew up as the typical horse-crazy kid, and got my first pony when I was 7. When I was old enough for a horse, we bought an off-track Thoroughbred named Bold McKinnon.”
Up until the gelding’s death in 2005, he had proved to be both a good trier and trustworthy.
Race name: Lucky To Cope
Sire: Lucky Lionel
Foal date: Feb. 12, 2002
And although she didn’t set out to duplicate her first horse exactly, when she spotted Lucky to Cope on the Finger Lakes Trainer Listings, she noticed right away he had two things going for him: looks and a family tree similar to Bold McKinnon’s.
“Both of my horses were bred from Olympia, a famous Florida sprinter,” she says. “Lucky to Cope was one of three horses I was considering, and I took him once I saw his picture on the trainer listings.
“He was lightly built and his conformation looked really good. I also liked that in one picture, the lead rope was only clipped under his halter, and not over his nose. He just stood for the picture in front of a hot walker with this expression that said, ‘I’m cool.’ ”
Lucky arrived at her Michigan barn in early December last year, and after decompressing over the winter, they started working together in the spring.
Before she climbed into the saddle, she leaned onto his back so they could get used to one another. There was a point when the Lucky turned to look at her and Quail imagines he said to himself, “Will you get on already?”
Finally, she did. And nothing happened.
“All he did was walk off from the mounting block,” she says.
Since those tentative first steps, Lucky and Quail have learned a lot from each other. Quail has taught him to respond to cues that were unlike anything he knew from the track.
When moving into a canter for example, he learned the signal is now quite different. Where once he chose his lead based on a leg squeeze from either the inside or outside, he is now learning that the signal for either a right or left lead comes from the outside leg only, Quail says.
And Quail has discovered where the brakes are. If Lucky gets a little strong and forward, her failsafe stopping method is to stand in the stirrups and ease up on his mouth.
With each romp and gallop, Quail’s Internet audience gets to come along.
Through her blog Lucky To Cope, readers share in myriad details about life with Lucky. This is where she writes about discovering Lucky’s penchant for barrel racing, or technical details of bit choice—a Pelham works best for Lucky— while framing their unfolding life with a kind of humor that doesn’t take life too seriously.
Along the way, her story about Lucky garnered the attention of the New York Times blog, The Rail, which featured a story on the gelding.
The low-level claimer who had 64 starts had attracted the attention of The Rail writer Teresa Genaro years earlier. She’d placed a $2 bet on the long shot and won $72, and mentioned him in a story.
Quail reached out to Genaro to let the writer know Lucky was living the good life now, and a follow up piece on the pair was written.
“Teresa says she wants to come see Lucky someday because she figures she’s owes him $72 in peppermints,” Quail says.
As the one-year anniversary of acquiring Lucky happens this month, Quail knows she and Lucky just keep getting better and better at their own kind of dance moves.
Although he’ll never foxtrot, and even dressage freestyle might be a bit much, in Lucky, Quail has found a different type of dance partner.
“When I go to a dance competition, as the girl, I have to follow,” she explains. “When I ride Lucky, I’m leading. He needs to focus on me while I think two steps ahead.”