Left in an Ontario pasture for years, High on the Rye looked wasted.
Flaccid muscles that once rippled with strength were barely able to support his weight. His front hooves curved inward, and in order to support his body weight, the once graceful racehorse contorted his back legs so far forward that he stood with all four feet awkwardly close together.
Jenny Mutter entered the forgotten racehorse’s life hoping to find a foxhunting prospect. He looked pretty good in the picture she saw online.
But on the day they met, he didn’t look nearly so well.
“The first thing I noticed was that the buckles from his halter had rubbed his face raw. He had big sores. And he had no muscle on his back or his butt,” she says. “He stood with his back feet almost directly behind his front because he had no muscle condition to hold his own weight.”
Looking beyond the haggard appearance, Mutter could tell a couple of things right away. The horse wasn’t starving, just desperately in need of a more nutritious diet and muscle-building exercise.
Race name: High on the Rye
New name: Commodore
Sire: No Malice
Foal date: 2002And scraggly though he appeared last September, she could tell that with the proper care, High on the Rye had terrific conformation. And more, he had a willing personality.
“His attitude was so calm and quiet,” she says. “Now, I wasn’t sure if he’d be the same way once he was fat and happy again, if he would get a little crazy.”
It was a gamble to be sure. But one the longtime Ontario equestrian and former A Circuit competitor was happy to make. After all, Mutter once rescued a Quarter Horse foal from a drought in Alberta, and she wasn’t the type to walk away from this Thoroughbred who probably wouldn’t have too many takers in his life.
“I decided to take him because of his attitude. Although he didn’t have much expression, he did what I asked and was super quiet,” she says.
Once she got him home, she immediately began rehabbing the horse, renamed Commodore.
She altered his diet to include more grass and added supplements, including selenium and vitamin E. She also added roughage chunks and hay cubes, and did a mineral flush on his liver and kidneys.
A farrier was able to reshape the crooked hooves, which fortunately had not damaged his very straight legs.
And Mutter introduced exercise. Because he was too weak to support her properly, she began with regular 20-minute lunging sessions to build his back muscles. And she kept him in side reins to teach him to bend.
When he’d gained enough strength to support her, she started patiently teaching him to learn where his feet were supposed to be.
“He wasn’t really sure how to balance himself at first,” she says. “So I did a lot of serpentine exercises, and pole work to teach him where his feet are.”
He was an apt pupil. As he put on weight and got into better condition, his mellow, willing attitude remained.
After two months of retraining, Mutter felt confident enough to take him on a foxhunt, a move she now admits was a bit crazy. He was totally game, and had a great time. But she was just a tad taken aback by his speed and eagerness to give chase.
“I thought I was going to die!” she says, laughing. “We were in a pack of 60 horses and every time we entered a field, he took off because he thought he had to get to the front of the pack!”
He gamely followed the other horses across fields and over fences as high as 3-feet.
When they were safely home at the barn, Mutter realized she had a great horse, and likewise, his personality quickly changed for the better. No longer aloof and without affect, he started to follow her around and crave her attention. “He has become a real mama’s boy,” she says.
And he’ll do anything for his owner. Including joust.
Mutter’s boyfriend has ridden the commanding dark bay at several fairs with medieval jousting competitions, and he’s usually the only Thoroughbred there.
Her boyfriend wears about 30 clanging pounds of equipment, including breastplate, chain mail, and a helmet.
“A lot of people ride heavy, cross breeds to these events because they are calmer. But Commodore has taken it all in his stride,” she says.
It has been exactly a year since she took him out of the pasture and made a home for him. In that time, he has made extraordinary gains.
“He’s a joust horse! This is the real deal. Riders use real armor, real lances and make real strikes!”
Commodore won the IGA Canada League Championships against 14 other jousters from across Canada and the United States, and has competed at several other matches.
At the end of a demonstration, the gleaming ex-racehorse’s favorite activity is to have his nose pet by adoring spectators and children. In his heart, he is a gentle animal who had a tough battle before getting to here, a place in the world where people love him.
“Before Commodore, I didn’t really know much about Thoroughbreds. I’d always thought they were a little crazy,” Mutter says. “But Commodore has shown me how good they are”.
“As much as he’s a fit horse now, I can still throw a 5-year-old kid on him and take him for a trail ride and know they will be just fine.”
And the horse who was once so scrawny he couldn’t support his own weight now shines with good health, and eagerly romps through regular foxhunts and jousting matches.
“He has done amazing things in the one short year I have owned him,” Mutter says. “And this is only the beginning for us, and for his newfound career.”