Flying Cayman: Natural born barrel-racer

Nikki Egyed was in a hurry, had somewhere else to be, and didn’t have time to dawdle with her ex-racehorse Flying Cayman.

Ordinarily, Egyed lavished Cayman with treats and rewards for good behavior in the lesson ring. It was the same ritual every time: he was given treats in a manner that encouraged him to stretch his neck, and relax his muscles, after which came Caymen’s big payoff: the roll.

Following the same routine, he would walk beside his owner, without a lead rope, to a sandy, soft arena just perfect for sinking into. He’d barely cross into the ring before he would drop to his knees, flopping into a gleeful, full out, hoof-in-the-air experience.

But on one recent day at their California barn, Egyed just didn’t have the time. So as she ushered him toward his stall, hoping to pass right by the ring where his plushy reward lay, he pulled up short, and looked at her. Then his gaze swiveled toward the ring.

“It was as if he was saying, wait a minute. I get to roll now,” Egyed says.

Race name: Flying Cayman
Sire: Fly So Free
Dam: Cayman Agressor
Foal date: June 2, 2002
Making his decision, he turned on his heel, and unencumbered by a lead rope, trotted off.

“He went down the hill, to the arena, and he didn’t get three feet inside it before he dropped,” Egyed says, laughing. “ He rolled on one side, then on the other, and then came trotting right back to me.

“It’s like he said, ‘OK, I’m ready to go back in my stall now.’ ”

Egyed never made that mistake again. After all, acquiring the chestnut gelding from the Fairmount Park in 2009 was about the best thing she’d done as a horsewoman.

When she picked him out of a lineup of free horses, it was for his great breeding—he is a son of Fly so Free      and for his “thick build” and clean legs.

After pulling him off the track as a seven-year-old, her two primary objectives were getting him to relax into a laid-back farm life, and later on, to correct his pearly whites.

At first, Cayman was a bit standoffish. Although never a mean or unhappy horse, he was not people friendly. “He never whinnied at you, or talked to you, at feeding time,” she says. “I basically threw a whole new life at him. The first time we put him out to graze, he didn’t know what to do; he just stood there.”

But, on the flip side, he was remarkably uncomplicated to train.  This was a horse who would do anything.

“One day I saddled him up and took him on a trail ride, and it was like he said, ‘Oh, OK, we’re doing this now.’ ”

As time passed, Egyed threw more things at him — she even took him to a public arena and started offering riding lessons on him, and he was perfect.  And she rode him on more trails, and as before, he was an unflappable, trustworthy mount.

So the next logical thing, she figured, was to try was barrel racing.

In May 2010, after seeing an advertisement for a type of barrel racing called Gymkhana, and knowing little about it herself, she thought she’d hit on the perfect next challenge to throw at Cayman.

“At the time, I didn’t have a horse trailer, so I rode him a mile to the show grounds,” she says. “When I showed up, I was in a world of Quarter Horses, and people looked at me like they were asking, ‘Who’s this strange person on a goofy looking horse?’ ”

The “goofy” horse and rider had the last laugh though.

With only minutes to figure out the complicated, timed patterns, the pair barreled full bore to two, first-place ribbons!

“I didn’t know the patterns, and he didn’t get it, but we were both kind of winging it,” she says. “Not only did we get two first places, but, I saw an enthusiasm in him I hadn’t seen before.”

Cayman, it turns out, was a natural at barrel racing.

Since then, he’s won armfuls of ribbons at various AQHA Open Shows, demonstrating to all the Quarter Horses that a Thoroughbred can bend, and can run in tight circles, just like they can.

Although the Thoroughbred breed is still a minority in the Quarter Horse country of San Luis Obispo, Calif., where Egyed owns and operates the Silver Shadow Training Services, Cayman does make a valid point each and every time he competes against them.

“He is just rock solid. When we’re out on the trails, if another horse throws a tantrum or spooks, he refuses to buy into it,” she says. “He’s rugged, too. He’ll go into creeks, hike up mountains, and go all day and never get tired.”

And even when his teeth were hurting, before his considerable dental problems were detected and addressed, he proved to be a stoic animal; he never fussed or complained about the bit.

When eventually Egyed had his teeth floated, the equine dentist found that his back  molars were in such bad shape that they were causing his mouth to bleed, and blood to trickle down his throat.

But, Cayman never let on.

“He never had a problem with the bit, and he put on weight normally. He always seemed fine,” she says.

When the discovery was made, however, Egyed spared no expense to get major dental work that finally relieved him from any discomfort he might have been feeling.

Now, horse and rider are smiling all the time.

He is fit, feeling good, and is so trustworthy he does not require a halter or a lead rope to step wherever he’s asked.

And if Egyed forgets to let him take his roll in the paddock after a lesson, that’s fine; he’ll only be a moment as he trots off to do his thing, and returns right back to her side.

“He is a one-of-a-kind,” she says. “I realize that I’ll never have another horse like him.”

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3 responses to “Flying Cayman: Natural born barrel-racer”

  1. Jennifer Selken

    Love it! I live in quarter horse country where everything is barrel racing. Nice to see an OTTB taking on the quarter horses!

  2. TBDancer

    OTTBs come with thousands of dollars worth of training and “life experiences” and while some of them do not LIKE what they learned in their previous “life,” they can be “redirected” to a new career with time and patience.

    Even today, 15 years after my OTTB’s race career I cannot tack him up in the cross ties or wash rack because it reminds him of the saddling paddock (I guess). Step him out of the area and he’s fine, however. (Baby steps ;o)

    He also was a bit standoffish when I first got him. I worked with him every day and it took a whole week before he realized I wasn’t just “that lady,” I was “HIS lady” and he nickered when I got out of my car instead of nickering after the work and when I was headed his way with a goody bucket.

    Like Flying Cayman, my horse has an excellent work ethic. Absolutely willing for whatever adventure lies ahead.

  3. Amy Bush

    I love this story! It reminds me of me and my TB Habitworthaving! Doing drill is a very western, very QH world. So, I know exactly what she is talking about. The thing is, that the QH world doesn’t know how great and easy these horses are to train. I kinda think that the TBs are the best kept western secret!!! Lol! Great wonderful story!!! 🙂

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