MacKenzie Ferguson’s grandmother never could confine herself to what was expected of a lady in the 1950s.
Far from card games in chintz-filled rooms, Liz Ferguson was crouched, unladylike in the irons, piloting a Thoroughbred over Minnesota racetracks at a time in history when this type of behavior by a woman just wasn’t done.
And even when she’d grown older, her spirited personality never failed to elicit a flash of spunk when summer came, and it was time to dive from the heat, straight into the cool depths of a nearby pond.
“She was still doing front handsprings off the swimming dock when she was a grandma,” MacKenzie Ferguson recalls with pride. “She was always a spitfire.”
Ferguson lost her grandmother three years ago, when it seemed the vibrant lady had grown “tired of being an old person,” her granddaughter recalls, but, the devil-may-care attitude she admired so well in her elder relative came roaring back to her two years ago.
It came in the form of a headstrong mare.
Sharkey Time had been running with little success at Canterbury Park Racetrack in Minnesota when Ferguson discovered her on the pages of the horse want ads.
Having been reared in a horse family— grandparents as well as parents were involved with racehorses in some way —she grew up in the joyful Race name: Sharkey Time
New name: Nova
Dam: Unbridled Lea
Foal date: Feb. 22, 2004position of having a field full of ex-racehorses to ride.
But 15 years had passed by the time Ferguson, along with her father, there for his sage advice, decided to take a look at Sharkey Time.
And all their best intentions to go cautiously flew out the window when Sharkey trotted out of her stall at the end of a lead rope.
“My father was supposed to be the voice of reason, and he says almost immediately, ‘Write him a check! Write him a check now!’ she says. “But, I already knew I adored her.”
What caught both their eyes was her fine movement and beauty, and an inquisitive personality that would continually reveal itself to Ferguson in “hilarious ways.”
“If I go looking for something in a box, she’s right there with me, looking too. If I put on my half-chaps, she puts her face down, right next to me, to watch what I’m doing,” she says.
All cuteness aside however, Sharkey Time is also an alpha mare.
Since she came home with Ferguson in August 2010, there have been some wild rides.
“She bolted with me one day out the arena door,” she says. “I’d been told by the trainer to keep her moving forward, and she started to run away with me a little. As soon as she got near the open arena door, I could feel her weight shift, and we were off!”
As they careened outside, just missing the farrier’s truck, they galloped out across the parking lot before finally coming to a halt near another barn.
There is nothing mean-spirited or nasty in the mare’s occasional spooks, but they have put the 35-year-old rider into some hair-raising predicaments.
Seven weeks ago, the pair were walking toward an outdoor barn social event when the mare spooked and reared up, flipping over and landing on top of Ferguson, her weight pushing her deep into the gravel.
It seemed miraculous to her, but nothing was broken.
“After getting pounded into the gravel by a 1,200 pound horse, I couldn’t believe I didn’t break anything!” she says, noting that she thought of her brave grandmother quite a lot that day. “I think my grandmother would be proud of the work I’m doing with this her.”
Instead of rushing her, Ferguson is taking re-training as slowly as the mare wants to go; a philosophy her grandmother would see the wisdom of, and which now serves her well.
On trail rides, they venture a little further from the safety of the farm every time, never rushing it. Some days Ferguson is rewarded with a nice, gentle canter, and on the days when she’s more lit up, she has learned to accommodate her horse and not stress her.
More demanding than any other ex-racehorse she has ever ridden, she is also the most rewarding.
“This horse has taught me more in two years than I learned from all the others I’ve ridden,” Ferguson says.
MacKenzie Ferguson hails from a long line of strong-minded females. And this mare fits right in. She’s a spitfire and a love.
“My grandmother was a jockey and my grandparents bred and raced Thoroughbreds until they retired. My family always believed in properly re-homing retiring horses, and our pasture was full of ex-racers,” Ferguson says.
Now Sharkey Time is teaching Ferguson, through all the setbacks, to be a better rider.
And to have faith in what she learned from her family, and in what the mare is showing her now.