Author’s note: This week, I am re-running earlier stories, which were favorites among readers. Off-TrackThoroughbreds will resume its regular publication cycle on Monday, Sept. 24, 2012.
The day she met Rowdy Jones, Kim Alexander was feeling as poorly as the scruffy gelding looked.
Weak from her battle with stage-four breast cancer, Alexander was there to see if the ex-racehorse she’d heard such good things about might be a horse she could bring along, in whatever time she had left.
The talented equestrian had already accomplished so much. She won bronze and silver medals in USDF competitions in Tennessee in 2007 and 2010, and captured the state championship in October 2010. All while undergoing cancer treatments that ravaged her body and left her bald. But there was one thing left undone on her list of life goals.
She wanted to own a Thoroughbred.
“I’ve had many horses in my life, but I just love Thoroughbreds. The way they look, with their lithe bodies—they’re spectacular,” she says. “Of all the breeds, there’s nothing that catches my eye more.”
Neither horse nor potential owner however, was at their best on the fateful first meeting.
Race name: Rowdy Jones
New name: Chance
Sire: Warner Jones
Dam: Win She Will
Foal date: March 2005No evidence of lithe, catlike grace hung on this racehorse. He was more disheveled than anything. And Alexander herself was feeling sick and was nursing a broken elbow, which she had sustained falling off a mounting block.
“I wasn’t a well woman at the time. But we went over, and there stood this pathetic horse who looked like he was in horrible shape,” she says. “A jockey had him in a racing saddle and rode him around for us, and I turned to my friend and asked her to get my riding helmet out of the truck.”
Nobody was wild about the idea that a sickly woman would try riding the racehorse. But Alexander insisted that she be given a leg up despite the objections of the jockey and her friend.
After a short ride, she fell on dismount, and slid beneath the horse. “He didn’t move, and I looked at my friend and said, ‘He needs us.’ ”
So, on Jan. 18 last year, after weathering some of the lowest moments in her struggle for health, Alexander, in a joint effort with her close friend, purchased the horse and began a process that has transformed both horse and rider.
Her energies and worries, once preoccupied entirely by her own wellbeing, shifted to focus on the underweight gelding, whom she renamed Chance.
“Instead of lying awake at night worrying about dying, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and think about Chance.”
Her first order of business was putting weight back on him without causing other complications, including illness. She fed him good nutritional hay, supplements, and copious amounts of beet pulp, fattening him up without giving him too much grain.
Results were almost immediate.
“After about 90 days he looked really good. And today he looks fabulous,” she says. “Sometimes I just stare at this horse and his perfect conformation makes the hair on my arms stand on end. Being around him is like being in the presence of a dancer.”
And how he loved to move. Just like a performer, almost from the beginning, he handled cues to walk, trot and canter on the lunge line as if he was circus trained, she says.
With the goal of getting him ready to show, she enlisted the help of a trainer to get him started with dressage training. And has recently placed him at Martha Murdock Stables for even more intensive work.
Fully absorbed now in the challenge of turning Chance into highly skilled dressage mount, the effort and focus has paid her back in spades; giving Alexander a new lease on life. As her horse has grown fit, she has followed suit. Now it’s sit-ups, and riding a bicycle, and doing all the many other activities in preparation for the day when she will ride him in his first show, that consumes her attention.
“Rehabilitating a Thoroughbred is the neatest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “Every time I look at that gelding my heart beats stronger.”
And, she adds, “The best is coming.”