Bad luck crashed into Nancy George’s life like a tsunami and washed away her cherished 80-acre Kentucky farm in 2006; it was the first thing to go in a succession of achingly tragic losses that seemed to keep coming and coming until most of the fight was stamped out of her.
In 2007, a year after she and her husband Harry walked away from the property they’d painstakingly built up with gorgeous indoor and outdoor rings, her father succumbed to a stroke. The next year her best friend died in a fluke accident, and after that her broodmare bled out from foaling. Even the baby didn’t live for long, after a neurologic problem was discovered.
“The sale of the property brought in what I refer to as the “black cloud” of bad luck that sat over my head for the next five years,” she says. “We sold everything in 2006, but kept 23 acres on the West side of the property and by 2007 had a small house and some more fencing added.
“The very day we signed the contract on the new place, my 27 year old retired Jumper that I had owned since he was 6, colicked and had to be euthanized.”
And the hits just kept on coming.
Sire: High Yield
Dam: Usual Lies
Foal date: January 27, 2002After the deaths of her beloved family, friend and horses, by the time 2010 dawned, George admits she was “in the pit of depression” and struggling to take joy in anything, anymore.
She began to sell off her tack and was contemplating getting out of horses altogether when racehorse owner Nelson Clemmons gave George a boot in the pants, and a new lease on life by sending her an attitudinal, ornery redheaded gelding named Bonjour Papa.
Bonjour Papa wasn’t necessarily naughty, but he wasn’t necessarily nice either.
When he arrived at Greyhorse Farm on the corner of the larger property she once owned, he exuded a bit of an attitude. “He wasn’t overly friendly, and he wasn’t mean. He never tried to kick me, although he has nipped me,” she admits. “He was the type of horse I could only push so far.”
This she learned one day while putting him through the paces. After asking him to go forward, he stopped, turned his head all the way back to her foot, and literally grabbed her foot with his mouth! “For a split second, I thought, ‘Oh crap!’ If anything happens, well, my husband is legally blind, and I don’t have anyone watching out for me.” Though Papa let go of her foot quickly, and did not cause an accident by entangling his headgear with her boot, the incident underscored how life with horses can turn on a dime.
And from that moment onward George and Bonjour Papa learned to work together, while respecting each other’s boundaries.
“He wasn’t a naughty horse, but if I got aggressive with him, he could get aggressive back,” she says. “I had to treat him like a mare, and be a little smarter” about things than he was.
Taking his lessons slowly, she never pushed too hard, but was consistent and even a little stubborn.
The work took her full attention, never allowing George to focus on her emotional issues.
And before too long, her black cloud started to break up giving way to blue skies once again.
“Papa brought me back from the dead,” she says. “I wasn’t sure at first what I had got myself into. Papa has attitude like a mare, you can’t force him to do anything, and you have to very patient and be more stubborn than he is.”
She took nine slow months to train him for his first show, with no real expectations when she got there. And to her surprise, “He was so good,” she says.
Though he did not win ribbons, they made huge strides that day. Papa was learning to go quietly into his next life, and George was bravely moving past the pain and grief, and into an exciting new one.
Now jumping 2-feet, and aiming for 2-foot-6, Papa is just the beginning of a string of off-track Thoroughbred success stories George has retrained for Clemmons. She has successfully re-trained and helped sell several mounts, including Boulder Tiger, Torvald, Sam P., Positively Page, and Marcos Bon Vivant.
Papa is also listed for sale, but George isn’t so sure she is willing to part with him.
“I still have him listed on my website greyhorseenterprises.com, but I’m thinking we will grow old together because he is such a big part of my life,” she says. “I love him.”
Some people save horses. Some horses save people.
“I’m now in my 60s and perfectly happy to take his training very slowly,” she says. “So we’re a good match.”