Bedraggled and hanging half forgotten like a child’s rain-soaked stuffed animal, RV Smokin Joe was about the sorriest looking Thoroughbred Caroline LaCombe had ever laid eyes on.
Wearing a 17.2 hand frame like an ill-fitting suit, his neck too short, his hair matted or worn away completely in spots, he peeked tentatively at the Texas barn manager who’d ridden along with a friend to check out the horse, now for sale.
“My friend called me and asked if I wanted to go look at a Thorougbred at a local rescue, and he was about 45 minutes away from the barn I work at in Richmond Texas, so I said sure,” she says. “When we pulled up he was standing right there. He was really big, and he looked awful.”
Skin and bones and knee-high in mud from his pasture, he walked with a slight limp and generally seemed “off.”
And yet, he listened so well and tried so hard during a test ride that LaCombe and her friend debated his potential the way they some girls do when looking at a dress that isn’t quite right. “I said that he looked terrible right then, but if we fed him better, and cleaned him up…… and the lameness went away, well, he just might be really nice if we fix him up,” she says.
RV Smokin Joe
Sire: Cien Fuegos
Dam: Cash to the Mint
Foal date: March 19, 2006LaCombe thought about her five-stall barn, filled to capacity with her other horses, and realized that while she’d never owned a Thoroughbred before, why not take a chance. What the heck!
So back she went with the trailer. And Smokin Joe, or Joey for short, walked onto that van like he knew he was going somewhere better, and off they went.
“I gave him a bath, cut his mane and started feeding him. I started frantically reading and researching what to feed him and how to train him, and even started reading about his breeding. He has good breeding!” she says.
Introducing each dietary change slowly, she fattened him up on a good-nutrition pellet feed, Alfalfa and pasture grass. He did have one mild episode of colic early on, but in a month’s time, the ugly duckling turned into a swan. A fat, shiny, beautiful swan.
“Everybody wanted me to do monthly updates on him, so I took his picture every month so we could see how he was changing,” she says, adding that though his coat was lying flat and looking better, his body was indeed fitting his frame better.
After an injection to his left knee, where a fixed bone chip was giving him trouble, he was sound as a bell.
By August, the big guy went into training feeling great. Actually, a little too great, she admits.
“He was easy to train, but was very, very hot, so that when you got on his back it felt like he could explode at any time,” she says. “This was not the horse we picked up. He suddenly had all this energy and was feeling good.”
Making the hard decision that it would be better for Joey and for herself if he went to a more qualified trainer, LaCombe sold him to another Texas trainer and regretted it the minute she dropped him off.
“I took him over to his new place, signed over ownership and while I was driving away, I had this horrible feeling that I wasn’t doing the right thing for him,” she says. “I told them if they ever need to get rid of him, to call me.”
And a few months later, her same friend called to let her know that Joey needed to come back.
A third owner—who had purchased him from the second owner— claimed he was unfit to ride and was again lame, and though it took her an entire day to make the round-trip to bring him back to Richmond, she did it without hesitation.
“I was so glad someone contacted me, because when he stepped off the trailer, he couldn’t walk. He looked almost worse than he did when I first got him. He had cuts everywhere, was skinny, and I had that sinking feeling that I never should have let him go in the first place.”
Of course LaCombe now knew just what to do. Fatten him up, take care of his wounds. Give him a lot of TLC and bring back the beautiful horse she knew he was meant to be.
His lameness was identified as the result of feet that had been trimmed too short, and he required a few months to re-grow the soles of his feet. She made sure he had the best of everything in the process, including adding a medically treated substitute sole that cushioned his sore feet while his real soles regrew.
Joey is just entering training again, and LaCombe has made a permanent home for him at her barn. By boarding one of her other horses at a nearby facility Joey even has a stall close to home, where she can keep a close eye on him.
“He’s just such a good horse. To me, he’s perfect,” she says. “I don’t necessarily believe in fate, and that everything happens for a reason. But I’m glad that he’s back. He’s never going anywhere again: he’s with us forever.”