A dangerous horse is tamed by love, pain lifts

Elusive Sky moves past difficult days with a new owner who believes in him.

Elusive Sky moves past difficult days with a new owner who believes in him.

Elusive Sky was a dangerous horse.

Desperate to evade the touch of humans, the darkly brooding animal flinched away from the brush, pinned his ears if someone got too near, and even cow-kicked CANTER Mid Atlantic volunteer Jessica Morthole to the ground.

But the impeccably bred 16.1 hand dark bay wasn’t a bad horse, Morthole says. He was a body sore horse. And that was the big difference.

“When he arrived last spring (at my farm) for retraining, I realized immediately that though he was sound, he was super body sore to the point that you couldn’t even run a brush down his side,” Morthole says. “And he quickly became sore all over his body to the point that he experienced what we call ‘the racehorse crash.’

“He quickly dropped 200 pounds and looked so bad that we jokingly said we should hide him behind the barn” so nobody could see him.”

Though there’s no telling what hurt or why—all his x-rays and ultrasound reports were normal—Morthole suspects that the abrupt change from track life, and change in feed and any medications he may have been on, caused a strong withdrawal reaction.

Elusive Sky
Sire: Sky Mesa
Dam: Elusive Joy
Foal date: March 7, 2008
Earnings: $69,040
“I’d given him a month off, but when I tried to get on him, he was violent,” she says. “You couldn’t put your legs near him. One day I was standing on the mounting block next to him and he kicked me really badly; he was that angry. He knocked me off the block” onto the ground.

When she stood back up and brushed the arena dirt from her britches, Morthole decided a change in plan was in order. With all the potential she saw, she wouldn’t give up on him. But instead, shipped him to a trainer who could teach him to behave at the mounting block.

“My friend spent a month just getting on and off him,” she says. “He was still at that point really body sore, and he looked very bad. There was nothing you could put your finger on to explain it. Just everything hurt him.”

But hidden beneath the pain and the bad attitude lurked the robust heart of a willing sport horse and cuddly equine friend.

While nobody else could see any good that could come of Sky, not Morthole’s associates who stopped by her barn, nor prospective buyers, Morthole and her friend Amanda Froelich were certain that beneath the rough exterior was a gem of an animal.

Elusive Sky and Amanda Froelich turn heads on the cross-country field

Elusive Sky and Amanda Froelich turn heads on the cross-country field

Working together, the women dissolved the anger and the fear, like an art restorer who lovingly pulls out the original beauty of a painting.

“Sometimes we had five-minute lessons,” says Froelich, who worked with Morthole to teach Sky to accept their presence. “If he behaved, the lesson would end. We did this for a while, and built up to half-hour lessons.”

As the pair worked, Sky began to show a different side to himself, she adds.

“He used to hide in the corner of his stall. He was very angry,” Froelich says. “Slowly he showed us this incredible personality, and he follows us like a puppy.”

Subsequent riding lessons also revealed that Sky had a huge jump in him, and the bravery to power through a private schooling lesson on a cross-country field in a thunderstorm. He didn’t turn a hair.

After that ride, soaking wet from the storm, Froelich was overjoyed as she announced to Morthole who had come watch her ride: “This horse is sold, I’m buying him.”

Says Froelich, “I used to get so defensive and upset when people would come to the barn, see him, and rip him to shreds. I knew this horse had so much potential. That’s what really got me. Nobody else saw it. But I did.”

25 responses to “A dangerous horse is tamed by love, pain lifts”

  1. cheri vaughan

    What a wonderful couple!! Excellent story!

  2. merle davis

    Ialways knew you you could do any thing you put your mine to do fine job girl your old uncle merle .

  3. Nancy Lupardus

    I guess your mama taught you well, great story and a beautiful horse, that is the family attitude coming out in you, never give up on the under dog.Love you and I enjoy seeing your pictures of you riding him!

  4. Mustang Man

    Congratulations to a successful or what appears to be a successful turnaround of a TB. I would be more heart warmed though if people would step back and take a moment to realize that retraining does not consist of getting on the back or riding but teaching the horse from the ground FIRST, something none of these horses is ever given in the Racing world. I am so glad to see that someone realized thought that 5 minutes sometimes is all that is needed or should be done. That in itself is a highlight of this story. It should never be thought of as what the horse can be “good” for when retrained but what is good for the horse in the first place to see what he/she is willing to do after that trust is built up. Overall though great job, 1 down 17,000 a year to go 🙂

  5. Debbie M

    I believe everything happens for a reason. The reason no one could see his potential, and didn’t want him, is he was obviously meant for you. Everything that made him unwanted to others, ensured he stayed right where he belonged. Congratulations, and many happy rides to both of you.

  6. BendOrBoy

    While I am happy that this horse has had a safe landing. I am bothered by the fact that, by the sounds of it he didn’t get the “down” time that OTTBs need. The way the article is written makes it sound like she bought the horse from the trainer, took him home. Gave him a month as his “down time”. Found that SHE couldn’t handle his “issues” and sent him to someone that retrained him for mounting from a block. So of course he was going to still be body sore from the “crash”
    IMHO he was rushed, which is never a good thing in the long run with any animal.

  7. marion mohrman

    I wish that people would just stop, take a long look and slow down with coming up with an action plan on how to rest or move forward with a horse that is aggresive.
    I would bet you that 3 things come in to the picture : PAIN, LACK OF TRUST, FEAR!

  8. Kim

    Wonderful story! And another example of how we need to listen to the horse while we build a relationship with them rather than just barrel ahead with our personal agendas. Make it an opportunity to learn.

  9. Allie

    Love the article Susan! Fab as always–Just wanted to clarify that this horse was not a CANTER owned horse, but one that Jess bought directly from the racetrack herself. All the CMA donated/owned horses do get at least 3 months off before we do anything with them.

  10. Barbara Griffith

    It sounds like the pain these horses are in is very much like a drug addict trying to kick the habit. Until these trainers and owners that continue to load up these horses on drugs before a race are severally punished for turning these otherwise normal horses into drug addicts this will continue to be done. And the Vets that supply the drugs need to lose their license.

  11. A dangerous horse is tamed by love, pain lifts | Habitat For Horses

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  12. Jessica

    You ladies are the representation of what horsemanship is all about. So glad he got the happy ending he deserved- I’m sure you all make a difference for racehorses all over the place and I thank you for that, from the bottom of my heart. It seems that those horses with the worst story to tell are the most spectacular! So glad the horses at the track in my area are given a second chance! Thanks for everything you do!

  13. ann fox

    Great article…there are many thoroughbreds out there with similar stories…we own a once upon a time cow kicker….Cougar’s source of pain was dealt with (wave mouth & abscesses from bad teeth) & he is now are cuddly kitty! Glad Elusive Sky is loved & appreciated for all he can be. A big shout out to Jessica & all those who take on the so-called meanies of the thoroughbred world.

  14. Jen Roytz

    LOVE to hear that Elusive Sky ended up in a fantastic home and is a budding sport horse. Not every Thoroughbred needs to be a racehorse, and while he had tons of potential early on, this is definitely the best option for him. Thanks to the team at CANTER, to his new owner, and to all that helped him get off the track and onto bigger and better things!

  15. jon

    The key thing here is that Jessica realized that she was not dealing with a horse that was permanetly mentally damaged. Pain gets one a different response. The good thing is that she had the knowledge and resources to be able to start a program with Sky that brought him back from his woeful state. Look at that picture of him jumping cross country. That is a horse that is enjoying his job. That is a thing of beauty! Well done ladies!

  16. betty

    Great story, and I’m so glad it worked out for the horse and his owner. However I’m slightly confused, because I follow Jessica’s blog and she always talks about how CANTER leaves the horses out in the field for months until they recover from the ‘crash’ and they take the initiative to start coming up to handlers. It’s a strategy that seems to work well. So I’m just curious why that approach wasn’t used this time. Obviously it sounds like he had attitude/trust issues as well, but not sure why the insistence on working with a horse that is described as being horribly sore.

  17. PK Training

    It is nice to read a story about an uhappy horse being given a second chance. However, I don’t know what the rush was to get him under saddle after coming off the track. It seems like some time off (a lot of it) would have been beneficial to the horse. There is no need to restart a skinny, body sore OTTB back to work before they’ve had a chance to recover from track life. Doing ground work without a saddle and just spending some time with sour horses on walks does wonders for their attitudes and well-being.

    1. GASafeHorses

      Agree 100%. Mine spent a year in the pasture learning to be a “horse” again before they were fully recovered from their racing careers and injuries to be ridden. Given time good horses happen.





    1. ann fox

      Yes Megan Gaynes does great work…she has many stories to tell. I would also like to see an article about her as well Marian. Thanks for some great articles Sue.

  19. Susan Kayne

    Susan, With all due respect, and remember I am one of your biggest fans. I would have started this article with “Elusive Sky was an abused horse”. His condition and attitude were the result of what the trainer willingly and knowingly did to him, while at the racetrack. It would be interesting to know if Elusive Sky came from the last listed trainer for his last start on Equibase. As far as the “racehorse crash” and loss of 200 pounds that reeks of excessive clenbuterol use. I am happy that Elusive Sky connected with such wonderful people in his post race life. I find it reprehensible that whomever had him at the track abused him in such a way that led him to being labeled as dangerous and violent.

  20. Elizabeth

    Now that is a story to tell! Big Congrats to Amanda & Jessica for having the heart and insight to look beyond the outer shell of this horse and see the kind, willingness and potential of Sky. There are no bad horses, just bad handling and bad experiences by humans. Don’t think people that buy these TBs off track realize that the behavior they see could well be withdrawals from drugs or ill-care. Some TBs are lucky and have a great life on the track with their owners & trainers. Some … not so lucky.

    It is great to know that yet one more OTTB has been given the patience and time they all so desperately need when coming off track. Some need more than others, but we must be willing to give them what they need.

    Good Job !!

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