In a lifetime around horses, many of them were treasured family and teachers of an uncommon kind. Usually the best of them had something that made them ‘undesirable’ and a hard sell for their previous owners.
A hard running, hard knocks, leggy, bay thoroughbred mare named Ressa Beaux was one such ‘undesirable.’ We loved her so….
We bought Ress in 1979 for meat price at a “hole in the wall” auction in South Jersey. She was in poor condition. She was parasite ridden, on the thin side with rain rot over her back, abscesses in her hind feet and her cheek teeth were sharply jagged, in serious need of work leaving her unable to chew correctly. Her ragged teeth were lacerating her tongue and gums.
To look at Ress, one could see hopelessness in her eyes. She had no attachments to any human. Her only friend had been another mare in similar shape.
When we took over her care, she accepted us stoically. There was no love lost or found. She seemed to be numb to her environment and anyone around her. She had so many disappointments. For all she knew, we might be more of the same. She’d built a wall around herself. Her only focus was on survival.
A year later, we were stabling at Parr Meadows, a defunct racetrack on Long Island. The only way to exercise her was to ride her. There was no place to turn her out. Riding her had previously been avoided since the condition of her legs made mounted work on her questionable. She had fused ankles from heavy osselets, one ankle was dropped and she had a foundered foot. Riding her was not my first choice…But, in that place it was the only way to get her some movement outside of the barn. The backstretch of this mostly abandoned and ill cared for grounds was barren and very rocky. Only the track got any attention. Other trainers stabling there saw to the grooming of the surface.
I was stupid… I have no problem admitting that… I rode her up onto the track with a bareback pad on which I had put a pair of stirrups. As a bridle, I used a Kelly hackamore. I thought we’d just walk and jog a few times around and then head back to the barn. Yeah, good luck! We’re talking about a race mare with fifty eight starts, thirteen wins, two seconds and ten thirds in her long traveled career. She knew all about what racetracks were for… What made me think that she would not respond to stepping on a dirt oval with the customary grandstand and a club house turn where most sprinters like her made their winning move? I was just plain dumb I guess. As we pranced along the backside of the track, Ress became excited. She pulled herself into a tight frame, galloping sideways until the clubhouse turn, where she began diving for the sky. Rearing straight up, she was demanding release. All that I could think was “oh hell, you want to run?” I loosened the reins and she blew out.
The sheer speed pounded a thundering wind in my ears. My eyes were stinging; causing tears to flow that blew right off of my cheeks. Every muscle in my body was taut and feeling a quaking tremor as I held a grip on her mane, hoping that I didn’t end up eating track surface. That ride on her was like a drive in a Formula One race car when you only knew how to drive a Volkswagen. It would have been a good ride for an adrenaline junkie…not me.
Ress knew where the wire was. She pulled herself up without input on the reins from me, then she pranced with an arched neck as though she’d won another race. That was my first ride on a racetrack, completely out of control.
I had a lot to learn and like every other horse that I’d known, Ress was the school mistress. She was teaching me to question myself and what I thought that I knew (“You know nothing, Cindy Ginart!”). Of all the horses over the years since youth, none were as hot, competent, professional, capable of handling people and herd issues as Ressa Beaux was. She taught me how to be open to observation and analyses of horses, their moods, their movement and what they truly needed. What I learned from her came out in so many ways and fused to the rest of my world.
I rode Ress on trail-rides years later. She danced on each new trail. She loved new scenery and the challenges over unknown terrain. As an ex-racehorse, it was her way to lead the trail group and run the show. I could always trust her to pick the pace with a completely loose rein, Ress never attempted to run off. I could change positions in my seat to indicate direction. She was very accommodating. Out on the trail she was in her glory.
She was happy to be out walking the brow of a hill as softly and safely as an old cat or being up to her chest in river water. I really believe Ress adored the challenge, even with her problems. She knew that if anything bothered her, I’d chuck the ride and walk home…which was quite often, even if she was fine. We walked side by side. It just felt like a better way to finish a fine day.
Ress was always somewhat aloof. It was either a protection mechanism or just her way of being the professional that she knew how to be. She was never affectionate or in any way goofy. But after quite a few years, she showed that she felt we were a pair by her attentiveness to my presence when other horses were close by. She drove them off with flattened ears and the stare that I called the “snakeface”, making it clear that they were not welcome at the moment. She was my first race-bred horse and the start of a learning adventure.