In Praise of Teddy

If we could all live life like Teddy. We don’t know his story very well—his only real form of identification, his lip tattoo, was worn away to illegible numbers and letters—but from knowing Teddy, I’m certain that as a racehorse he was all heart.

I know that all of us can probably sit back and remember that special horse or pony who taught us what it is to love horses, to ride, to fall, to get back up and to keep trying. Those special ones live in our hearts forever but don’t always make it to the Hall of Fame, imprint history with a Triple Crown victory or clinch the gold medal for the team. Some of our everyday horse heroes are just memories in our hearts, but I would like to take a moment to recognize the Thoroughbreds who have made us who we are today—and just possibly think about living our lives like an off-track Thoroughbred.

A lot of times we talk about the retraining of Thoroughbreds for their “second careers,” but I’m not too sure we really step back and look at just how many adventures these horses experience; ­ they really live! We say to a lot of the Thoroughbreds coming off the track that they are going to retirement, but in reality their lives are just starting. For a horse that can live into its late 20s and sometimes 30s, we cannot really think about “retirement” when so many of them have so much more to give.

Again, it’s my reminder to those who retrain these horses that we don’t always need to show them or proclaim their greatness with medals and ribbons. We can also, as trainers, develop off-track Thoroughbreds to be great teachers, kind and patient friends that in the end help develop riders into horsemen—which, in the grandest scheme of life, is most important.

New little students who came to our farm would see our Teddy and wouldn’t understand how the swaybacked old man could be anybody’s hero. We don’t always think of our heroes with more grey on their faces than black, mane that once was braided for shows now all long and wispy, and a once-black coat that is still soft and shiny but lacking the vibrancy of his youth, when the sunlight would glisten off of it. His long legs now wobbled a bit and he even walked a little sideways when he came for his meals. For the past 10 years, his grain had been soaked to a souplike consistency because he had lost most of his teeth, and even his tongue would slip out every now and again, with nothing there to hold it in.

Teddy had retired (for real this time) about eight years ago; we could only guess that his age was well into his 30s because of the time he had been with us. In life and in real retirement he was a happy soul; even though he was getting wobbly, he would surprise us every once in a while by slipping out the gate or sneaking out of a stall and running around like a youngster again.

Today, as I sat here waiting for the vet knowing we weren’t ready to say goodbye, I remembered another time when I wasn’t ready, but Teddy helped me get through. My mom and I signed up for the Parent/Child jumping class at the Devon Horse Show. I was maybe 13 years old, and I had never jumped in the famous Dixon Oval before, a ring that I had only dreamed of competing in.

On top of that, Teddy wasn’t my horse, and I was only riding him for my third or fourth time. But I’ll never forget the “get up and go,” the “have at it” feel that Teddy gave me that night under the lights. My nerves were through the roof, but Teddy held my hand through the whole course, and we won that night. I’ll never forget it.

Teddy and Diane Lynch getting ready to go cubbing with the River Hills Foxhounds

Since then I’ve competed in the Dixon Oval several times, and to me it still holds the highest regard in my mind; but every time I remember Teddy, and I remember what he gave me that night.

I wasn’t the only one to whom Teddy gave great memories. He was loved and owned by a special lady who was happy to have him retire here at our farm long after the days he had taught her, and then her son, how to ride. Teddy gave his owner and others a confidence in the show ring and a steadiness in the foxhunting field that would take anyone over the biggest of fences on the fastest of runs through the countryside.

Hello world!
Mandy Steele and Teddy in the Junior Equitation at Radnor

Outside of foxhunting and teaching lessons to his riders in the ring, he was a sweet horse. Even after his retirement you couldn’t help but smile when Teddy greeted you at the gate with his ears always pricked forward and happy to be alive. I think that’s the lesson I’ve learned most from the off-track Thoroughbreds: Live life! No matter what is thrown at you, keep trying to do your best and that will always make a difference!

Thank you, Teddy, ­for showing us how to love life.

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