The Long Goodbye: Meet Vinnie

Vinnie 025It makes perfect sense to tell the story of an off-the-track Thoroughbred in the midst of the Triple Crown frenzy–with two weeks until the final race. Some of us love racing and some can’t stand to watch, but we all agree on one truth: Thoroughbred horses are beautiful, athletic, and bursting with heart.

Is there a foal born that doesn’t arrive with a human’s dream attached? They’re all legs and big ears, galloping to keep up with Mom’s slow trot, while Fogelberg’s Run for the Roses swells to a crescendo. The foal stops and the camera zooms in close to his big, soft eye. His intelligence is undeniable.

Trigger Warning: Real Life.

On the day that Vinnie was born, someone looked at him with awe. We don’t know who, or where. We can’t trace him that far back–the tattoo inside his lip isn’t readable. But he said goodbye to his family and landed at Thistledown Racino, a Thoroughbred race track and casino in North Randall, Ohio, on the outskirts of Cleveland. Do you know the place? The track has declined in recent years because it doesn’t have slot machines like the neighboring tracks.

When Vinnie was no longer wanted at the track, his owners listed him with CANTER (stands for The Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses) in Ohio. He was not a rescue, but listed for sale. Another horse from the same owner was purchased by a Colorado trainer, with one catch. It was a two-for-one deal; if the trainer wanted the chestnut she liked, then the bay, Vinnie, had to go along in the deal. No charge.

I doubt it was a sad farewell or a warm welcome to Colorado. Clearly Vinnie was no prize. At some point around this time, someone mentioned a diagnosis of Shivers, a degenerative neurological disease with no cure. We don’t know who diagnosed it or much else about him in these early years.

The Colorado trainer soon donated him on to a rather elite private riding program. He’s been there the last eight years–jumping mostly. It’s a challenge working in a program where riders change almost daily. It’s safe to say his riders weren’t necessarily the best but he took care of them for the next few years. We hear all the girls loved him.

But then Vinnie started to unravel. We were told differing stories about this part, too. He just “decided” to not get in the trailer one day. He flipped over in trailers. He needed to be tranquilized for the farrier. He only hated the nail hammering part of farrier work. He had horrible separation anxiety. He didn’t like being tied. The list goes on, but he got booted out of the riding program and spent all winter in pasture with no supplemental feed. Then the order came down; Vinnie was no longer paying his way and he needed to move on. Right away. One more time.

You know the next part: somebody called somebody and word got to a person with a soft spot for off the track Thoroughbreds. She, along with a second kind heart, decided to sponsor Vinnie, with help from Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue, and I agreed he could come to my farm.

I went to see him with one of his sponsors-to-be. We had low expectations, and if he was worse than we expected, we knew we’d want him more. So there wasn’t much doubt. He was alone in an arena with a horse trailer. He was skinny and so filled with anxiety that he seemed distracted and antsy–kind of slow motion frantic. He was moving badly behind, so skinny that his withers had a pointy peak, but his eye was soft. He had some idea he might be applying for a job and first impressions probably mattered but he was a mess with his stomach sucked up and a dusty dullness to his coat.

We walked to the trailer and his hay was inside, just beyond his reach. He paced back and forth–tense with hunger. His backbone was visible and he had a way of tucking his butt under himself to compensate for whatever was hurting him. At the same time, he was very kind, happy to breathe with me, and match my strides walking until he found a stray bit of manure. He stopped to eat it and now that I looked, there wasn’t another visible scrap of manure in the arena. I wondered… but they said he cleaned up his hay three times a day. Maybe Vinnie was lying but I doubt it. Either way, withholding feed is a ridiculous training technique.

He’s a tall lanky gelding, more insecure than shy. He doesn’t ask for much, he’s calm–with a Cary Grant kind of charm. Vinnie kept his head low, level with mine, more accepting than desperate. I let him know he’d be at my barn tomorrow.

Vinnie 064The riding program was afraid we’d get hurt hauling him, so they insisted on delivering him. His new friends spent twenty-four hours hoping Vinnie would survive the trip. The next afternoon when the trailer pulled in, I had a spot ready for him with fresh water and too much hay. I watched him–while he watched me–as the trailer pulled around. When the door opened, he paused there like a returning war hero. He slowly stepped off the trailer with dignity and calm. The cowboy who hauled him said he walked right in the trailer, no fuss.

Don’t go all bliss-ninny on me. I know you want to read a happy rescue story here–only half as much as I want to write one. But that isn’t true yet. He’s here for two months for evaluation. This is not his happy ending, just a stopover. But Vinnie thinks today is good. He likes the company and they put the hay crazy-close. You can eat all day long.

Vinnie has an odd stride and some nervous affectations. He’s getting ulcer treatment, but we wondered about the Shivers, along with tucked hip, so his sponsors called in a favor with a vet/chiropractor/acupuncturist. Vinnie had needles in his back in a blink. The good news was that she didn’t diagnose Shivers. On the down side, she thinks he may have sustained a serious SI injury or perhaps a broken pelvis at some time in the past.

When? Did it happen at the track; is that why he was shuffled off for free? Had he been carrying kids over jumps this way? Just then a friend at my barn said Vinnie looked very familiar. She texted me the next day to say he’d been offered to the equine therapy center where she works–three years earlier. She’d turned him down because he was lame and skinny.

We don’t know the end of this story. He has a couple of sponsored months here, so he can be evaluated. He’ll be getting plenty to eat, more vet visits, and some supplements and medications to help his back loosen. I’ll work with him on confidence and trailer loading. We don’t know if he will able to be ridden lightly or not but we want to give him some time with that part of the evaluation. They told us he was 12, but his papers say he’s 14. Vinnie is at midlife.

Ultimately horses, sometimes even rescue horses, get judged by whether or not they can put in more work. They’re valued for what they have to contribute to humans; they have to pay their way.

But the really sad part is that even now Vinnie will try again. No matter how many times he’s been dismissed, no matter how many goodbyes have come before; he will keep his big Thoroughbred heart open to humans. This horse humbles me. He doesn’t have the good sense to quit us and he will try again. Like his brothers at the track, he will try until his heart bursts.

So, if goodbye is not in your vocabulary and if you think his huge heart will fit inside your barn, then kindly consider adopting this good horse from Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue. Because a forever home means more to some of us than others.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

42 thoughts on “The Long Goodbye: Meet Vinnie

  1. Anna – this is a beautiful blog about a lovely horse who reminds me of my old thoroughbred from your description. If I was in the States I would come and get him 🙂 Real food for thought on what happens to ex-racehorses/OTTBs too.

  2. Beautifully worded. All horses do have such huge hearts, and for the most part are forgiving of the wrongs we humans bestow on them. I hope Vinnie finds that forever home where he will be cherished and loved for being Vinnie.

  3. I wish I were closer, I would take him in a heart beat. My OTTB is now 19 and is living the life as a retired pasture puff, along with two retired Standardbred harness racers, on approximately 6 acres of pasture. I have had Rhett for 11 years. Ridden him maybe 6 times. But now it is all about keeping him comfortable on old racing injuries and happy. Which he is. I pray hat Vinnie finds a nice soft place to land. And bless you for your help in getting him that place.

  4. Forever really means forever at my house:)
    Thanks Anna! You are a Saint! Tears of joy for this special boy!

  5. I was ok until I read the sentence about eating manure. Now that I’ve patched up my makeup (I should know better by now than to read these at work!) from tear damage, I can respond. Why these beautiful equine souls choose to trust us baffles me. They possess a simple grace that we as humans should only hope to have. You are my hero for helping Vinnie, and I too would give him a forever home were I not so far away. Florida is a long trailer ride from CO. I pray that someone nearby will be touched by his story and give Vinnie the loving home he so richly deserves. Thanks for all you do and do keep us posted on his progress.

  6. One of the most lionhearted horses I knew was a gigantic dark bay thoroughbred gelding, a looming black shadow of a horse by the name of Double Reef. The industry threw him away too, and by the time we found him he was truly thin in the way only thoroughbreds can become truly thin. My trainer nursed him back to health, but he was a real jerk of a horse. He’d double-barrel you if he was having a bad day, he bit when you pulled up the girth, and he wouldn’t think twice about popping off one of the lesson kids if they got a bit obnoxious. He didn’t have any pain – he was just nasty old Reef. But it was only big ol’ Reef that could carry our four-year-old Down’s syndrome student. Reef would have kicked my teeth out if I tried it, but that little kid could put his arms around the big horse’s knee (it was as high as he could reach) and hug him, and Reef wouldn’t turn a hair. Sure, they’re quirky and a little insane, but you can’t beat a thoroughbred for heart.

  7. How ANYONE could treat a horse or any animal in this way-I cant understand! Thank heavens for Ruby Ranch Rescue. I hope & pray that someone (like the people who comment above) comes along for Vinnie & gives him the home he deserves. Boggles the mind that any animal can have such a kind heart & attitude after being abused this way.

  8. Maybe if we all “Share” Vinnie on Facebook we can find his forever home… I believe. Dreams do come true…

  9. “Boggles the mind that any animal can have such a kind heart & attitude after being abused this way.” Unfortunately, this is EXACTLY why they are the ones that get abused-their kind nature. Their kindness to humans can get them pushed around, hurt and neglected by humans. My Breggo is a prime example of this. He was starved 2x, physically harmed and in the slaughter pen before he came to me. He is a very kind, forgiving fellow who tries very hard to understand and do all that is asked of him and it was this nature that was taken advantage of in his prior life. He is doing great now-still has his PTSD moments-but has come a long way! : )

  10. In the moments when working with Horse Advocates of Colorado, or even in my training business, that I lose patience with my own species and want to be a greeter at Walmart instead…I think of boys like yours and Vinnie. As long as they can forgive, should we do less? Wonderful comment, Give your boy a scratch from me.

  11. I know it’s a sign of too much social media action, but I so want to hit “like” next to each and every comment, as well as next to your responses. You are a such a good writer, and with such a big heart to boot. Thank you for all you do for horses. And you get that that means putting up with a lot of frustrating humans. So glad you’ve not bailed and gone to Wal-Mart.

  12. Damn, crying because I hate these stories, another OTTB starved and abused but keeps on trying because of their incredible heart and hope. My $1 OTTB was pulled from the kill pen, also starved and with slipper feet from years of neglect. For two years we have patiently been fixing his sore feet, crooked body and worried mind. He’s turning into a big, mushy puppy dog now that he knows we are in this forever. Thanks for giving Vinnie a safe spot to launch his next career.

  13. Anna,

    What a loving tribute to a great soul. Through the power of networking, I believe we can find his forever home.

  14. With tears in my eyes, I too wish a great home for Vinnie. Talking with you about him and then looking at Maverick with his previously fractured pelvis, they do deserve only the best care and lots of love!

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