By Roberta Smoodin

If Mike's Thunder could talk, the stories he would tell. About his race career, during which the now 8-year-old gelding earned more than $375,000 and had 15 wins in allowance and claiming races, showing the kind of heart and fortitude that define what is best about the Thoroughbred horse. But the more interesting part of his story remains a mystery: What happened to Mikey in retirement?

At the end of his racing days, Mike's Thunder had the good fortune to be owned by Jim Pino, who profoundly loves his horses. Jim wanted the best possible retirement for Mikey to assure the horse would be well cared for for the rest of his life. Jim contacted the mounted police of a major city, and a lieutenant who came out to see the horse wanted the handsome gray gelding. He promised Jim the horse would be treated well and given a second career. Jim sent Mikey off into the world with a brand new leather halter and nameplate. That's how Jim Pino does things.

End of story, right? Everyone lives happily ever after, especially Mikey. And indeed, if Jim Pino were like most other owners, there would be no more to this story and Mike's Thunder might be dead. But Jim kept tabs on Mike's Thunder, even in retirement, and for that reason the horse is alive today.

Mikey's feet suffered from pounding the pavement. Don't all beat cops complain about their feet? He was sent to a lay-up farm the police department used in a different state. Still, Jim stayed in touch with Mikey, and what he heard frightened him. The woman who ran the farm said Mikey couldn't fit in with the other horses and wouldn't eat. After Mikey had an episode of colic and fever, Jim became even more worried and got in touch with the lieutenant who had originally taken the horse and who arranged for Mikey to return to the force.

Though the records kept by the police department indicate Mikey's weight remained stable, the lieutenant reported to Jim that Mikey continued to lose weight and do poorly. Jim knew something was very wrong. So within a week, Jim had Mikey on a van to Kentucky. But the drama didn't end there.

The horse couldn't get enough to drink or eat on the trip, was quivering, and looked to be nothing but skin and bones. The hauler called us early on the morning he was to arrive and said we needed to get this horse to a vet right away; he was afraid the horse might die from the rigors of the trip. Jim, of course, agreed, and the examining veterinarian found the horse was dehydrated and more than 200 pounds underweight. So Mikey came to our farm for some tender loving care, wearing a police department blanket to hide the protrusion of his ribs, spine, and hips, and his un-groomed and unhealthy coat. He was wearing a raggedy nylon halter that had adorned many other horses' heads before his.

The story of Mike's Thunder is a cautionary tale. Every owner needs to love his horses enough to follow them through not only their careers but through their retirements. Retirement is not the end of any horse's story, merely the opening of a new chapter in the horse's life. Nor does retirement mark the end of an owner's responsibility. Perhaps the truth is that an owner's responsibility never ends while the horse is alive. If you're not up for that kind of responsibility, perhaps you shouldn't own horses.

Just as a postscript: Mike's Thunder is doing wonderfully at our farm. Turns out, he isn't a social miscreant at all: he made friends with two horses immediately. Mikey loves having his water tank filled and his meals delivered, and occasionally, when he is still hungry, he will follow our Jeep, nickering to us for more.

Jim Pino wanted Mikey to have a brand new leather halter with nameplate, and so he does, which he wears proudly.

Horses lead proud lives when they are at the racetrack. They deserve no less in retirement. You can assure it happens.

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