Commentary: Feisty

By Robert Laurence

Let me tell you about our Thoroughbred. Feisty, by Acaroid, out of Some One Finer, by Lord Rebeau. It would be generous to call her pedigree “modest.” Sure, she has some fine ancestors several generations back, but what Thoroughbred doesn’t? She was foaled in Florida in January 1991. She stands 16.2 and is a hard-keeper. Her official description is “dkb/br,” but she’s as black as a Thoroughbred gets. She has one white hind heel and the tips of her tail, mane and forelock are coppery in the winter light.

She has no tattoo, so we know she never raced. Feisty’s role in our game was as a broodmare. She traveled as such from Florida to Iowa to Oklahoma, before she ended being up donated to the University of Arkansas’ equine program, by then having failed to settle for several years running. I don’t know her prior owners, and I hesitate to use the word “abused,” or even “neglected,” but when we first saw her, she was a couple hundred pounds underweight, flat-footed and abscessed, and she had a “hunter’s bump” the size of your fist. Like I said, she’s a hard-keeper.

My wife, who does “Equine Touch” body work on the university’s horses, got her croup to flatten out, and we bought her and brought her home. She fit herself with minimal fuss into our small herd as No. 3, behind the lead mare and a Quarter Horse gelding and ahead of a young Tennessee Walker gelding.

We put some weight on her, tended to her feet, and changed her name. “Feisty” was probably appropriate for a lanky black filly, nominated with high hopes for the Breeders’ Cup, but it seemed rather too vigorous for the lean mare with the knowing eyes we brought home. Besides, we give our animals place names, so we called her “Abidjan,” after the capital of Ivory Coast, ancient land of tall, black queens.

“Feisty” we save for those afternoons when something in her blood remembers that she is the great-great-granddaughter of Tim Tam, and she takes off across the pasture, pins her ears, and brushes past the Quarter Horse, galloping up the hillside, barely touching the ground, the closest I’ll ever come to seeing a horse in flight.

A friend of ours with lots of time on the backstretch says Feisty thinks she’s died and gone to heaven, but that’s much more effusive than is her style. Let’s just say she seems content.

While Feisty never raced, she produced two foals, by respectable sires, who did. Feisty Vick, a gelding by Vicksburg, and Feisty Connie, a filly by Connecticut. Vick literally ran his heart out, first as a claimer at Philadelphia Park, and then he was sent over the hedges. 

At 9 he burst an aneurism steeplechasing in Virginia and died on the course. Connie was off the board four times at Prairie Meadows, and then disappeared, her fate unknown. Who knows? Maybe someone will read her name here and contact us. We have a stall waiting for her.

For that, you see, is what this little story is about. Not about Feisty herself, a dkb/br barren mare whose name will never again appear in The Blood-Horse, nor about her commonplace offspring. It’s about us, and the others like us, who take the old runners and their dams into retirement. We’re not a formal retirement facility. We’re not a 501(c)(3). We don’t frequent the auctions to buy and place the low-end horses. All those folks do good work, but we’re smaller.

There are lots of us out there, but we need lots more. Have a look at the tan pages of this magazine, not at the fancy yearling and 2-year-old sales, but at the regional mixed sales. You can buy a pregnant mare these days for a few hundred dollars. And now that the slaughterhouses are closed, these broodmares need homes. If there’s anything worse for a horse than standing in a feed lot next to a slaughterhouse (and we think there is not), then it’s being neglected in a dry lot.

Maybe you should think about buying one of these gals. Don’t worry about her pedigree or conformation. It’s the ordinary mares that need homes, if you’ve got the time and the room. And the money. Because, of course, the purchase price will only be the first of the expenses. There will be vet bills and feed, shots and farriers, supplements and sutures, blankets and Epsom salts, Coggins tests and leg wraps, mineralized salt, syringes, and a new stock tank when the old one starts to leak. And what’s the return on your investment?

Abidjan, née Feisty, will explain it to you.

Robert Laurence and his wife, Pk Ellis, operate Ravenrock Ranch near Hindsville, Ark.