Enjoy the Dance

Bugsy (Pics of You photo)

Salute to the Thoroughbred!  This month on YourDressage, we are saluting the versatile Thoroughbred and Thoroughbred crosses of all kinds.

Dressage riders who choose Thoroughbreds as their mounts are eligible for Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as The Jockey Club is a Participating Organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share about what makes these horses so special.  Here, a Region 1 rider shares the legacy of Bugsy, her one-eyed wonder horse, a $500 two-year-old purchase, who, despite a few bumps in the road and discouraging words from several trainers, blossomed into a Grand Prix horse.

By Elizabeth Goodwin

Bugsy “the one-eyed wonder pony” has inspired many people to “do more” with their average horses. Sadly, he unexpectedly passed away December 28, 2020, at the young age of 22. 

Marty Clarke photo

When I saw USDF was doing articles on “nontraditional breed” dressage horses, and they were looking for stories about the Thoroughbred, I figured this could be his last tribute. 

I bought him in 2000, just shy of two years old, for $500. He was born without an eye and was underweight and very shaggy. He was the paternal grandson of the great Secretariat. He blossomed into an FEI Grand Prix horse, but not without some bumps along the way. He hurt his check ligaments, got stitches, hurt tendons, had minor ulcers, abscesses, and so forth. There were plenty of days spent icing, cold hosing, wrapping, tack walking, and just grooming.

We showed on a budget, oftentimes driving up to three hours one way to save on stabling and hotel costs. Slowly but surely, we progressed through the levels. We even went to the Colonel Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships several years, one year placing eighth at Fourth Level (the only non-warmblood in the placings).  We earned our USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals as a team. We even won a Prix St. Georges class, and were the only non-warmblood in the class – I think there were seven in the class.

Grand Prix was a whole other world. Definitely humbling, but honored to be there, we trudged on after some dismal scores. He was a tempi machine, once I did 32 two tempis in a row – for fun!  He loved one tempis too! 

Heather Hale photo

In May of 2017, I earned my final score for my USDF Gold Medal while pregnant, and one day shy of my third trimester. I will never forget that ride. Bugsy was super tense, jigging around the warmup ring. I loosened the chain on the curb bit and said to myself “not going to fix this today and less is more” and walked him on a loose rein until my ride time. As I was riding the test, I thought to myself that we were nailing it, and at 27 (almost 28) weeks pregnant, I wasn’t even out of breath (for once). As I came down centerline, tears welled up in my eyes, chills went down my spine, and a huge smile broke across my face. I didn’t care what the score was because I knew, on that day, he had given me his all. The icing on the cake was the score, 61.3%! Not too bad of a Grand Prix score for a horse that was a 65% on his best day, with average gaits and a noticeably pregnant rider.  

After that, came the baby. Bugsy was semi-retired but still loved the attention and occasional rides. When he was 20, we thought he was colicking. Turned out he had Botulism (despite being vaccinated his whole life for it).  He was the only horse in the tri-county area to survive Botulism that year. Again defeating the odds, showing his heart. After that, I retired him and designated him as my pasture ornament.

The night before he passed away, I groomed him and gave him sugars. We still do not know what happened. What I can tell you is when I left that evening, he and his brother were contentedly munching on hay. My dad found him, appearing to have dropped where he stood. Blanket unshifted, unfrozen ground undisturbed. My vet told me it was his last gift to me, because he knew how hard it would have been for me to make a decision one day, so he went out on his terms, in good health (as I cry as I type this).  

Marty Clarke photo

Bugsy taught me many important lessons as a horsewoman. He taught me to never underestimate the heart and “try” of a horse over the quality of their breeding, what they were “bred to do”, or conformation and gaits. He taught me that not every FEI trainer is right, and that he was capable of more than “just First Level”. He taught me that less is often more, and the importance of knowing when to quit and that “let’s do this one more time” often wasn’t the right choice. He taught me that believing in you and your horse will allow you to go farther than many would have ever thought. He taught me that we often underestimate what a horse will do for his or her rider. He taught me what it is to dance. Finally he taught me how much I could love a horse and how much I would miss him when he was suddenly gone. 

So, if you have a Thoroughbred, or are thinking about getting a Thoroughbred (whether it be that it is what is in your price range, or it’s a horse that you just get a “feeling about”)  don’t underestimate their heart, their absolute will, determination, and athleticism. And most importantly, don’t let anyone tell you what they can and can’t do! 

Enjoy the dance.

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