Kitten’s Tale

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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 asThe Jockey Club is a Participating Organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share about what makes these horses so special. 

By Jessica Kate Packebush

I got my first Thoroughbred off the track when I was 13. I had plans to continue my love for jumping and dressage with her, but unfortunately, life had other plans and it became clear she was not going to be able to pursue that path. She was retired as a light trail horse to a family in Washington. I moved on to an Appendix-bred Paint, who I raised from a foal and loved over the next 20 years, but I always longed for another Thoroughbred. I admired their intelligence, strong bodies, and can-do attitude from the sidelines when we went as spectators to events, and even more so when my daughter started jumping.

In 2018, as my daughter was coming up on eight and ready to get more serious, she needed a younger solid horse. Naturally I gave her my beloved Paint mare, Jane, to event (something I never did with her but there was nothing she couldn’t or wouldn’t do for Joss or I). This meant it was time for me to start looking for my next partner. I knew I needed something that would be game to do whatever the day brought, with heart. My husband raises hay and cattle, I love to go out and check fields, sort cows, and of course want to event with my daughter! I started looking around here and there, but nothing really grabbed me. I was referred to a local retiring racehorse Facebook page and, since I didn’t have the same connections I had 20 years prior, I cautiously started looking. On a cold January day in 2019, I made the trip to Portland Meadows to view a handful of horses with a large group of other prospective buyers. Most of the horses were fresh and excited to be doted on by so many. Halfway through the process I was having fun but I didn’t see anything I thought would work…. As we passed through the sales agent’s barn to get to the next group of horses I noticed a very shiny chestnut with a wide blaze, Kitten. He was somewhat reclusive as if offended that I didn’t ask him permission to touch him, before assuming I could, and walked to the back of his stall. I asked about his story and boy did I get one! I LOVE a good story, stories usually mean a horse has HEART, and this horse had lived some life, but was not for sale. Our sales agent (his owner) said she had claimed him at a race in California because she couldn’t stand to watch him run any more. You see, her ex-husband had bred this horse when they had still been married.

Kitten and Jane

The story goes, he lost a hand in a poker game that he had wagered the name of the unborn foal, who he valued at a quarter of a million dollars. The foal was by Kittens Joy out of Kamina Rose, by Royal Academy. When the foal was born, the winner thought the name Majestic Kitten was a fun little stab at his friend who’d lost the game. He lost more than that, as Kitten was sold for only $20,000 at Keenland when he was a runty yearling in a still struggling economy in 2012.

Kitten and Josh

When I met Kitten he was the horse her groom was using to get his jockey’s license, he was the only horse that would safely tolerate ponying her big goofy stud horse to and on the track, and the horse they used to make trips to the mini mart down the street. I figured if he could do all of that he surely had brains and a big heart! Since the track was closing and she wasn’t sure where she was going next, I told her to call me if her plans didn’t include taking him to the next track. About six weeks later she called, her groom was unable to go with her to the next track and Kitten was sadly for sale. I arranged a time to actually see him out of his stall, since I still hadn’t seen him without a blanket on or moving. She shared with me that she had ponied her racehorses off him pretty regularly on local trails, in different states, and taken him to the beach a few times with friends on a whim. She had sent him for polo training, but that didn’t work out… I suspect now that he was not a fan of the fast-paced, aggressive energy, and mallet swinging! He was mostly just an easy-going guy that was up for just about anything (except polo, HA!). His legs looked clean and boy he could jog! I was so excited to bring him home, like a kid with a new toy!

Kitten and Kase

Kitten, on the other hand, was not as thrilled to be with me.

He seemed to be depressed, did not want to be petted, groomed, or fussed with, and about a week later, blew an abscess. He let me doctor him, but that was it. Nothing extra. I clearly did not have his permission. I knew that he had bonded to his groom and obviously his previous owner, but I did not realize how much. He always seemed annoyed when I came out, I tried to just give him space but he kept hurting himself. He wouldn’t load, wasn’t great to vet, he was a nightmare to teach to lunge, and overall had zero trust in me. Over the first year, Kitten acquired a bruised coffin bone, two bowed tendons, and at least two more abscesses. I focused hard on connected groundwork, I ponied him some off Jane, and sat on him less than ten times in the first year.

2020 rolled in and I got sick. I ended up in multi organ failure, but most notably, my liver was in extreme duress with no real treatment options available. I don’t know what I had, my specialist thought it was caused by herbs I was taking, ironically enough, for health and energy, go figure. Though many suspect I had COVID, testing was not available in our area. I was sick on the couch, sleeping, or soaking in the bath from the middle of February to April. I went to the barn occasionally, but my mom and my daughter were taking care of my horses.

During that time I made the hard decision to put Kitten on the market. I didn’t know if I was going to get better and had three horses in the barn, two of which were my daughter and I’s heart horses. By mid-April I felt good enough to be out a bit, but fatigued quickly and was weak since I had lost 20 pounds. I was so grateful to be alive. I did as much as I could with my horses and kids, unfortunately the lameness I had been battling with my Jane for many years had become unmanageable, and my retired gelding was looking very tired. June 4, 2020 we said goodbye to Spot, at the age of 34. One month later, the day before my birthday, we said goodbye to Jane. Both of those horses were Kittens’ neighbors and friends.

Trail riding

It was at that point Kitten stepped up BIG. All of the little things he did to make me aware he had no interest in being my friend, he stopped doing. He came in from the field when I got to the barn, he allowed me to groom him, accepted my advice on posture correction, my desire to connect with him was reciprocated, and he was happy to load up and get out in the fields for a quick hack. That September we were thrown into chaos again and evacuated due to wildfires. Kitten stress foundered and abscessed on both fronts again…. With continued acupuncture, PEMF, and Bodywork he has made a complete recovery, and we were able to continue building our friendship through the winter months.

This year I was able to take him to two schooling shows. The first one was an epic disaster, the second was MUCH better, I even climbed aboard – success! After a busy start to the spring and summer, going to cowboy trail practice, hacking about, and working on small jumps, at the beginning of August came a record heat wave and, though he wasn’t terribly dehydrated, he colicked badly with a displaced colon. They were able to resolve it without surgery, but he was at the vet hospital for four days. I honestly did not expect to bring him home when I left him that day, he was so sick. Just eight weeks later, and only two weeks back in full work, we went to our first ever Derby at Inavale Farms and ROCKED IT! He was an absolute superstar, EVERYTHING was new to him and he stepped up to the plate famously, did everything I asked him to, with caution, care, and focus. It had been over a decade since I had ridden a dressage test and I was super curious (and nervous!) about how it would go and how he would score in movement…. 8s! In the first test we ever rode together, practice or otherwise, we scored a 65%. The comments on the back were the absolute gold medal for me which were, ‘Horse shows lots of Promise’!

In the midst of our health battles and losses of dear friends in our short time together, he has shown me he’s reliable and brave on the trail; steady, forgiving, and honest enough for my 11-year-old daughter to ride when her horse was injured; trustworthy and smart enough look out for and allow my 3-year-old son to lead, groom, and run around near – all of which are admirable and irreplaceable qualities.

Lastly though, and most importantly, he stepped up and into the biggest shoes that needed to be filled: being my best friend, and allowing me to be his, when we both desperately needed one.

When you win the love of a Thoroughbred there is nothing they won’t do for you, and generally, do it happily. Kitten has always shown me ‘lots of promise’ and I am hopeful for a future of many trips down centerline, cross country, and sorting cows!

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