Friday, December 12, 2008

The Horseman's Hustle [...the forward...] pt.3

Thankfully I had reacquainted myself with the owner in Dagoberto Perez’s barn who so happened to be a lady that Crist was boarding her stallion with out in Fontana years prior. She needed some help since my current boyfriend at the time was fired from them. I was in charge of getting her horse, PaceToBurn, ready. It was a lot easier than having to do three horses. I also expressed interest in learning how to pony horses. She agreed to help me with my desires. I went over to her house a few times and worked on taking some horses that needed to learn to pony. Dear heavens they were rotten little babies, who one simply refused to go with the pony and at some points tried to pull my arm backwards. While at the track I ponied Cape Kennedy, PaceToBurn and Ghostly Girl. I used her white horse Magic. It only took like two weeks for John the outrider at Hollywood Park to sign my card so I could get my pony license. During August sometime, Eva brought her other pony horse Joe for me to use for the summer. I ponied for a few trainers here and there and eventually had my steady barns which were: Martin Valenzula, Stacy Young, Paul Assenisi and Barry Holmes (yes, the guy who fired me, suddenly needed me…LOL), I also picked up others on occasion. Working at Hollywood Park was great because on a horrible day I did at least 4 horses and on extremely good days I did 10 horses. It was also easy to take care of Joe because I was good at working out goods and services for barns that didn’t always have the cash but had hay. Then there was this one barn that my boyfriend at the time worked for that would give me one or two wheel barrows of shavings per week and give me the scraps of mixed hay for the pony. Then another barn would strictly shoe Joe for me. Dago was an excellent person to be in the barn with because he gave me a stall to store all my tack and feed in, probably so I wouldn’t have to consistently bug Chewy for the key.

My first time ever ponying the races was during the September Los Angeles county fair in Pomona at the Pomona Fairplex. I was super excited because this was my first time to ever work the afternoon and it was exciting to be able to get paid double the amount for less the work. Some how Eva was able to find a double entry for a race of the day which was a mule race, I didn’t even think mules raced. The trainer agreed to let me take his mule to post. Magic was prepared and we were ready. I got the mule and just as we were heading back to lead them to the starting gate out of no where Magic starts bucking! I guess he totally forgot that we’d been using him the whole day ponying horses off of him and he appeared ‘tired’ by the end of the morning. The other part was that was that since I was used to speed horses up until ponying I thought that Magic had been getting worked a lot but was being good, so I had been giving him a nice little scoop of oats being cooked for the race horses as a treat. I hadn’t even told Eva about it until after I got bucked off. After the first two bucks, the mule had created even more havoc and dumped the tall jockey and another mule and it’s jockey. I got tossed from Magic and Magic went for a free for all blasting around the track jumping, bucking, and kicking at the outriders and people as they tried capture him. The outrider was so, so, so over furious at me and the white pony I didn’t want to go back out to the track…all I wanted to do was cry! It didn’t matter that the spectators from the fair were cheering me on as I did my best to hold on to Magic while he bucked moments early. They finally got Magic and the mules were loaded into the starting gate and they proceeded with their race 15 minutes later than originally intended. After the fiasco with Magic we took him back to his stall and have him two ace pills and loped him in a ton of circles before I took Eva’s horse, Cape Kennedy, to post.

As the Santa Anita meet came to a close for its racing season, Hollywood was going to be opening so Joe and I needed to be moved over to Pomona. I didn’t want to go over to Pomona at all. I was accustomed to Hollywood, I had all my clientele there, I knew I could easily find work. And now I was being uprooted to a place that I had heard nothing but bad things about and how work was hard to find and everything. Never the less I had to go and certainly it was tough finding work the first week. Eva gave me a few of her barns to work for so that brought a few extra dollars in my pocket to feed Joe. That was also another reason I disliked being taken from Hollywood was because I no longer had a way to use the barter system to make my life easier and cheaper for that matter for feed and supplies!

The Horseman's Hustle [...the forward...] pt.2

When Barry Holmes decided to ‘hire’ me he said that while we were at Santa Anita that would be my trial period to see if I could even be able to handle the work load that the job would require. Basically it just seemed like it was a suave way to get an extra hand with the two horses he had – GiftToBob (Sassy) and HerbsGirlKelsey (Kelsey). Getting up early in the mornings was not an easy task as the track was a seven day job which was rain or shine. With it being the middle of June by 8AM you could easily feel the temperature rising which made work conditions horrible. Within my first week or two of being at Santa Anita I was getting better walking the hot horses that came back from the track and the normal routine of the day. Barry had decided to claim a horse at Hollywood Park for $40K and by the luck of a shake Oakland Avenue (Oaky) (who was previously trained by Howard Zucker) was the new horse of our barn. I remember when I first started grooming him at Santa Anita he was a nasty big horse sometimes, he had a favorite habit of trying to kick while being groomed. Then while tacking up he seemed to enjoy trying to squish me between him and wall. Around the third week of July we had to move from Santa Anita to Hollywood Park, unfortunately Sassy didn’t know to much about loading into the large trailers so it took a ton of persuasion to get her inside regardless to the fact that the other two horses had loaded like it was no issue.

As promised since I was able to handle the work load of the three horses, Barry hired me. I arrived at Hollywood Park by 5AM every morning since the track opened at 5:30AM and I needed at least a good half hour to get everything ready and start the horses getting ready to go out. More and more I became proficient in getting the horses ready by myself to where some mornings I would have Sassy and Oaky ready to go with the rider and two stalls done by the time Barry came strolling in the barn by 6:30AM. Then there were certain days Barry would conveniently not come in and I would take care of all the horses with just the little instruction of “Walk Kelsey, have Oaky ponied, and tell the rider to back track the filly twice”. There were a day or two I was behind schedule and that would make Barry upset but some days it was hard for me to keep going when working seven days a week and working the tax deducting job took a toll on me. But I can say that Barry successfully made me into a good hand around the barn. I was able to do a lot proficiently and I learned a ton from him as well. Towards the end of my time with Barry I think it became evident that I was tired of the work loads since my day consisted of:

  • Getting the horse ready (groomed, tacked up, bandages on, tied in back of stall)
  • Clean and rebed stall, clean and refill water buckets
  • Walk hot horse until cool around shed row (which could be for 15 mins)
  • Bath horse (then continue walking until dry – another 20 mins)
  • Hose down hooves, dry with towel to avoid quarter cracks
  • Pack hooves, massage legs, and wrap
  • Redo procedure for each horse (so for me two more times)
  • Then set/prepare feed
  • Put tack away
  • Water down shed row and rake

It was a ton of work for me to then also attend school afterwards and go to my other job until night fall then go back to the track by 5AM.

In the middle of August, Barry had told me that working for him wasn’t going to work anymore if I could no longer make handle the responsibility. By that time we had gotten four horse – AGiftToBob, Oakland Avenue, AnnieOakleaf and some other bay filly.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Horseman's Hustle [...the forward...]

I faintly remember the first time I stepped foot on the race track with my adopted mother, Crist. She was training a horse that she had rescued from the track a few years prior. She was working with a nice older gentleman named Freddie S. Wilson, who had a few horses of his own. I remember waking up at the crack of dawn anxiously getting ready and awaiting her arrival to pick me up. I also recall the bitter Southern California winter mornings that caused me to cuddle deeper into my jacket. For some strange reason within a short time period I grew an attraction to Freddie's big chestnut gelding Kingofthebullring, which I ended up owning a year or so later. I grew an appreciation for mucking stalls and laying a fresh bed of straw down. The one thing I can't remember is the time we stopped going to the track because Crist took her horse out of training. I know for the longest all I wanted to do was come back to the track and gallop horses. Everyone looked to be having such a great time. At 14, my lifetime dream was to be an exercise rider for my 16th birthday. Needless to say my dreams fell very short and the dream died with me over all having no interest of returning to the track because the backside didn't appeal to me any longer.

My swift kick in the hinny for the track again came to me in June 2007. I was working at at my current job in the evenings and was not waking up to start my day until about 10AM. I would dilly-dally my way through the day until I had to go to work at 4:30PM. At work there was this lady that was into horses just as much as I was. She was from Australia was a gallop girl in her home town then came to the states and was training horses here. Since we chatted about horses' everyday she had convinced me that I should go watch the horses work in the morning time. Honestly I felt that 8AM was too early to go stand around looking stupid to watch horses go by while others talked about what ever they talked about. And on the other hand, I really didn't want to be up that early on a weekend I didn't have to work! But one week day I dragged my butt from bed and took my camera to make myself appear more 'dutiful'. While standing by the gap at Santa Anita looking a quarter lost, another quarter pitiful and half interestedly bored while rotating from pacing and standing still I caught the eye of a few people with my camera asking what I was doing. For some of them I jus said "Oh taking pictures" with a sweet smile because I just had that feeling they wouldn't give me a job or a chance in hell for that matter. Who knows what made him talk to me but this trainer walked past and struck a conversation with me while I was pretending 'busy' taking photos. When he asked me if I was just taking photos, I told him I was in search of a job as a groom. He looked at me with a look of interest and invited me to come with him to the grand stands to watch his horse jog. After having an indepth conversation about school, life, and what the race track entitles he decided to give me a chance. His name was Barry Holmes....