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Life After Racing: 'May I Have This Dance?'
Wednesday, November 23, 2016 - by Charlotte Gelston

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Standardbreds are consistently showing their versatility, whether it’s riding or driving, for show or for pleasure. Hoof Beats is happy to share stories from readers about their favorite Standardbreds. This month, Charlotte Gelston shares the adoption story of Dance Man, now known as “Dan.”

Photos courtesy of the author
Dave Bomster has a special relationship with Dance Man, now known as "Dan."

We were expecting to see a “medium-size gelding” when we walked into Archie McNeil’s barn five years ago.  My friend, Pat Bishel, was looking for a driving horse that would fit her equipment.  Her first Standardbred gelding, lost to old age, had been 15.1 hands.

Instead we saw a handsome giant of a horse, Dance Man, who had to be 16.3 hands tall.

“I thought you said he was only “medium-size,” I said to McNeil. 

“We don’t measure them--we race them,” he replied. “If they go fast enough, who cares what size they are?”

A valid point, I thought, but Pat was not tall enough to put a harness on a horse that big.

Archie had bought Dance Man as a yearling, based on his bloodlines. Now a 16-year-old by Life Sign out of the Falcon Almahurst mare, Tango Almahurst, Dance Man had won 19 races over six years on the track, earning $76,724 in purses.

“I liked what I saw on paper, and I liked what I saw in person,” McNeil told me. “He did his best every time he was out there, and we wanted to do our best for him.  After a successful career, we retired him to avoid racing him in claimers.”

“There must be someone in our driving club who would love a horse this big,” I told McNeil as we were leaving. “I will let everyone know and get back to you.”

At our next club meeting, when the topic of “new business” came up, I asked if anyone might be interested in a very nice, very tall, Standardbred  gelding available for adoption.  I was told Dave Bomster was looking for a horse, but he was not there.  I remembered having met him, and he certainly was tall enough to put a harness on Dance Man. 

I called him. He definitely was interested, so I put him in touch with McNeil.

Bomster was impressed with everything about Dance Man, known as “Dan,” and decided to adopt him.  McNeil trailered him down to Bomster’s place, and the next chapter in Dance Man’s life began.
“Dan took a while to bond with me,” Bomster explained,” but once he did, we became a great team. Of the eight or nine horses I have had in my lifetime, Dan has the best barn manners. With his size, he could easily be pushy, but he never is.” 

Even chickens have no fear of this huge horse. Dan happily shares his stall with a hen and her six chicks, cautiously moving around to avoid stepping on any of them. 

“He seems to enjoy their company,” Bomster said with a laugh, “and they enjoy any grain he may spill.”

Dan is the definition of “bomb-proof,” according to Bomster.

“He trusts me enough to drive down Route 2 in North Stonington (Conn.), a two-lane state road, for a half-mile in traffic,” he said. “The interesting thing is that none of the trucks, school buses or cement mixers bother him in the least.  However, the first time we came to the stoplight and he spotted the bright white line; he screeched to a halt so abruptly I ended up on my knees.”

Dan showed Bomster the typical Standardbred reaction to something startling is to stop instead of bolting.  After he assured him it was fine, Dan gingerly crossed it.

“He is a quick learner,” Bomster bragged. “After just one time, he stopped calmly at the stoplight from then on. He pays no attention to the white line now.”

He entered Dance Man in his first pleasure class. It was the only time Dan had experienced horses passing him since he had left the track. Naturally, he sped up when they did, thinking it was the expected thing to do; after all, they were going counter-clockwise. Bomster had to circle him once or twice before he figured out it wasn’t a race after all.

Dan has shown to be nothing but an angel with Bomster's granddaughter, Arianna.

Bomster decided to take some lessons with Robin Groves and Keith Agostini. Once again, Dan proved to be a quick study. At his next public outing, the Celtic Cross Show, Dan did well in the cones and marvelously in the marathon. 

“Dan enjoys a challenge,” Bomster said, “and he likes to use his big trot. He looks like he is dancing.”

Bomster and Dance Man have competed at our Connecticut Valley Driving Club’s Horse Driving Trial, placing sixth out of more than 20 entries from several states. It was quite an accomplishment for a horse used to flying around a racetrack without any man-made obstacles to navigate.

Last summer, Dan and Bomster participated at our club’s Scurry/Fun Day. There were 16 drivers and horses present. With his elegant bearing and height, Dan is impossible to overlook.  It is comical to see him standing next to a mini horse. There were no ribbons given out, but if there had been, I’m sure they would have earned one, as they both did a fine job.

And despite Dan’s intimidating size, Bomster’s 5-year-old granddaughter, Arianna, is not the least bit afraid of him.  She loves to sit up high on his back, and Dan is always careful with her. When she feeds him, he takes what she offers very gently, using only his lips.

“They seem to have a special bond,“ Bomster said. “Perhaps it is because I got two ‘special deliveries’ on the same day. On Oct. 9, 2011, Arianna was delivered at Backus Hospital in Norwich, Conn., and Archie delivered Dance Man to my home in North Stonington, Conn.”

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