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Life After Racing: Airborne!
- 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 writes about Mr Artline, now known as “Rhythm,” who didn’t like leaving his pasture mate behind.

Photo by the author
"Caleb" (left) and "Rhythm" are buddies in the pasture and do not like to be separated.


“Have you gone completely crazy?” was my husband’s response when I told him I was going to pick up a horse in Darien, Conn, four years ago. “You have never set eyes on this horse.”


“Rhythm,” a now 11-year-old gelding by Art Major registered as Mr Artline, was the only horse I ever adopted without meeting first. A friend had convinced me to save him from auction by offering to bring him to her barn, have him gelded, and then meet me halfway when he could travel. I couldn’t refuse such a generous offer. I wrote about that experience in Hoof Beats in the July 2014 issue in an article titled “Clever Boy.”


My husband thought I was taking a big risk, but I trusted Leah’s judgment.  She said he was a nice horse, and she was right. He is a wonderful horse, affectionate, bold, intelligent, but also strong-minded. He is the dominant member of his herd.


We got off to a great start with his pleasure driving, but I inadvertently set him up to become “buddy sour.”


Rhythm and I drove solo for the first two months. Since the only one of my boarders with a driving horse was a beginner, I was still riding with her in the cart. Rhythm never minded leaving his pasture mates behind because he loved the adventure of driving in the woods and down country roads.


When Brenda had progressed to the point of driving independently, we started going out with both horses. Since it was much more fun to go out in company, I neglected to drive Rhythm by himself for the next two months. Then the other gelding developed an abscess and took a hiatus from work.


Not giving it a thought, I hitched Rhythm and proceeded to start out for nice drive. He took exception to the fact that Caleb (Art Blue Chip) was not accompanying him and was reluctant to leave. Caleb expressed his displeasure by calling, running and bucking. Rhythm kept stopping, looking back at his buddy in the field.

Photo by the author
"Caleb" is not happy when his pasture mate, "Rhythm," goes off on trail drives without him.


With a lot of coaxing, I managed to get him most of the way down the driveway, but then he decided he was not going any further. He stopped. 


I asked him to walk on, but he reared instead. I was well-acquainted with this tactic. I simply asked again. He reared again.  My intuition told me to just get out and head him as I had done before, at which point he would concede.  But then it crossed my mind that a “professional” wouldn’t tolerate this sort of behavior.  A little voice said, “You should smack him with the whip if he does it again and teach him a lesson.” Another little voice said, “Not a good idea, he still thinks he’s a stallion and will fight back!” 


I asked one more time. He reared one more time. Then the first little voice said, “If he goes up again, use the whip.”  I should not have listened.


He reared again, and with a loud “no,” I smacked him with the whip.  That did it. He moved all right, but not in the way I expected. He launched himself off his powerful hindquarters--suddenly we were airborne! 


He had no problem lifting me and my 150-lb.G&S Trail cart completely off the ground.  My first thought was ‘”Wow, this is what it must feel like to be in Santa’s sleigh!”  My second thought was more sensible, “I’d better be in the center of the seat when we land, or I’ll tip over.”  I drive on the left, so I shifted to the center just as we came back to earth, about 15 feet from where we took off.  


He stopped and looked back at me. “Did I succeed?” he seemed to say.


“No, that didn’t work!  We’re still going,” I said as I hopped out and went to his head.  I turned him up the road and led him a good distance. I had to outsmart him. I instinctively knew if I got in while headed up the road, he would spin around before I could stop him. My plan was to turn him back toward home before getting into the cart.  I turned him around, told him to “Whoa” and he complied willingly.  He stood like a gentleman while I got in, presuming we were returning. 


I asked him to walk on. He did.  I asked him to trot. He did. Then I asked for a fast trot, and he happily extended. Since we were going so fast, we passed the driveway before he realized it.


We flew down the dirt road at a racing trot and cantered up the hill. By the time we got to the level stretch at the top, I had urged him into a gallop. He was having so much fun he forgot all about turning around to get back to his buddy. I had settled him back down to a reasonable trot when we turned into the woods road that led around to the back of our property. It was a formidable route, with trees to dodge, stones to avoid, large tree roots to trip over--just the sort of thing that Rhythm loved. He hates to be bored.  He is always at his best when faced with a challenge. By the time we got back to the barn, he had to admit it wasn’t so bad going out alone after all. Success!


If you do not want your horse to become “buddy sour,” it is mandatory to practice taking him out alone on a regular basis. Rhythm had not started out refusing to drive alone. However, after becoming habituated to going out with a second horse, he decided he liked that arrangement better. He saw no reason why he should have to go by himself, so he expressed his resentment by balking and rearing. He did it deliberately, not in a panic or “blowing up.” In his equine mind, he was just letting me know how he felt about the situation; however, when I smacked him with the whip he got startled, as well as angry and he did explode. He overreacted with a spectacular capriole in harness, which was entirely my fault.


I have to admit it was exceptionally exhilarating, and he did look fabulous flying above the ground. Maybe we could develop a new equine sport called “broad jumping in harness.”  Now, if I can just get him to do it nicely, on cue.

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The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.