Invictus was the last to gallop. Training hours were officially over and what Ann wanted was run back home for an hour’s nap and shower to get ready for the races. They were running in the 2nd and the 7th race this afternoon. All she had to do was to un-tack Invictus and hand him off to the grooms. Turning the corner to the barn, the vet’s truck was suspiciously parked in front.
“Oh shit, I’ll bet Vaya Con Dios tied up” Enrique said.
The old campaigner was standing in the shed-row, his eyes glazed over with pain with sweat soaking his dark brown coat.
“You go check, I’ll take this bad hombre.” Enrique gestured Ann towards the vet and the distressed horse. Ann vaulted off Invictus’ back and ran.
“That prick liked to pull my guts out on da track” said Sullie
“Did you back jog him to the half-mile pole?” she asked.
“I tol’ you I ain’t got time for no joggers girl!”
“So you just took him right out to gallop?”
“Old horse like that don’t need no warmin’ up, he needs to GO!”
“Well, now he’s tied up and we have to scratch him out of the race this weekend. Thanks for all your help.” She glared at him with hands on her hips.
Throwing his still lit cigarette butt down inches from her boot, Sully replied; “I don’t need this” and stormed away.
“That’s two riders you ran off in one morning. This could be a record. Don’t worry, I already gave him his last check, so you don’t need to cut him one.” Jude and Ann watched Sullie storm back to the track kitchen.
She thought about telling Jude that she’d already paid Sullie in cash from her own pocket this morning. But she didn’t have the energy. She ventured back to the horse who had begun to relax from the tranquilizer drugs the vet had administered to release the massive kinked up muscles in his back and hindquarters. She patted the sweaty neck and apologized.
“I’m sorry old boy, I had to let someone else get on you today. I thought it would be okay.” The tranquilized horse ignored her and she felt that she’s deserved it – deserved to be ignored for not looking out for his gallant soul. A veteran of 50+ races in his career, his next race was supposed to be his last. The owners promised that they were going to donate him to her best friend’s ranch up north. Now he’d be around a few more weeks and the owners might change their minds and drop him in for a claiming tag and hope that he ended up in another barn and they would have the prize money and the claiming cash too.
It was a tricky deal. She’d worked for weeks to get the owners to agree, to find him a free van ride up to Northern California and to sneak into the van a few bags of grain for the rescue ranch as well. Now she’d have to cancel and hope another race would come up for him soon. But it didn’t look good. The old man couldn’t run more than five furlongs anymore. Most of the sprints were six or 6 1/2 furlongs and he could no longer go the distance. This race set him up perfectly and he’d drawn into a fairly easy field. The owners would be happy, she would catch a little gamble and the old horse would go out in the glory he deserved – if his knees held. And now this.
Tying up Syndrome, or Exertional Rhabdomyolysis is a human athlete’s side-ache multiplied by a factor of 10 or more. When the waste products of calories burned in the muscles don’t flush away properly, the muscles cramp and knot up painfully. It’s a metabolic conundrum that happens mainly in nervous fillies or horses that have eaten too much protein and then are asked to do more exercise than they are ready for. Nervous or scared horses tied up more often. Vaya Con Dios loved his pre-gallop jog every morning. Stepping out, pointing his toes like a ballerina stretching his massive corded muscles and watching all of the action on the track along the way. When it was time to turn around on the track and gallop, he liked to stop and watch the gallopers for a minute or two with his curious, intelligent ears pricked. He wore no blinkers to narrow his field of vision, nor did he wear a fluffy shadow roll over his nose to keep a nervous horse from throwing his head in the air. He was a professional who knew his job and behaved well.
Sullie was in a hurry to get three horses galloped this morning and he rushed the old horse through his workout without a warm up jog or relaxing loose rein back to the barn. The horse was paying the price. Or maybe he tied up because his knees hurt. A tough old horse doesn’t always limp when he hurts. If only they could talk.
Enrique laid his rough hand on her shoulder. It smelled like salt and warm oats. “Don’t worry, I take care of the Old Man. You go home and sleep a little.”
“I knew better than to let Sullie take him out.”
“No you didn’t, Sullie can be bueno, and he can be no bueno, just like any of us – no?”
“Yeah, I’ll see you at the receiving barn for the second race. Don’t forget, front and hind bandages for that mare.” She shook her finger.
“No me digas eso chica.” He smiled and pushed her toward the parking lot.