It was just after the Polar Vortex (great name for a metal band, don’t you think?) began to recede, with South Carolina temperatures easing into the upper 50s and low 60s that I carefully chose a sunny afternoon to turn Forrest out into the big field for the first time.
Even those who have never owned one know better than to simply turn a racing-fit and grained-up OTTB out into a ten-acre field unless they want to see an impression of the Space Shuttle on four legs. Let’s not even think about the injuries that can occur.
So I have prepared. Firstly, by gradually cutting back his grain substantially since he arrived. Lisa Molloy, from rerun.org told me Forrest had been on 14 lbs (whew!) of grain per day: 14% protein and 8% fat. I feed Nutrena and found their Pro Force Fiber to be a good choice to gradually change him over and, as I’m a believer in feeding the best quality hay I can find and very little grain, Forrest is now down to a couple of 2-quart scoops a day (what is that, about 6 lbs?) with three feedings of beautiful compressed timothy along with a soaked flake of an alfalfa/orchard/timothy mix that is added at night in these winter temperatures.
Lately, Forrest has been booted up and enjoying restricted turnout in the small paddocks that border the big field, the largest being about 20 x 30 meters?enough to snort, buck, fart and roll, but not gather enough steam to go hurtling into outer space. And I must say that he has been very, very, quiet indeed, often lounging in the sun, snoozing, then walking to the gate when he’d like to come in. It was after a couple of hours in the paddock that I decided to, that day, let him into the big field and I chose not to ace him on account of his prior behavior. I had hand-walked and grazed him in this field a few times and he had shown polite interest, but nothing more, and this also gave me added comfort.
Across the driveway, in the smaller field, my retired Dutch gelding, Fozzy, now 23, would prove to be a wonderful babysitter. He just isn’t the type of horse that would start galloping the fence line and instigating hysteria. Indeed, as I unsnapped Forrest’s lead, Fozzy raised his head from his field, watched for a few minutes then resumed cropping the grass. The dogs were locked in the house, the farm was quiet; we were good to go.
I had carried a scoop of feed to the gate and my better half, Paul, stood on the other side of the field with a bucket of feed, just in case we needed to bring him in quickly, Forrest will do anything for food, and held our collective breaths.
The big chestnut flashed his fluid shoulders beneath the sun as he immediately lowered his head to nibble what was left of the winter grass then walked the length of the fence line, broke into a trot at the sight of Fozzy, then turned and, squealing, cantered back down toward me. My jaw dropped. Yes, adrenaline is the best drug on the market, but this horse appeared to be cantering a foot off the ground: huge elevation in the front, hocks coming up well behind.
He took my breath away.
Forrest cantered back up toward where Fozzy waited, across the driveway, and spent the remaining two hours shadowing him. His subsequent turnouts in the field proved to be just as, mercifully, uneventful.