As it turned out there was a little old lady with a beautiful young daughter
who owned this midget of a 2yo pacer that a smart trainer had told her to
sell to a circus or traveling carnival. Our whole crew liked the idea of
having the daughter show up once in a while so we took this horse on as a
trainee. I doubt that the old lady is still alive, but the daughter might be,
so rather than use the horse's real name and possibly embarrass the lady,
let's just call him by his stable moniker, SFB.
SFB made friends with Charlie real quick, the first moring under tack
spotting a deer in the infield of the track and taking a 30 foot hop to the
left, leaving Charlie semi-dismounted from the jog bike, between the horse's
butt and the bike, dragging his feet and trying to hoist himself back into
the seat while reining back the raging charger. "Horse ain't got no manners,"
Charlie said, and refused the handle the horse from that point on.
Gus, as I said, was next to useless, and drove the next to useless horses--it
was love at first sight between them all. Bob was my brother, so I treated
him as a full fledged horseman, hoping he'd become one rather quickly. And I
gave him some frisky trotters to exercise. He went through a period of early
morning squitters, but finally came around and was gaining confidence daily.
Still, he was the only one of us who, in that 20-below weather, would come
back from a jog sweating. The rest of us had ice from nose to chin.
Anyway, there was no one left but me to train SFB. And despite his tendency
to take off at a full run as soon as his overcheck was snapped (the driver is
standing beside the rig, midshaft, reins in on hand and overcheck bit strap
stretching back to a snap on the top of the harness saddle--then you cluck to
the horse, he starts walking, and you swing onto the seat of the jog bike),
he wasn't much of a problem--just had his own head about some things.
SFB, for example, trotted at the jog, showing no inclination to pace at all,
despite being pacing bred and destined to pace come hell or high water. Even
though I was a fledgling horseman, I'd already learned the hard lesson
concerning trying to make trotters out of pacers--at that time, a mediocre
trotter was worth twice what a good pacer was worth. You'd train one of these
pacing bred "trotters" down to 2:20 and he'd start to get mixy-gaited, then
start to run, and you'd have to slap the hobbles on him, just to keep him
flat. And that's the way it was with SFB, except he didn't like hobbles.
Before going on, I'd like you to have a clear picture of what it's like to be
jogging a Standardbred. You're on a jog cart, a little tougher manufacture
than a bicycle, with motorcycle wheels if you've really gone overboard (SFB's
jog bike was the old iron one we had that we used on idiot cases because we
could always rebend the shaft back to reasonably straight at the nearest tree
and get back to work). Your legs are spread to either side of the horse's
rear end, your feet in "stirrups" on the shafts of the bike. You've got a set
of reins about 8 feet long and usually carry a 4 foot whip with a snapper at
That's it. With each step, the horse lifts about a quarter pound of sandy
load and deposits it on the seat between your legs. Another 16th of a pound
is distributed over your face and through your hair. This is on a dry
day--wet days, multiply the weights by 3. Should a horse decide to misbehave,
you lean back. That's because, with a kick, the hooves come within a quarter
inch of your nose, or closer, if you're not leaned back. It's not as bad if
the horse is simply overstriding and banging the bottom of the seat with each
hind leg step--except at speed, when the ten lb sledgehammer turns into a 25
pounder--you know it's time for a bigger bike.