All the right notes

A failed race­horse with quirky con­for­ma­tion, Jazz left a lot to be de­sired. But his laid-back per­son­al­ity won me over.

EQUUS - - Eq Backpage - By Joanne Mes­zoly

When I met Jazz he was another race­track has-been, stand­ing on the precipice of a ca­reer change at age 4. I sized up the ch­est­nut geld­ing, grimly adding up his phys­i­cal short­com­ings: The horse was slab-sided, straight-shoul­dered and nar­row in the chest, with forelegs set close to­gether. And his short neck was set too low on his body and ac­cen­tu­ated by oddly sunken withers.

Of course, con­for­ma­tion flaws do not nec­es­sar­ily in­hibit race­horses. Plenty of so-so-look­ing Thor­ough­breds have burned up the track and amassed a pile of win­nings. But Jazz was not one of them.

In­stead, in two years he squeezed one win from 14 starts and never again fin­ished in the money. It’s an abysmal record given his lin­eage: His sire ran in the Ken­tucky Derby and won the Bel­mont Stakes. Jazz’s race ca­reer be­gan on hal­lowed ground ---he started out at Churchill Downs--but poor re­sults led him to less pres­ti­gious tracks.

I had been cast­ing about for a new “project” to train when I heard about Jazz late last year. And when I saw him, he was a horse I did not want: a 4-year-old re­cov­er­ing from some neu­ro­log­i­cal ill­ness, with con­for­ma­tion turnoffs, pin-fired legs and scars and scuffs that sug­gested a rocky past.

“No thank you,” I thought, study­ing him. But his per­son­al­ity was ap­peal­ing; he wasn’t just friendly, he seemed calm and thought­ful---un­usual traits in a young­ster off the track. De­spite his ap­pear­ance and check­ered med­i­cal past, I tacked him up.

I’d never bought a horse with­out watch­ing him go, and I swore that I would never take a crib­ber, but after hack­ing Jazz and pop­ping him over a few jumps, I de­cided to buy my first crib­bing strap. “I’ll pick him up this week­end,” I told his owner.

After rid­ing so many Thor­ough­breds with type-A per­son­al­i­ties, Jazz’s laid­back at­ti­tude was too good to pass up.

Five months after I brought Jazz home, he is pretty much the same. Ini­tially I wor­ried that his calm de­meanor was due to lin­ger­ing neu­ro­log­i­cal is­sues. My vet­eri­nar­ian checked him out, and while we agreed that the geld­ing was weak and could stand to gain some weight, there was noth­ing in­her­ently wrong with him. And after a few months of steady work, I’ve de­ter­mined that Jazz is just a mel­low fel­low who’d rather graze than tear around with the other Thor­ough­breds.

With plans to fox hunt him this fall, I’ve taken Jazz to a few lo­cal com­pe­ti­tions and train­ing ses­sions. In his off time, he carts my kids around and puts up with their child­ish chaos.

On a re­cent week­end I briefly left Jazz on cross ties with my 3-yearold daugh­ter, Brynn, the lat­ter perched on a stool, groom­ing the horse’s back with a hoof pick. When I re­turned Brynn was still busy but had been joined by her sis­ter, who was ped­al­ing her bike up and down the barn aisle, blithely duck­ing be­neath Jazz’s cross tie. “Knock that off right now!” I roared from the house porch. Jazz pricked his ears, ex­press­ing more in­ter­est in me than in the kin­der­gartener whizzing past on the one-speed.

So what are my plans for Jazz? Is he a project or a long-term res­i­dent? Will he stay this quiet or will he wake up when he’s fit and out with the hunt field? The jury’s still out. But for the time be­ing, I’ll keep rid­ing him and mar­veling at the oddly con­formed but un­com­pli­cated character that he seems to

be.

SWEET RIDE: Jazz fits in well with the au­thor’s fam­ily.

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