Team Peri Whan

Over the past couple of weeks my ducks have started to line up. Unfortunately it turned out to be a false start, which is discouraging, but it does make for a good story, so I will tell it here.

My search for a horse started by calling all of my friends and asking them if they had anything that I could use for the program. I called the people with the nicest horses first and Vivian Malloy was at the top of my list. Vivian is New York’s leading Thoroughbred breeder, and with good reason—she has always produced beautifully balanced horses with big bones and quiet minds all carefully raised on her immaculate Edition Farm. I have been lucky enough to train and resell some of her horses for jumping in the past. I was hoping she would have one for me, but I was out of luck.

In order to find a horse, I have to pitch the program and all of its benefits to sellers. Most trainers believe in the program, but they just aren’t willing to give you their best horse. Case in point. So it was with the leverage of one of my good friends that I got in line for a good one.  My friend Judy Richter has always helped me find nice horses, so I gave her a call next. Her brother-in-law, Willard Thompson, was New Jersey’s leading race trainer last year and has a number of homebred horses on his farm.

The name of the horse mentioned, Peri Whan, was catchy, so my ears were up. Persian for “journey’s end,” the horse was named after Judy’s family vacation home in Vermont; it was meaningful and I already felt attached. There was some kind of magic going on that I could not explain. It felt like this was going to happen. The horse was described as a 16-hand, six-year-old, bay gelding with 30 days under saddle. Apparently he had a bone chip removed and was coming off of a four-month lay up. They sent a brief video of the horse to my phone where an exercise jockey bobbed above his trot, which was long and balanced. Sitting in Judy’s kitchen, we formed “Team Peri Whan”—I would put in the training, Judy would cover the board, and Willard had the horse. What could possibly go wrong?

When something that fun happens, you don’t mind making driving another 500 miles to do it again. We took the trip to Colts Neck, NJ, to Quiet Winter Farm—Willard’s home. He is old, soft, and shrinking. (Judy determined that he had shrunk by a few inches since the last time she saw him). The place is pretty well kept, thanks to his grandson, and the racing aspect of the farm was a lean mean racing machine.

Upon first sight, I knew this would make a great horse for the program. He was cute—balanced and nicely proportioned with a nice, big eye and tasteful white markings. There was a great exercise rider legged up on him (he’s “riding high,” as they say, or extreme two point, as I say) in the indoor arena with not a jump to be found. The rider just jogged him—no canter. I’m thinking, “Ok, what can I possibly do with this horse to see if he will be the right fit?” Truth be told, Team Peri Whan is more important to me than the horse himself. All I wanted to do was not mess it up—don’t make the horse mad, don’t make the owner mad, and make due. Mission accomplished; when I was thrown up on him, I asked very little and it was actually hard to get him going. I was embarrassed because I could barely get him to go, but when I did he had this floaty trot that said, “Hello jump!”

That was worth the trip, right there—building an incentive to turn horses over into second careers, teaching trainers to go out and find the best Thoroughbreds to work with.

Afterward, we were invited into Willard’s house for lunch and the conversation was full of great stories of life in the horse business. When it was time to leave, he asked us to go through his wife’s things to see if there was anything that we would like to have. His dearly departed wife, Carol Hoffman Thompson, was an Olympic show jumping rider in the late 1960s, so pictures of horses at different stages of stardom hung all over the place. I took things as an obligation because it seemed like it made Willard feel good that they may see some use and put it into a suitcase he offered with her initials embroidered on the front—CHT. I felt so filled with hope and inspiration when we left with Judy beside me and a suitcase full of promise in the trunk. When I got home I had to try on the stuff to see how it fit. I set the riding clothes aside to wear them the next Saturday at a show.

Then some weird things started to happen—I felt a cold presence in my bedroom. I had hung a picture of Carol in my tack room that inexplicably fell and shattered without any cause. I didn’t put a lot of thought into it until I wore the breeches to a schooling show and the entire seam ripped out while on course.

Two weeks later, Willard backed out of Team Peri Whan. At that point I knew Carol did not want me to have the horse. Who knows why? I don’t mess around with ghosts. The next day I gathered up the things that Willard had asked me take—riding clothes, penny loafers, rain jackets, horse show branded tee shirts, and the lovely red silk jacket with the handwritten name “Hoffman”—all into the suitcase and drove to the GoodWill donation station.

I took the clothes, but Carol took the horse. The search continues…

Categories: Changing Track