From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

Mr. Feelin’ Good

Life is too short to be little.

Benjamin Disraeli

He was nineteen when he came into my life. Long past his prime. I was hesitant to make the investment but Charlie assured me he had one more season left in him. “He’ll teach you a lot about showing reining horses,” Charlie explained, “You’re getting a $20,000 horse for one tenth the money.” A consummate salesman, Charlie had always been a horse trader with the ability to make a person feel like if they said no they’d just lost out on a good thing. He knew this horse better than anyone; he’d bought and sold him many times over the years. I knew he was giving me an opportunity, so we closed the deal and I loaded the old gelding into my trailer, a simple stock type made of steel pipe.

It was a twelve-hour haul from Charlie’s place to my home in Florida. I checked my side mirror regularly during the trip. A nose poking out through the bars periodically would let me know the horse was still on his feet and breathing. I worried about the old guy the whole way home but when we finally pulled up in front of my barn and I opened up the trailer I soon discovered my worries were unfounded. The big sorrel gelding peered out at me with bright eyes. He stepped out boldly, ears up, snorting and shaking his head. This is a horse that lives up to his name, I observed with a smile, He really is Mr. Feelin’ Good!

Sixteen years had passed since Mr. Feelin’ Good (FG) had lived in Florida. Bred in Ocala he was now home again. I turned him out in the paddock and watched in amazement as FG took off running and bucking. It certainly wasn’t difficult to picture the fresh young three-year-old futurity prospect he once had been. These days the gray was beginning to show around his face and nearly two decades of steady competition had left its mark on his body. But one look into his large brown eyes revealed a spirit that was vibrant and unbroken. The depth of his powerful energy was evident from the first time I stepped up on him. It coursed up through his feet, pounded through his enormous heart, then patiently waited for release in the draped reins I held between the thumb and fingers of my left hand. This was a highly trained performance horse, the product of years of refinement. I hoped I was up for the challenge. As it turned out, FG would show me much more than just how to ride better, he would teach me about life itself.

My show career had been pretty dismal before FG came along. So you can imagine my surprise when I entered my first reining with him and won! Charlie was sure right about this old guy. FG was a terrific horse to show. Overnight he transformed me from an also-ran to a contender. Reining is a demanding sport for both the horse and the rider. It’s an event that is designed to demonstrate the speed, agility and athleticism of theWestern stock horse. Riders enter the show ring alone and must perform from memory one of ten different patterns. Each pattern is a combination of seven different reining maneuvers. The most famous of these are the sliding stop and the spin. FG was great at spinning but his real talent was in his enormous stops. It was not uncommon for him to slide forty feet before finally coming to rest.

It didn’t take long to realize I was riding a celebrity. Every show ground I took him to, people would recognize old FG. I called the National Reining Horse Association to request his show record and was amazed when my fax machine yielded nine pages of data. Scanning the lists of venues it seemed as if he’d competed in nearly every part of the United States and Canada. Many people had owned him over the years, most only for a season or two, but all of them winners. With Mr. Feelin’ Good as their dancing partner, they’d gone to the finals at the NRHA Futurity and the NRHA Derby, won multiple NRHA Affiliate championships, dozens of bronze trophies, and even a world title.

As the show season progressed, my own win record grew as did my desire to keep winning. Through it all FG never complained; like a faithful blue-collar worker, he punched his time card into the company clock everyday and went to work. Slowly, subtly, I began to change. I was no longer surprised when I won at a show, I was expecting it. Charlie had warned me about this, he’d told me that everyone who showed FG eventually got a big head. I’d listened, but I really hadn’t heard the words. I would come to understand that although competition is meant to bring out the best in us, it can just as easily bring out the worst.

FG is one of those rare horses who never mellowed with age. His huge heart seemed to drive an endless supply of energy that transcended any physical limitation. He was always at the ready, always so reliable. And like so many years before, it was shaping up to be yet another winning show season. It’s an intoxicating feeling to enter a class knowing you can win it. The more I won the more I wanted to keep winning. But what I couldn’t see was, despite his tremendous drive, it was becoming increasingly more difficult for FG’s body to keep up the pace. I took him to a specialist and had his joints injected, I gave him regular shots of drugs to keep him sound and before every show, I put pain killers in his feed. One night I was leading FG back through the barns after a class. Two men passed me in the alleyway and I overheard one say to the other, “That horse’ll be dead

soon.” The words chilled me to my core.

A good friend and mentor of mine once told me that there

is no forgiveness like the forgiveness in a horse. I was so

blinded by my desire to win, I couldn’t see how increasingly

painful it was for FG every time I took him into the arena

and yet, in spite of his pain, FG kept trying for me. There are

many obvious ways to abuse our horses. It’s the subtle

abuses that sneak up on us. FG was lucky; I woke up before

it was too late. Soon after that night in the show barn, I had

my blacksmith remove FG’s slide plates for the last time.

In 1998 Mr. Feelin’ Good was inducted into the National

Reining Horse Association’s Hall of Fame. Today, at twentyseven,

you’ll find him living a quite retirement at our ranch

in Ocala, just a few miles from the place he was born, grazing

in a green pasture among shady oaks. He still runs and

bucks in his paddock and enjoys an occasional trail ride for

a change of scenery.

Tracy Schumer

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