This week’s spotlight goes to a goofy grey gelding by the name of Gamble on Love and his wonderful owner, Joan MacMillan.
Gamble on Love (or simply Mr.G) began his racing career in 2006 at Woodbine Racetrack. At the age of two, he ran four races between July and October, placing in the money three times. In 2007, again at Woodbine, he ran a handful of times without success, but was able to secure his first win later that year at Fort Erie Race Track. Although he raced the following season at Fort Erie, Mr.G was officially retired from racing in September 2008.
MacMillan didn’t meet Mr.G until 2010 when she found herself looking to get back into riding after a thirty year hiatus from the sport. A passion for horses from an early age, MacMillan began riding at the age of six at the Eglinton Equestrian centre in Toronto. Living every horsies girl dream, she got her own pony, a morgan thoroughbred mare when she turned twelve years old. Following her passion for eventing, she went on to study and learn from Dezso Hary, a legendary eventing coach.
She continued to ride until her early 20's and despite giving up her love for nearly three decades she never strayed too far away. “I would watch every horse race possible, go to every show I could when I knew they were in the area,” said MacMillan.
With her daughter heading off to university, MacMillan decided it was time to jump back into the saddle. She also decided it was time to find her own horse and began browsing online horse classifieds searching for the one. “I started seeing horses and he (Mr.G) started coming up and coming up, and I’ve always loved greys, so I finally decided I would go see him.”
MacMillan and Mr.G met at Heaven Can Wait (HCW), an equine rescue in Cameron, Ontario. Although he retired sound and healthy from racing, sometime in 2009 he sustained an injury while training to be a jumper. A bit of a grey area when it comes to life predating MacMillan (and predating his time at HCW), she did inquire to fill in a few blanks about his previous injury.
“I don’t know if that was a farm gate or a jumping gate but he was taken to Guelph (equine hospital) and stapled, never lame at any point but (they) were told six months field rest or three months stall rest. And wherever he was they didn’t want to do that evidently so that’s why they gave him to the rescue,” said MacMillan.
Although Mr.G had already been given a second start and come up short, MacMillan was still drawn to the horse. “By the second visit he came to the gate to me and he hung around, he wanted to spend time with me, and I just loved his personality, he was like a little goof.” She visited him several times a week for over two months before she decided he was the one.
In June 2011, Mr.G became a MacMillan.
While her daughter was studying at university, MacMillan’s other kid, Mr.G began studying the basics and learning how to re-train his brain to be a riding horse. MacMillan knew she had her work cut out for her, given that Mr.G had been on vacation at HCW, and she herself had been out of the riding game for awhile. “He was going to have to start from scratch again because he’d been off for so long and I was starting over after 30 plus years of not really riding.”
Although the two began to bond over the next year, MacMillan soon realized she needed a coach to help her connect with her four-legged fur baby. “When I realized he and I didn’t know the same things, plus the rearing, I was getting very frustrated because I just didn’t know what to do anymore, and that’s when I decided it was definitely time to find somebody,” admitted MacMillan.
In 2012, MacMillan crossed paths with riding coach and horse trainer, Paisley Statten. She had seen Statten at the barn and liked the way she went about training horses. “She is the type that will start from scratch, make sure they have all their basics, their balance, the proper muscles, etc and it’s a long process. And that appealed to me, because it was going to be a long process for me too, because being older those muscles don’t function the same way anymore, some of them don’t even exist anymore,” laughed MacMillan.
For the last three years MacMillan and Statten have been working together to get Mr.G back in shape, more round and more confident in himself. Statten has noticed a huge change since she first met him. “He’s come along way. He was very rigid and and very un-relaxed and now he’s working through his hind end and he’s a lot stronger and more consistent in his work,” said Statten.
Not too long ago I watched from a distance as the three worked together. Quiet and calm in the saddle, Macmillan guided Mr.G into a trot and circled around Statten at one end of the arena. With his ears pricked forward and working in frame (engaging his hind end and relaxing his head down towards the ground) Statten coached from the centre helping the two work on and maintain that connection.
When I eventually met and chatted with Statten she pointed out the neat bond she has seen form between Mr.G and MacMilllan. “He loves Joan, he loves working and he’s very clear when he likes his job and when he is finding something that’s difficult - he’s clear about telling us.”
Always watching out for her boy, MacMillan knows that the transition from track life to his life now has been difficult. At the low end of the totem pole, Mr.G was bitten and picked on when he was first introduced to his paddock mates, who were also former racehorses. “Him being grey, socially in the horse world isn’t necessarily a great thing because he spent a lot of his first few years getting beat up a lot and that threw him out of commission because he got kicked in the gaskin one time. So he could barely walk for almost a month.”
After a winter of being turned out on his own, Mr.G gained more confidence and finally stood up for himself when he was reintroduced to his paddock mates the following spring. “I swear he watched and learned and he was a different horse the next time he was put back in a group. Because, he basically told them the second he was in there –NO,” said MacMillan.
Now, eleven years young the flea-bitten grey stands quietly as MacMillan brushes him down in the barn. I’ve seen the two interact on several occasions and it’s always the same. MacMillan walks around either side of him, brushing off dirt, picking his hooves clean before a ride or lesson while Mr.G takes it all in stride.
Although he exercises impeccable ground manners for his horse mom, the kind-eyed grey still turns his head to greet a friendly face or softly nudge his nose toward you looking for some treats. “He’d rather socialize and just stand around in a crowd with people, and just listen and chat and play with your zippers. He’s just a really sociable guy, that’s what he loves to do,” laughed MacMillan.
She has been working hard to get him back into shape for this summer -- lunging him, having weekly lessons with Statten, and even buying a custom saddle to fit his thoroughbred frame (to ensure he is comfortable when she rides him). MacMillan would like to do a few schooling shows with him but is not sure when or where yet.
A gamble worth taking, MacMillan is happy Mr.G is part of her life and only hopes there are many great years ahead of them. “Our goal was just to age and mature together. My goal is for when in ten years from now when he’s older and calmer and he is used to things and I’m older, that will just have a really nice quiet relationship, where we can just to do whatever we want to do and ride off into the sunset.”