Team Taco Members: Taco Himself!
In August 2008, Taco (Cat Burglar) came to live with me in Tennessee. He was a lease from my friend Annika in Michigan, who had competed him very successfully at the Preliminary level and generously consented to share him with me while I worked toward my goal of a Training Level Three Day Event (T3D). We had an amazing year together and when the time came to renew the lease, Annika and I decided that Taco and I ought to be permanent partners. I became his official owner in December 2009.Taco, a 1996 Bay Thoroughbred, with a tiny white star on his forehead, has quite lovely sporthorse bloodlines (his Jockey Club name was different). He is an amazing athlete, a jokester, a cuddle muffin, and a prince (sometimes I call him HRH Taco). He is as honest as can be over fences and has gorgeous movement that can dazzle in dressage. He can be ridiculously silly one moment (what is THAT! Mulch?? Mulch is scary!) and then put in a flawless round or test the next (or mug for a treat, whichever is the activity going on). He loves carrots, Flax Snax, carrots, Mrs. Pastures cookies, carrots, peppermints, and carrots.
When his previous owner Annika got him through the CANTER organization at age five, he had been a racehorse in Michigan. He was, as she put it, "full of all sorts of tricks" at first. He was anxious and reactive, and she hit the ground many, many times in the first year she had him! When they started eventing, they were always clear cross country (XC) but often dead last in dressage, with comments like "tactful ride." He also had some scary injuries, including a giant stifle (which led to weeks at New Bolton's hospital at UPENN) and some cellulitis after a laceration to a front leg.
But over time, they developed a beautiful partnership, and Annika's patience and, yes, tactful riding built Taco up into a confident and responsive athlete. By 2006, they were showing heavily at Preliminary and they did two CCI* competitions (internationally-sanctioned three day events at the Preliminary level). Annika's photo album is full of their highlight moments. They were an amazing pair.
Then, in January of 2007, Taco got hurt again. Badly. He was in a stall at a neighbor's barn (the neighbor was riding him lightly while Annika had to go out of town) and he kicked out at another horse over the stall door. His left hind leg got caught and he scraped the skin off a large area of the front of the cannon bone (warning: graphic wound photo). The recovery was not smooth, and took over 14 months. The wound had seemed to be closing up that spring, and six months later he was back in light work-- but one night the whole leg opened up again. This complication led to three (four? Annika, correct me here if neccesary!) surgeries on the leg over the course of the next several months, one of which involved some very scary moments in the recovery stall. In addition, his immune system was in overdrive and he began to develop uveitis (an immune-mediated eye condition). At one point, Annika feared that she might have to put him down. But she kept going and, just as it always had, her patience and care paid off. He had successful surgery on the eye to remove the vitreous and stop the immunological reaction, which might have led to permanent blindness had it continued. The leg surgeries found some old suture material in the wound and it began to close again. He came back from the brink and was healing in earnest by the spring of 2008.
In the meantime, however, Annika had made a big decision: to go back to school to become a physician's assistant. Taco, who was used to being the king of the barn, was in desperate need of a regular work schedule and the attention to which he was accustomed. Annika and I had known each other on the Chronicle of the Horse bulletin board for some time, and we had met in person at Rolex in 2008. I was in the process of selling my old horse, an OTTB who did not want to be an event horse. Suddenly, everything seemed to click into place. Taco was coming to Tennessee!
Since that summer of 2008, Taco and I have become a real team, with the help of some dear friends and family. Taco is, to put it mildly, my dream come true. It is hard to put how I feel about him into words, but this excerpt from an email I wrote to Annika is an approximation:
I've loved other horses and they all were special in their own way but Taco is simply *more* special. He is both incredibly athletic and incredibly kind (with a sense of humor), and one of those horses with that impossible-to-define quality of Presence. I've already learned so much from him.