Ima Looking Cool (Murray, Dontsellmeshort x Ima Princess Royal, Royal Egyptian) is a 2009 gelding, bred in Southern California and moved to Northern Calfornia as a yearling. Nobody is quite sure what happened during Murray’s formative years on his breeder’s farm, but the horse that arrived at Reina Gonzalez’s barn at the Pleasanton track was little short of feral.
Reina told me that they had to back the trailer into his stall to get him unloaded, and his first day on the track it took her 20 minutes to catch him with a halter. In his stall.
Then dubbed “Rico” (and often “Rico the Freako”), Murray entered race training as a 2 year old, and was nobody’s favourite. He was small and immature, and didn’t know how to work. He was cinchy to the point of absurdity (interestingly, a trait that all the offspring of his sire seem to share). He bucked so much that his jockey worried that he’d break out of the gate without her. He lay down and rolled on the hot walker.
Little surprise that when Rico the Freako failed to place in his first four races, Reina started looking to get him a home away from the track. At the time, my trainer was looking for a new sporthorse prospect, and Reina was looking to get her daughter a small pony to learn to ride on. One quiet, Christmas trailer ride later, Rico arrived at our barn in December of 2011.
We already had a Rico (a calm, sensible, 2008 KY-bred gelding exceeding all expectations after his rough start post-racing) so Alana renamed the little one “Murray” after his quirky resemblance to the comedic legend, Bill Murray. His cute face saved him then, when Alana’s mom fell in love with his forelock and took him on and for light trail work and some R&R at her beautiful property in Oregon.
Murray came back briefly in June of 2012 for three months of training, then returned to Oregon for another year of growing up. In Oregon, Murray grew up, filled out, and proved his athletic potential, constantly racing his haflinger brothers (not much competition, I know), jumping random obstacles in the back of the pasture, and occasionally flying over the fences to land in with the steers (only to beg to please, please, be let back in with the horses again!). In July of 2013, Alana deemed him, a full four-year-old, probably ready to embark on his second career. Murray wasn’t totally sure he was on board with this plan. Silly and suspicious on the ground, Murray had somehow developed a near-debilitating fear of girths, saddle pads, baling twine, cross ties, scissors, baths, clippers, blankets, tarps, weird ground… Under saddle though, Murry was willing and reasonable. It was just getting there that was a struggle.
As the Summer progressed, Murray defeated the gaggle of teenagers at our barn who normally hung out for more rides, and Alana turned to our barn manager’s daughter to get him working. A kid who has ridden problem horses all her short life, she gleefully exclaimed “I’ve never had a project before!” With the help of her mom/our barn manager, Lisa (the only person Murray truly trusted and respected) they developed a strategy of lunging Murray prior to riding that started to eliminate his bad behavior.
In September 2013, I returned to the USA and riding after a year doing research in Kenya and Republic of Congo, and Alana happily handed me the reins. “I just know you two are going to get along.” And get along we did. In our first lesson, his grunting, silly, ridiculous personality won me over. I didn’t even mind lunging before every ride, and in October 2013 I took over his care full time.
Since October (2013) Murray has had lots of firsts. First XC school. First jumps bigger than 2’. First full course of jumps. First free jump session (kid sailed over the 4’ standards like a pro, as long as we set the jumps to 3’3” or lower!) First show away from home. First chiropractic adjustment. First combined test. First night away from home. First massage.
Murray isn’t the easiest horse to get along with. He’s silly and opinionated, and is convinced that his opinion is the only important one. He’s suspicious and skeptical and, worst of all, smart. Add to this his relatively decent athleticism, and I find myself face down in the dirt rather more than I have in the past. But this has made Murray a fantastic partner for me; unlocking his athletic potential and gaining his trust are a fun challenge. We have come a long way together, and I am looking forward to many more fun, successful, sometimes-teary years together.