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A Horse for Any Course

You’re familiar with a utility player – someone able to play a number of different positions, shortstop, second base maybe outfield, too. Well, how about a utility horse.

That’s right, a horse you can use for jumping one day, maybe a bit of dressage the next and then on weekends take him down the trail. Kids need a lesson? This fellow is just the ticket. English saddle, western or bareback. Take your pick.

Turn him out for six months and he’ll respond as if it’s been a week. Just ask him.

His name is Pine Bend and he’ll do whatever he’s asked … with a couple of exceptions.

He doesn’t like to canter. He doesn’t like to run. “Like” is the key here. Doesn’t mean he won’t. He just doesn’t like it.

“I wish I could talk to his former jockeys and find out what they did,” said his current owner Kari Thorson of Arthur, N.D.

It just may be that Piney, now 12, got his fill of running, at various racetracks in the west before running the last four races of his career at Canterbury Park, finishing with a 4-5-5 record from 25 starts and earnings of $43,374.

A series of events led to Thorson’s acquisition of Piney.

She had been riding a Palomino quarter horse until she lost him suddenly in December of 2008. She began working at a small boarding stable in Moorhead a few months later and was informed by the owner that Dr. Dick Bowman had horses for adoption at his ranch in Bowman, N.D.

So Thorson paid him a visit in April to take a look at what he had. Bowman had a pasture full of horses that finished their racing careers at Canterbury. They were either on the mend at his place or completely healed, rested up and ready for adoption.

There were around 40 horses from which to choose. “I had my mind set on bringing home a big gray mare,” Thorson recalled.”I set off through the pen toward a group of gray horses when I was approached by a little chestnut gelding.”

That’s when Thorson realized she had attracted a tag-along. The chestnut wouldn’t leave her alone.

“He kept snuggling into me and following me around,” she said. “He always seemed to be blocking my view of the other horses.”

Finally she shed the tag-along and gave the horses a thorough examination without finding the one she wanted.

Before departing, she gave the herd one last glance and spotted the chestnut gelding in a corner of the pen. “He was standing alone, with his head down and his back to me,” she said. “It seemed as though he had given up on anyone ever taking him home. I knew right then and there that I had to have him.”

She was later told by Doc Bowman that Pine Bend was an easy-going, friendly horse, eager to please and had been at his ranch for two years. Bowman was surprised the horse was still there, in view of the animal’s great disposition.

Pine Bend could barely make it off the trailer when he first arrived at the ranch. He had a bad suspensory and could hardly walk. In the time since he had made a thorough recovery and Bowman recommended him as a wonderful riding horse. When Thorson loaded him up she discovered that Piney was about 16 hands, taller than she first thought, and within days she discovered that, if anything, what Bowman told her about the horse was maybe understated.

“We learned that the horse loves being groomed and loves having people around him,” she recalled. “It is still hard to believe that Piney was a racehorse. He is exceptionally laid back and trustworthy with anyone. He’ll adjust to any rider who might slip a bit in the saddle or lose her balance. He’s great with people.”

He isn’t much different from other horses when it comes to treats, except maybe for his very favorite. He likes carrots, sugar cubes and apple flavored nuggets – and, perhaps because he is an Arizona-bred, his favorite treat of all is tortilla chips. “He absolutely loves them,” Kari said.

Thorson has mostly been around quarter horses but Piney has completely dispelled her most pressing concerns about thoroughbreds. “I’ve been around horses for about 12 years now, but I never really thought I would be a strong enough rider to actually ride a thoroughbred let alone own one,” she said. “Piney changed all that. He is just so forgiving and trustworthy. He loves learning new things. We did some dressage schooling shows and he was so quick to learn, and he had such beautiful movements. He walked away with some blue ribbons and was the reserve high point champion.”

Piney came to life when Thorson started taking him over small jumps. “His ears would perk up whenever he saw someone setting up jumps in the arena,” she said. “He also loved being used as a lesson horse and was completely trustworthy with small children or people with some fear of riding. He was so patient and easy to work with he became one of the barn favorites.”

So, there it is, an Arizona-bred former racehorse who likes children, people in general, tortilla chips, jumping, trail-riding and going to school.

And he’s named after the largest oil refinery in Minnesota.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.