Everyone who owns a horse has a story of how, where, and when their first best friend came into their life. My story started six years ago.
Growing up in the metropolitan Detroit area of Michigan, I was familiar with a very different kind of horsepower. Every year, a pony was at the top of my Christmas list, and it seemed that a pony was just too big to fit in Santa’s sleigh. After many years of persistence, on my 13th birthday, my parents finally got me the next-best thing, riding lessons.
This fueled my love, and that was when I knew I would pursue a career with horses.
Growing up, people would have described me as quiet and shy, so when I decided to move to Kentucky in 2014 it surprised a lot of people. For my internship to earn my degree in Horse Management from Michigan State University, I went to Kentucky to be a part of the Kentucky Equine Management Internship program to spend six months learning about the Thoroughbred breeding industry.
Upon arriving, I was blown away by the farm. I had never seen so much land dedicated just to raising top-class racehorses. On my first official day of work, I was thrown right in and started in the barn where all the action was happening … the foaling barn.
Having no prior experience working with Thoroughbreds, I had a lot to learn. There were a few mares that became my favorites. These were mares that were patient as I fumbled around with a gate trying to figure out the best way to open it, lead them in, and turn them out or as I learned how to pick all four feet from the left side.
For me, the most exciting part of working in the foaling barn was waiting for the mares to foal and I attended as many foalings as possible; it never mattered what time of the day or night.
One of my favorite mares was named Entangle. She was a big, beautiful, kind mare who was about to have her first foal. On Feb. 12, 2014, I got a call that she had broken water. My adrenaline was through the roof and I leapt out of bed around midnight and drove to help bring new life into the world.
I arrived at the barn to meet with the assistant broodmare manager and she instructed me to check the foal’s position and wait until she was ready to push. Entangle laid down and I grabbed onto those tiny bay legs and helped guide a newborn Thoroughbred out of the birth canal. It was a colt! The endless possibilities of him winning the Kentucky Derby, setting track records, and being the best that horse racing has ever seen ran through my head. I grabbed a towel and began to dry him off.
Since it was Entangle’s first foal, you never really know how a mare will act. I moved him so she could see him, and she began to lick him right away. It is truly amazing how strong a mother’s instinct can be, and I remember standing outside the stall watching him take his first wobbly steps and thinking: “wow, this is going to be a special horse.”
The next morning, I walked into the barn and went straight to their stall to check on them. The colt was tall, looked like his mom, and like most newborn horses was very cute. As more foals were born, it was time for Entangle and her new baby boy to be moved to a new barn, and I was given the responsibility of their care.
I put Entangle in the first stall on the left because when I walked in in the morning to check on everyone I wanted them to be the first ones I would say good morning to and the last ones I would say good night to.
As time went on, her colt quickly became a favorite. He was so easy to work with and teaching him was effortless. He learned so quickly and was always eager to please. When he was about 6 months old, a trailer arrived, and I loaded him to go to his new home. I am happy to say that that was not the last time we would see each other.
Samantha Cripps grew up in Michigan and attended Michigan State University. In 2014, she made the move to Lexington, Ky. to follow her dreams of helping to raise racehorses. She has completed both sessions of the Kentucky Equine Management Internship and the Hagyard Ambulatory Veterinary Assistant Internship. Cripps has been lucky enough to work at some of the best Thoroughbred farms in the world in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and America. She is currently nearing graduation of the Godolphin Flying Start program. This series takes readers along for the ride on Cripps' journey with her OTTB Dalarna.