Old Friends in the Stable: Atari
Old Friends in the Stable
Atari is one of several retired horses at The Ranger Foundation in Keedysville. Critics of thoroughbreds say they have more heart than common sense, and point to incidents of racehorses struggling to the finish line with broken legs to prove their point.
Ironically, that's also what admirers love about them.
Whether you love or loathe the temperamental thoroughbred, the fire in the belly and the flash of the eye are what make them the fascinating, difficult, glorious creatures they are. Atari embodies all the stereotypes and includes his own characteristics of courtly charm and appreciation of humans.
He was born on March 30, 1972, on the famous King Ranch in Texas as 'Buyer Zenith'. Between 1974 and 1976 he had three first place wins and earned $9,018. Like many racehorses, his career ended young and he went to work briefly as a National Park Service horse and for the Philadelphia Mounted Police before arriving at Valley Forge Military Academy, which was to become his permanent home. His thoroughbred speed and agility made him a good polo pony, while his sweetness and tractability earned him favorite status as a lesson horse. Also ridden in Clinton's Inaugural parade, versatility is another thoroughbred trait, which he claims. Pictures and eyewitness accounts of him prancing in a parade or jumping in an arena attest to the ever-present expression of alertness and enjoyment and vigor, which those at the Ranger Foundation know so well.
When he first arrived at the Ranger Foundation for his much-deserved retirement, he still enjoyed light riding and was so docile and well-trained that he was very useful for beginner volunteers as they learned to work with and around horses. He, Max, Ranger and Gary Owen were the Grand Old Men of the farm. After he retired completely from any riding, he rediscovered the joys of romance and became the Ranger stallion wannabe.
Keeping weight on the old athlete has always been a challenge, even back when he was still employed at Valley Forge. He is fed specially formulated meals several times a day. He is also prone to bumps and scratches that don't heal as quickly as when he was a whippersnapper. In winter he stays snug with a blanket to keep the cold from his old bones. He thoroughly enjoys the special treatment and knows well how to flap his lips and make moony eyes at passing volunteers to coax a treat or a skritch from them.
Atari is trotting through his fourth decade with as much energy and enthusiasm as any young colt. If his knees are a little stiffer and his hips a bit bonier, the gleam in his eye hasn't changed a bit. Apparently no one has ever told him that he's old. Volunteers at The Ranger Foundation are not about to break it to him.
For more information visit www.rangerhorse.org.
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