Zippy Chippy, a bay gelding, boasts a pedigree that includes Northern Dancer, Buckpasser, Bold Ruler, Man o’ War, War Admiral and Round Table—some of the fastest horses of all time but none of all that special blood coursing through his veins could help him win a race. In one hundred starts, he won zero. That’s right, he never won a race. But, there is a moral to Zippy’s story as there usually is when it comes to horses.
Wait, he did beat a minor league baseball player in a forty yard dash in 2001 and he also beat a harness racer named Paddy’s Laddy. He beat out Paddy Laddy and his rig to win by a neck after he spotted the trotter a twenty-length lead.
After his win, Zippy’s owner said, “It feels good to win but it doesn’t count until we do it against thoroughbreds.
He’s mean, he kicks, he bites, but he has a home forever with me and my daughter.”
The last time Zippy Chippy raced against other thoroughbred horses it ended up as his 100th loss. It occurred on September 10, 2004, in the Northampton Fair at the Three County Fairgrounds. He went off at odds of 7-2, making him the second betting choice.
A host of fans were there that day to cheer him at the start and to take his picture, prompting his jockey to say, “It would be nice if people took photos at the end of the race too.” However, Zippy Chippy finished last.
Eventually, in 1995, his owners gave up on him and Felix Monserrate, who had boarded Zippy Chippy, purchased him in a trade for a 1988 Ford truck.
Zippy was finally banned from competing at many tracks. Why was he banned? Not because he was a perennial loser, but because sometimes he would refuse to leave the gate, or he would bite the other horses, or he would just pull up in mid-race.
But Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Home where he currently resides tells us that winners don’t always finish first. He has more visitors than any other horse at the retirement home.
Watching Zippy lose all his races became a very popular pastime. In fact, his profile got more reads on the Blood-Horse website than stories about Kentucky Derby winners did. He also made more money off the track than he ever did on it through merchandise sales and other endorsements.
And how many horses are voted one of the year’s “Most Intriguing Characters” by People Magazine? Only Zippy Chippy and he received that honor in the year 2000.
There is even a book written about him, which I have to admit, I haven’t read. It’s available on amazon.com. It’s called The Legend Of Zippy Chippy.
Zippy Chippy is the spokeshorse for racing horses. He went on tour in Kentucky in the summer of 2012 to bring attention to the safe retirement of racehorses.
Two hundred and fifty years before Zippy there was Stewball, or Squball, or Sku-ball. It is believed his name is bastardized from Skewbald, which is a horse with patches of white on a coat of any color, except black. A Piebald is a horse with patches of white on a coat of black.
The difference between Stewball and Zippy is that Stewball was a very successful racehorse on the track in England and Ireland as well as off the track.
His name instilled the words to an old song, a song sang by many people over the years but made popular in the 1960’s by the folk group, Peter, Paul, and Mary.
For your singing pleasure, here are the words.
Oh, Stewball was a racehorse, and I wish he were mine.
He never drank water, he always drank wine.
His bridle was silver, his mane it was gold.
And the worth of his saddle has never been told.
Oh the fairgrounds were crowded, and Stewball was there
But the betting was heavy on the bay and the mare.
And a-way up yonder, ahead of them all,
Came a-prancin’ and a-dancin’ my noble Stewball.
I bet on the gray mare, I bet on the bay
If I’d have bet on ol’ Stewball, I’d be a free man today.
Oh, the hoot owl, she hollers, and the turtle dove moans.
I’m a poor boy in trouble, I’m a long way from home.
Oh, Stewball was a racehorse, and I wish he were mine.
He never drank water, he always drank wine.
I pulled in and drove down the driveway and into the pasture. I stopped at the corral where the Department of Agriculture Agent was waiting. She waved and undid the chain holding the gate and pushed it open.
I backed the trailer in and shut the rig down and stepped out. I walked to the back and knocked up the lever holding the trailer door shut. The door swung open. I reached in and threw a flake of hay on the ground by the back entrance to the trailer.
Then I pulled the paneling in, securing them to the sides of the trailer. This was routine. I had done it many times before in the fifteen years I had been rescuing and starting wild mustangs. I looked across the corral at the bay colored gelding. He stood off on the other side of the corral, not scared, but wary of me watching him. I didn’t like what I saw.
I ambled over and put both hands on top of the gate, placing my chin on the back of my hands and one foot on the bottom rail while I observed the mustang. The Department of AG Agent approached the corral and said, “I’m not sure this one is going to make it, what do you think?”
“I’ve seen some pretty sorry looking mustangs, but this one has to be the worst. It looks like someone stretched some horsehide over a skeleton and is trying to pass it off as a horse. This horse is close to starving to death. Look at his legs, they’re wobbling. He’s so weak he can barely stand up. He may die before I can even load him, and look at his feet. They haven’t been trimmed in at least a year and by the look of his coat, it looks like he has the mange. Where’d he come from?”
“We ain’t sure. We got a call from the guy that owns this pasture saying he found the horse wandering around down the road. He couldn’t get near it to halter it, so he coaxed it into his pasture with a bucket of oats. He sold his land and has to get the horse off and that’s why he called us. We didn’t know how bad his condition was until we came out and saw him. We noticed the neck brand and figured it’s a wild mustang from the BLM, Bureau of Land Management, so we called you. You think you can get him in that trailer? We can’t get near him.”
“Oh, I’ll get him in there; just don’t know how long it will take. I don’t want to get him worked up, it will only make the job that much harder.”
“You got a rope?”
“No, just this carrot stick.”
“No rope? How are you going to catch him, if you don’t have a rope?”
“I’m not going to catch him. Some people think they have the right to touch a new mustang, but they don’t, not without their permission.”
“You’re kidding me, right? You have to get its permission?”
“If you want to have him trust you, and believe me, you do.”
“You are going to get that horse in the trailer with just that stick? How are you going to go about doing that?”
“Well, first I’m going to observe him before entering the corral. I want to know as much as I can about him. A wild horse in a corral can be trouble, even one as weak as this one, You can make a mistake with a person, and you can explain it. With a horse, you have to live with it or start over. In my experience, there has never been a time when a mistake was made that one of these two things didn’t occur. He’ll appraise me and I’ll appraise him, I know where I want to get him, but he’s the one that knows how to get there. Every horse is different. I know for this to work I have to get this horse calm, focused and confident and to accomplish this I have to be calm, focused and confident. These mustangs can spot a faker before he even opens the gate. I have to speak confidently with him using his body language. It can’t be an act, it has to be real. I’ll need your help.”
“Okay, what do you need me to do?” She asked.
“I want you to walk slowly into the corral and go to the trailer and hold onto the trailer door handle. When the horse goes in, I need you to close it as fast as you can. He may not want to come out once he goes in, but in most cases, they come out faster than they go in and if we can’t secure him in there the first time, it may be a long afternoon.”
“But aren’t you supposed to slowly introduce the trailer to the horse and do a step by step training process when teaching them to load?”
“We ain’t training this horse to load. We are here to save its life. We’ll train it later. Once we are in the corral with him, I am going to start out by tapping the ground slowly with my carrot stick. When he moves, and he will, I will start to cut down the distance between me and him and stop tapping as long as he goes in the direction of the trailer. If he stops at the back of the trailer to eat the hay I dropped there, I will stop tapping and let him relax for a few minutes. Then I’ll start tapping the ground with the carrot stick once again. This will agitate him and he will either go into the trailer or around the corral to get away from me. He can’t and I’ll continue the tapping until he gets to the back of the trailer again. Simple, huh?”
“It sounds simple, but I doubt it is,” she said.
“We’ll see. Why don’t you go in there now and secure the trailer door and I’ll come in about five minutes later?”
“Okay,” she replied, and slowly entered the corral and walked over to the trailer while the horse cautiously watched her out of one eye while keeping the other on me. After a few minutes, I opened the gate and strolled casually to the horse, speaking softly. All I had with me was my carrot stick. I got about fifteen feet from him before he turned and bolted away on those wobbly legs. His hooves barely cut into the earth and his legs lacked power. He continued to trot back and forth along the far fence, watching me, head raised, nostrils flared, and ears pointing in my direction. He quit roaming the perimeter of the corral and settled into a side away from both me and the trailer, not agitated, just alert and ornery. I could see his sides twitching. Sweat had formed on his underbelly and on his chest. His breathing was more labored than it should have been for the short time he was running around. He was nervous and in very bad health. I thought there was a good chance this horse had a respiratory problem to go along with all his other health issues. After about fifteen minutes of this routine, I guess he decided it would be easier on him to climb into the trailer than to continue to trot around the corral.
The empty trailer clanged with the sound of the horse’s hooves as he burst in. The Agent quickly closed the door. I ran up to assist her in securing the door handle and we were ready to roll. The trailer was rocking back and forth as the horse moved around inside.
“I learned something today,” she said. “That was pretty amazing.”
“Well, if you consider the horse,” I replied, “you will find out they are pretty amazing.”
We walked around and entered the side of the trailer through the escape door and stood and watched him adjust. He stomped and turned around a few times before calming down. He looked at us and blew his breath out against my face. The grainy earth smell was intoxicating.
“That’s right, boy,” I said, “it was pretty easy, wasn’t it? You’re going to be fine. We’ll fix you up.”
At the time, I didn’t have the confidence that we could. I knew it was easier said then done.
“Come take a look at this fresh manure pile,” I called to the AG Agent after we left the inside of the trailer. “It’s filled with worms. My Lord, I have never seen so many worms in a pile of horse manure in my life. There have to be thousands of them in there.”
She looked at the pile and shook her head in amazement, “I doubt this horse has been wormed for a couple of years. You’ll have to take it slow and easy on the de-worming as well as the feeding or he will die on you sure as we are standing here.”
I nodded, “It’s a damn shame what humans do to defenseless animals. We need your agency to crack down on some of these folks.”
“I wish we could, but we don’t have any teeth. If we see something bad, we have to get the Sheriff in on it to make an arrest or a confiscation. Hell, if they are arrested, it’s a misdemeanor and they get a fine and a slap on the wrist and they are back doing the same thing a month later. It breaks your heart.”
“I know. All we can do is keep saving one horse at a time. I better head back. It will take me a couple of hours and I want to get him settled in before dark.”
“Ok, I need you to sign some papers, the government you know. It’s just saying you are legally taking custody of government property.”
When we arrived at the barn, the sun was barely peeking over the tops of the trees in the west pasture. In the distance, it looked like our horses rose out of the earth, first their ears then the shape of their heads and necks. They lifted their heads and their ears pointed in our direction. Then they took off and the earth trembled under the movement of their hooves as they ran to the fence line to meet the new member of the Mustang Rescue’s family of unwanted horses. I knew it would be a long time before this horse would be turned out with the herd. One kick that landed on this poor fellow, while they went through the ritual of determining herd hierarchy, could kill him.
I backed into the barn and opened the trailer. He tentatively stepped out on wobbly legs and headed down the aisle of the barn to the paddock we had set up for him. We had the water trough filled for him and a couple of flakes of hay waiting as well.
I stayed with him awhile that evening and at one point I reached out and he allowed me to touch him and I stroked his side. I promised him I would help him.
Softly I spoke to him,“Cages are everywhere. We all have them, don’t we boy?”
He nickered and I touched his flank and his hoof flashed up.
He just set the boundaries.
With the coordinated efforts of many of our great volunteers, three daily feedings, lots of love, and multiple vet visits to help him regain his strength his progress was nothing short of miraculous. He overcame equine lice, a bout of colic, and intestinal parasites to transform into the happy and healthy mustang.
He was adopted by a ten-year-old girl who was instrumental in nursing him to health. She is currently riding him and continuing his training in Woodstock, Georgia.