Lane Hutchins had to say goodbye to an old friend this week. At 25-years-old, age had caught up with the sweet gray mare named Sec Sea Lark, in the form of melanoma, an aggressive and deadly skin cancer.
Hutchins had known the mare for nearly a quarter of a century and oh, did they have stories to tell.
Under Hutchins' doting eye and skilled hand, the filly became a champion in the show ring, then a 7-time winner on the race track (yes, in that order!), and after a short stint as a mom, she found her true calling as a trustworthy lesson horse and occasional show mount in Hutchins' stable for a new generation of riders.
While Sec Sea Lark's story is nothing short of remarkable, it's just one of so many that Hutchins has to share.
“She is a dream of a horse,” said Hutchins as she looked out her window into Sec Sea Lark's pasture, waiting for the mare's appointment with ultimate relief this past Monday. “After we started her under saddle, I showed her under saddle and in hand – you have to do something to teach them what's what, right? We won ribbons and a champion sash that was draped around her neck, and we were even written up in the Chronicle [of the Horse, a popular equestrian magazine]. You don't always have to follow ‘the formula' with horses.'”
Growing up in Montgomery, Ala., Hutchins was bitten by the riding bug at a young age. Her family's home wasn't far from the Maxwell Air Force Base and she grew up riding horses that had served in the United States Cavalry during World War 2, learning from cavalrymen who were expert equestrians.
“Back then, the U. S. Cavalry fielded the United States' Olympic Equestrian Team. Riding with them…you can't get a riding education like that today,” said Hutchins. “They taught us to jump without reins and put us through grids with fences four feet high. We fox hunted and showed. It was such fun.”
It wasn't long before Hutchins put her equestrian training to good use. She attended Auburn University and majored in animal science. Having achieved an ‘A' certification with the U. S. Pony Club, Hutchins was qualified to teach riding in the school's physical education department, which helped to defer the cost of tuition.
“I was not a rich kid and did not come from money, so teaching in the PE department helped me to pay for college. I also exercised polo ponies. I did a little bit of everything,” she said.
After college Hutchins continued to teach riding lessons and compete on the hunter/jumper circuit, most often on Thoroughbreds. After marrying her husband, Tom, Hutchins' love for Thoroughbreds expanded to their on-track pursuits as well, as she and her husband bred, bought, sold, raised and raced out of their Spring Creek Thoroughbreds in Fredericksburg, Texas.
There, Hutchins taught their young horses, like Sec Sea Lark, the fundamentals of proper riding, hacking them in fields before sending them onto the race track.
The Hutchins did well on the Texas racing circuit. One of their biggest breeding accomplishments was a gelding named Sandburr, the leading earner for his late sire Sandpit. While he got claimed away from the Hutchins before finding stakes success for Michael Stidham, he won seven races for them before the claim, and Hutchins followed his career with interest.
“We had great fun with [Sanburr] and he paid for the pipe fences I now have around the farm,” said Lane Hutchins. “He's now retired at a farm here in Texas.”
She also used many of the couple's retired racehorses and broodmares as lesson horses, as well as recreational mounts for herself.
“At one time I had a group of middle-aged women who would come out and take lessons on all of my retired Thoroughbreds. We all became good friends and spent many afternoons sitting on the back porch sipping tea and shopping in tack catalogs,” said Hutchins.
When Tom passed away several years ago, Hutchins' focus switched from breeding and racing her own stock to more layups and boarding horses for others, though she does have a soon-to-be 2-year-old by Too Much Bling she's hoping to race next year with Danny Pish, the regular trainer for her and her late husband.
“In addition to my own Thoroughbreds, I have five boarders, plus a foundered pony named Bernadette that was left to me by a client-turned-friend who passed away. The pony is very high maintenance due to her hoof issues,” she said, then chuckled before continuing. “I would have much preferred her leaving me a fancy car or diamond ring, but instead I have Bernadette…and her feet.”
While Hutchins doesn't break the babies anymore (explaining that “it's someone else's turn to be the crash test dummy”), she still rides regularly, often on a 19-year-old gelding named Little Brick Lane, who had seven wins in 72 starts and is a half-brother to Sandburr.
“You can truly tell when a horse enjoys something and that horse just loved to run. It was like he was made of iron. If you took him to the track today, he would love it just as much,” she said.
The most recent addition to her riding horse herd is a gelding named Got Shades, who ran fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf in 2013. Unlike most of Hutchins' other horses, she did not own Got Shades as a racehorse, but rather got him when he retired from racing last fall.
“Danny [Pish] trained him for Dennis Foster. He didn't want the horse to fall through the claiming ranks and wanted him to find a good home. The hunter-jumper people weren't interested in him because he looks like a bob-tail nag. He has this short tail that I can't get to grow no matter what I try and a funny white scar on a hind leg,” she said. “This horse is bombproof. Even though he was a stakes-winning turf sprinter, I have to ride him with spurs. Nothing bothers him, though. We ride through cattle, down roads, on trails, over obstacles. Thoroughbreds are the ultimate sport horses. They really can do it all.”
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others. She is the go-to food source for a dog, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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