Everyone needs a good teacher. Even those brave souls who ride racehorses on a daily basis needed to start somewhere and hone their craft. The same goes for horses, who before they achieved greatness going full-tilt, often learned how to jog and gallop around a training track alongside a reliable partner. Through setting good examples and keeping a cool head, that “equine teacher” helped them find their confidence and competitive edge.
For a lucky group, both horse and human, Mr. Wilson was their teacher.
Bred by Matthew Firestone and sold for $150,000 at the 2000 Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearling Sale in Saratoga, the then-dapple gray raced 15 times as Mouthadasouth before being given away as he was cooling out after a disappointing finish in his final start.
“He had rocket speed but had a wind problem and was running in the 4-1/2-furlong races at Charles Town and was given to a friend of mind in the receiving barn, which is how we got him,” said Helen Richards, a former jockey and wife of Kirkwood Stables owner Kip Elser. “To say he has an attitude is an understatement. He wants things to be done his way, and if they're not he is quite the grouch. That's how he got his nickname, “Mr. Wilson,” from the character on Dennis the Menace.
The couple sent their new horse to Tom Gilliland, who at the time was the head outrider in New York, to be trained as a lead pony. Once they got him back, they quickly learned how valuable of a team member for Kirkwood he would become.
Based in Camden, S.C., Kirkwood Stables is a multifaceted operation, offering training and conditioning of yearlings and 2-year-olds, as well as layup and rehabilitation for horses of racing age.
It was earlier this year at the Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream select two-year-olds in training sale that Elser's consignment made headlines when he announced that the five horses entered under the Kirkwood Stables banner would be galloping rather than breezing during the breeze show.
“A friend of mine, who is a bit of a contrarian, suggested we try it, so all of our horses came down the lane at a nice, strong gallop rather than at a full-out breeze,” said Elser. “I would like to think a little less pressure early on will leave a bit more in the tank for the next owner and trainer. The approach was very well-received and we're going to expand the program with more horses galloping rather than breezing next season.”
At an operation like Kirkwood, most people have to wear multiple hats. For a horse like Mr. Wilson, it means wearing multiple saddles.
“With a Western saddle he is the perfect pleasure horse. He never picks up the bit, loves trail riding and doesn't have a spook in him. Throw an exercise saddle on him and a D-bit and Mr. Wilson takes quite a hold,” said Richards.
Mr. Wilson goes out with every set of young horses, galloping with them in company the first few days to provide an example for them to follow, and keeping them in line when they misbehave. He's also the test that any Kirkwood rider has to take before they're allowed to be legged up onto one of the racehorses.
“He's not very big, but he lets even the largest horse know it would be in their best interest if they got with the program,” said Richards. “He's also taught many riders how to gallop and he's great with green riders. He's spent hours in the infield teaching riders lead changes with figure-eights, and if an aspiring rider can gallop Mr. Wilson in company, they are proficient enough to graduate to our other horses.”
At 19 years old, Mr. Wilson is still going strong, putting in more miles on a daily and weekly basis than any of his pupils in training and letting riders know when they're ready to hop aboard a fit racehorse… and when they're not.
“Horses are like family,” said Elser. “As long as you put in a little bit of effort to find out what they like to do, they'll repay you tenfold.”
Name: Mouthadasouth (a.k.a. “Mr. Wilson”)
Born: February 3, 1999
Sire: Dixieland Bband
Dam: Yousaidamouthful, by Trempolino
Sale History: Sold at FTSAR as a yearling for $150,000
Race Record: 15-1-3-2
Race Earnings: $25,447
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky and was recently named the Executive Director of the Retired Racehorse Project. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She is the go-to food source for one 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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