Typically, I don't write about a horse more than once in this column. I also usually don't write about my own experiences. But because I've met one of my subjects and he is just so impressive, unique, and flat-out cool, I am going to break both of those rules.
Last year I wrote about a flashy chestnut gelding by the name of Cheongnyong Bisang (easy for me to say, right!?). The South Korea-bred raced impressively in his native land, earning top honors as the country's Champion Two-Year-Old in 2013 before winning the first leg of their Triple Crown the following year. He was then sent to the United States with hopes that his talents would find greater feats on American soil.
Unfortunately, a tendon injury cut his career short and forced his retirement. But when one door closes, another always seems to open, and for this gelding that door opened wide into the Great Plains of South Dakota.
He ended up at Dale Simonton and Dorothy Snowden's Gate to Great at Horse Creek Thoroughbreds, where the couple transitions retired racehorses (nearly exclusively geldings) to being ranch horses, preparing them for new careers both on the range and in the show ring.
Since his name never seemed to be pronounced the same way twice, they nicknamed him Doc Ruel after the veterinarian who was integral in his rehabilitation.
You can read the original story chronicling his career and retirement here: http://www.gatetogreat.com/news-and-stories/un-tracked-mind-blog/cheongnyong-bisang/.
This past week I went to visit Dale and Dorothy, whom I've become friends with over the years through our mutual involvement in several Thoroughbred-related organizations, including the Retired Racehorse Project's annual TCA Thoroughbred Makeover. Doc Ruel is entered this year as one of Dale's two competitors.
Whenever I get to see them, it's always either on the road or in Lexington, Ky. I had always wanted to see their ranch and I've never been to that part of the country (nor had my sister, Christina, whom I brought along with me for the little adventure).
The day we arrived at Horse Creek Thoroughbreds, Dale and Dorothy gave us a quick tour, then pointed us in opposite directions to gather our mounts for the day's activities. I was pointed toward a flashy chestnut that gleamed like a new penny – Doc Ruel.
Truth be told, I am an English rider through and through. Other than the occasional rides when I throw a Western saddle and side pull onto my jumper for a fun little hack around the farm, I usually spend most of my saddle time in an arena working on our form over fences or perfecting our flat work. That being said, I'm usually up for anything (thankfully, my sister shares that mentality – thanks, Mom and Dad!).
We threw some Western saddles on our horses, hung the bridles over the horns and loaded them in the trailer. Off we went, meandering down a dirt road until it met up with a wider dirt road that then brought us to a paved road, which met up with a highway, all the while surrounded by countryside as far as the eye could see.
We arrived about 40 minutes later at our destination in Fort Meade in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We unloaded the horses, mounted up and off we went, all four of us on retired racehorses.
“How many times can someone say they got to ride a champion racehorse through some of the most beautiful countryside around?” asked Dale as he looked back at me from atop another recently retired racehorse.
He was right. I can check this item off of my bucket list.
On a loose rein we rode for hours through fields, up and down the foothills and over trails and service roads. With an uphill build and walk that's more like a march, it was obvious the horse likes to work, but impressive that he only offered what I asked for, never challenging me to do more (or less). We stopped to look out over vistas and walked along cliff edges. Doc Ruel was unflappable.
He stood patiently when I wanted to stop to take photos, had plenty of zip when we booked it through the fields or up hills and was as sure-footed as they come going up and down the undulating terrain. He also didn't flinch when a mule deer jumped out from the woods and crossed our path, nor when a school bus came bouncing down the dirt road we were riding along at one point and I asked him to jump across a fairly large ditch to get away from its path.
When the ride was done, Doc Ruel and the other horses hopped right back into the trailer, as calm as can be. Talk about trail and trailer broke!
While Dale uses his horses for ranch work (and Doc Ruel has gotten a good amount of experience in that department, gathering cattle and sorting calves), many of the Gate to Great horses get sold as foxhunters. As part of their training and marketing, Dale and Dorothy free-jump their horses to get an idea of what their capabilities are in that department and to show potential buyers another skillset their horses have.
So, two days later Dale and Dorothy asked if we wanted to help free-jump a few horses, including Doc Ruel. Short answer: YES!
While Doc Ruel was game to go over anything we came across on the trail, I wondered if his form over fences would live up to his willingness.
We sent him through the chute and over a few ground poles the first few times and he couldn't have been less bothered by the whole thing. So, we raised them up to cross rails and sent him through again. Again, this was nothing for him, as he trotted them with ease. We set up a three stride cross rail to 2' vertical combination and again he trotted them both with a big, animated trot, as if to say, “this isn't worth the effort to jump.”
It wasn't until the vertical was about 2'6” that he gathered himself and jumped.
“The Doc definitely has hops!” I said to Dale and Dorothy, who were both grinning from ear to ear. His form was near perfect and he cleared the small standard with the jump, galloped around and did the line again just for fun.
We put the vertical up to 2'9” and then to its maximum height of 3' and Doc Ruel rolled on through the chute with little to no urging, not at warp speed, but not with an ounce of lazy about him either. He was balanced, sure-footed and seemed to have springs for legs.
It's a uniquely fulfilling feeling to watch a horse who loves to work do something he is both good at and enjoys doing. All the four of us could do was smile and laugh.
After he had jumped the 3' vertical three times as through it were four feet high, Dale said “That'll do,” put up his hand, and the horse seemed to know his job was done. He asked me to turn him back out while he and my sister gathered the next horse.
As I walked him back to his paddock I kept looking at him, in awe of how far this Korean-bred had come and how much he's already accomplished in his life. Whether working cattle, navigating trails or jumping, he seems to be in his element, and I'm guessing that's how he was on the racetrack, too.
I usually don't get sentimental with horses that aren't my own, but as I walked into his paddock with him, I made sure nobody was looking and gave him a huge hug, a kiss on his muzzle and told him how truly amazing he is.
“You are truly one of the coolest horses I've ever met,” I told him.
If a horse could roll his eyes, he would have, as if to say, “Ain't no thing, chicken wing. Now, stop with all the mushy stuff already. I've got grass to mow.”
Name: Cheongnyong Bisang (a.k.a. “Doc Ruel”)
Born: February 28, 2011
Dam: Miss Alwuhush
Sale History: none
Race Record: 11-5-0-0
Race Earnings: $550,557
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. While she currently has no plans to build an arc, she is the go-to food source for two dogs, 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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