Lightening Ball (aka “LB”) won over $300K in 59 races. He was known for hanging back, then surging past the field to sweep the win at the last minute. At age nine, LB was still running in lower level claimers in WV. His original race owners (Bob and Pat Orth) claimed him back to retire him and donated him to LOPE.
During his race career, LB had a reputation as a “bad actor” at the track. Fiery, athletic, strong and sensitive, LB had a chip on his shoulder — and he wouldn’t abide rudeness in handlers. He also had lovely movement, full of power and grace (plus a cattiness worthy of a top-notch cutting horse).
For some reason, LB chose me to be his owner. I wasn’t exactly the most suitable rider for an elegant dragon known for airborne sidewise leaps. But LB decided that I had potential and he dedicated himself to my improvement as a rider and worthy steward. His goal was to make me a horseman one day.
His unique character (and loving, if occasionally intense, tutelage) inspired a chapter in my book. Over the years, LB had many adventures. Master horseman Tom Curtin rode him in our DVD about retraining racehorses. He handled multiple natural disasters (wildfires, floods and a random tornadic event) with aplomb, calming the other horses during the assorted evacuations. On a less dramatic note, LB packed me around my first schooling show (no mean feat) and won his class with glamorous nonchalance. Devastatingly handsome, LB posed for endless photos taken by Tom — and he soon developed many fans on social media.
Like everyone I love, LB had a sarcastic, offbeat sense of humor. He was the master of clanking feed buckets exactly fifteen minutes before feed time — banging them so loudly that I would open the door to bellow at him to be quiet. The second the door opened, LB would pause his bucket whacking and look up with an utterly innocent expression. Every grooming bag that I left unattended was upended and systemically emptied — leaving behind a spiral of grooming tools strewn across the pasture.
LB was unlucky with mares. He fell in love with all of them and would pace after them plaintively, the classic needy type. Then he would get mad at their indifference and sulk behind the trees, occasionally chasing the girl of his choice from her feed bucket. But LB always liked women handlers and riders. He became a ladies man in their presence, shamelessly wheedling peppermint treats, extra alfalfa and extended grooming spa sessions.
Although he was semi-retired, I still occasionally would saddle up LB for a jaunt. At age 21, he was still my biggest ride and most exacting schoolmaster. During our last ride, he again demonstrated that he was still the fanciest and most athletic ride on the farm. I’ve never sat a loftier trot than LB’s (and I probably never will). When the mood struck him, LB could flawlessly blend a side leap/playful buck move into his huge trot. It would be so smoothly done that it seemed like a perfectly logical extension of his trotting rhythm.
Almost two weeks ago, LB had a sudden onset of neurological symptoms. He was weak in his legs, with faltering balance and unsteady steps. His keen intelligence seemed muted, obscured by confusion and uncertainty. A form of seizure followed, gripping LB in sudden episodes of frenzied movement.
In spite of excellent (and immediate) veterinary care, LB’s condition continued to decline. He was diagnosed with a brain mass (most likely a tumor), with no possibility of treatment.
On Jan 10, LB was humanely euthanized. His last day was full of peppermints, cookies, alfalfa snacks, walks in the sun, hand-grazing sessions and all the love we could give him. Tom and I were there to the end, to pay our respects and mourn his passing.
LB was the best horse I’ve ever had the honor to ride and the privilege to own. I’ve never loved a horse as much as him. I regret that I haven’t yet become the rider that he truly deserved. But I will keep trying for the rest of my life — in honor of a great horse and a beloved friend.
Rest in peace, Lightening Ball.
(Thank you, Austin Equine Hospital and Dr. Cristina Carballo Ellis for your compassionate, heroic care of LB during his illness).