There were some great times at Derry Meeting Farm, but they only had a small amount of horses. That didn’t keep me occupied enough and something inside me was beckoning to move to a different level. The owner and I really weren’t on the same page; his other employees were good workers and good people, but totally under his every wish and command. Good for him, but I was a more independent person.
I worked hard and was totally dedicated to horses, but trimming fences and menial tasks didn’t spur my imagination or inspire my dreams. Although we got along, he was looking for more of a servant than an experienced horse person. It came to a head one day.
My associate worker, Peter, was a great worker and totally dedicated to Mr. Jenny, the owner. Mr. Jenny hunted and came in with his moody boots and left them in tack room to have them cleaned. I loved to clean tack with that smell of pine oil in water and the look of the leather after saddle soap was applied or lexol. It always looked so clean and smelled great. Well, Peter always did Mr. Jenny’s boots. All of a sudden one day Peter told me, “Ralph, it’s your turn to do Mr. Jenny’s riding boots.” The Irish or something came out in me, and it was first time it had been suggested in two years. I looked at the boots and thought ‘that job is not part of me being a horseman.’
I cleaned stalls, foaled mares, drove vans, broke horses, gave shots, and washed and cleaned vans, flew to Saratoga and gave the best care to sales yearlings and any horse that needed it. But, when I looked at those muddy boots that he wore, I wondered why didn’t he take them off at home and clean them. All I could see was the big boots from his fat calves and I made up in my mind there was no way I was going to clean the boots of a grown, spoiled man.
When he came in the next morning to ride, he looked at the boots and had a puzzled look on his face. I just got my saddle off the rack and saddled up my horse. He was quiet on the ride; I was on a two year old and he was on older horse. We breezed them up a hill and I wasn’t going to get beat so I dusted him by daylight. When we were done, he took his boots off again and set them in tackroom. He said, “It’s your turn to clean my boots.” I answered yes , and he asked if I’d take care of them today. I didn’t answer. I just looked at him…well, when he came in next day they were still in same place he left them, he was mad looking at his muddy boots.
He and Peter were secretly talking. Peter was a dedicated man and would have jumped off a bridge if Mr. Jenny had told him to, but I had a problem going that far. So the next day Mr. Jenny approached me after riding in his muddy boots and said, “Ralph, I’m going to have to let you go. Things are not working out. You’re a very good horseman, but there are other issues.” It was the boots, nothing else. I replied, “That’s ok if that’s what you want, you’re the boss.” I showed him respect all the time but I’d be damned if I was going to clean a grown man’s boots. I wasn’t his damn valet, so he gave me two weeks notice.
The next day, I was mowing grass with a farm tractor and flying around fields a a pretty good clip up and down fields. I was working off steam and a little apprehensive. I saw, sitting in her Mercedes, Mrs. Jenny. (Marti Sangster now as she divorced him soon after I left. She married one of the wealthiest men in France, I can’t remember his first name. He had hundreds of horses in training.) Anyway, she just sat in her car and watched me mowing. She was a very attractive woman and a good horsewoman, great rider and was always nice to me.
The next morning Mr. Jenny called me outside the tack room and asked if we could talk. He said, “Ralph, I told Marti I had let you go and she said I was a damn fool, so she overrode me and hired you back.” I told him, thank you, I appreciate that, and that was nice of her. But, I was ticked off. I called my brother and told him I was going to quit and start training.
Within two weeks, I did just that. We had one filly at Sunview Training Center and he lined me up with a couple of horse owners. I went to the in-laws, bought a one acre lot off them for a thousand dollars and started building a house back in Maryland ~ and thus started my training career.
It still scares me to this day of that foolish move with a wife and three kids. It’s not an ideal career for a family man, a training career, but I’d be damned if I was going to clean a grown man’s riding boots and I never did.