The passing of stallion Key Contender at his retirement home in Saratoga County this week brought both sadness and nostalgia to those who’d known the horse through hands-on care or headline-making accomplishments on the track. (You can read more about him under Industry News in the left-hand column on our homepage.)
The handsome 24-year-old had lived most of his life being loved and adored by the staff at Highcliff Farm in Delanson. So there were some that worried he might miss the adoration when he was pensioned and moved to Old Friends at Cabin Creek in Greenfield Center, just outside of Saratoga Springs.
We needn’t have worried. Both visitors and staff connected instantly with the grand old fellow. One of them, who requested her name not be publicized, wrote OFCC founder Joann Pepper the following letter about her attachment to K.C. I hope you’ll agree that the public needs to know that the majority of people in our industry do connect on the level of the heart with our wonderful thoroughbreds.
I cannot express to you how saddened I was to hear about the passing of Key Contender. My most sincere condolences go out to you, Mark, and the rest of the Cabin Creek community. Key was one of the most expressive horses I have ever met. He was more than a horse to me. I would like to thank you for letting me be a part in this amazing horse’s life. I feel truly blessed and honored to have known such a beautiful example of God’s art and perfection. My whole family would like to express their feelings as well. They are all very sad to hear about this passing and wish you the best of luck in the next couple of weeks and beyond.
Recently, I have been a very sad person. I rarely talk about my emotions to anyone, even my own family. I talk to all the horses and they all listen, but it seemed that Key listened with the most intensity. When he arrived, I felt as if we were a match made in heaven. We were both new to the farm, and still needed to learn the horses and what it was like to be part of the Cabin Creek family. I have learned so much from Key. I have learned that life is too short to judge the people we meet every day. When we meet new people, we should open our hearts to accept them, no matter what they look like; no matter if they are rich or poor, small or large, happy or unhappy. We must look beyond the masks that people put on every day to conceal their insecurities and accept them for who they are inside. Key always could do this. I could tell. I just knew. All horses have this gift, but I could see it the most in him. He taught me that even if we are having a bad day, or if we are scared, or we are uncertain about what lies ahead, we must always walk with our heads held high, and we should greet everyone with a smile and treat everyone the same. Key was new to Cabin Creek, yet even being a stallion, he gladly accepted treats and pats from everyone he met without protest.
In my last moments with Key Contender, I stroked his long tail, put his mane back in place, hummed to him, spoke softly, kissed him, and gave him as much love as I could. I knew, whether he pulled through or not, that you would never let me be alone with any stallion that wasn’t sedated, so I spent as much time as I could petting him. I didn’t know if I would see him again too. He talked to me too. He said that no matter what happened, life would go on. I knew that in my heart, but I couldn’t say it yet. Not when he was still here physically. Now, after his passing, I have come to terms with the fact that Saturdays will still come and people will still come for tours, but they will never know Key like I did. Even if we tell his story and even if we stress how much we loved him, they will still say that he sounds like he was a nice horse. But that is not their fault. It is impossible to feel someone else’s emotions entirely. But Key could.
Key also taught me that the people in the world who are the best are the ones that will sit and listen; the ones who know what you’re talking about, even if they have never experienced what is going on in your life. The people that are the best are the people who can relate to you, even if their life is completely different. I am so overjoyed to have spent my Saturdays with him and the others. Even though I never got a picture of him with me, I have many stored in my mind. He will still run with me down the hill with Leo. He will still snooze in the sun with Will next door. He will still be a part of the tours.
I can remember how inquisitive he was when he first came. I was trying to pet Will. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him staring at me, ears up and alert. When I turned around, he stepped back and the ears went down. It was as if he was so ready to learn, yet still had the tiniest shadow of a doubt about me, but I had my doubts about him too. I was nervous about his stallion nature and whether or not he would bite me. Once I got over my fears of being bitten and saw he was very gentle, he too got over his doubts and did not put his ears back when directly confronted by me. He actually then came to me whenever I walked over.
I would like to let you know that if there is anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to ask. I am with you through the good times and the bad. I won’t walk away when something like this comes along. I was there when he came and I am still here, even in his time of death. I will always be with him and he will always be with me. If you need something, just call me or Facebook message me. Key will go on forever and we shall always remember him. Thank you for everything and letting me be a part in his life. I will always cherish the memories I have with him. I know that you had a very intense, deep love for him, and I also had a great love and fondness for him. He was loved very much and will be missed greatly. He was given the best care in his final months and was adored by everyone that met him, including me and my family. I shall never forget this beautiful stallion and his bronzy coat that always shimmered, even after he rolled in his favorite corner in the sand pit.
(A Cabin Creek volunteer)