Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Of Course: Retired From The Track, Horse Paints In New Life

This horse has a talent for art just like me!  
Although, I'm sure he's more of a professional  ;-)  ~Declan

PS - You can find more pictures of Metro Meteor and his painting skills <HERE>

Of course: Retired from the track, horse paints in new life
Originally published February 17, 2013

By Karen Gardner 
As posted on Frederick News Post

Photo by Adam Fried
Metro Meteor, a retired racehorse, holds a paintbrush between his teeth and bobs his head to make brushstrokes at Motters Station Stables in Rocky Ridge.

ROCKY RIDGE -- Metro Meteor once made a lot of money as a racehorse. Now, he's putting his artistic talents to work making money for retiring racehorses.

Metro Meteor's owner, Ron Krajewski, puts nontoxic acrylic paint on a brush, sticks it in Metro's mouth and Metro swipes it onto a 17-inch square canvas. For about an hour, Krajewski repeats the motions with Metro, before the 10-year-old thoroughbred is ready for a break. By then, Krajewski has the base of a piece of abstract art.

"We build it up in layers," Krajewski said. "His strokes are thick, and they dry and have this neat texture." He should know. Krajewski works as an artist in nearby Gettysburg, Pa., specializing in pet portraits. "He used to get a lot of paint on his nose, but he knows what he's doing." Metro, a bay gelding who stands just under 16 hands high, snorted impatiently as he waited for Krajewski to change paint colors. Metro bobs his head regularly, which is what gave his owner the idea to have Metro create some paintings.

Krajewski chooses the colors and Metro chooses where to brush the paint. After the painting dries, Krajewski brings it back to Metro, who happily paints another layer using the same technique.

Since he began painting in November, Metro has turned out more than two dozen large paintings, and even more smaller ones, and he's donated $2,600 to New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, an organization that retrains racehorses for new riding careers.

Although Metro's knees prevent him from being ridden regularly, Krajewski and his wife, Wendy, hope Metro's work brings attention to the thousands of thoroughbreds that make the transition from track horses to riding horses. That's why half the proceeds from all his work will go to New Vocations, an Ohio-based organization that has placed 4,000 retired thoroughbreds and standardbreds in new homes since 1992.

"Too many good horses end up slaughtered," Wendy said. "These horses are good for eventing, and other types of riding." Many thoroughbreds go on to take top prizes in international horse competitions. Wendy intends to ride her horse Pork Chop, who also came off the track, in short-distance trail riding competitions. He's pretty slow even on the trail, she said, which is fine with her.

From racer to painter

The Krajewskis got Metro three years ago off the track. Metro was once really fast, placing in stakes-level sprint races at Belmont and Saratoga, and earned $300,000. One of his jockeys was Edgar Prado, who piloted Barbaro to victory in the 2006 Kentucky Derby. By the time the Krajewskis got to know Metro, however, his career had slid down to the cheap claiming ranks. Metro was running for small purses at Penn National and not doing very well. Bad knees, which had plagued him his whole career, did not bode well for his future as a racehorse. His age was also against him.

Wendy Krajewski had ridden horses as a youngster and wanted to get back into riding. She and her husband are also involved with a small racehorse partnership, Renpher Stables, which owns a small percentage of a few horses. That's how they came across Metro, and they decided to take him home.

Although Metro was free, bone chips in his knees meant he would need supplements, special shoes and other medical care. Metro also came with attitude. He could be stubborn and cranky, but also lovable. He needed a little retraining, and his knees needed a little rest, so Wendy got another thoroughbred to trail ride. Ron rode Metro, who displayed the thoroughbred's typical nonchalance with loud noises.

"He's been through tunnels, through the woods and alongside a train," Ron said. At first, Metro thought he was still a racehorse and wanted to pass every other horse on the ride, but it wasn't long before he became a pleasant horse for Ron to ride in the woods. Eventually, however, Metro's bad knees got the better of him, and carrying a rider became a struggle. Now Metro spends his days in a pasture in Rocky Ridge with Wendy's horse, another off-track thoroughbred who was too slow to race, and a new horse Ron has bought to trail ride.

The Krajewskis come to Motters Station Stables in Rocky Ridge nearly every day from their home in Gettysburg to visit with Metro and their other horses. A few months ago, Ron decided Metro needed something to do since he couldn't be ridden. One day last fall, Ron was watching as Metro bobbed his head, and the idea occurred to him. Ron decided to put that bobbing motion to good use. Using treats as a training tool, he put the paintbrush in Metro's mouth, and taught him to hold it in his teeth and brush the canvas. After about a week, Metro was painting like a pro.

These paintings are a bit different from the "Moneighs" produced by notable horses. Those use paint smeared on their noses. Metro's brush strokes give the paintings an abstract look, and the layers give the painting texture.

The paintings usually sell for $350 apiece, and at first, the Krajewskis were using the money to help pay Metro's considerable medical expenses. But word began to spread, and Metro's work is in demand. The Krajewskis have donated the extra money Metro has made to help his fellow racehorses. In addition to the money going to New Vocations, Metro donated $310 to Louisiana Horse Rescue to help rehabilitate a group of starving thoroughbreds seized from a farm in Louisiana.

Metro has his own Facebook page, Painted by Metro, which has nearly 1,000 fans. He also has his own website. Ron keeps both updated. Ron is also creating Metro Minis, 5-inch by 7-inch cutouts of larger paintings Metro creates. Ron cuts them up, mats them and sells them for $40 each. Metro Minis have helped Metro build his fan base.

What Metro doesn't have is cartilage in his knees. In both his front knees, bone rubs upon bone, making frequent movement painful. His knees are the size of softballs. Injections allowed him to keep running as a racehorse, but when the injections wore off, he'd have trouble walking.

The Krajewskis are hoping their treatments ease his pain, and Metro seems to be a happy horse in his cushy retirement home. Ron recently took Metro out of his painting stall, which the Krajewskis jokingly refer to as Studio 6, to paint in the indoor riding arena. He thought Metro might get distracted by being in the ring, but Metro got to work, and painted for a solid hour. This allowed a photographer to get pictures of Metro for promotions.

Metro still has some of his old competitive juices. "If you walk by him in the paddock, he'll run to keep up with you," Ron said. After a recent painting session, he went into the indoor riding ring for some down time. He rolled, bucked and cantered across the ring, before coming to a stop with a satisfied look.

"He'll feel it tomorrow," Ron said.

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