Here's the story: The horse just wasn't winning. The owner changed trainers, and placed the horse with a young Irish fellow who might have the patience to deal with a horse who was all personality but not really focusing when he was on the track. No one believed in the horse, but the young trainer didn't know that. Under his care, the horse started winning. Suddenly, the sky was the limit and the horse was on his way to Dubai, where he won a $2 million race at the World Cup, then on to Royal Ascot in England. Along the way, he collected thousands of fans and defied all the critics...
Oh, wait a minute, that really happened.
That's the unlikely-but-true story of Kinsale King, one of the most charismatic?horses to race in the USA in recent years.?So why not write a book about it?
California's Carl O'Callaghan is a young Thoroughbred trainer from Ireland with a zest for life. He lived his fairy tale experience with Kinsale King in 2010, and is now preparing the horse for a comeback. But in the meantime, he took some time away from the track to spearhead some efforts as a celebrity ambassador for the Wish Upon a Teen foundation. From decorating hospital rooms for ill teens in Los Angeles to bringing kids to the track to visit his horses, Carl jumped in.
When the idea came to Carl to write a children's book, he looked no further than his own brightest moment, and translated it to a story that resonates on a special level.
"Wish", the horse in the story, has trouble concentrating. When he gets out on the track, he panics: there's too much noise, too many signals, too many commands. He falls apart. And his foot hurts, too. The horse has no way to let the people know how confused he is, or even that his foot hurts, and his mood sinks. The other horses don't want to listen.
But there's one creature in the barn who doesn't turn away, and this unlikely confidant may be the key to Wish's future at the races.
We all know horses with personality problems. No two horses are alike, but some do seem overwhelmed by the world around them. They're over-stimulated, they over-react, they cringe in the backs of their stalls, break into a sweat when they see a horse trailer, or find any number of ways to sabotage their training in spite of great conformation or a superb set of gaits or the ability to jump the moon or beat the clock.
These are the horses that, if they're lucky, end up in a natural horsemanship training program, or under special care for desensitizing or that simply need a pony pal in the paddock, or another horse to load first in the trailer. Maybe they can be saddled somewhere away from the other horses at the track, or load into the gate with a barrier blanket to soothe them.
But someone needs to listen to them first. Then steps can be taken to either assuage their fears or work around them.
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Wish's Derby is about one of those horses, and what happens when someone finally listens to him. It's also about the credit that a trainer gives to the animals in his care; in the book, the trainer is more of a facilitator than a taskmaster, once he understands what Wish needs to run his best.
For kids who aren't around horses, Wish's Derby is a great analogy. They may not know how race training works, but they might know what it is like to be teased by one's peers--whether horse or human. They may know exactly what it's like for some kids who are overstimulated and become confused when they are called on in the classroom. They can all recognize low self-esteem when they see it.
But do they know that it might help them, if they can find the right person to confide in? Do they know that their attention problems might mask their talent, but that their talent is there? Do they know that being with animals might make them feel better, even if they don't understand why that is?
Wish's Derby is not just a wild idea from the mind of a lively and generous horse trainer. It is part of a plan by the charity "Wish Upon a Teen" to bring teens to a new level of self-awareness as well as empathy for teens with challenges to overcome. The charity is especially hopeful that the book will help teens be more aware of their peers with autism, although Carl says that neither Kinsale King nor Wish should be called an "autistic horse".
"I didn't even know what autism was, until recently," Carl told The Jurga Report.
Kinsale King, meanwhile, is the star of the book; he plays the role of Wish, in page after page of photos accompanying the text. Photographers including the famous Barbara Livingston donated their images of Kinsale King, or came to the barn to shoot more images. Even the great retired champion Lava Man has a cameo appearance in the book.
Ruben the goat is a very real part of Carl O'Callaghan's training barn in California; his job is to babysit one particularly nervous filly, but one day Carl noticed that when the filly was out on the track training, the goat wandered the barn aisle and stopped to visit each of the racehorses in their stalls, as if giving each one a little therapy session.
Will there be a sequel to Wish's Derby? There may well be, if art continues to imitate life. Kinsale King, now eight years old, is back at the track after almost two years of rest to re-grow his damaged hooves. In late June, he soared to a close second-place finish in a race at Betfair Hollywood Park, and may soon be on a plane headed to Saratoga for a race there this summer.
Wish's Derby will be available on Amazon.com later this summer, with an official launch planned for Del Mar racetrack in early August. Currently,?Wish's Derby is sold on the website of Wish Upon a Teen, with a very limited first printing being sold autographed by Carl and hoof-printed by Kinsale King. All proceeds go to a charity that believes in autistic teens, and believes in listening just as closely to them as a wise old stable goat would.