'Miss Piggy' takes ride in stride Filly handles weight with surprising grace

July 09, 1998|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

She reared once, snorted twice and shook her hind leg like a Rockette -- all in all, a fairly quiet outing for Mary Bo Quoit, the Carroll County thoroughbred who was carrying a rider for the first time.

A bucking bronco she wasn't, to the relief of June Lombardi, the 23-year-old exercise rider aboard the 2-year-old filly.

"She did good," Lombardi said after a one-hour workout of Mary Bo Quoit earlier this week. "She's a little confused, like an 8-year-old in dance class who really wants to learn the plies and releves, but just hasn't got them right yet.

"A couple of times, I didn't know if we were going to have a hissy fit or settle down to business. But she didn't say, 'To heck with you.' She's hanging in there, trying to figure it out."

Thus passed another milestone for Mary Bo Quoit, whose life, from birth to racetrack, is being chronicled in The Sun.

Her trainer, JoAnne Hughes, kept her fingers crossed when not leading horse and rider by rope around the 60-foot-round pen at Liberty Run Farm in Winfield. Gradually, Hughes retreated from the pair, watching them work while maintaining her grip on the 30-foot line.

Mini-tantrums aside, the trainer liked what she saw.

"I expected her to be a ditz," Hughes said of her protege, whose barnyard name is "Miss Piggy." Her sire, Waquoit, earned $2 million at the track but has produced some high-strung progeny.

"A lot of Waquoit's offspring are spooky, flighty," Hughes said. "I always thought of Piggy as a little prima donna. I never thought she'd be this mature."

Practice made perfect. Lombardi, an exercise rider at Pimlico Race Course, spent two days cozying up to Mary Bo Quoit in the stall before hopping on for her spin in the sun. First, Lombardi practiced jumping against the roan filly, like a pogo stick, as if preparing to mount. Then she slipped aboard and lay gently across the horse's back, a process known as "bellying."

Sitting up in the saddle was almost anticlimactic for Lombardi, a 105-pounder from Mahopac, N.Y.

"Now, I'm going to show you something," Lombardi said casually, holding her whip under Mary Bo's nose for examination. Sniff. Snort. Hughes, watching, feigned disgust. "You're the one who wants to be a racehorse," the trainer said.

Hughes attached a shank to her halter and led the two of them in circles inside the barn, then outside in the pen. Whenever Mary Bo Quoit balked, Lombardi urged her lightly with the whip or her legs. Or made smoochie noises with her lips, which is horse for get moving.

Hughes kept her distance, observing the transfer of power. "This is teaching [the horse] that June is in charge, not me," she said. "She's been thrown out of the nest."

As Mary Bo Quoit wheeled counterclockwise around the pen, the trainer heaped praise.

"Walk walk, Pig Pig, g-o-o-o-o-d girl," Hughes exclaimed. "You're so clever I can't stand it."

Clockwise was another matter. "Pig Pig" started in that direction, stopped and reared suddenly as her rider grasped reins and mane.

Hughes exploded. "Stop that, you little hussy, and walk like a lady!"

Mary Bo Quoit turned and gave her trainer a stink eye -- a glare where the whites are showing. That drew another scolding.

"Don't you let the Waquoit come out of you," Hughes warned.

Order prevailed and the workout ended smoothly -- on a dime. "Who-o-a-a," Lombardi called. Mary Bo Quoit stopped immediately, to her trainer's delight:

"She still needs a steering wheel and a gas pedal, but thank God she's got a brake."

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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