Ever since last season’s annual “Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby” fundraiser for Old Friends, I’ve wanted to create a hat to honor Old Friends retiree, Mixed Pleasure, the great-great grandson of the legendary Seabiscuit.
Little did I know that my greatest source of inspiration for such a hat would come not from Mixed Pleasure’s royal bloodlines but from what transpired soon after the stallion’s arrival at Old Friends on July 18, 2012.
Earlier that month, Mixed Pleasure had been rescued from a trip to auction in Oregon through the coordinated efforts of Charlotte Farmer and the national horse welfare advocacy group, Equi-Army-NDO.
When I asked Charlotte Farmer for her impressions of Mixed Pleasure (“Bo”) she wrote, “In those soft brown eyes of Bo there was a story, a story of perseverance. He carried the Seabiscuit bloodline but it was Bo, not his bloodline, that placed an indelible hoof print on everyone who came in contact with him either face-to-face or through social media. Class does show itself and Mixed Pleasure has demonstrated that throughout his life.”
Sadly, Mixed Pleasure had been kept almost entirely in his stall for 12 years, and as a result he was underweight and had poor muscle tone when he arrived at Old Friends.
Vivien Morrison, a volunteer at Old Friends described the general spirit of the new retiree. Vivien stated, “When I met Mixed Pleasure he was newly arrived from a long journey. He was quiet and kind as he stood in his pasture with his back against the wind. What struck me about Mixey was that I had seldom met a horse that seemed more . . . alone. It was as if he had accepted he was to be a herd of one.”
Vivien continued, “One friend, visiting from out of state said, ‘Oh, he needs his own person to love so he won’t seem so lost in the world.’ Someone must have heard, and John Bradley was the answer.”
John Bradley, a native of Kentucky and a big racing fan ever since the days of the great Secretariat, had begun volunteering at Old Friends in 2012 shortly after Mixed Pleasure’s arrival.
John had no prior experience with horses yet soon was described as “a natural” around them at Old Friends. John quickly noticed how friendly Mixed Pleasure was with visitors. As he states, “I was attracted to how kind he was, and those eyes just melted my heart. I just wanted to see if I could make his life a little better.”
One thing John observed was that Mixed Pleasure couldn’t eat the carrot treats everyone tried to feed him because his teeth were so worn.
Then one day John came up with the solution: shredded carrots!
And a friendship was born.
Every day after work, and all day on Saturday and Sunday, John would drive 40 miles round trip to groom Mixed Pleasure and turn him out for the night.
John described this turnout time as the best part of the day for both of them. Part of their routine was stopping halfway from the barn to the paddock at a very special place so Mixed Pleasure could eat the tasty, lush grass that grew there.
Soon John started buying the stallion’s halters, fly masks and anything else he needed.
The two could often be seen together, swapping stories and telling jokes like good friends do.
I’ve even heard it said that one day John shared some of MP’s old Hollywood Park racing videos with him.
As you can see, Mixed Pleasure was all ears!
Volunteer Vivien Morrison described their deepening friendship, “Over the many months at Old Friends the little chestnut and the tall, broad shouldered man had bonded into a herd of two… [And] under the loving and most patient of hands, the aging horse regained his personality and indeed his sense of self.”
However along with that devotion, Mixed Pleasure had a way of making it very clear that John was part of his herd, and his herd alone. If Mixed Pleasure caught John paying attention to one of the other horses on the farm, you could bet that an icy stare or the stomp of a hoof was sure to follow!
Yet John describes Mixed Pleasure as an exceptionally kindhearted stallion who was always lowering his head for children to pet him on the face.
John seemed to understand exactly what their relationship was all about and gladly accepted his role. “Many people have told me I have a nice horse, ” he said, “And my reply was, ‘He’s not my horse, I’m his human’.”
Mixed Pleasure reminded John of an old country gentleman sitting in the shade, enjoying a fine bourbon and a good cigar. “He is very wise, he has made it to the age of 30 and had some rough times in his life. After our bond developed into something special, I decided to make his most senior years perhaps the best of his life. I feel like it was meant for us to find each other… In my opinion, he will always be the greatest horse ever born.”
When it came time to pick our horses for season seven of “Hats Off to the Horses”, I was thrilled when Mixed Pleasure was chosen and more than ready to get started!
But the process of creating this hat was different from all the others. This was a hat that needed to not only honor Mixed Pleasure, but also to reflect the great friendship that he and John had found when they met at Old Friends.
Fabrics were chosen: bold blues and yellows for Mixed Pleasure’s racing silk colors, and warm reddish chocolates to reflect his beautiful coat.
The foundation of the hat was fashioned as a flat, wide brim using just the right dupioni silk to match the stallion’s warm red chestnut coat; yellow taffeta provided the underbrim accent color.
Next, layers of ruffled chocolate organza were added to the outer brim layers to reflect Mixed Pleasure who, at 30 years young, was still known to “buzz” by John at a gallop!
For the trim centerpiece, a single large Marguerite was designed with petals made out of several shades of yellow organza to adorn the front of the hat.
The center of the Marguerite is a rose curl in royal blue silk organza with a beaded center created out of royal blue seed beads, swirled to form an ever-widening whirlpool of shimmering blue. It is meant as a symbol of the deep friendship that grew between a horse and a man who’d found each other at Old Friends.
Royal blue silk organza leaves, were individually shaped and wired and fashioned to allow light to pass through them as they cradled the flower.
Dozens of long slender royal blue and yellow organza “feathers”, a MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® trademark, were carefully stitched and layered to frame the floral centerpiece from many angles.
Wispy mocha chocolate hat veiling was gathered and set behind the feathers for a touch of soft elegance.
A royal blue dupioni silk sash, folded in layers, was fashioned to encircle the crown of the hat and a deep cobalt blue button added to adorn the back.
Yellow taffeta was chosen for the lining of the “Mixed Pleasure” and the MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® label was hand stitched into place.
As a physical remembrance of Mixed Pleasure, several strands of the stallion’s tail hair were braided and woven into the trim of the hat, creating a one-of-a-kind Derby chapeau that captures Mixed Pleasure not only in spirit but in substance as well.
The finished hat was then shipped to Old Friends for the grand photo shoot!
This year we were delighted once again to have Shea Leparoux modeling for us. Shea and her husband, jockey Julien Leparoux, recently welcomed a baby boy named Mitchell into the world, and it was wonderful to have the entire family in the “Mixed Pleasure” photo shoot with Matt and Wendy Wooley of EquiSport Photos!To view the shoot, check out the behind-the-scenes video by Wendy Wooley…
To view the hat and the horse whom it honors please visit our Slideshow.
Sadly, less than a week after the photo shoot at Old Friends for the “Mixed Pleasure” chapeau, we received the news that Mixed Pleasure had been euthanized on October 26, 2015 due to complications from colic.
That night on her Facebook page, Old Friends volunteer Vivien Morrison said it so well as she shared the news of the passing of Mixed Pleasure who had left his forever friend behind:
“A friendship like this lasts through the ages and does not end when one of them joins the celestial herd. Tonight, running on the autumn wind is a chestnut horse, young and free again, carrying the love of his beloved friend with him. Thank you, Mixed Pleasure, for all you gave us and thanks and love to John for being Mixey’s forever friend. He left his earthly home in the arms of loved ones . . . never to be alone again.”
The story of Mixed Pleasure will forever be inseparable from the story of the friend that he found when he arrived at Old Friends. In John, Mixed Pleasure found his herd, the family that he could lean on while he healed and found his valued place among the other retired racehorses at Dream Chase Farm who need that, too. And in Mixed Pleasure, John found the horse that would teach him how to love and care for a horse in a way that no human ever could have.
Thank you, Mixed Pleasure and John, and thank you, Michael and Old Friends, for providing the sacred ground where such a friendship could flourish and now live on forever to inspire us all.
About the auction:
The “Mixed Pleasure” auction hat is currently up for bid on EBay. Bidding ends Monday, December 14th at 8 PM EST.
To learn more about Mixed Pleasure, the horse, please visit the Mixed Pleasure webpage. For more information about the “Mixed Pleasure” Chapeau please visit the Mixed Pleasure hat webpage.