Dulcimer, the horse who lived

by Andrew Cohen

In the mid-1970s, my father owned an unremarkable mare named Dulcimer. She raced for a while at Blue Bonnets, and Richelieu Park too, and she was awful even by the standards of the time. Pathway tells me today that she was by Big John out of a Demon Rum mare and that she took a mark of 2:09.4 in 1975 and made $4,730 lifetime. And she is a horse that “changed my life” because she almost died of colic one night right there in the barn off Decarie Boulevard in Montreal.

photo by Dave Landry

I was either 10 or 11 years old. It was before my dad owned the best horses he would ever own. It was a Sunday night. It was spring or summer. We had been to the afternoon races that day and like all other kids I was dreading school the next morning. The phone rang and all of a sudden there was a great commotion in the house that we lived in about 15 minutes from Blue Bonnets. Dulcimer had collicked, my father said, and asked me if I wanted to go with him to the barn to see if we could help.

So, we rushed back to Blue Bonnets and got to the barn. It was dark. I had never been on the backstretch before in the dark. Everything about the place was different. Gone was the hustle of the morning routine, the washing of jog carts, the banter between grooms in French, and the smell of the disinfectant. Instead, inside, everything was quiet and orderly and somber. The frantic mare stood in the center of the barn, on cross ties, while a vet and a few other folks tended to her.

I remember a man with a garden hose. I remember castor oil. I remember a discussion about whether the horse should be walked around or kept still. I remember the other horses whinnying in their stalls at the break in their evening routine. I remember my father being genuinely worried that Dulcimer was going to have to be put down. And I remember being at the barn for a very long time. So long, in fact, that my father had me go into the dusty tack room to call my mom to tell her that we were okay.

And then it was over. Whatever they had done to Dulcimer finally had worked. My father and I got home really late that night. After midnight, for sure, and at the time it was the latest I had ever been up. I remember a brief discussion about whether I had to go to school the next day. I remember my mom winning that argument. And so I got up the next morning and went across the street to school at Algonquin Elementary like every other kid. Except on that morning I felt differently. Like a grown up.

I cannot remember if Dulcimer raced again for us after that night. I don’t think so. I know she soon became a broodmare. Pathway tells me she foaled at least six babies. Three made it to the races in the late 1970s and early 1980s; two on the trot and one on the pace. Those three, collectively, made about $90,000 at the time. Dulcimer turned out to be a better broodmare than she ever was a racehorse. I don’t know if I would feel the same way about horses and harness racing if she had died that night 40-something years ago. I’m just really glad she didn’t.