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What Could Have Been


Pictured as a two-year-old winning the ASHA Sweepstakes,
Pluto possessed all of the qualities of a great one.
(Photo by Jamie Donaldson)



by Bob Funkhouser


How many times have you heard, “It only happens to the good ones.”?


Such was the case with Pluto, the 2002 ASHA Three-Year-Old Five-Gaited National Futurity World’s Champion who was humanely put to sleep on Tuesday, April 3. He was owned Jean and Chris Nalley of Louisville, Ky., and was shown to his world titles by Rob Tanner.


A son of World’s Champion Five-Gaited Stallion Belle Reve’s Renaissance Man and Heavenly Watch (by CH Sky Watch), Pluto only made four shows, his last being a charismatic three-year-old Louisville performance that was at a level few had attained in the history of the World’s Championship Horse Show. However, before the week was over, founder set in. The horse that appeared to be the next great one was now fighting for his life.


“I had a pact with him,” said Chris Nalley. “First we wanted to give him every chance to come back. It didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t going to happen so then my deal with him was we would do everything possible as long as he was happy and we could give him a good life. He loved being turned out with the babies. He loved being a teacher.”


The Nalleys saw Pluto as a green two-year-old at Rob Tanner’s King’s Row. Jean had great interest in the colt but Tanner wanted her to hold off until he started gaiting him to make sure he’d rack okay.


“He was a good one,” recalled Tanner. “He came together real quick. Like most good ones, things were easy for him. I asked Jean to wait until I had him racking and shoot in three weeks he was flying down through here.


“A lot of people who saw him said he was the next great one. Donna Moore saw me work him at Shelbyville and would have given me a lot of money for him.”


For a horse that was seen so few times he did stir up people’s emotions.


“Mitch Clark told me he was the best three-year-old he had seen since Sky Watch,” said Nalley. “After his three-year-old showed at Rock Creek, Redd Crabtree came up to me and said, ‘That’s some kind of colt.’ I said to him, ‘Yes, I think he’ll be alright.’ Redd kind of got that mad look on his face and said, ‘Alright nothing, he’s a special one.’”


Pluto was one of those special horses who did every gait exceptionally well, even his canter. Tanner brought him out at Louisville in 2001 and had the crowd screaming although they tied reserve behind Virgil Helm and The Evangelist. A few weeks later Pluto won the ASHA Two-Year-Old Five-Gaited Sweepstakes.


Rock Creek would be the site of their next conquest in June of 2002. Now a year older, Pluto gave that knowledgeable crowd chills. Two months later and the Kentucky State Fair would be his last performance as the Three-Year-Old Futurity World’s Champion.


He lived the next two years at Scott Bennett’s clinic where Nalley visited him nearly every night.


“Other than being out of town or really sick, I was there every night,” said Nalley. “He was such a kind and intelligent horse, extremely intelligent. I would sit down in the stall with him and he would put his head in my lap. He changed me. I grew to know him as a friend with a great sense of humor.


“There were a lot of amazing people that gave this horse remarkable care. From Scott’s to Rood & Riddle, Hugh Behling and other laminitis clinics we researched. We wanted to give him every possible chance.


“His last months were spent at Karla Kucera’s farm outside of Cincinnati. He had his own paddock, a special friend and the best of care. A few weeks ago though he developed an infection in his right front hoof at the coronet band. The hoof wall was beginning to detach.”


With his decline there was only one decision to be made. Nalley kept his promise to his good friend.



Pluto’s Pasture Mate Dies


(Editor’s Note: Excerpts of this were taken from an Internet post written by Sarah Russell.)


The grand mare Unexpected was humanely put down after her long and courageous battle against founder. Karla Kucera cared for this mare at her farm in Bethel, Ohio, daily for the past four years. Kucera not only cared for her own horse, but also for Pluto the last year of his life.


To help keep these two horses as comfortable as possible, Karla created a special pasture for them to roam.  The greens on the local golf courses could not have been any softer or better kept.


Every morning, Unexpected and Pluto would be fed, groomed, and then received whatever medical attention was needed. They would then be turned out into "their" pasture. On their good days, they would and did trot, gallop, jump, frolic and squeal with joy. On their "not so good days," they would tippy toe around the pasture, taking and giving comfort to one another.


They were allowed the luxury of coming and going between the pasture and their stalls all day. In the afternoon they were called in, with Pluto usually asking for, "five more minutes, please?"


They would then be groomed again and their evening feed and medication administered once again. This routine continued day after day, rain or shine, warm or cold. These two horses were gentle and lovingly cared for. They ran together, they played together and now they lay in peace together.

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