You don’t need to win blue ribbons to be a champion. The Next Eighty-Dollar Champion honors every horse who came from humble beginnings or has had a second or third or fourth career. We also honor every man, woman and child who has refused to give up on a horse. We want to hear the story of your Eighty-Dollar Champion …..
Tell us a little bit about your horse — how you got your horse, what his/her life was like before coming to live with you and your proudest accomplishment as a team. Email me your story (put Blog Entry in the subject line) and one or two photos and we’ll get it posted as soon as possible.
Bohemian’s first job as a racehorse didn’t workout too well. He never “broke his maiden” and aged out of the racing industry with less than 10 starts. His second job as an actor (portraying a racehorse) for the HBO tv series “Luck” didn’t pan out either. The show was cancelled after the first season. But HBO did right by their equine actors, and re-homed them through reputable adoption groups rather than sell them back into the racing industry.
My trainer went to check out some of the “Luck” horses at the Thoroughbred Rehab Center , and came home declaring “Sarah – you must adopt one of these horses.” She and the rehab director even had one picked out for me. I adopted Bohemian without spending even one minute “shopping” for a horse. In fact, I signed my name on the dotted line only 10 minutes after meeting him (in a box stall), and the first time I saw him out of a stall was as he was walking towards the trailer. Was I crazy?! Who gets a horse without test riding or at least trotting out first?
But somehow it was meant to be. Bohemian is now learning his third job: 3-day eventing. And so far, it is going great! He loves to jump and is the fastest learning horse I’ve ever met. But meanwhile, he has indicated that his true calling is that of cuddlebug extraordinaire! He whinnies hello, loves to hug, and put out his nose for kisses. He’s now a member of my family, and I’m very blessed to have such a fun and handsome horse. And no matter how far we get doing eventing together, he is my snuggly champion.
When my husband, Craig, and I left for the 2010 World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park, I thought I’d come home with some great memories and maybe a pair of new breeches from the trade fair. I never expected to leave Lexington the proud new owner of a four year-old off the track Thoroughbred.
Since Craig was serving as the US Equestrian Team physician, we arrived a day before the Games began and that afternoon we had a chance to walk across the grounds watching the vendors and exhibitors set up their booths. One of them was the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, an ex-racehorse adoption facility we discovered was tucked away in a far corner of the Horse Park. When I picked up their brochure, I saw one of the horses featured on the cover was a big rose gray. My first thought was “oh, I like him.”
At the end of the day, all the officials and team members were instructed to leave through a gate at the back of the Park. As it turned out, the road leading to that back gate took us right by ….. the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center. Of course, we stopped and asked to be introduced to Petromom (aka “Monty”). We were told he’d raced three times as a three year-old (earning a win, a place and a show), but when he’d returned to training the next year, his leg had blown up and his 90 year-old breeder had decided to give him to the Center in the hopes that he could find a new career.
I visited Monty any chance I had during WEG and just before the Games ended, I was finally able to get on for a short ride. His butt was too high and I knew he didn’t have a clue how to jump, but he had the softest mouth and was so balanced and quiet. I fell in love despite his gangliness. Several other people were interested in adopting Monty, but Craig was absolutely determined that this was the horse for me and successfully championed our case to the Center manager. Two weeks later, Monty arrived at our farm outside Nashville.
I’ve competed in Amateur Owner and Adult Amateur Hunters for more than 25 years and Monty is the best horse I’ve ever had or will have. Even when he’s bad he’s wonderful. Monty’s just beginning in show in Baby Green — we’re taking it slow because I’m too old and he’s too good to rush and we’re both enjoying the process.
My trainer, Jim Williams, liked Monty from the start. “This is such a special horse,” he told me, “and I’m certain Monty was given to you for a reason. We don’t know what that reason is but I’m sure we’ll find out someday.”
This May, Craig unexpectedly passed away. The next morning, I went down to the barn and saw Monty stretching his big gray head out of the stall to greet me. And I knew what his purpose was — it was to give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning and go on doing what I love and what Craig loved to do.
Tory is an Off the Track Thoroughbred that descends on her sire line from the Irish champion Danzatore
and on her mother’s side from the Preakness winner Tank’s Prospect.
She was not very successful at the races, running mostly in allowance and claiming races, however she proved how big her heart is and how strong her will to survive is, in many other ways.
Tory came into my life in the Fall of 2008 when a picture of a bay horse and her rider, swimming in a lake, caught my eye. Her owner, a young college student, did not have the time that she felt her she deserved and needed. We chatted for a while exchanging stories about our horses but the girl wanted more money for her mare than I was able to spend.
About a month later, the girl called back. Her situation had changed. She needed to sell her mare because. The owner of her boarding facility wanted the horse gone and even had offered to take the horse to a sale, saying that she was only good for the meat market anyway. Desperate, the girl said she’d take whatever I could give, and I agreed to come and take a look.
The day after Christmas of 2008 we finally met. When we first arrived, Tory was standing in the barn aisle covered by a thick horse blanket. She was a bay with a pretty head and a kind eye, standing about 17 hands high. She was a little on the thin side, but I felt this was nothing that could not be fixed. Her owner rode her first and then it was my turn: I could hardly believe how sweet and quiet she was. I had pretty much already decided that this was the horse I was looking for.
By now it was January, and we were getting a place ready for Tory to come home to. But, the evening before we were to go pick her up, I received a phone call that Tory was sick. She had contracted a severe case of “bastard strangles” and had a basketball size abscess between her front legs that had erupted, bastard strangles. The girl and her parents did not know what to do and I recommended that they contact a vet immediately. I felt horrible, but given the situation, I told them that until the horse is completely recovered, I could not bring her home.
We sort of lost touch in the time that followed until March 2009, when the girl called me in tears. Tory needed to be moved that day. The stable owner had threatened to get rid of the horse, and even worse, there was also a huge bump on her head now. She said someone at the barn had observed the horse being hit over the head with a shovel. She did not know who to turn to. I relayed the message to my husband who was working outside and he only said: “well, see if you can get someone with a trailer to go get her”. I phoned a friend and within 1-1/2 hours we were on the road.
I will never forget what I saw when I walked into the barn. Tory stood in the barn aisle and looked like a mere shadow of the horse that I had seen just three months before. Her neck was sunken in and there was no spark of life in her once so beautiful eyes. She had a huge lump under her eyes stretching from the right side of her face to the left. Her legs were covered in filth. Her back and hip bones were protruding and you could count every rib. I took Tory by the halter and lead and walked her towards the trailer. Tory stepped into the trailer without hesitation and stood quietly for the trip home. Later on her owner told me that she had never done this before. Tory hates trailers and does not load easily. Well, she did that day.
We brought Tory home and bedded her down for the night. TThe next morning we he next morning we took pictures of her to have a record of her conditio then took her to the vet for a check up. The vet confirmed a skull fracture that was recent and had not yet healed. We were lucky that it did not seem to affect her breathing, but the swelling under her eyes and the tearing were a result of the skull fracture. She was at least 200 lbs under weight. The other concern was the Strangles that she had battled. He saw a large zigzag shaped wound between her front legs still in the process of closing and healing, but felt positive that it was no longer contagious. He felt that with love and care, she’d recover. He also thought that the tearing would most likely persist and that the bump on her head would likely stay or perhaps even get bigger from calcification as it heals.
The weight went back on much quicker than I had expected and within 3 months she started to look much better. She shed out her dull hair coat and turned a nice shiny copper color. Over time even the bump on her head started to get smaller and the tearing stopped. Her emotional scars stayed with her though for some time to come. Whenever I entered her stall while she was in it, she would back into a far corner and watch. To this day she at times shies away from people entering her stall. You can do just about anything with her out of her stall, but there is always a sort of caution and reserve when in the stall.
I did not get to ride much that first year, but I took her out for time spent grazing and we worked on just getting to know each other. We did go on a Poker Ride together and she was the perfect trail horse. Quiet and easy going, she was a pleasure to have around.
I believe we bonded over these months in a way that would not have been possible in any other way. She learned to trust me. When I came into the barn she would softly whinny and stick her head over the side of her stall wall to look for me. While cleaning her stall, she’d walk up to my back and press her head against my back or lean her head against my chest looking for some attention. She loved getting her forehead brushed, closing her eyes in enjoyment. Recently I turned the horses out and all three trotted out looking forward to a day of grazing in the sun. Just as I was ready to leave, Tory turned around and came back up towards me. She stopped right in front of me and nudged my shoulder, turned around and trotted back out. Was that her way of saying “thanks and I love you”?
She may not be a show jumper, eventer, dressage mount or other kind of show horse earning ribbons and trophies, but she won my heart and even though she had been beaten, starved and abused, she never turned on her handlers. She is a champion in every sense of the way to me.
One night I found myself sitting at a working horse Clydesdale show horseless after losing mine to colic not long before, when I struck up a conversation with a good friend who I hadn’t seen for a while. After a while he looked at me and said “I’ve got a young gelding you might be interested in, but he could be in ‘fairly average condition’ as I’ve had him hidden away and haven’t seen him for a while.” He went on to tell me that he had secretly removed his share of the horses from the property when he discovered hers were being fed and his weren’t (divorce). I could take him and we would work out the price later if things worked out. Oh boy….
The next weekend we had the float hooked up real early and took the 5 hour drive from Brisbane up the highway to the back of a small Australian coastal town. We were expecting to see Leo in paddock condition, maybe with feet slightly overgrown, and a bit on the shaggy side – we had been assured that the mate was looking after our friend’s horses. What we hadn’t prepared ourselves for was what happens to a 2.5 year old clydie gelding in an Australian drought living hidden out the back of someone’s large property on coastal sand for a couple of years. What greeted us, once we could finally get close enough, was a dull eyed, scared, undernourished (he weighed just on 450kg), wormy boy, with horribly overgrown split hooves with permanent damage right up to the coronet band, and a fairly significant doze of Qld Itch. What had I gotten myself in to?
5 hours later the four of us had finally loaded Leo into the float after he was exhausted and we literary lifted him in, to just travel one hour south to spend the night with family. What a horrid night; Leo hadn’t seen real grass in years and we were so worried that he would colic from either the little bit of grass he had access to, or just from the stress of the day. The next day we had to face a possible 5 hour replay of the previous day’s loading experience. Horse hubbie to the rescue. He very calmly told everyone to disappear, backed the float up to a slope and after 2 ½ hours of quiet coaxing, Leo was back on the float. 50% improvement in 24 hours, we were on a roll here!
At home Leo was wormed, watched, wormed again and then the slow rehabilitation feeding regime started. We were also in terrible drought conditions, but we luckily had access to plentiful supplies of good grassy hay. Australian’s love lucerne, but Clydesdales don’t. Once I was happy that he was settled, his teeth were done, the vet visited for a check up, and the first farrier visit happened. To cut a long story short, 2 years later we had a glossy healthy 800kg Clydesdale, but one that was still battling chronic thrush. What a learning curve. I must have read every article I could find, been told how to fix it ranging from “just leave it alone” to “use iodine every day”. After 2 years we had an otherwise healthy horse with thrush so bad farrier number 5 could put his finger right in the stinking holes and they were bleeding slightly. But farrier number 5 has become a great friend and he saved Leo’s life. That first visit he didn’t beat around the bush, in fact he was quite blunt; he would do what he could but it may be too late.
Leo comes from an amazing line of working Clydesdales, his sire and brother were both champions in the show ring, and certainly in the competition ring. We were novices and he was nervous of other horses in harness around him. So here we go again – slow hours of patiently driving him with the slide on all kinds of ground and all kinds of noise, and with other horses all around him. He did end his “cart horse” career on a high; in harness with his brother being centre stage at a friend’s wedding. Looking stunning and so well behaved, but he never settled at shows with a whole lot of stuff going on around him.
By this time our 16 year old daughter was eventing at pony club, and I was instructing. I was finding more and more that I would spend my weekends out on the cross country course with other people’s children, too tired when I got home to harness Leo up and exercise him. This is also where the snakes come in! The cross country course at pony club was on flood plain right on the bank of a river. Being maintained by volunteer parents at the club meant it was regularly overgrown, and was in an area known for deadly King Brown snakes. It was crunch time; I had to get myself on horseback to instruct to get me up out of the grass as everything that moved was a snake (my phobia), and my only horse was my cart horse Leo. Home we went, threw a saddle on one day, did the girth up the next; and the fearless child climbed on the next. Not an ear twitched, and off Leo walked as if he had been in saddle all his life, as long as we only walked in straight lines and let him make the rules everything was sweet.
That was five years ago. Leo has reignited my love of riding, and with the help of the most amazing dressage instructor he has now become a “dressage Clydesdale”. Circles, straightness, cantering, just staying in the arena – all major challenges to overcome one at a time! He will never get to the Olympics, nor is he likely to ever do those fantastic high school movements, but he is honest, hard working and just so popular with all the horsey people around our part of the world. As I drive into showgrounds for competitions I always hear “hey Mum, Leo’s here”. We regularly place in our tests, and he is just getting better and better all the time.
He is a real champion, not only because of what he has come through, but where he is taking us!
My Horse, Jet, was born the son of a Kentucky Derby winner. Lil E Tee was a longshot when he won the derby in 1992. Not much was made if his pedigree, or of his talent. He won when he made his move from near the back of the pack and fought his way to the wire. I now think he throws the same characteristics to his foals.
His son spent most of his racing career running in cheap claimers, and won a few, but most of the time was too out of control before the start to even threaten the winner. He was sold several times, and then ended up in the hands of some very bad people. Jet had become part of an illegal gambling ring. He was now a “Match Race Horse.” That means that in the dark of night, and away from cops, he was matched against other horses in the desert, where he would run his heart out under very bad circumstances. Apparently he was not a big winner, and at some point was tied to a swing set in the bad man’s back yard, and then left to die. He was left with another horse, who was tied to the tree next to the him.
By the grace of God, someone saw the emaciated half dead horses, and called the police. The Arizona sheriffs department came and arrested the owners, and Jet was taken to jail. He was placed in the care of inmates in “Tent City,” a small, sad, yet wonderful place in the desert, where the rescued animals are rehabilitated by officers and inmates. They are pipe stalls with shade covers. No grass, turnout, or love. Just a place where they are carefully fed and given medical treatment.
Jet a broad 16.1 hand Thoroughbred, was 700 pounds when they found him. He slowly fought his way to recovery, while sadly his neighbor had to be euthanized. He spent a year and a half in that place, waiting for his court case to be heard, and then to be put up for adoption. How does the son of a Kentucky Derby winner end up here?
I was working as a vet tech for the vet who oversees the medical care at the prison, and upon arrival that day, started walking around asking about all of the horses. It was about 115 degrees and not a cloud in the sky (the typical summer in Phoenix), and I found myself seeking shade while walking to the end of the stall rows. A bay head with a big uneven blaze popped over the top rail, looked at me, and nickered. My heart just stopped. All day I couldn’t shake that nicker, and kept hearing it over and over in my head, along with the visual of that bay face looking me right in the eye.
No… I didn’t NEED another horse.
I got home that night, showered, and threw my sweaty clothes in the hamper. I looked over at my husband, and told him of my day. I also may have mentioned this sad horse, his sad story, and the way he looked right at me and spoke to me.
Chad, without hesitation, said, “Go get him.”
The next day my trailer pulled up at the jail, I paid my $400 adoption fee, and he was mine. He had several names in jail-on the paperwork he was Queratano, the inmates called him Q-Ball, and the officers called him Gitano. We shortened that one to Jet. (My husband is a fighter pilot for the USAF, and it was the perfect marriage of a name in my book!) Little did I know that he was “Bumpitee” and his daddy won the Derby. But really, who calls a horse “Bumpitee?”
We knew nothing of his racing history, his training, ect. Just the things that the paperwork said. Needless to say, he had some very heavy emotional baggage. When I got him home, this sweet nickering horse was a nightmare! I kept him at a boarding stable, and they hated him! He bit, he kicked, he ran away, he escaped, he pulled back when tied, he bucked, he reared, ect. We almost gave up.
Chad and I were looking for a small farm of our own, and I just knew I should hold out until I had him in my backyard. I wanted to know him, and I wanted him to know me. I wanted to be the one who fed him breakfast, lunch and dinner. I wanted him to eat carrots out of MY hand. We found the place, brought him home, and started over. And you know what? It worked.
Jet started to look for me in the pasture, started to come when I called him, and learned to behave like a good boy. Why was he so angry? He was in pain. We treated his various minor lamenesses, treated his raging ulcers, and put him to work!
In January of 2011, I put a saddle on him and began the first day of the rest of his life. I had big dreams. This was my future Three Day Event Horse! But… We had a long way to go. I taught him basic commands for the first few months, but I seriously needed some help. A friend recommended an advanced level rider and trainer in North Scottsdale, Barb Crabo. “She is good with difficult horses,” she said. Yep, Jet qualified as “difficult” to say the least! So I put Jet in the trailer, and drove the hour and a half to our first lesson. After telling Barb his story, she was determined to help. She has been amazing. Every few weeks I travel to her, and we get to work.
So just to shorten an already long story, Jet is now my Event horse! I have never sat on a horse that jumps as well as he does. He couldn’t enjoy it more! We started at the beginner novice level, fought through his mental challenges, and have tested him over and over. And you know what? He is A CHAMPION!
Two weeks ago, “Fighter Jet” and I, Jamie Jennings, won the Novice level horse trial at the Coconino Horse Trials in Flagstaff, AZ! He had the best score in the entire division, and won the prestigious award as the Lowest Score for an OTTB in the whole competition! (the lower your score, the better in eventing!)
Jet has and continues to teach me things every day. Sure, he still will take the occasional nip at you, and still throws a mean buck at you every now and then, but I learned some very valuable lessons from him. I learned that no matter what challenges come, don’t ever give up. I am also a much better rider because of him. As I sit here, staring at him out my window, I realize something… It’s time for his afternoon carrot!Tweet Share
When I was looking for a horse last year, I first thought I wanted what almost every rider seeking a horse wants — an already well trained, ‘made’ horse that was going to take me to the levels I wanted to be at in the jumper world. I tried many of those in the process, all of which didn’t work out. I was getting discouraged, on the edge of giving up on finding that ‘perfect’ mount after awhile, at least until I stumbled upon a free online ad.
Giovanni Angelo, the name made me laugh at first, but it was one I obsessed over for awhile, talking my parents into making the call. The reason they were hesitant being.. he was exactly what I thought I hadn’t wanted, a green, three year old just off the track gelding.
But I couldn’t see anything else except that handsome face, big ears and teddy bear eyes that looked back at me from the pictures of that ad. I didn’t know that that handsome face had been through so much in his three years when I bought him. After a minor injury that rendered him useless after his first win on the track, he ended up in the hands of someone who didn’t feed him, didn’t look after him, and let a horse with so much potential start to go to waste.
The horse that was rescued ended up rescuing me. I found a partner in an unlikely place, and together we’ve become a team that’s attached at the hip. He’s not exactly a ‘champion’ yet, but after coming home with two firsts and two seconds at his first show, I’m confident he will be. I look at us as just two kids, trying to figure the world out together.Share Tweet
Forrest Gump had his time at the track. He was born in 1999 and raced in PA and DE. He ran a total of 14 times and only won once earning a mere $26,000. It seemed that his trainer and owners decided to retire him at 5 and give him a shot at a new life. He was purchased, as what we believed was a resale project, but was soon forgotten and left in a field for 2 years with 6 other friends. Soon he was taken to auction, as the owner desperately needed money, in terrible condition. His 6 other friends were lucky and were quickly sold with a crowd of people watching over them, but poor Forrest was the last to go and the stands were nearly empty except for the meat man and the woman who gave him a chance. She was there to get her daughter a pony and saw Forrest and her heart went out to him. He had been neglected and left to starve. He was skin and bones. What was once a statuesque 17H Thoroughbred was reduced to bones. She heard the man bid on the horse and couldn’t let him go. She outbid him and ended up with two to take home.
Meanwhile I was in the market for a young prospect that I could train and move up in my riding career. I had placed and ad on a local website and sure enough Forrest’s owner contacted me and when I saw his picture I knew he was “the one.” I went to visit him at his home and he had such a sweet personality. We checked each other out and after a couple minutes he promptly grabbed the zipper of my fleece and pulled it down. I was sold. Forrest came to me a couple weeks later.
We spent time trying to get weight on him and getting his muscle back. However we hit a wall when we noticed an odd hitch in his hind end. We had the Chiropractor out and were told he has a severe SI issue and very bad muscle atrophy. I had to stop ridding and we worked on rehab, physical therapy, and Pilates. But with everything we were doing, we just couldn’t get the weight on. The vet at the time also made me aware of a heart murmur and told me that it could cause heart failure. So it was decided to stop the rehab and therapy and let him live in a big field with lush grass. Once he had his weight back we would reevaluate him and decide where to go from there. Not 2 months later, he had his weight back, the heart murmur was gone and he was cleared for riding. I worked with Forrest’s Chiropractor and we were able to slowly build his muscle back. It was quite the roller coaster and even hard to know that my horse may never be able to jump.
After spending 2 years working with Forrest, I can proudly say he has exceeded expectations and is doing wonderfully. We tried the hunter ring, but Forrest was quick to tell us he liked to go fast and enjoyed the Jumper ring far more. Today Forrest is schooling up to 4’ with potential to go higher (if his mom wasn’t such a scaredy cat). He is successfully showing at the local Jumper shows at 2’6 and 3’ and is an active participant in the local 3-day Thoroughbred Shows.
Forrest has been a fantastic teacher for me. He has taught me things and still teaches me as we learn to achieve our goals together. I say ours, because Forrest has “told” me time and time again he wants to go higher, but the mom factor has been lacking in that department J When I go to his field to pull him in for feeding, I am amazed every day that he is mine and he has conquered everything that has come in his path to a happy and healthy life.
PJ’s story is a long one, but I’ll start from the beginning. My mother, Andrea, is a trainer and for a large part of my life we lived on a horse farm in NJ where my mother ran a training and boarding facility for hunter, jumper and equitation riders of all levels. My mother also was a jockey in her youth, and trained race horses for quite some time, which is how my mother ended up with PJ. A friend and trainer called one morning, asking if we could sell a failed racehorse. Calls like this were common and PJ was not the first racehorse to be in our barn, so my mom agreed.
I was probably somewhere around twelve at the time, and was not quite ready to handle a young horse off the track. Instead that responsibility fell to my sister, Ali who was about sixteen and already somewhat of an expert with green or difficult horses. When my sister filled out the training chart, she laughed at the gangly bay geldings registered Jockey Club name, Lightning Shock. Instead she wrote PJ, short for ‘project’ or ‘the project horse’, the nickname stuck. PJ stayed with us for a summer, and was sold to a timid adult rider.
I didn’t think much of PJ, he was just another horse off the track that was trained for a time and sold for a commission, until that winter when he was sent back to us. The woman who bought PJ decided that she didn’t have the time to put into a young horse, and found PJ particularly difficult to handle, and so he was ours again to sell. One night at the barn, I had just finished putting my last horse away when my mom called me in and asked me to get on PJ. He was standing in the ring, and the woman who was looking to buy him wanted to see someone on him first. I got on, and to this very day I can remember how great it was to ride him for the first time. PJ took big swinging trot strides and and huge canter steps and my mom started to laugh “he loves you” someone laughed.
By the time New Years came around, PJ was mine officially. My mom had tried to get the money together by Christmas, she had a big red bow ready and everything, but the price negotiations weren’t settled in time. It didn’t matter to me at all though, from that first ride, PJ was mine. Soon, after much training for the both of us, we took PJ to his first show. I was a little disappointed that I would only be jumping cross rails, but soon got over it when we unloaded my horse who was holding his head in the air like a giraffe, completely unable to stand still, and snorting. Needless to say it was probably one of the fastest beginner hunter courses in history, but as we were waiting to go in for the flat class, my mother received a surprise call from the man who had bred my horse and broken him. When my mom told him where we were, he exclaimed “You have a kid on that horse? Are you crazy?!”. We also learned from him that my horse actually had to be broken twice, but we already knew he was a slow learner anyway.
After the first show, I started to dedicate my life to riding and training PJ. We soon moved up to the Children’s division, and after that went on to show quite successfully in the Junior Hunters, Adequan Hunters, and some Equitation. PJ was seventeen hands, had incredible scope, a great jump and is a great mover, but everytime we were at a show there was always whispers in the schooling ring. Murmurs of ‘you let that piece of crap beat you?’ were whispered by trainers to students on good days, and on bad days trainers and riders alike shook their heads at my horse’s misbehavior. Many people believed that because my horse was not ‘fancy’, or the fashionable plump, round warmblood hunter, we would not be successful.
I was lucky enough to prove plenty of people wrong though, by taking my horse Marshall & Sterling Finals twice, once for the Children’s and the next year for the Adequan Hunters, and I can easily say that the happiest moment of my life was coming out of the ring my last year, and knowing that we did it. We attempted to show in the Equitation locally, but oddly my horse was becoming more and more spooky with time. We noticed one day that PJ’s left eye was watering, and called the vet to come have a look. When the vet told me that my horse had equine Uveitis I had no clue what it meant, but when he said Moon Blindness, I began to panic. From what I understood, my horse’s eye was shrinking and dying, and there was very little I could do about it. I never cried so hard in my entire life.
Still, I finished out the show year by training at night while my horse was receiving eye treatments that made him very light sensitive. We also had to move barns, after the owner of the farm we rented decided she wanted to level the barn and build a house for herself. Between PJ’s eye problems, moving an entire business and household as well as filling out college applications, we didn’t make my personal goal of attending Devon that year, but I was just glad to still have my horse with me, and I still am.
Right now I commute from home to the Fashion Institute of Technology, so I can still take care of (or as my mom and sister say ‘obsess over and spoil’) PJ. We show occasionally, but I think we are both content just to have each other’s company. Some people still say that I’m crazy for loving my difficult horse, but I just laugh because owning a ‘perfect’ horse would be dull. I love my horse along with his spookiness, quirks and occasional freshness more than anyone can imagine, and when he gallops up to the gate when I whistle for him, I’d like to think that he loves me too.Share Tweet
This is my big gray Thoroughbred gelding, Sterling. He was a dressage champion who suffered a tendon injury and went to auction when he was about ten years old. A horse broker recognized him from his show horse years and bought him, even though he was 200 pounds underweight and sick. A girl I rode with bought him from the broker and nursed him back to health, including getting a tumor frozen off of his hip. When she moved to a different barn I bought him, and we continued in hunter and dressage discipline until his cancer came back and I learned he was starting to go blind. I retired him four years ago, and since then he has been enjoying a pampered life, eating strawberry pop tarts and being the boss of a barn where all the other horses are mostly older than him. Sterling is 22 now and just so sweet!
I grew up devouring all horse stories, loving especially the ones about the horse nobody could ride or the one nobody wanted. There was something about horses that always sparked that buried treasure excitement, that recognizing something special. But it wasn’t until I was forty-five that I could afford a horse and really learn how to ride like the girls in the books. Thirteen years later I don’t ride like the girls in the books, but I have found my buried treasure with the help of a trainer who knows that the best horse is the one who is doing a job it likes and tries.
Ferdi came to our barn like many other horses, there to be assessed by Shauna. She didn’t have a selling barn, but people knew Shauna could find a good horse out of a field or the track or a sour situation and tell them how to aim their sale. Ferdi was a thoroughbred with royal blood: AP Indy and Miss Lodi – bred in Kentucky. Obviously, he disappointed and was sent on. He didn’t do well eventing and was sent to Shauna to see if he was a hunter. She loved him and he was tried at another hunter barn but came back after colicking several times. And there I was, looking for a new horse without much money. He was green and I was (am) an oldish lady with limited skills, but he liked me! I jumped him a little bit and Shauna took us out in the orchards to see if he could trail. Like an old quarter horse, instead of a six-year-old racehorse! I bought him without getting off.
After a year, Ferdi has never disappointed. When I bring him into a fence dangerously, he stops carefully, “lowers me gently” down his neck and waits patiently for me to get back on and try to do it right. He never, ever holds a grudge. The judges who like thoroughbreds in the hunter ring love him because he is flashy and lively and just plain gorgeous! But what I love best about my boy is that we can go anywhere: loping in the field, cross country, crowded show rings, and lemon orchards. And he takes care of me. Another thing I love is that he likes me the best, better than Shauna and the other girls who occasionally exercise him for me. To me that is what makes a champion – a horse who has found the right job with the right partner. Lucky, lucky me.