A twist of fate, a loaned horse led to Rolex

Ziggy's Berry Boy and Rachel Jurgens met when her competitive mare got injured, and someone loaned her the horse who would go on to become her four-star mount. Photo by Allie Conrad

Ziggy’s Berry Boy and Rachel Jurgens met when her competitive mare got injured, and someone loaned her the horse who would go on to become her four-star mount. Photo by Allie Conrad

It was happenstance that led Rolex competitor Rachel Jurgens to her four-star mount, Ziggy’s Berry Boy.

“I had moved from Oregon to North Carolina to train with Jimmy Wofford and during our ride out there, my little mare broke her coffin bone,” says Jurgens during a telephone interview en route to the Rolex Kentucky Three Day. “Jimmy suggested I go gallop horses on the Middleburg Training Track since I didn’t have a horse, and I met Michelle Truffant, who had been Ziggy’s jockey, and took him in. She let me use Ziggy so I could continue my lessons with Jimmy.”

The bay with white star was as green as they come, and knew nothing. But when pointed at a jump, his inner genius came out. “He wanted to jump everything, but he didn’t want to jump crazy or stupid, the way some horses can,” Jurgens says. “Every time I sat on him I wanted to sit on him again.”

The natural chemistry under saddle inspired her to take a chance on the ex-racehorse who retired from racing after only two starts. She agreed to take the handsome gelding on loan from Truffant for six months, and then decide.

Ziggy’s Berry Boy
Sire: Ziggy’s Blush
Dam: Berry Blush, by Foolish Pleasure
Foal date: April 21, 1996
“I said I’d either sell him or maybe I’d just buy him,” she says. “Somehow I couldn’t quite sell him though, and I fell in love with him.”

Far from easy, Ziggy was pretty hard to handle on the ground. He squirmed, pushed her around, and was such a handful that he went a year wearing a halter and bridle simultaneously.

“He was so hot and nervous on the ground, but as soon as I got on his back, he was great,” Jurgens says. “He’s much better now, at 18, but at shows he can still be a little hot.”

Now his fire is reserved for the Rolex Three Day, where he shines on cross-country with excellent competitive times and clean jumps, she says. Dressage presents the biggest challenge, while show jumping is good, but where the team occasionally knocks down a rail. “Those are my rails,” she says, quick to take responsibility.

The pair competed last year at Rolex but was eliminated at Jump 7 after she fell. “It was great to go and get my feet wet, quite literally,” she says, chuckling.

Ziggy and Jurgens step brightly.

Ziggy and Jurgens step brightly.

Going into this year’s competition, Jurgens admits she isn’t a highly competitive rider, but that she is looking forward to the challenge.

“Our biggest challenge is always the dressage. He’s hot, but he’s a nice mover and he’s a nice horse on the flat, but sometimes he gets tense, so the work we’ve done doesn’t necessarily show. Cross-country is definitely his best phase.”

As she completed the final few hours of the drive from North Carolina to Kentucky on Tuesday, the equestrian had to marvel at the twists an turns her life has taken.

She graduated college with a degree in psychology, now tucked away somewhere in her house, and then proceeded to create her own coffee shop business. But the Thoroughbreds, they have been consistent throughout.

“My first horse when I was 3 was a Thoroughbred off the track,” she says. “And I have two other OTTBs I’m bringing along. I love the breed.”

Off Track Thoroughbreds wishes all the best to Ziggy and Rachel Jurgens this weekend at Rolex!

A blockbuster ‘Thoroughbreds for All’ planned

Kentucky Oaks winning jockey Rosie Napravnik, pictured on her OTTB Sugar, is among the participants at Thoroughbreds for All next weekend. Photo by Lynn Towery Roberts

Kentucky Oaks winning jockey Rosie Napravnik, pictured on her OTTB Sugar, is among the participants at Thoroughbreds for All next weekend. Photo by Lynn Towery Roberts

Building on last year’s blockbuster Thoroughbreds for All event at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day is a planned extravaganza expected to break previous attendance records. This year’s festivities include celebrity events, celebrations and Thoroughbred demonstrations.

An all-star lineup features Olympian Boyd Martin and Kentucky Oaks winning jockey Rosie Napravnik, as well as Olympic dressage judge Linda Zang and Pan American Games Eventing gold medalist Lynn Symansky. All will join the celebration of the American Thoroughbred in a series of events throughout Rolex weekend, April 25-27.

The Thoroughbreds for All event, which is cohosted by the Retired Racehorse Training Project and New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, aims to heighten awareness of the potential ex-racehorses have for new careers. And there is no better proving ground than the only North American four-star Event, where ex-racehorses will compete against world-class riders and horses, says Steuart Pittman.

“The most exciting thing about the Rolex Three Day Event for Thoroughbred lovers is that horses bred to race compete and win against horses bred for Eventing,” says Pittman, founder of the Retired Racehorse Training Project.

Acknowledging the industry’s ongoing support of Thoroughbreds in post-racing sport, Pittman notes that The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program (TIP) will formally acknowledge riders who will pilot their ex-racehorses at Rolex. Riders will be feted for choosing a Thoroughbred for their advanced riding career.

“Bringing the riders of these horses together with their fans and The Jockey Club is a great way to recognize their achievements. We truly do have the stars lined up for this year’s event.”

Boyd Martin. Photo by Amber Heintzberger

Boyd Martin. Photo by Amber Heintzberger

Last year, more than 500 people from 15 states attended the event. This year could reach 600 attendees.

Kristin Leshney, legal associate for The Jockey Club and coordinator of TIP and Anna Ford, program director of New Vocations, agree that Thoroughbreds for All is a power-packed collaboration ultimately benefitting the Thoroughbred ex-racehorse.

“On Sunday, April 27, The Jockey Club (TIP) will be presenting an award to the highest placing Thoroughbred at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event,” Leshney says. “We’re excited to have the opportunity to recognize all of the riders who have chosen to represent the versatile Thoroughbred at the highest level of equestrian competition.”

Ford shares her excitement.

“New Vocations is thrilled to once again host this wonderful event, which not only showcases the Thoroughbreds in our program, but also promotes the retraining of these athletes in a variety of new careers,” she says.

AmWest Entertainment and Wild Aire Farm have sponsored Thoroughbreds for All events.

To purchase tickets, which are $35 each, please visit eventbrite.com.

Mare flees Everglades towing 150-gallon urn

Midnight Parade was rescued by the South Florida SPCA in November 2012 after she ran from the East Everglades area towing a 150-gallon planter tied to her halter.

Midnight Parade was rescued by the South Florida SPCA in November 2012 after she ran from the East Everglades area towing a 150-gallon planter tied to her halter.

Sweating in fear, Midnight ran as though the demons of hell bit at her heels.

Bursting from the murk of another mysterious Thoroughbred life gone wrong, she raced in the night, putting as much space as she could between herself and a terrifying past.

As she streaked through the East Everglades like a warhorse avoiding death in a battlefield, she towed a 150-gallon plastic planter, which had been tied to her halter.

The large object, which must have bounced and crashed as it trailed out beside her, and gouged at the earth, only driving her onward.

She ran with fear as she ran with purpose until every ounce of energy was sapped.

Finally, Her chest heaving, her body slicked wet with sweat, Midnight lied down on the gravely ground and waited for whatever fate would bring.

Midnight Parade
Sire: Repent
Dam: Tuxedo Parade
Foal date: Feb. 6, 2007
And if name is destiny then this horse got lucky at birth, because at just about midnight on Nov. 14, 2013 help arrived.

The Miami-Dade Agricultural Patrol was first on the scene. And quickly after came Laurie Waggoner of the South Florida SPCA. Together they worked to untangle the horse and help the weakened animal to her feet.

“She was so tired from running—we don’t know how far she ran or for how long—that we had to get her up twice before we could get her on the van,” she says. “And when we got her to the farm, she lied down again.”

With rest and nutritious feed Midnight (Jockey Club: Midnight Parade) rebounded quickly, Waggoner says. In decent condition overall, the 7-year-old mare was advertised for adoption on the SPCA’s website and on April 9, 2013 she was handed over to the competent hands of SPCA volunteers and equestrians Celia Bunge and her talented daughter Daniela.

Midnight has been learning to slow her stride as she re-trains to be a lesson horse.

Midnight worked with Susie Martell, South Florida SPCA volunteer, in preparation for adoption.

“I saw her beautiful picture on the website and started reading her story, and she just looked so beautiful. I told my daughter we needed to go take a look at her, and we quickly decided to put her on our trailer,” Bunge says.

With the idea of training her to be a Hunter/Jumper prospect and lesson horse for their riding program, the pair soon learned that more than ground work and lessons, Midnight needed reassurance.

“She was very stressed at the beginning and sweated so much that we called the vet because we were worried; she’d get all foamy and we didn’t know why,” she says. “She couldn’t relax. If she tried to trot, she broke into a weird Paso Fino (horse) trot. And if she was in a canter, she wanted to gallop.”

Mother and daughter decided that the first lesson Midnight needed to learn was that she was safe, she was loved, and they would not harm her, Bunge adds.

Celia Bunge, left, with her daughter Daniela, the day they picked her up from the SPCA.

Celia Bunge, left, with her daughter Daniela, the day they picked her up from the SPCA.

After waiting weeks for her to adjust to her new home, and to trust, Daniela Bunge began working very slowly with her under saddle. So slow that the second the mare gets something right, the lesson ends, and she is returned to the pasture to be with her friends.

“Something really clicked for her about three months ago,” Celia Bunge says, noting that the beautiful animal is now so trusting and trust worthy that she will soon join a string of lesson horses at her riding facility, the Miami International Riding Club.

Since racing like hell from the East Everglades last November, the once terrified mare has finally stopped running. Her fearful habits have quieted and she now stands at the mounting block, proud and ready. Her gait has smoothed from frantic to calm as she knows now that she’s finally safe.

As a new member of the Bunge family’s herd, she’s arrived on the other side of darkness. And Midnight has found her new morning.