The trainer insisted the racehorse was level headed and calm. To prove it, he leapt onto Willie Cruise’s bare back and cantered him slowly around the Suffolk Downs shedrows as Monica Southwick watched. That was all the convincing the 24-year-old equestrian needed.
“I knew instantly that I would buy him,” Southwick says. “I wasn’t looking to buy a horse when I went to see him, but he was so gorgeous — I found him on the CANTER New England website—and after I saw him canter, I knew I’d take him.”
The demonstration and decision took place in November 2006, as the racing season was coming to a close for the winter.
Race name: Willie Cruise
Sire: Walter Willy
Dam: Danish Alamode
Height: 16Willie walked away from the track after 64 starts, and after a brief rest, transitioned into a range of disciplines. Over the last few years, he has finished in the ribbons in hunter/jumper and dressage shows, and recently qualified for the New England Adult Western Reining Championship coming up this October in Springfield, Mass.
“He has been such a great, low-maintenance horse,” Southwick says. “He has been unfazed by everything we’ve put in front of him.”
Beginning with an introduction to jumping, followed by his first show in April 2007, Willie took it all in his stride. “He handled the show atmosphere perfectly. We were in a flat class and another horse took off and ran right into Willie. He just stood there,” she says.
Last year, after training one year in dressage, Willie got reserve champion training level at Heritage Dressage in Hanover, Mass. He also won second place at the Valinor Farm three-phase event in Plymouth, Mass. the same year.
“This included cross country. I was worried he’d take off with me, but I actually had to give him leg,” she says.
Other show credits include a fifth place in the year-end hunt seat senior division at the Hanson Riding Club in Hanover, Mass.
As Willie transitions nicely into a well-rounded career, Southwick is doing the same. The former equine major and team rider at Cazenovia College in New York has switched gears as well. She is working towards a master’s in mental health counseling at U-Mass and pointing toward a career in child counseling.
“When I was younger I used to ride at a stable where an autistic boy also rode. It really inspired me to see how horses helped him,” she says, noting she will now choose a career path that unites her understanding of horses with a desire to help others in need.