Cantering past shedrows into new life

Willie is such an agreeable TB, and winning!

Willie is such an agreeable TB, and winning!

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.

Stat Box
Race name: Willie Cruise
Sire: Walter Willy
Dam: Danish Alamode
Age: 11
Height: 16
Willie 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.

Her flashy OTTB is very comfy in a Western saddle

Her flashy OTTB is very comfy in a Western saddle

“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.

5 responses to “Cantering past shedrows into new life”

  1. Natalie Keller Reinert

    “I was worried he’d take off with me but I had to use leg.”


    I love how well-rounded this horse is. And that he’s influencing people to help others. Thanks for another great story.

    1. Susan Salk

      People keep telling me that it’s a “rare” OTTB that is so well behaved and versatile. But I’m thinking. Here I am just getting started with this blog, and already there are so many stories that defy the reputation of crazy, hot racehorses. The fact that this horse had so many starts shows he could run and he could do that job, and yet he moved on with the calm, cool-headed temperament of a Zen master of martial arts.

      1. carrotplease

        Love this story! What a lovely TB, and I love seeing them do lots of different things 🙂 And what a perfect match of horse and rider. 🙂

  2. Monica Southwick

    Jeff, CANTER is such a great organization. Willie and I appreciate all the work everyone does!

  3. Jeff Moore

    I am a Canter volunteer and I remember Willie Cruise from Suffolk. This was a picture perfect off track thoroughbred transition. A trainer who realized the horse was ready for something new and a buyer who saw something special about him and was ready to make him a member of the family. Its stories like this that keep me going back to the track every spring.

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