A Thoroughbred was just what the doctor ordered, for herself.
When Valerie Rooney completed her residency and became a medical doctor 22 years ago, one of her first orders of business was transacted on a bucolic 12-acre property in rural Vermont. This is where she first installed a horse of her own, and a pony for her young daughter.
To say it was a happy occasion is an understatement. Not only did that decision result in great joy for both mother and daughter, but the horses also brought a genuine counterbalance to her hectic professional life.
“Many of my friends think I’m insane to do this because the schedule of a pediatrician in the country is pretty demanding. I’m on call a lot,” she explains. But when she gets on the back of a horse and heads out for even a quick ride, there’s no better way to relax.
Like so many little girls, Rooney was a horse-loving kid. She took lessons, cleaned stalls, and eventually taught lessons at a barn in New Jersey. She even helped train some off-track Thoroughbreds.
Her passion continued through medical school, where she taught part-time riding lessons as a way to earn money and keep her hand in the horse world.
Race name: Anastasia K
New name: Lily
Sire: Hold That Tiger
Dam: Sarasota, great granddaughter of Northern Dancer
Foal date: 2005 “I’d never owned a horse of my own,” she says. “I always rode other peoples’ horses.”
So fulfilling was the decision to buy her first horse that when the mare died at 29 Rooney set out to find another wonderful Thoroughbred. Which she did by searching the horse listings at CANTER New England, a re-homing organization for local ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.
“I fell in love with Anastasia K on their website,” she says. “I love bigger boned Thoroughbreds like her, and I especially loved her way of going.”
Shortly after visiting the horse in June, the 52-year-old doctor moved her new friend into her barn. A favorite among CANTER volunteers, Anastasia K transitioned from six months of foster care into a low-pressure home with time to learn to be a pleasure horse.
“CANTER wanted her to go to a home where she wasn’t going to be rushed,” Rooney says. Which was no problem for her. Explaining that she had stopped riding when her mare got older, Rooney notes that while her Thoroughbred is learning ground manners and socialization skills, she is relearning her seat by riding her daughter’s Morgan.
“My plan is to lunge her while I get my seat back and next year start riding her,” she says. “I grew up with a European riding (instruction) where you don’t push horses.”
In the meantime, Rooney concentrates on introducing new stimulation to Anastasia K’s environment, including balloons, tarps and umbrellas. “I want her to feel safe, and know that every moving thing isn’t going to hurt her.”
Treating pediatric patients and working an on-call schedule keeps Rooney hopping; her schedule can be grueling, for all that it’s also deeply rewarding. So at the end of the tiring work, a respite with her horses revitalizes her.
“I come home to a beautiful place and I love my animals.”