Jaguar Hope looked like a cinematic star when Wendy Wooley turned him loose on the world.
Regal, his black head held high, he sashayed around his new paddock with the flair of a leading man.
And on a warm August day in 2007, when Wooley framed the charismatic Thoroughbred with her then-amateur photography skills, she unwittingly started something big in her life. Soon, the longtime rules expert for the United States Golf Association would find herself elbow to elbow with horserace photographers, and working assignments for leading horserace publications.
What started the “chain reaction” of change in her life began with a snapshot she took that day in the paddock, when her horse tasted civilian life after nine years of racing.
A painted version of her photo was eventually incorporated into a promotional baseball cap worn by movie staff in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming production of War Horse. And was also what prompted filmmakers to hire the artist who painted it as equine artistic adviser on the film.
Dam: Enduring Hope
Foal date: 1998
Wooley explains, “I commissioned a painting of Jaguar Hope from the picture I’d taken, and the painting impressed movie staff so much that the artist, Ali Bannister of London, was hired on as equine artistic adviser for the film,” she says, noting that artist’s name will appear in film credits.
But perhaps the most exciting development in her life came after meeting her most ardent admirer, EquiSport Photos owner Matt Wooley. Not only was he dazzled by her work, but also he was completely taken with her.
They met at an equine event in Kentucky and after a short courtship, were married this past September. She pulled up stakes in Michigan and relocated full-time to Kentucky, where she and her husband now run the photography business.
“I guess you could say my life is so much richer for having been associated with horses,” she says, chuckling. “Before Jaguar came into my life, I was a hobbyist with a camera, and I only wanted to get great photos of him because he was so good looking. I just got hooked on photography.”
In the process of knowing and training Jaguar Hope, she also became passionate about learning dressage and teaching an ex-racehorse a new career. In every choreographed step, he proved to be a talented horse who moved easily from a nine-year racing career into the dance and ballet of the new discipline.
“He loved the work. He was a real thinker, and I could tell that he liked to be wondering what we would do next,” she says.
Sadly, their time together was brief.
In March 2009, Jaguar Hope broke his leg in a paddock accident that nobody saw. He was discovered standing at the far end of a field, unable to move his rear leg. There was no medical intervention that could save him, she says.
In her grieving process, she commissioned the painting she felt showed him at his best—a “macho man who couldn’t take a bad picture.”
Wooley blogs about the many twists and turns her life has taken since she bought her ex-racehorse in Racehorse To Showhorse. Besides the brush with fame, her newfound love, and budding photography career, she has also purchased another off-track Thoroughbred.
Hola Bright, a gray off-track Thoroughbred, is completely opposite to Jaguar Hope. Where the black was regal and beautiful, Hola, or Ollie, is a little needy, and less sure of himself.
Where she’d dreamed of taking Jaguar to big horse shows and reaping many blue ribbons, she is more realistic about Ollie’s future. She’d be happy to get him to one small show, if only to build up his confidence.
Not every horse can be the swashbuckling black so appealing he got Hollywood’s attention. And that’s just fine. Life is continuing to show her a new path, one filled with chances and opportunities she never dreamed of.
She will soon leave a 20-year-career with the United States Golf Association to pursue equine photography full time. It’s been a great career, but it’s time to put away the Rule Book for a while.
Instead, she will get out there and make it happen, even if she doesn’t always know what “it” is. If one horse can lead to a new career and loving husband, she notes, you just never know what will happen next.
“Jaguar Hope has caused chain reactions in my life that have changed my world.”