When Pat Dale was a young girl, she and her friends all longed to own Thoroughbreds.
Ambling around on backyard-bred Quarter Horses, the sleek ex-racehorses seemed like panthers as they walked onto the show grounds. So lithe and intelligent, they epitomized the ideal of competitive equine athletes.
“If you had a Thoroughbred in those days, you were lucky. You had to have an uncle who raced horses to get one, or the right connections,” says Dale, 57. “This was back when the top riders, who were like gods to us, were all riding Thoroughbreds.”
Over the decades, as European Warmbloods continued to become more popular than Thoroughbreds in the sport-horse world, Dale’s passion for the breed grew anyway. Trends didn’t matter to Dale. She knew what she liked. “They’re bred to be athletic and competitive, and they’re tough, enduring horses,” she says. “I still say they’re the best all-around breed.”
Race name: Secret Day
Sire: Secret Hello, by Private Account
Dam: Spend a Day, by Dressage
Foal date: 1997So enamored was the Maryland native, a resident of the horse country she calls ‘Thoroughbred Central,’ that six years ago she capped off a lifelong career with Thoroughbreds, by making her greatest commitment: She bought a 30-acre farm to serve as the hub for her business of re-training and selling ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.
After years spent managing top-level farms, Dale seized upon her husband’s recommendation that she “make her dream come true” and start her own horse farm.
Naming it Three Plain Bays for a trio of Thoroughbreds she once owned, Dale uses her farm as a training ground to catapult horses that others might not look twice at, in to real showstoppers.
The day she met ex-racehorse Secret Day, he was suffering with a severe condylar cannon bone fracture that would possibly require 120 days of stall rest to heal up. And even then, his odds of recovering were given a 50-50 shot by veterinarians.
When the fuzzy Blood Bay was taken out of his stall the day they first met, Dale was looked beyond his injury to the beauty and balance of the animal.
“He had that elegant walk of a panther and had perfect conformation,” she says. “He was balanced and pleasing to the eye. So, I said, ‘I’ll take him!’ and I was told, ‘He’s yours!’ ”
After the stall rest and a regimen of supplements and hand walking exercises, Secret Day rebuilt good bone health by taking jogs on a paved road. Later, a thorough exam by veterinarians would barely reveal evidence of the injury.
And soon after, it was discovered that Secret Day had an amazing jump in him.
“I found a young rider named Becky Schimmel to school him over jumps, and we realized very quickly this horse had an incredible talent.”
Race name: Better Than Bonds
Foal date: 2002The horse was eventually sold to an Illinois family who purchased him for their daughter, Becky. Together, the pair amassed over 3,000 USEF points competing and winning at the highest levels.
“That horse showed at a show judged by the famous horseman Bucky Reynolds. Bucky pinned nine blues and one red on him one day. He was amazing. He was a champion,” Dale says.
Secret Day was recently retired back to her farm after a veterinary check indicated that a stifle was showing signs of wear. Rather than inject the horse to keep him showing, Dale and his owners decided he’d proved enough.
“They retired him sound to me. He’s done everything, even going off to the big shows. He has nothing else to prove,” she says. “He has a forever home with me until the day he dies.”
Dale admits she has dozens and dozens of Thoroughbred success stories. Horses like Better Than Bonds, a successful racehorse who earned $600,000 before he retired with a tendon injury, proves that talent runs deep in these bloodlines.
After a layup at Dale’s farm, Better Than Bonds reinvented himself as a successful event horse. “That horse is the bees knees,” she says. “He is the coolest, coolest horse. He was like James Bond in a tuxedo.”
And for the many racehorses who have been brought to her farm to learn and succeed in a new career, Dale is on a mission to prove it can happen for each and every one. She remembers the day when a Thoroughbred was the breed to own, and horse-by-horse, she is helping return them to their former place of dignity and allure.