Aloof and lame, Billy L was about the rudest horse Lindsey Fletcher ever tried to walk onto a trailer.
“He was such a jerk! It took three of us to get him to load and at one point I thought, ‘I’m at a racetrack loading this lame racehorse onto a trailer. What am I doing?’ But sometimes you just have to go with your gut.”
What nobody else could see at the time was that the racehorse who was lame on one side and gimpy on the other also possessed the true ‘look of eagles’ emblematic of the Thoroughbred breed.
“He was a big horse with a huge presence. He looked like a champion.”
She had no idea how prophetic her first impression would be.
Billy came home to live on Fletcher’s Seattle-area horse farm in 2006, where she once dabbled in Thoroughbred retraining before deciding she just wanted to ride competitively.
She’d previously owned a talented Quarter Horse jumper and also a Warmblood who was so gifted she thought of him as her “horse of a lifetime.” But then Billy, a horse she says was a “physical train wreck” was backed off the trailer to take up residency.
Race name: Billy L
Sire: Dance at Dinner
Dam: Honey Sugar
Foal date: April 2001For months he underwent rehabilitation for lameness and issues related to his pelvis. He was attended to by a veterinarian, an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, and other equine specialists, before he finally emerged as a strong, balanced horse.
“My vet and body worker did amazing work,” she says, noting that when Billy first came home he couldn’t pick up his left-lead canter.
Although not a charmer on the ground, Billy was beautifully poised and cooperative under saddle. “He was such a jerk on the ground, but as soon as I got in the saddle, it was as though he said, ‘OK. This is my job.’ He took it very seriously.” says Fletcher.
There wasn’t anything she put in front of him that he didn’t neatly clear.
She started jumping him over cross rails and eventually found a young girl to ride him at a 2-foot-6 show. He had never before jumped that height or the variety of obstacles, and he handled it like a champ.
“He never put a foot wrong. He was a complete rock star,” Fletcher says. “He wasn’t pretty; he didn’t jump well. But he went around and did it all.”
And this is how it went as Billy learned in the show ring to jump higher and higher. “I’d take him to shows with jumps he’d never seen before,” she says. “He didn’t bat an eye. In 2009, I stuck him in a 3-foot-9 Jumper class and he went around and won a couple classes. At the next show, he did so well that we moved him up to 4 foot and then to 4-foot-3. He never touched a jump.”
It wasn’t until Billy was asked to clear 4-foot7 that he even folded his front legs. His style was to power up to a jump with his massive hind end and propel himself over. “He never used his neck or his back. He just went completely off his hind end.”
She admits that more than one observer commented on Billy’s “unconventional” style. And it became a bit of a pet peeve to her that others couldn’t see the beauty of her horse’s style, just because he didn’t lift his knees to his eyeballs, as she puts it.
Despite their doubt, she pressed on.
Last year, Billy finally did tuck his legs and jumped in a more classic style. He competed in the Grand Prix (1.40 meter/4-foot7) division and won the Zone 9 USEF Amateur Owner Jumper for 2010, also earning a Horse of the Year designation.
This year, Fletcher hopes to move him up to the Big Grand Prix (1.45 or 1.50 meter/4-foot11) division.
As she rides to greater and greater success, Fletcher says she has come to see ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds as capable athletes gifted enough to ride against the “big boys.”
“So many people said Billy was too unconventional, and why was I wasting my time,” Fletcher says. “Now people say I saw something the rest of them didn’t.”