It was as if he knew.
At least that’s how it seemed to Denise Wetmore-Grey when she watched the interaction between her 8-year-old daughter and the racehorse Jersey Moon.
Athena, who’d been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at birth, sat in a stroller curiously watching the bay brown gelding in his stall, and the horse didn’t break the gaze.
And when he found an opportunity to get closer to the child, into the stroller he went, his muzzle snuffling gently over her waiflike form, softly, to say hello.
Seeing it all was a turning point for Wetmore-Grey, her husband Chris and eventually their entire family, all of whom were about to feel joy again. It would ride into their lives on two lucky racehorses.
Jersey Moon, a quirky horse with a propensity to nod his head ‘yes’ at the slightest provocation, and Rough Shod Heir, a large reddish bay who can’t stand to get dirty and intensely dislikes stepping in water, would soon be on their way to Connecticut to work their magic on a family coping with illness.
Race name: Jersey Moon
Sire: Malibu Moon
Dam: Like Yesterday
Race name: Rough Shod Heir
Sire: Cutlass Fax
Age: 6 The couple didn’t plan it this way. In fact, they promised themselves on the long drive up to Boston that they were merely coming to CANTER New England’s Suffolk Showcase to look, not buy.
But a few moments changed all that, as they stood in the sunshine, in the dusty pathways outside shedrows crowded with horses.
“Seeing Jersey stick his head inside our daughter’s stroller, really affected us,” she says. “When we watched Jersey putting his head on her, we were sold.”
The moment was especially poignant for her husband, she adds. “He just kept watching Jersey with Athena,” his heart lifting as the two became fast friends.
Then, as Wetmore-Grey and their daughter admired Jersey, Chris noticed Rough Shod Heir in the next stall.
“He started petting Rough and the horse was all over him, super friendly, and so big and handsome,” she says. “It was all over for him at this point. He told me later that as soon as he met them, he just fell for them.”
So the couple drove back to Boston the next weekend and hauled away the two ex-racehorses who’d been offered for sale at the annual Suffolk Showcase, then sped back to a home and family about to burst with love for their new babies.
Everything improved soon after they arrived.
“Having a child with Cystic Fibrosis caused our family to be in a constant state of worry, and because I had no outlet to get rid of the stress, it crept into everything,” she says. “I worried all the time, and was pretty unhappy.”
Then she and her husband both discovered the calm that riding brings.
“It just settles you when you ride,” she says. “I get on and I feel the release of all this tension, a freedom from it.”
And her husband, who hadn’t ridden since was a boy, discovered the same thing.
“Now he rushes to the barn after work to ride Jersey. We were laughing at the barn the other day because he even rides in the rain,” she says. “Chris and I spend so much time together now, and we work as a team taking care of our horses.”
And on her good days, when Athena can come to the barn, Jersey rewards her with his special undivided attention. At the sound of her cough he materializes by her side, getting as close as he possibly can. “He’s totally sold on my daughter. He breaks his neck to get over to see her.”
And as Denise Wetmore-Grey tells it, “The best part is what these horses have done for our family.”
*The sixth annual Suffolk Showcase, offered by CANTER New England, takes place at Suffolk Downs on Oct. 23, from 9 a.m. to noon. Horses available for sale will be walked and trotted past spectators and buyers, and made available for closer inspection.