Stepping from her truck onto dusty grounds, Kendra King braced against the gray chill of a late October morning that shrouded the deserted shedrows.
In 2009 the Fort Erie Racetrack was all but abandoned.
Horses and trainers had left little of themselves behind as they cleared from the premises; the season just days away from ending.
And it was onto this landscape, as barren as the English Moors, that Kendra King and her friend came searching for a horse, the horse, without knowing if there were any suitable ones left at the track.
“We had just given up and were turning to walk back to the truck when a man came running up behind us and asked if we were looking for a horse to buy,” King says. Nodding quickly, “Yes!” they followed the man to a stall, unlatched the door and opened it, allowing the ladies to peer into the darkened space.
Race name: Next to Sheldon
Sire: Snuck In
Dam: Next to Perfect
Foal Date: February 13, 2006As their eyes grew accustomed to the light, the kind eye of a calm gelding peered back at his visitors.
“When I saw him and saw his face, I just melted,” she says. “He was so sweet and I knew in that moment that he was a good one.”
As King and her friend loaded Sheldon into the trailer and drove to an Ontario farm where he would reside temporarily for training and acclimation to after-track life, they had no idea what a treasure they’d claimed in the hasty exchange.
A little wild at first, Sheldon didn’t know how to trot, and preferred to leap into a canter from a walk. And when ridden in an indoor ring with other horses about, he would occasionally become flummoxed, and spin to face them.
But he caught on fast.
And after a short time of riding and lunging, taking it slow, and starting work with trainer Linda Smith, Sheldon caught on so nicely that King says he became one of the easiest horses she has ever ridden.
“He was a natural at jumping; he didn’t have a bag of tricks, and from the moment I got him, he stood on the crossties so quietly that little kids could brush him,” she says.
The longtime equestrian who counts among her achievements a first-place in the 2006 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and a fourth-place in the Jump Canada Medal, was quite impressed with Sheldon’s scope and style.
And in September, her respect for his talent was replaced by awe.
The pair won the Trillium Championship in the 3-foot adult amateur hunters division, after amassing enough points to compete in the top-tier event.
“Sheldon’s win at the Trillium Championships this September was such a huge accomplishment for him in his first season of showing,” King says. “It definitely solidified what an amazing horse he is.”
His prowess in the show ring is in part natural flair, and in large part owed to great coaching, she says. Under the tutelage of Smith, Sheldon has gone from green to champion without putting a foot wrong.
So careful is the well-trained steed that when King decided to sell her mount so that she could concentrate on her education, he was snapped up by a veterinarian who freely admits she needed a “girly horse” who wouldn’t overpower her.
Liz O’Brien was already a friend to Sheldon’s owner, King, and was riding at the stable where Smith was coaching. So when she purchased the gelding from King about a month ago, the arrangement was a three-way win, the women say.
King can now focus on her forest technician studies at Fleming College, but has free rein to hop on Sheldon like old times.
And O’Brien has a horse who is more suitable for her than her retired one. She is eager to improve her seat and confidence on her new mount.
“Part of the problem for me with my previous horse is that I’m short-legged, and I could never get my legs around him because he’s so wide. When Linda (Smith) suggested I try Sheldon I was reluctant to try a horse off the track.
“Then one summer I did ride him and he turned out to be one of the nicest horses I’ve ever ridden,” she adds. “And he fits me perfectly.”
At age 52, she decided that it was now or never for her to take her riding seriously.
“I’m not a rider like his former owner. She’s very skilled. But, with the training I’m getting from Linda, I’m very encouraged that I will become a much better rider.”
And more than that, O’Brien admits that she “needed a horse who connects with people” and who “nickers when I walk in”. And she got it all on spades.
Now, the trio of ladies provides Sheldon with consistent affection and a stable home—which far outshines the barren surroundings he once knew.
Sheldon—one more Thoroughbred who found a family and a home after a chance meeting at a lonely track.