Don’t get Robin Murray started.
Whenever she begins to describe the very special 17-hand black beauty who ran a few times at Calder, she has to stifle a giggle.
“In his first race, you see the pack go by the finish line, and then you see one horse cross, 10 paces behind them,” Murray says. “And 10 paces behind that horse, here comes Pleasant Rascal!” says the Florida-based equestrian.
“No, he didn’t really enjoy racing.”
Nor, for that matter, did his predecessor in the North Miami barn where Murray works and retrains ex-racehorses.
Pleasant Rascal, and before him, High Hampton, came to live at the rustically charming 10-acre farm in the center of Miami, when they were spotted by Murray as potential fashion models.
That’s right. Fashion models.
Murray works for Collins Horse Farm, a picturesque little setting that exudes the mystique of gentleman farmers and old-world charm, and has been used as a backdrop in advertising campaigns ranging from Ralph Lauren and Victoria Secret to a calendar spread by professional tennis player Ana Kornicova.
Race name: High Hampton
Sire: Belong to Me
Dam: Piney Woods
Foal date: March 9, 2003
Race name: Pleasant Rascal
Sire: Pleasant Tap
Foal date: March 24, 2005And horses have been as necessary to the scenes of careworn fences and weathered wood as beautiful women have been to the fashions they wear.
This is where two adorable ex-racehorses enter the scene.
About five years ago, Murray’s boss, farm owner Pat Collins, asked her to help him find a good-looking equine to serve as a prospective model.
She soon discovered High Hampton, a 15-hand “tank” of a horse who bore a striking resemblance to Northern Dancer.
The three-year-old colt, bred at Lane’s End and foaled in Florida, unfortunately lacked the manners of a polite gentleman.
“He proved a little too much” for modeling, Murray says. “A horse needs to be able to stand quietly while the photo people work with big screens, camera equipment and an entourage of people.
“High Hampton kept trying to eat the models and rip their clothes!”
His behavior however, didn’t faze the longtime exercise rider, who spent two decades working at racetracks around the country. So she made a note to train High Hampton for herself, and went looking for another glamorous horse for the farm.
Her search proved fruitful about a year later, when Murray heard that Pleasant Rascal just wasn’t cutting it on the racetrack and needed a new home. And it turns out, he was drop-dead gorgeous.
“I said to Pat Collins, ‘Do you want a big, black stallion?’ ”
Rascal came to live at the farm a short time later, was gelded, and as soon as they felt he was ready, was placed in front of the camera.
“Unfortunately, he was a little nippy with the models,” Murray says. “So we used him in background photos, just hanging out in the paddock.”
And he has become the farm owner’s favorite riding horse.
Although neither ex-racehorse showed talent for camera work, both have adapted very well to natural horsemanship and western riding.
High Hampton took to reining, and voice-command training in a couple of months, and Rascal took just a little longer to get the hang of it.
Both have proved trustworthy and surefooted on trail rides, and are beloved additions to the farm.
And, although they never appeared in win photos at the track, or in the pages of Vogue, High Hampton and Pleasant Rascal have found their calling, just the same.
“Thoroughbreds are just so smart. They understand what you’re talking about when they hear voice commands, and they do their best for us,” Murray says. “These two horses are the anti-Thoroughbreds: they were the opposite of what a racehorse should be.”
But they were perfect in their role on the small farm in Miami.