Dry-eyed and happy, Bernadette Kilcer waved goodbye.
From the driveway of the Maryland-based Thoroughbred re-homing organization, the idealistic volunteer watched the pretty ex-racehorses leave, on their way to better lives, she hoped, as trailers took them to their new homes.
Never, for a second, did the weekend rider and dedicated volunteer wish to keep even one. They were beautiful athletes, with bright futures in second careers—just not with her.
“I thought of horses as being a lot like children. You can pat them on the head and then send them home,” she says, chuckling. “This was how it was for me for four years I spent volunteering with Thoroughbred Placement and Resources.
“I think I saw 300 horses come and go, and I never even entertained the idea of keeping one.”
Not until a beautiful gray mare appeared last December looking tired, scruffy and rejected.
Coronation Gold was returned to the Maryland organization, after an earlier placement with a new owner had failed to work out, Kilcer says. When she arrived, she was suffering with a bad case of cellulites and required time off to recuperate, she says.
Content with weekly riding lessons and volunteer work – but never owning her own – this is when Kilner’s good intentions got the better of her hard-fast plan to avoid horse ownership.
Racename: Coronation Gold
Barn name: Cora Lou Who
Sire: Yarrow Brae
Dam: Brass Tassle
Foaled: April 15, 2007
Total race winnings: $600 “My plan was to foster her for 90 days, ride her, and put some jump training on her,” Kilcer says. “After that, I was going to put her picture and information back up on our sales listing.”
She told everyone that the mare she greeted everyday with an affectionate, “Hiya baby girl,” was going on the website as soon as the Thoroughbred was ready. But, little by little, her friends in the barn began to snicker. “Oh sure,” they said.
But it wasn’t until after Kilcer visited Coronation at a veterinarian’s facility, where she had been shipped for routine medical attention, that it began to sink in how special this particular mare was to her.
On the day she arrived at the barn, the ordinarily perky equine looked more like Eeyore, the sad donkey in Winnie-the-Pooh, than the proud, one-time racer she once was.
“Her head was so low she looked completely dejected, like she’d just been sold,” Kilcer says. “Her head was down to her knees, and her ears flapped out, sideways, until I said hello.”
That did it.
“As soon as she heard me say, ‘Hiya baby girl!’ her head snapped up,” she adds. “In that moment, I knew she was mine.”
Shortly after, Kilcer promised the gray beauty that she would never be sold again.
“Now that she’s mine, I go see her everyday at the same time. We have the same routine: I greet her; she gets a treat; she goes on the crossties; and, we ride,” Kilcer says. “She’s to the point now that she knows the sound of my car when I pull up.”
Kilcer was not a horsey kid who grew up in the saddle, far from it. Her parents couldn’t afford to give her riding lessons, and it wasn’t until she was 30 that she took her first one.
Learning on off-track Thoroughbreds, she found them a joy to ride. Unlike the big Warmbloods she tried, the Thoroughbreds, with their Ferrari-quick responsiveness, shifted into faster gear with the slightest squeeze.
Kilcer, on the other hand, needed a lot more coaxing to move forward on buying her first horse. Too much logic argued against it, she says.
“It’s terrifying, emotionally, because I have a being on this planet who is going to live until her 20s, and I’m responsible for her,” she says, noting that it’s an expensive proposition. “I
have to pay board, dental, for shoes, and the chiropractor. There are the essential and then the nonessential costs. And, I also used to check on her so much I started to feel like a mom who constantly checks her newborn to make sure she’s still breathing.”
She admits to calming down since taking the plunge.
After all, she wasn’t a girl to be swayed by the first 300 horses. It took something really special for that.
“Never did I think I would fall head over heels for a gray mare.”