No way, Jessie Cameron thought. The animal in question looked more like a Quarter Horse than a sleek-bodied racehorse, and she was sure she could do better.
So sure, that every weekend for months, the avid eventer and U-Mass Mounted Police officer, stalked the Suffolk Downs backside, sleuthing for a horse to event with after college. Traipsing up and down the dusty shedrows, she peeked into stalls, and beseeched trainers to pull their horses out for her inspection.
And when she wasn’t on the backside, she was on the computer, poring over CANTER New England Trainer Listings.
“I had very specific requirements. I’m tall, so I needed a horse with body,” Cameron says. “My mother was helping me narrow it down—she had a whole spreadsheet worked out that described whether the horse was narrow, and whether they had quirks.”
It was her mother who prevailed upon her to look at the chunky fellow with the build of a Quarter Horse.
“So, I called his trainer and asked if we could come see his horse, and he told me he wasn’t for sale anymore! He said he’d won a second place, and was going to keep racing him. I couldn’t believe it!”
Not ready to give up, Cameron did a lot of fast-talking. She reasoned with the trainer that Fleet had Race name: Fleet Forum
Show name: Wellfleet
Sire: Open Forum
Dam: Afleet Closer
Foal date: March 9, 1999already been on the track for such a long time, nearly seven years, and that she might be ready to take him, should he need to find a home for the horse.
The trainer finally agreed, and Cameron was welcomed to Fleet Forum’s stall.
But as Cameron gushed over the coppery-colored horse, admiring him for his looks and demeanor —“he was like a giant puppy,” she says, the trainer dashed her hopes.
He’d changed his mind about selling, and planned to keep racing him.
Fleet Forum, he explained, was starting to hit the board again.
But Cameron wasn’t about to shrug her shoulders and accept the decision. She bargained, and eventually struck a deal. Both agreed that at the end of the 2006 racing season, Cameron would get her horse.
So, Cameron bided her time, and started going to the races.
She wanted to see how the good-natured “puppy dog” was running, and although it was “nerve-wracking to watch him dueling with other horses to the finish, it was also “pretty cool,” she says.
As the season continued, and Fleet Forum led the pack in a race, Cameron was watching when her horse announced that he was throwing in the towel. He was done with racing.
“It was really pretty funny,” she recalls. “He was leading the whole time, and then he was part way up the stretch, and he just quit. He stopped running. It was like he loped the rest of the way to the finish line.”
Seeing this, Cameron approached the trainer and struck a new deal. In exchange for a little more of a sales price, the trainer would let the horse go, and conclude his race career.
On Nov. 4, 2006, Fleet Forum came to live in Cameron’s small barn in Belchertown, Mass. He did a good job enjoying retirement, for about a month. Then he started getting into trouble, knocking down electric fences, and making a bit of a nuisance of himself. “He was bored,” Cameron says. “We’d been planning to let him relax for three months, but he let us know he was ready for a job.”
And he did not disappoint. On his first ride, the pair walked and trotted with such calm confidence that words like “bombproof” and “perfect,” sprang immediately to mind.
“The first time I rode him, he never spooked, he never bucked, and he never reared,” she says. “He didn’t make a wrong move! By the end of our first ride, we were walking and trotting really well.”
Training was interrupted when Cameron entered the Police Academy and later joined the U-Mass Police Department, and stalled again when she elected to have some minor calcification removed from Fleet’s fetlock.
But, by May 2011, the new cadet and her mount were winning events throughout the region. That year, they took third, fourth and first in events at King Oak, Chatham, NY, and Franklin, CT, respectively.
Their victories, combined with his desire to jump bigger and more challenging obstacles, is pushing them toward Training-level this summer, she says, noting, “He’s insulted if you put something too small in front of him. If you do, he’ll jump the standard!”
And the piece de resistance of their partnership came last July, at a Mounted Police Training Academy.
Cameron never intended to use him for her mounted-police work, but when a regular police horse pulled up lame, it was as though Fleet stepped from the wings to center stage.
“Everyone was laughing that I’d bring my own off-the-track Thoroughbred” to police training, she said. “He was exposed to things he’d never seen before. We learned to work with obstacles, and to push against large balls. And, We also learned control tactics, and how to make an arrest from a horse.
“He was a rock star!”
With every new experience designed to push him into sensory overload, he took it in stride. He walked on crushed plastic bottles and worked in close quarters, doing riding formations with other horses.
And the final test, at the end of an arduous day, was fireworks. Directly overhead.
“We were all preparing for the worst, but Fleet didn’t lose it. He kept it together, and not every horse did,” she says. “The people I ride with were just shocked that a horse who has raced as many times as he did, had the mentality to compose himself, and to act in the manner of the other horses.”
Now, her police buddies tell everyone that if they have the chance to buy an off-track Thoroughbred with a mentality like Fleet’s, they should snap him up.
And, Cameron is having the time of her life; she rides her flashy horse and wins both events and believers, along the way.