Rocketing toward the finish line, in a frenzied, final push to win, the dark bay gelding stumbled suddenly, and went crashing to the ground.
Just shy of the final pole at the Finger Lakes Race Track last year, the great warhorse began to fall, but before completely hitting the dirt, Out From Africa did what he had done so faithfully in his grindingly long seven-year career. He finished the race.
When the strikingly beautiful gelding who, by now, had grown nasty and had soured on people, regained his feet, he was placed 8th in Race 2 on June 6, 2011.
But the big race wasn’t over.
As he was led back to the shedrow, the 10-year-old who had ground out nearly $300,000 in winnings, putting his connections in the money in 40 of 81 starts, was about to face an uncertain future, and some might say, the race of his life.
“He had already been through several hands in the last five years of his racing career,” says Claire Taylor of New Vocations Racehorse Adoption.
“He’d begun showing signs that he was done with racing; he became closed off, started biting and kicking, and was so unruly in the paddock, that it took several people to Race name: Out From Africa
Sire: Cape Town
Dam: Sweet Leader
Foal date: May 12, 2002
Earnings: $292,399saddle him” before a race.
But despite making so many trips to the winner’s circle, a warhorse like Out From Africa could not expect a hero’s welcome at most retirement or retraining facilities, Taylor says.
“Nobody wanted an older, unhappy horse that was a cribber with a nasty disposition,” she explains.
But, when it appeared that Out From Africa had few options, and worse, faced possible euthanasia, a woman identified as a “good Samaritan” took him in, and started his rehabilitation while she looked for a facility where she could place him for re-training and eventual adoption, Taylor says.
“She tried several rescues and adoptions centers, and even pleaded on the Internet for someone to give him a home,” Taylor says. “Finally, New Vocations was contacted, and on a chilly November day in 2011, he made the trip to our facility in Marysville, Ohio.”
That’s where ex-racehorses get gentle retraining, and as much TLC as they can stand, and where Out From Africa finally began to develop a renewed vigor for life, and a desire to be back in step with his kind.
“His transformation really started at the farm of the good Samaritan who took him. She reported to us that at first, he stayed in his stall, even though she left the door open,” says Amy Allison, farm manager and trainer at New Vocations. “But as he decompressed on her farm, he started going outside, and eventually he integrated with the herd.”
And, after arriving at New Vocations, although his quirks were still there, he “started to turn very sweet, very fast,” Allison says.
“It was as though he figured out that life was going to get good. He became a joy to have around,” she adds.
Within three short weeks of his arrival, he has wormed his way into the kind heart of equine veterinarian Molly McOwen, with whom he is making a permanent home in Ohio.
Did she set out to buy an ornery ex-racehorse Thoroughbred? No.
But, while helping a client of her practice look over videos of adoption prospects at New Vocations, her interest was piqued by the horses in their care.
“I actually wanted a horse who was a little older, with some mileage and more maturity to his brain,” she says. “So, I told the people at New Vocations that if they get someone who’s in the double digits (in age) to give me a call.”
When that call came in a short time later, McOwen wasn’t exactly biting. But then she saw photos, and the nicely put together racehorse looked more appealing.
And once she read his story and saw his videos, her heart melted.
“He’s had such a hard-knock life and I’m well versed with dealing with animals with baggage—it seems most of my barn is filled with misfits,” she says. “I’ve got a soft spot for these guys.”
Out From Africa has not been an easy horse.
One difficult moment came suddenly, as McOwen was trying to measure him for a girth. “My husband was holding him at the head, and I was cinching up the girth—it wasn’t even tight—and just that contact on the belly caused him to panic. He went into a full meltdown.
“We got him settled down and I turned him out in the paddock and was just on the verge of calling New Vocations and telling them it wasn’t working. But this was a Sunday and they were closed, so maybe there were some winds of fate working there.”
Wondering if she’d adopted a crazy horse and a mean fighter, McOwen walked out to the field to check on him; she found him lying down.
As she drew closer, unlike most horses who would scramble to a stand when approached by a person they don’t know well, he stayed where he was.
McOwen inched closer.
“I squatted down near his shoulder and explained to him that I’m offering him a really good life. I said I wouldn’t ask much of him, and that he’d get really good food, and get to go trail riding,” she says. “But I said he had to meet me half way.
“Then I got up and walked over to another horse in my field, and Out From Africa got up, walked over to me and put his forehead right against my chest. I know. It sounds so anthropomorphic, but I couldn’t believe it.”
Now every day is better than the previous one.
With gentle lunging exercises and regular grooming sessions, his personality has blossomed.
Add to that the several rides they’ve had, all gone very well and quite fun, and slowly but steadily, he is learning to be a horse again.
“I’m proud of my little boy,” McOwen says. “It’s a lot of fun just watching his metamorphosis from an angry, hateful, sour animal to one starting to enjoy life again, and starting to build a trusting bond.”
The video below shows Out From Africa under saddle at New Vocations shortly after he arrived.