On cold nights, former race trainer and Vietnam veteran Herbie Harris slept in his car.
And when the nights in Franklin County, Ohio were a little warmer, he bedded down in a small feed room in the barn where he kept 11 ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds, which he could neither afford, no turn away.
While Harris subsisted on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and handouts from friends, the 65-year-old ex-race-trainer from Charles Town and Beulah parks, struggled to stretch his meager Social Security check to buy enough feed for those he had taken in.
“I am an animal lover and all of these horses (were) my heart—everything,” Harris says in a telephone interview with OffTrackThoroughbreds.com.
But in the end, Harris couldn’t feed them enough.
They started dropping weight, and last month, all but two horses were taken in by horse-welfare organizations, including New Vocations Racehorse Adoption.
The Marysville, Ohio chapter of the adoption center joined the Capital Area Humane Society in an effort to re-home nine horses, three of whom came to New Race name: Red At Nite
Sire: Island Storm
Dam: Our Side Out, by Topsider
Foal date: April 1, 2004
Earnings: $82,575Vocations on Jan. 10. The rest were dispersed at other horse-welfare facilities.
When Harris’ horse, Red At Nite arrived at New Vocations, horse trainer Amy Allison immediately understood why the veteran was so devoted.
The 16-hand flashy chestnut, unmarked but for a small white star and stripe on his face, has the spunk and determination to make some lucky owner a wonderful pleasure horse, she says.
Nervous at first, unsure what to do in his flat class, Red quickly showed willingness to do whatever was asked of him.
“He is growing more confident everyday,” Allison says, noting that though he has some osselets, he has flexion in his fetlocks and is a terrific candidate for a pleasure horse. She added that they have not yet tried jumping him.
She credits Harris for the obvious care he gave them.
“He did a really good job,” Allison says. “I met him, and he’s such a kind man. He really cared about his horses.”
Although Red and two others, Leenascowboydallas and Dancing Bull, needed to gain weight, their condition was really “pretty decent,” she adds.
And their personalities were good too. They all enjoyed being petted and handled by people, Allison says.
When she first met Harris, she expected to find a much different sort, Allison admits. She has met all kinds working in the horse world, but Harris was a surprise to her.
He was living in difficult circumstances and she had only come to donate hay, but as she clasped his hand and looked into his face, she saw a “good hearted” man who was trying in vain to help at-risk horses.
“He already had two of his own, but then he started taking horses that were abandoned or in need, and tried to give them a home,” she says. “When I saw the horses, they were in much better condition than I expected.”
Although Harris says all his horses were his favorites, he always had a soft spot for Red, a hard-knocking veteran of the racetrack. The eight-year-old gelding earned $82,000 in 47 starts on the track before Harris took him in.
“He was a horse like me, he was a fighter,” Harris says. “He was very determined. I adore horses like that.”
Now, as New Vocations continues to re-train Red and his two compatriots, and Harris shares a rental with roommates, as he lays his head down on his pillow each night, he feels good knowing his horses are all safe. “Thank God they’re not going to the killers,” he says.