Four years had passed since Amy Smith’s mother died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 56.
As she faced the prospect of spending Christmas alone in her Washington, D.C. apartment, the thought occurred to her that were her mother alive, she would tell her to use her inheritance to embrace life and make herself happy.
“This was when I decided I was ready to buy a horse,” Smith says. “So, the morning after Christmas, I got up at 6 a.m., had a cup of coffee and went to look” at seasoned campaigner Silent Thunder who was stabled at Penn National.
Before she met the “wrapper-brown” gelding, she had been considering another horse. But after spending 20 minutes in his company, she called to cancel her plans and paid cash, on the spot, for the scraggly guy with an ugly sarcoid in his ear.
“His trainer, Marsia Wolfe, practically begged me to take him,” Smith says. “I remember that she said, ‘Look. He’s been on the CANTER listing for two months, and he shouldn’t be: he’s such a great horse.’ ”
Race name: Silent Thunder
Dam: Acquired Merit, of Woodman
Foal date: 1996
Winnings: $219,723; 86 startsSo, having no experience with racehorses, apart from being an avid racing fan and an ardent admirer of the breed, Smith took possession of Silent Thunder on New Year’s Day, 2006.
And with the arrival of the talented racehorse, so strong a runner that he finished in the money in more than half his starts, and even ran as a stakes horse, it was as though he helped sweep the pain and sadness away.
“I was doing a lot of soul searching before I got Thunder,” she says. “He grounded me, and he helped fill a hole in my life.”
And together, they learned how to work with each other.
Smith had previously ridden Arabians as a girl, and had no experience on Thoroughbreds. And Thunder, for his part, was entirely confused by the indoor arena the first time he stepped in.
“The first time I rode him, I tacked him up, and he was dancing everywhere. I was a little scared,” Smith admits. “But, as soon as we got into the indoor arena, he went flat-footed” and was calmer.
For the next year, the pair practiced the three gaits, and, “We learned it ourselves, with Thunder being a very willing participant in figuring it all out.”
After another year, Smith moved Thunder to a barn closer to home, and she credits this move with sparking the brilliant hunter experience the two now enjoy.
Under the mentorship of Edgewood Farm barn owner Bonny Darcey, Smith and her willing mount learned to maneuver a jumps course with the rhythm of a metronome, she says.
“He turned out to have a phenomenal jump in him. He tucks his legs up under him, and then departs with an even, beautiful canter,” she says.
Although yes, there have been times when the ride hasn’t felt as smooth as it should—“During our first schooling show, I held my breath and prayed as we went around a 2-foot course, and after, I told my coach he’d run away with me, which he hadn’t.”— the pair has pretty much conquered the world. At least, the local horse show world.
Among the highlights, Thunder was named the 2010 Preliminary Adult Hunter champion for the state of Maryland, within the circuit of the Maryland Horse Shows Association. And, in 2011, he qualified for the USEF Zone 3 finals in the three-foot division.
He has also made several appearances at the Thoroughbred Celebration Horse Show in Lexington, VA, and has qualified for the Hunter Classic there.
And the list of awards goes on and on.
Whenever they get a trophy or a ribbon, her husband Russ, whom she met in 2007, makes sure his Silent Thunder Pit Crew hat is sitting squarely on his head as he does the honor of jogging the horse back into the ring to accept the award.
While Smith, should anybody ask, is delighted to tell onlookers that the winner this day is an ex-racehorse Thoroughbred who ran 86 times.
“I take every opportunity I can to tell people that he is a horse who did not leave the track until he was 10,” she says. “He is a testament to the fact that off-track Thoroughbreds who have a lot of starts are not ‘run down’ or ‘used up,’ as people say.”
Smith often thinks of her mother in these moments, and of how pleased she would be to see her daughter doing so well.
“When I thought about what to do with the money I’d inherited, I decided I didn’t want to spend it on something frivolous, that could just be ‘gone.’
“I felt like I had something that was a part of her, that she had left to me” to do something really special, and to do it right.
The funds were only to be used as an “emergency horse fund,” supplementing her income, if necessary, for unpredictable expenses.
Her mother’s money guaranteed much. But, good luck, or fait, also played a hand in her decision to buy a horse with the spirit of Silent Thunder.
“If there ever was a horse that was grateful for a chance at a new life, it’s Thunder,” she says.
“He’s the kindest soul you will ever meet.”
Kind, like her Mom. And good, like all that has come her way since those difficult, dark days back in 2001.
—This story was originally published on March 27, 2012.