Steppenwolfer’s life after Derby loss is rosy

On a hunt. Photo courtesy Anne Hambleton

On a hunt. Photo courtesy Anne Hambleton

As a tremendous wall of horses surged toward the 2006 Kentucky Derby finish line, each powerful animal and tightly coiled jockey fighting for the honor of winning the fabled blanket of roses, it was one of the losers that day whose life would become, like lyrics to a song, a “promised rose garden.”

Though the gorgeous gray stallion Steppenwolfer was trounced by Barbaro and Bluegrass Cat, he finished a respectful third in racing’s most widely watched contest, but yet, in the contest for quality of life, eventually won the Triple Crown.

After his owners had the stallion gelded, they agreed to sell him with the promise that Steppenwolfer would never be sold after that, says Gail Thayer, a Pennsylvania horseman who was more than willing to welcome Steppenwolfer into her family of avid foxhunters.

“We were looking for another horse, and we heard that there was a horse for sale, but that there was this stipulation that he had to go to a good home, and that the people who took him had to promise never to get rid of him. Can you imagine?

“Well, my friend Sean Clancy told them, ‘Do I have the person for you!’ He knew I never sell my horses.”

In 2009, the somewhat aloof, thoroughly beautiful animal who Thayer had watched in the Derby, arrived Steppenwolfer
Sire: Aptitude
Dam: Wolfer
Foal date: March 16, 2003
Earnings: $653,459
at her Unionville home, where neighbors include Barbaro’s famous trainer Michael Matz and Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Shepherd.

“The Derby is a family and a neighborhood event, so I knew who Steppenwolfer was, and when we found out he was available, we just went for it,” she says.

He took to her farm and grass like somebody really had “promised him a rose garden,” and in time his aloof demeanor softened to reveal that he is really a softie for forehead rubs and cookies, and often gets quite cuddly to cajole those rewards.

When asked to bring a family member on a trail ride or foxhunt, he is an absolute pleasure, she says. Although he still clearly remembers his race days when moving out across a field with a pack of horses, Thayer says. “He can get really strong when the field starts to move on, and it’s like he says, ‘Wait a minute. I have to follow them?’ ”

Although he was entered in some point-to-point races last year, and his mind was willing, his body was just a little weaker as some minor arthritis had set in. “Right before a race, he got lame,” she says, noting that Steppenwolfer is very communicative these days on what he wants and does not want.

And as the family’s treasured pet, they are only too willing to comply with his wishes.

Life is sweet for Steppenwolfer

Life is sweet for Steppenwolfer. Photo courtesy Gail Thayer

Breakfast arrives promptly, everyday, between 7 and 7:30 a.m. After which, he takes a stroll to the top of the Thayer family’s beautiful field, and hangs out all day with a pasture buddy.  At around 3 p.m., he strolls back and has supper.

Some days, Thayer takes him out for a hack along the picturesque pastures that surround her neighborhood, including the famous Cheshire Foxhound property, with a panorama of rolling hills and post-and-rail fences.

Although the blanket of roses was not in the cards for Steppenwolfer, when it’s lights out in the barn, and the great racehorse settles in for the evening, he is with a family who loves him.

“He’s really just another member of our family,” Thayer says. “His owners wanted to make sure he wound up with someone who really cared for him, and that he would always be safe. And he is. We’ll always have him, until the end of his days.”

17 responses to “Steppenwolfer’s life after Derby loss is rosy”

  1. New York Racehorse

    […] Glad to say this is Steppenwolfer in his new forever home as a happy, foxhunting kind of gelding down the road from Michael Matz and Jonathan Sheppard. (Photo Courtesy of Gail […]

  2. susan kube

    I am so happy that Steppenwolfer found such a happy home. I bet on him too. I love these horses so much and wonder what happens to some of them. After I heard the sad news of Bond Holder and shedding so many tears; I receive this wonderful news of Steppenwolfer. Thank you for loving him and taking such wonderful care of him

  3. Nuala Galbari


    Another inspiring and terrific story and what a beautiful horse.
    This is the perfect life for Steppenwolf, and I like the addition of a safety strap and martingale for the hunting!

    The verdant pastures are Horse Heaven and it shows in his frolic! Many Blessings to you.


    p.s. Susan: Captain Jack is in training for his first show in Equitation sometime this season, possibly May or June.

  4. Bill Conklin

    I know the trainer and his wife who had Steppenwolfer when he was on the track, and they are two of the nicest and most caring people I know, and excellent trainers, to boot. I have only a nodding acquaintance with the former owners, but read them the same way.
    This was a terrific race horse, and it sounds like he’s been a lucky boy his entire life, going from one group of people who loved and cared for him, to another similar situation. And in the pictures, he looks terrific.
    Such a wonderful story!

  5. TBDancer

    ALL racehorses should be so lucky as to retire and live the life of a Steppenwolfer! Those of us who are owned by these fine horses do everything we can to make sure they are “fat and sassy” (with not too much of either quality ;o) and can live the life that is well deserved–whether they were in on the run for the roses or not.

  6. Donna

    Yay! Glad you found such a great story to write about!

  7. Judy in South Carolina

    Gail………you are an angel among humans…..thank you for giving this beautiful Thoroughbred a “forever home”. I remember him well!

    We would be so lucky to have more like you in the world. Give him a big nuzzle for me.

    This story made my weekend!

  8. bob

    i have a video of him in 2009 over the fences he finished and did very well

  9. Delrene Sims

    A terrific story and a happy ending for such a deserving horse. So good to hear he has found his forever home and is spoiled rotten. He is living the dream life. I wish it was true for all the former racehorses. Thank you for this update.

  10. Jean in Virginia

    He is just beautiful. I wish everyone could be with a family so loving and willing to care for them until the end of their lives. Thank you for this warm loving story.

  11. Linda R. Moss

    Susan – such a GREAT Friday story to end the week!!

    Gail – I too watched my OTTB while he was on the track – it is a feeling you cannot describe when they become available and actually become a part of your family – SO WONDERFUL! I am so happy for BOTH of you!!

  12. Judith Ochs

    I will look out for the great white fellow. I live nearby and come upon the hunt when driving. It is a really really cool sight to see – and not uncommon. Last Thanksgiving was amazing – the Cheshire Hunt began its 100th year and many of us non fox hunters gathered to see riders and hounds off. Good good life for this beautiful horse. He landed in the best place on earth (so did I!).

  13. Cynthia Cherry-Schif

    Having volunteered for years with IL Equine Humane Center, which led me to owning my own OTTB, and now a little race horse named Magna Fortuna, who was saved from slaughter when in-utero, I am sadly well-aware of all the bad things that can happen to a horse in its lifetime. The tagline for ILEHC is “Every horse has an owner. Every owner has a responsibility.” It rings in my head every day, as does the heart-felt, lifetime commitment I have to my horses. So glad to know you feel the same. Ride on!

  14. Greg Jones

    What a great way to start my Friday morning, thank you!

  15. Jon

    It is good to see him when he is out with the hunt. He still is a classy horse. He may not have won the blanket of roses, he has ended up with a great life.

  16. Brie

    Thank you for this post. I have been wondering what happened to him after his Derby run and Google searches hadn’t produced much! He was one of my favorites in the Derby and infact my very first Facebook Profile photo ever is a picture I took of him right after the race 🙂

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