This story was originally published on April 13, 2012.
In one of those ironic twists of fate, it was a layoff from her beloved job on the Sacramento, Calif. police force that led Alana Courville to discover her true “calling”— finding new paths and careers for ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.
Up until receiving her pink slip last June, Courville had kept her enthusiasm for horses as a sideline, and worked with gusto on community policing work and other projects for the force.
But when her career ended abruptly in a widespread layoff, if wasn’t the allure of fighting crime that fueled her imagination, but rather, it was a scraggly racehorse with pneumonia, who she had rehabilitated years earlier.
What if she could work full-time helping more horses like Baley Met?
“In 2008, I got a call from a friend about a horse on his way to Golden Gate, and he had pneumonia,” she says, recalling the first ex-racehorse Thoroughbred she ever helped save. “When I went to take a look at him, he was in full race form, but was really sorry looking.
“I took him home to my training facility, and was told by my vets that they couldn’t guarantee that he’d live through the weekend.”
That was February 2008.
Race name: Cardinal Newman
Show name: Hello Newman
Sire: Victory Gallop
Dam: Chime after Chime
Foal date: April 6, 2007
Race name: Baley Met
Sire: Truly Met
Dam: Time to Bale
Foal date: Feb. 15, 2004
Not only did he fill out, live, and become one of her most cherished lesson horses, but he also did a stint at official police ceremonies while she was still in uniform.
In May 2009, Baley Met stood alongside 100 other mounted horses in a state ceremony to honor fallen officers.
Lining a grassy strip that stretched along the road to the Capital Mall, he stood statue still as a procession of cars, with flashing lights and waving flags, passed nearby.
Later, when the 21-gun salute split the silence of the bright, spring day, and other horses flinched, Baley Met did not budge.
“He just stood there and looked off in the distance,” Courville says, adding, “I took him all over. We went to parades and the mounted unit even offered to buy him; he was a good face for the police department.”
After her success with Baley Met, Courville bravely took on other hard-luck cases. During her last three years as a police officer, she spent her off hours saying, “I will help!” to horses who had few, if any, options.
“In July 2010, a friend called to tell me there were three horses about to get on the truck headed to the feedlot. She said I had to take them,” Courville says. “I think we paid $100 each. And one of the horses among them was this three-year-old stallion with this huge, uphill build.”
After rehabbing from a bowed tendon, regaining some weight, and undergoing gelding surgery, Cardinal Newman became her “keeper.”
When she began training him, he “got it” quickly. And he worked lightly in the bridle, with his back up under him, and his hind end engaged, she says.
“My dressage trainer at the time said Newman was trying to do Grand Prix!” she recalls. “I’ve dealt with so many horses over the years, and when I got him, I said, ‘You are the one I’ve been waiting for.’ ”
A natural talent with abundant flair, the skinny $100 horse is destined for Grand Prix eventing, she says.
And, as her successes mount with a growing list of ex-racehorses, Courville admits that the part-time horse business has grown into something far bigger.
Two days after receiving her layoff notice, Courville’s career with horses went gangbusters. After working for several years at her own training facility, SunFire Equestrian Training at Fresh Start Stables in Davis, Calif., she joined a partnership at a sprawling 40-acre facility and helped to establish SunFire Eventing Center, LLC.
Here, she works full time training top-level riders and horses, and also, rescuing, rehabilitating and re-homing ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.
She teaches her students to understand and appreciate Thoroughbreds and often winds up selling the training horses to the students who learn on them.
“Some people say I have really good luck with the horses I’ve chosen, but I don’t think it’s luck at all. These horses are just amazing,” she says.
“It was a blessing in disguise when I got laid off. My mother says I’ve found my calling, that this is what I was meant to do. I was meant to work for these horses.”