If ever there was a racehorse appropriately named, it’s Happy Bert.
Agreeable as Mr. Ed in the hit 60’s TV show, Happy Bert dispenses smiles the way the fictional white horse doled out advice.
There’s nobody who doesn’t get along with Happy Bert, says Marlene Murray, executive director of Thoroughbred charity R.A.C.E. Fund.
“When he first retired in 2009, his trainer contacted us and said that he had such a nice personality and was so sensible that he’d be really good with children, and she even thought he’d be good as a therapy horse,” Murray says.
Fast forward through a stint teaching federal inmates team-building and communications skills at a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation program, followed by re-training sessions at Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, which Race name: Happy Bert
Dam: Agiftfrom Bertie
Foal date: Jan. 2, 2002landed him at the S.T.A.R.S. (Special Troopers Adaptive Riding School) where Happy Bert brings smiles to children with disabilities and illness, and to their families, and you have a horse who shines as brightly as the flashiest racing stars.
“Bert’s a champ,” says Stacy Pedersen, executive director of the Sioux City program that aids people in need, from ages 2 to 83. “He does a really great job with youngsters, and even teenagers … and the most important thing he does is bring smiles, lots of smiles, to kids, family and parents.”
The 29-year-old nonprofit, which was founded by Sue and Mark Wheeler and is one of the oldest equine assisted programs in the country, welcomed Happy Bert into the fold two years ago.
Easy on the eyes, and a pleasure to be around, Bert seemed destined, right from the beginning, for a nice life after racing, says Murray, who recalls thinking how special he was when she was invited to Penn National to come meet the 16-hand gray.
“Patricia Lovato was his trainer at Penn National, and she always tries to do the right thing for her horses by finding them good homes. She’d called me to come take a look at Bert, and she told me he was great with children and would possibly be good with disabled children,” Murray says. “And when I went out to meet him he was just like this big ol’ Teddy Bear. He was sound. He was really nice looking. And I knew he had a future doing something.”
Murray facilitated Bert’s initial transfer from Penn National to the TRF and kept close tabs on his progress as he went on to retrain, and eventually landed as a therapy horse.
“Bert made $46,000 in lifetime earnings on the track, and then went on to contribute to society by helping disabled children and adults,” Murray says. “Everybody just loves him.”
Indeed, Bert is a go-to horse for riders of all ages and disabilities, Pedersen says, noting that he gently supports riders with cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis and many other illnesses and conditions. He is even used in a program for Hospice patients, she adds.
“I’ve been around horses my whole life, and it’s just awesome to see a retired Thoroughbred come in here” and help improve lives, Pedersen says. “People think of Thoroughbreds as being really high strung, but not Bert. He allows riders to put rings over his ears so they can stretch out, and others have ridden him backwards.”
She adds, “I always thought of Thoroughbreds as wanting to go-go-go all the time. But Bert is different. He understands that he has very special riders, and he has a very easy job helping them have fulfilling experiences.”
Chalk another win up for Happy Bert, a sweetheart of a horse who helps the sick and the disabled forget their worry and strife, for just a little while.
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