At just a year old, she had already seen herd mates die of starvation, while others around her wallowed sick and starving in filth. The smallest among a massive herd of 177 Thoroughbreds at an upstate New York farm, she struggled daily to get by on thin rations, yet still survive.
But Annie didn’t cower.
Not when the Columbia-Greene Humane Society/SPCA raided the farm in the Hudson River Valley where she and more than 170 other horses like her languished; not when she was taken away to live with new owners; and not when, against all probability, she went on to work with legendary Seattle Slew trainer Billy Turner.
Race name: Notinrwildestdremz
Barn name: Annie
Dam: Shelley’s Wind
Foal date: April 8, 2008“She stood with such confidence,” says Angelika Hala-Kerr, recalling the first time she and her husband Sean Kerr met Annie, one of three Thoroughbreds they would adopt after a raid on owner and breeder Ernie Paragallo’s farm in April 2009. “Nothing frightened her.”
Small as she was, just over 14 hands, the little girl the Kerrs adopted gamely took on everything that was asked of her over the years, including race training with Seattle Slew’s legendary trainer Billy Turner to become the only Thoroughbred rescued from Paragallo’s farm to run a real horserace.
Though Annie finished last in the only race she’ll ever run, the Kerrs declared her Belmont Park race on May 16, 2012 a victory. For all the abandoned horses thought of as “discards,” her no-holds-barred run for the finish line showed that in the heart of a Thoroughbred racehorse is the boldness to charge forward through anything.
“This was a discard, a horse who could have ended up in a slaughter auction,” Hala-Kerr says. “We tried to show the industry, the powers that be, that she deserved the chance” to eclipse her stark beginnings on Paragallo’s farm.
Paragallo was eventually convicted of 33 counts of animal cruelty for starving and neglecting horses on his Hudson Valley Farm, and was sentenced to two years in jail, according to the NY Times.
And Annie the “firecracker” found her place in the world.
Leased for $1 a year by small animal veterinarian Michele McKenna from the Kerr family, who vowed never to sell their rescue horse, Annie is continuing to break new ground as a rare Thoroughbred participant in the equine sport of Mounted Games.
McKenna was unaware of Annie’s past when she met the horse by happenstance at her Maryland barn, and was immediately taken by her personality under saddle.
“The first time I sat on her, I thought, ‘Oh my God, I love this horse!’ Even though she’s little, she has this bring-it-on personality,” McKenna says.
Nothing fazed her. In fact, she seemed to welcome new challenges, she adds.
“I took her along to a foxhunt one day, and my (main) horse threw a shoe, so I looked at her and said, ‘OK Annie, today’s your day.’ When all the hounds came rushing off the trailer, like a swarm, she didn’t even react. She’s got that kind of mind, it’s like she’s ready for anything.”
Soon after her hunting experience, McKenna turned Annie over to her daughter Laura Barbour to ride in Mounted Games, which, she explains, takes a cool equine head.
In teams of four, horse and riders race in relays against the clock to perform a variety of challenges. They joust at the gallop; they race up to balloons to pop them; and all the while, other teams of four dart about the arena in what looks like nothing more than a chaotically choreographed dance.
“She’s this amazing horse, McKenna says. “There’s not a lot of fear in her, and she has this spark. When I first met Annie, I had no idea about her backstory. But when I learned that she was the only one out of all those rescued horses to make it to racetrack, and that she trained with Billy Turner, who trained Seattle Slew, I got goosebumps. And it made sense.”
McKenna’s daughter agrees wholeheartedly.
“Annie is easily one of the most intelligent horses I have ever ridden,” Barbour says. “She’s incredibly brave and level-headed.”
Barbour, who has traveled to Wales for the Royal Welsh Show, France for La Nocturne, and New Zealand for the 2013 Mounted Games World Team Championships, is no slouch when it comes to judging the character of a mount. In Annie, she sees the makings of a champion.
After starting Annie in the Green Pony division of Mounted Games, she was amazed at how well the tiny Thoroughbred took to it. “Mounted Games can be a bit overwhelming for horses that are new to it; balloons are popping, flags are flying, and other ponies gallop straight toward them for handoffs,
while others gallop beside them, weaving through poles,” she says. That scene, combined with riders who jump on and off their mounts to the cheers and waves of fans is too much for most horses.
“Annie was a bit anxious at first, but as soon as she figured out what was going on, and that it was fun and competitive, she immediately loved it,” she says. “She is naturally a very competitive mare and wants to win.”
Annie competes in the upcoming Open Division of the Great Frederick Fair on Sept. 13 but in our book, she’s already won.
Off-TrackThoroughbreds.com congratulates Angelika Hala-Kerr, Sean Kerr, Michele McKenna and Laura Barbour for seeing the light in Annie.
9 responses to “Starved, rescued and raced, Annie powers on”
Are we all so tired of the neglect of Thoroughbreds by these greedy breeders who like Paragallo abuse and kill many mares for breeding. The tracks need to step up collectively to provide a percentage of the purse money, breeders fees, etc to have a safety net for these souls. The money is in the purses and the horses who earn it are left out. Sure it is heartwarming to read these success stories but what about the ones who died of starvation and squalor , no help for them.
How could you not love a little mare with so much heart? It is good to see she landed in a good place with good people.
As a part owner of Annie thru 5R Stables, I am glad she is doing well. She is above all a loving horse and loves to put her head on your shoulder for hugs. Also loves peppermint candy! We are keeping an eye on her care and well being. She is worth it. A real sweet horse.
Dremz is the most awesome horse. She tries so hard despite an awful start in her life through no fault of her own. Now she repays everyone with heart and more heart.
As Unbridled’s trainer told his owner “he’s a winner, he’s a winner! I think Dremz is without a doubt every bit a champion as Unbridled.
It’s good to hear that she has a successful 2nd career once again proving that no horse deserves to be thrown away. It takes a bit of time, creativity and a willingness to go outside the box. See what happens when you do!
She’s a real keeper. What a tiny tempest and such a sweet face!
What a wonderful story and happy ending.
Thanks to all of you for helping this sweet horse. She is just a little tiger….!
I was lucky enough to be a part of the journey of Notinourwildestdremz, now known again as “Annie”. The Kerrs are wonderful people who have not given up on any of their horses, though they seem to have the worst luck in racing. Along with Annie, the Kerrs adopted 2 other horses from the farm raid.
SAVING MISS DIXIE (by Adonis – out of Aintjustwhistlen’ by Dixieland Band) was bred through an incredible offer to Winstar Farm stallion Spring At Last but didn’t stay pregnant and the decision was made not to try again at this time. She has become an incredible riding horse after a shoulder injury would have made a racing career too hard on her.
CAPTAIN CRIMESCENE (by Griffinite – out of Party Forever by Is It True) was diagnosed with hydrocephalus; he lives happily in a herd of mares and geldings.
Sean and Angelika are truly amazing for taking in these three little souls. It was an amazing journey watching them progress. Everyone has high hopes for them all. It was truly a dream come true to see DREMZ make her way to the track for her short career. Seeing her on the track that rainy day as she made her way to the gate, she was so small compared to the others, even her pony horse, but she tried her best with ears forward! It is such a blessing for everyone to see them all healthy and happy in their new lives. Go Annie and Laura!!! Love you little ANNIE the peppermint bandit!!
Love these Griffinite mares!