A bolt of dread shot up her spine.
Racing through the news story, fear clutched her heart as Elisabeth Leahy’s thoughts turned to the dappled gray horse who belonged to Ernie Paragallo; a man who would eventually be imprisoned on 33 counts of animal cruelty.
With growing horror, she read how Paragallo had been arrested during an SPCA sweep of his New York farm. That approximately100 sickly horses were removed by the truckloads in the raid, none of course mentioned by name, as she was left only to wonder, and with a sinking feeling in her heart; was he okay?
Could she find him?
Leahy’s thoughts were focused like a laser on a little known racehorse named Helios.
Months earlier, Leahy had met the 17.2 hand dappled gray at the veterinary clinic where she worked as a technician. He was recovering from tieback surgery to correct a breathing problem, and she grew fonder of the animal the more time she spent in his company. “I spent a lot of time hand grazing him and getting to know him, and I loved him right away,” she says. “It’s hard to explain. He was just the type of horse that communicates with you with a look, and he’s very, very smart.”
Race name: Helios
Sire: Stormin Fever
Dam: Ghost Colony
Foal date: April 2004
Earnings: $33,074By the time the animal was released from the veterinary clinic, Leahy had staked her claim and had informed everybody that she wanted him when he retired.
But the news story recast her hopes into a mission to find him and save him, if she could.
For two months Leahy searched.
“I called everybody I could think of,” she says. “I didn’t know where he was. I didn’t know what track he was at.”
After two months however, with the help of the veterinarian at her clinic and Diana Baker, whose husband worked for Spring Hill Farm where he was bred, and a horse-welfare advocate, Helios was eventually tracked to Aqueduct, and an offer was made.
At first, it seemed the trainer wanted to keep racing him, but then, on May 28 she received the call she had been hoping for. “The trainer asked, ‘When you come get him?’ And on May 29th I got him,” she says.
Borrowing a friend’s trailer, she drove to the racetrack, located her dream horse, who looked as lovely as ever, and quickly unwrapped his racing wraps and replaced them with shipping boots. “The grooms all looked at me like they didn’t know what I was doing!” she says, noting that whether Helios recognized his old friend or not, she’s unclear. But he followed her without hesitation onto the trailer.
Just five-years-old and fresh off the track, Leahy planned to let him down over the summer and start light training in the fall. But three days later, unable to contain herself, she had him all tacked up and trailblazing the 80-acre property around her barn.
“He was perfect. I had a friend put a lead rope on him and we walked around the whole property— he loved it.”
Five months later they went to their first one-day event, and he was equally agreeable.
Standing patiently awaiting his turn, Helios even fell asleep at one point. And when she mounted him later in the afternoon to ride the three phases of the test, he was simply well behaved. It was a good day at the eventing grounds and the perfect ending to a perilous start.
These days Helio takes a break from competition while Leahy concentrates on a college education and the hope for admission to a veterinary school.
But wherever the journey takes her, there is one stalwart character that won’t come and go—Helios.
Pals to the end, the dappled gray gentleman is her constant companion.