Two chestnut Thoroughbreds from opposite sides of the track, one a “prince” from the very best background, the other a “pauper” abandoned in the Florida Everglades, glistened like bright copper pennies as they strode onto the Pimlico racetrack.
Though they marched onto the dirt track side-by-side last weekend to participate in theThoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, an event to honor the Thoroughbred sport horse, the pair took very different paths getting there.
Prodigioso was not so lucky.
Abandoned in the Florida Everglades last July, the SPCA discovered him by the roadside, freshly blinded in one eye, scarred, burned and emaciated. Please see an earlier article about Prodigioso in Off-TrackThoroughbreds.com.
Prodigioso regained his strength and zest for life after an intensive eight-month rehabilitation at Thoroughbred nonprofit Florida TRAC.
After that, Niagara, Canada horseman Marilyn Lee-Hannah and her daughter Robin Hannah, who were touched by his story and wanted to offer him a soft landing in a good home, adopted Prodigioso.
Prodigioso shows off his hunter/jumper skills at Pimlico under Robin Hannah while Marilyn Lee-Hannah narrates his story.
Around the same time, the mother-daughter team opened their barn to Zatopek so he could be schooled to participate in last weekend’s Thoroughbred Makeover Event, a national demonstration spearheaded by Steuart Pittman of the Retired Racehorse Training Projectto raise awareness about the worth of ex-racehorses.
“Before we even acquired Zatopek, we thought we would use Prodigioso for the makeover,” Lee-Hannah explains. “We thought, after all that he went through in the everglades, that if we could get him ready for the show, it would be an amazing story.”
But then they thought better of the idea. The horse had been through so much, and with his partial blindness, they were concerned he would be prone to spooking at the event. “We didn’t want to rush him, so we decided to see if there was another makeover horse out there,” Lee adds.
After Zatopek arrived, he went straight into training with Hannah. And, though he was not destined to go to the big show, she decided to train Prodigioso at the same time.
And the pair she calls her “prince and her pauper” matched each other, stride for stride, jump for jump.
When it was clear that Prodigioso was equal to the task, Lee-Hannah called event organizer Pittman and asked if he could somehow squeeze Prodigioso into the show, which had been limited to 26 horses. Though the demonstration was heavily booked, he said they’d find a way.
After surviving burns, cuts, and being blinded in the Florida everglades, Prodigioso’s story is broadcast at Pimlico
Nobody was disappointed Prodigioso was there.
When the pair strode out to the track together, Zatopek ridden by Hannah, and Prodigioso ridden by another rider, they sparkled equally. “They really looked amazing,” Lee says.
First Zatopek was ridden through a walk-trot-canter set and taken over small jumps. Then Hannah hopped off and mounted Prodigioso to ride the same demonstration.
And as he proudly displayed his new talents, Lee-Hannah narrated his story to a teary audience. “I was told there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” she says, adding, “I dubbed them ‘the prince and the pauper.’
“Zatopek has been treated the way he should be throughout his career and after. And Prodigioso’s life was the complete opposite … and he somehow found himself astray, in the Florida Everglades.”
At the end of the day, Prodigioso outshined his barn mate. And after the show, it was him the crowds came to see, standing in all his glory, in his stall.
“Everybody said they wanted to meet the Everglades horse,” Lee-Hannah says. “I’ve got to say that bringing that horse to the show, and telling his story, was one of the best things I’ve done.”