Jaguar Hope like a cinematic star when Wendy Wooley snapped his picture and later turned the image loose on the world.
Regal, his black head held high, he sashayed around his new paddock with the flair of a leading man.
And on a warm August day in 2007, when Wooley framed the charismatic Thoroughbred with her then-amateur photography skills, she unwittingly captured a fleeting moment that would lead to love, a new career and even influence in the movie War Horse.
What started the “chain reaction” of change in her life began with that snapshot, which was taken the first day she let Jaguar Hope have a romp in the paddock after having spent nine years on the racetrack.
Wooley liked the image so much that she commissioned a painting of it by well-known English artist Ali Bannister. And in an exciting twist of fate, the photo-turned-painting was somehow discovered by major motion picture filmmaker Steven Spielberg, and soon the image of her spunky ex-racehorse, on his first day of turnout, was emblazoned across promotional baseball caps for the film War Horse.
Dam: Enduring Hope
Foal date: 1998Wooley explains, “I commissioned a painting of Jaguar Hope from the picture I’d taken, and the painting impressed movie staff so much that the artist, Ali Bannister of London, was hired on as equine artistic adviser for the film,” she says, noting that artist’s name appeared in film credits.
But perhaps the most exciting development in her life came after meeting her most ardent admirer, EquiSport Photos owner Matt Wooley. The longtime photographer reached out to Wooley after noticing her work in various online venues, and the pair arranged to meet up at an equine event in Kentucky.
Shortly after, they were married. And Wooley relocated from Michigan to Kentucky to join her husband working on his photography business, and riding horses in their off hours.
“I guess you could say my life is so much richer for having been associated with horses,” she says, chuckling. “Before Jaguar came into my life, I was a hobbyist with a camera, and I only wanted to get great photos of him because he was so good looking. I just got hooked on photography.”
In the process of knowing and training Jaguar Hope, she also became passionate about learning dressage and teaching her ex-racehorse a new career. In every choreographed step, he proved to be a talented horse who moved easily from a nine-year racing career into the new discipline.
“He loved the work. He was a real thinker, and I could tell that he liked to be wondering what we would do next,” she says.
Sadly, their time together was brief.
In March 2009, Jaguar Hope broke his leg in a paddock accident that nobody saw. He was discovered standing at the far end of a field, unable to move his rear leg. There was no medical intervention that could save him, she says.
In her grieving process, she commissioned the painting she felt showed him at his best—a “macho man who couldn’t take a bad picture.”
Wooley blogs about the many twists and turns her life has taken since she bought her ex-racehorse in Racehorse To Showhorse. Not only did Jaguar lead to the brush with fame, her newfound love, and now-robust photography career, but she also decided, based upon her remarkable experience with her first OTTB, to buy another one.
Hola Bright, a gray off-track Thoroughbred, was completely opposite to Jaguar Hope. Where the black was regal and beautiful, Hola, or Ollie, was a little needy, and less sure of himself.
Where she’d dreamed of taking Jaguar to big horse shows and reaping many blue ribbons, she is more realistic about Ollie’s future. Her goals have been to bring him to small shows and work on her balance as a rider.
Learning to ride Ollie is part of the unbelievable ride she has been on since Jaguar Hope first entered her life and carried her away to a new career and love.
Life contines to show her a new path, one filled with chances and opportunities she never dreamed of.
After exiting a 20-year-career with the United States Golf Association to pursue equine photography full time, Wooley now spends her time capturing the beauty of other great Thoroughbreds, on and off the track, and her photos appear in major racing publications across the country.
And so much of her newfound life is owed to one horse, Jaguar Hope, who she misses everyday, but is grateful to have known. If only briefly.
“Jaguar Hope has caused chain reactions in my life that have changed my world.”— This story was originally published on Dec. 2, 2011. ♥