Blowing hard like a mythical black beast, he was at once horrifying and captivating.
While forcing one woman to back out of a chance to ride, he drew Mellisa Davis Warden to him like the proverbial moth to a flame.
“I went with my friend to check out this horse named Davy Jones, and when we got to the barn, he was being tacked up and seemed to be breathing fire,” Warden says. “He looked like he was explosive, like he was ready to go.
“My friend looked at me and said, ‘I’m not getting on that horse! He’s horrifying!’ And I said, ‘I’ll get on him!’ I got on in a pair of running shoes and jeans, and jogged him along the shedrow—he was amazing.”
The 15-year-old war horse gave her quite a ride. He’d already powered through 100 starts on the track, earning $300,000 before they met, and for the duration of the ride, he surged forward like they were going to battle.
Sire: Sea Salute
Dam: Lady by Design
Foal date: May 16, 1998
Earnings: $300,945 and 100 starts“Oh my God, this was such an advanced horse,” she says. “I went home and told my husband we were going to bring him home and see how it goes.”
How it went was touch-and-go.
Just before he was to be shipped to her home in Aiken, S.C., Davy had a dramatic reaction to a routine intramuscular injection of the drug Banamine, which triggered an ugly systemic infection requiring drains be placed in his neck to help flush out the infection, she says.
For five days at the end of April, Davy battled fever and infection that took months to completely clear.
When it was safe for the sick animal to be turned over to his new owner, Warden knew on one level it was probably crazy to take on a sick, older horse. But the connection she felt, and the power of the horse, was nearly unmatched. The only other who had inspired her as much as this wayward black animal, her so-called “horse of a lifetime,” was a cherished Thoroughbred who had recently died, and in Davy she saw a second chance at getting that partnership back.
“Davy gave me the same feeling my favorite horse did. He was such an amazing animal that I had a hard time staying on him. Riding him, I felt a little out of control, but never in a scary way, because I also trusted him,” she says.
So day and night, she took care of him. She flushed his open wounds, pulling dead tissue from infected holes in his neck, until by June, his three largest wounds had mostly healed.
When he was well again, and a saddle placed once more on his back, Davy proved to be everything she’d hoped for. A fantastic mover who would do his grandfather Seattle Slew proud, he bravely faced down obstacles at his first novice event.
“My friend Sarah Hansel rode him for me at his first event, and what was amazing to me was how this very plain, big, black horse drew a crowd,” she says. “There’s just something about him that attracts people. He can be warming up, and all of a sudden there’s six or seven people standing around just watching him.
“Or he’ll be standing at the horse trailer and people are just drawn to him. Without being able to tell you anything verbally, he’s so expressive, that he just pulls people towards him.”
Some people said that Davy used to be so powerful on the track that it took two people and a chain over his nose to lead him around, she says.
But now he holds that power in check as he folds into life on Warden’s farm. “He’s so powerful he could destroy me,” she says. “But instead he has breathed fire into my life.”