Long before Nancy Perry assumed the helm of a powerful position at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), she was a horse-crazy kid riding around the California show circuit on her off-track Thoroughbred.
She owned that horse until he died at age 26, and cherished his memory as she went on with her life.
Eventually she became the senior vice president of government relations at the ASPCA, a role that would find her lobbying hard in Washington against horse slaughter. And as she worked, her childhood love of Thoroughbreds was rekindled so intensely that as she neared her 50th birthday, Perry did something she never thought she would: She got a horse for Christmas!
“I’ve been working for many years on the horse-slaughter issue, at the state and federal level, and I’ve lobbied on that issue for many years,” Perry says. “And over time, it started seeping back into my consciousness that I really missed having a horse in my life.”
Brush On By
New name: Atticus
Dam: Special Brush
Foal date: April 15, 2004
Earnings: $243,967 in 70 startsSo with her husband’s urging, she sought the assistance of Bev Strauss of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue in locating a Thoroughbred for her, and on Dec. 17th, Perry adopted Atticus (Jockey Club: Brush On By), a successful racehorse who was retired immediately after his owner and trainer Marcia Wolfe discovered he had soreness in his suspensory.
That decision, Perry notes, is laudable, not only because it afforded her the opportunity to fulfill her dream to own a horse again, but most importantly, because it gave Atticus a chance at a second career. “This trainer stopped him before he got hurt, which is great,” Perry says, noting, “I wish more trainers would do this.”
And what a trusting, elegant and dignified racehorse he is.
Despite a long career in racing, the imposing looking dark bay has remained so trusting of humans, almost doglike, that the second time Perry met him, he didn’t bother to stand up from his comfy position lying flat in his field.
“Somehow he had managed to get his blanket off, and he was in the field napping when I walked right up to him,” she says. “He stayed on the ground, he was so trusting, and I thought he was more like a big dog than a horse.”
Seeing this side to him, after already being dazzled by his bold looks “wedged open her heart” as she realized he was both beautiful and kind.
“I spent two hours in his stall with him, brushing him and getting a feel for him. He’s gentle and sweet, but he has dignity and a spark,” she adds. “Any horse who could race until he’s 9 and retain that much of a sense of self is very special.”
And when she rode him, he listened to her aids, and felt like the perfect fit.
Though his trot is prancy, even choppy, he fit her perfectly. And he tried so hard, even if he didn’t understand, sometimes, exactly what she wanted, Perry adds.
Once the decision was made to adopt him, Perry and her husband left their house at 4:30 a.m. to get him ready for the ride from Strauss’s facility to his new barn.
“I wanted to wrap his legs —I hadn’t wrapped a horse in 20 years— and brush him so that when he showed up at his new barn, he presented well,” she says, explaining that it was important to her that other boarders, who own different breeds, see the elegance of an ex-racehorse.
And he did not disappoint!
“When he stepped off the van, he looked awesome, stunning,” she says. “He just walked into his stall and settled right in.”
And later in the field, as he was introduced to the herd, he mingled well with all the horses, from the meekest to the Alpha ones. And he made a friend of another OTTB. “This other ex-racehorse walked right up to him, ears forward, they sniffed each other and they were side-by-side after that,” she says.
On Christmas morning, Perry and her husband plan to drive to the farm with apples and carrots for their new off-track Thoroughbred, enjoying their new friend, and feeling good that another ex-racehorse has landed softly in this world.
“Taking Atticus meant that Bev could go right out and take in another horse,” she says. “This has been the best Christmas ever for us!”