Taking the reins of the retired racehorse in her hands, literally and figuratively, Dione Carroll guided the tall dark bay further from the once star-studded path he’d been on; one of fabled barns and photo finishes and winner’s circles.
Now the cool-headed attorney from South Carolina and the impeccably bred Thoroughbred from Dogwood Stables, would throw their lot in together setting off on a journey of second chances and unexpected partnerships.
“When I first went looking for a horse to replace my fox hunter, who’s headed for retirement, I looked for a successor who had a little more experience, was a little older, and well trained,” Carroll says. “I told everyone I knew that I was looking for a horse.”
Sire: Empire Maker
Dam: Ship’s Cat
Foal date: Feb. 3, 2010And three weeks ago, her good friend Jim Rhodes presented her with the antithesis of what she sought. “I ran into Jim, the director of the Aiken Equine Rescue, and he said, ‘I know this isn’t exactly what you’re thinking about, but I just got a horse and I need you to come take a look.’ He knows me well, and he knows a young horse is not beyond my skill, but not my preference either.”
So on a brisk spring afternoon, brought together by word-of-mouth and friendship,
the trio assembled at Aiken Equine Rescue. And the well-seasoned equestrian, an avid fox hunter for 20 years, was charmed beyond reason. “He was just a dream!” she says. “He was a stallion at the time, but he was quiet and well behaved.”
After an inaugural ride, and his quick surgery to geld him, Carroll took Monarch Maker home and put him straight to work. “Everybody recommended it was important to get to work, so I started to lunge him. Then I lunged him with a saddle. Then I rode him, took him to a dressage lesson, and he was a rock star!”
Not one wrong foot has he placed on the handful of rides she has enjoyed with him. Over the weekend, while out riding with a friend, she introduced him to an 18-inch log jump. “He’s tall so I walked him over it, and then we trotted over it,” she says. “So he’s on his way to learning to jump.”
Though it’s early, Carroll has seen some wonderful indicators. When he first arrived at her farm, he had the “500 yard stare,” seeming preoccupied, a tad indifferent. But almost overnight, he got into the groove of his new environment, learned to love cookies —“He’d never eaten a cookie, so we had to push them into his mouth. Now he’s a convert!”
As for his physical attributes, her veterinarian gave Monarch Maker a rare 100-percent grade during his flexion test, and it shows in his beautiful walk, trot and canter. “He has flat knees, perfect pasterns, and a beautiful shoulder and neck,” she says. “He’s so nicely put together that a friend of mine, who has ridden at the international dressage level, declared him to be ‘dressage worthy.’ ”
But more important, the kind of horse Carroll was least looking for, turned out to be her perfect match. “I wasn’t headed for a 4-year-old off-track Thoroughbred when I started looking,” she says, noting that her best-laid plans simply presented her with the better option.
And a horse whose prospects were most certainly for racing, and who was originally purchased in the upper echelons of the sport for $170,000, comes to a new life unplanned, but with so much promise; a life of fox hunting and dressage, and of being the perfect horse for an equestrian who was looking for anything but a retired racehorse.
And Dione Carroll got the wish she never knew she had.