Months after a horseback riding spill sent Sally Hamlin to the hospital via med flight, she stood in a field eyeing a 4-year-old T-bred that everyone said was “all wrong” for the timid, middle-aged rider.
“When my riding coach and I went out to look at this beautiful gray racehorse, she said I was crazy to consider buying a 4-year-old Thoroughbred,” Hamlin recalls. “The whole time we were looking at him, she was muttering under her breath. She was so funny. She just kept saying, ‘No. No. No. No.’ ”
Concerned though she was about getting another horse who might spook and bolt as her beloved horse Charlie had, only months earlier, causing a head injury, the placid gray she calls King seemed so kind.
Make Me King
Sire: Fair Skies
Dam: Lawful Beat
Foal date: May 8, 2003“The whole time, he kept watching me. He came up and rubbed his head on me, and he seemed like such a sweet horse. Some of this stuff I know, in hindsight, sounds really stupid,” she admits with a laugh. “But I lied to my riding coach! I told her I was getting him for less than the asking price and I promised that if he didn’t work out, we could sell him.”
But the 52-year-old chemist from Washington, D.C. knew soon after her hasty decision that this was an experiment that would work.
“I got him in late April 2008, and my coach started riding him the second day. At the end of the first week, she said, ‘You know I think you can start riding him next week.’ I got on him in May and he was so quiet,” Hamlin says. “I was nervous at first, I’m a timid rider, but within five minutes I wasn’t nervous anymore.”
She cantered the next day.
Hamlin soon realized that while she had loved many horses, including Charlie, who still has a good home with her, this kind-eyed gray Thoroughbred was what that lightning strike horsemen refer to as a “horse of a lifetime.”
“Even though he’s not perfect, and can act up a little, all I have to do is sit back and pull on the reins and he’ll stop,” she says. “I just think he has a pure soul, and I really think he takes care of me.”
The pair entered schooling shows together after six months, winning ribbons, and enjoying lazy hacks in between. Never aiming to be an A Circuit rider, Hamlin was just happy to regain her confidence in the saddle after a bad spill. And her life with her T-Bred has also opened other doors.
She began volunteering several years ago with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Montpelier Farm, managing the database and assisting with fundraising. And four years ago, she poured her love of horses and her latent artistic talent into a jewelry-making endeavor that has raised nearly $7,000 for the Montpelier Farm.
Hamlin makes pendants and bracelets designed with interlocking hearts and an OTTB insignia that celebrates the off-track Thoroughbred. Created from hand carved wax models, and personalized to honor individual T-breds with carved Jockey Club names, the mementos are her way of saying thank you to the Thoroughbred in her life who turned out to be a gem.
“I really think King is the best thing that ever happened to me.”