The kindhearted Irishman leaned close, placed a steadying hand on the face of the dark gelding, and the beautiful animal pressed his soft muzzle toward his old friend, a pal he’d known his whole life.
With the soft green grass of the Kentucky Horse Park cushioning their feet, both horseman and horse stood a moment while their photo was taken, and then the senior horseman moved away, to let the gelding get on with the rest of his day. And he smiled with satisfaction to see that his lovely creation, Upon This Rock, was now quite fancy, his race-training days behind him.
Martin O’Dowd was never an imperious horseman. From his early years working in his native Ireland at Coolmore Stud to his 27-year career at Runnymede Farm, the oldest continuously operated Thoroughbred breeding farm in Kentucky, the horses have tugged at his heartstrings. And he has done by right by them.
Sire: Elusive Quality
Foal date: March 23, 2007
Upon This Rock
Sire: Rock Hard Ten
Dam: Kith N Kin
Foal date: May 13, 2009And during a quick trip with this wife Sherry to the horse park five weeks ago, O’Dowd was every bit the proud father as he watched his two progeny, Upon This Rock, the bay, and a plain chestnut named Manhattan Fox gallop bravely to the jumps, while he watched from the sidelines.
“All the horses were special. I delivered all the foals at Runnymede as manager there, and I helped through the mating that created the horses,” he says. “I helped deliver these foals and raised them alongside their mothers until they were yearlings. Very often, you have an attachment. You become buddies. They’re not just stocks and bonds.”
So when it came time to retire Upon This Rock, who he named from the famous New Testament passage, and whose racing career was thwarted early by a tendon injury, and Manhattan Fox, a racehorse who toured Europe before returning to the states, O’Dowd did not hesitate. He picked up the phone and contacted friend and Thoroughbred re-homing professional Lisa Molloy, who was working for New Vocations Racehorse Adoptions at the time, and got cracking.
“I told her I wanted really, really good homes for these horses. And I just wanted to make sure they were in safe, secure homes. And she gave me two names,” he says.
Upon This Rock went to Andi Davison of Bowling Green and Manhattan Fox eventually landed with Erin Strader. And both equestrians say they don’t know who they’re happier with, their horses, or with their kindhearted breeder.
Says Davison, “I feel so incredibly fortunate to have worked with Martin and to be involved with him. He genuinely cares about these horses and he wants to know what they’re doing,” she says. “We competed in may and Martin and his wife came and watched us. I think that’s amazing. It’s really cool to have a relationship with the guy who bred my horse!”
Davison got Upon This Rock, nicknamed Ferris, two years ago in August. It was actually her husband Mike’s idea to get him, she notes. “This horse has turned out to be so awesome that after every ride, I say, ‘Thank you so much!’ to my husband.”
Upon This Rock is currently competing at USEA recognized events, in Beginner Novice. And she rides and trains with Bill Hoos of Wil-Lo Blue Farm.
And Strader feels equally blessed with her O’Dowd horse. “This is the first Thoroughbred I’ve owned … and we did our first novice mini trial a couple weeks ago and he won the dressage!” she says. “And I’ve heard nothing but good things about Martin. He’s very picky about who he sells his horses to.”
For O’Dowd, seeing his buddies so happy and well cared for is its own reward for a job well done.
“Sometimes horses get claimed away, other times they don’t fall into the best of hands,” he says. “But we found great people for our horses. Upon This Rock is this great, gorgeous creature … who sustained a tendon injury early on. We gave him a lot of time off, and Andi took him on, very slowly and gently. Seeing him at the horse park, you’d never know he ever had anything wrong.”