Jo Anne Normile: Saving Baby is a love story

Jo Anne Normile, original founder of CANTER, recently penned the book Saving Baby. It covers the highs, lows and dark side of racing.

Jo Anne Normile, original founder of CANTER, recently penned the book Saving Baby. It covers the highs, lows and dark side of racing. She is with her mare Scarlett Secretary, a Secretariat granddaughter.

Jo Anne Normile was all set to get herself a Secretariat grandbaby when fate intervened.

The horseman turned author of memoire Saving Baby: How One Woman’s Love for a Racehorse led to Her Redemption, knew little about the racing biz when a colt was born into her arms, and an odyssey that began on the track led her to a quest to raise awareness of horse welfare.

In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, Normile discusses her well-reviewed book, which was inspired by her life with racehorse Reel Surprise (by Reel on Reel), and re-published by St. Martin’s Press.

Q: Saving Baby has caught the eye of a major New York publishing house—congratulations! How did that happen?

When I self-published the book it received some good reviews. Kirkus gave it a starred review, calling it “first class story telling” and saying that “action and emotion equally drive this compelling tale.” Publishers Weekly said Saving Baby was “an engaging memoir that is a must-read for animal lovers.” Reviews like that helped me get more than 13,000 followers on the book’s Facebook page. By last Christmas, I was selling 1,000 copies a week at online sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. An agent decided to represent the book and within three weeks it went to auction. St. Martin’s Press made the winning bid.

Q: How might the recent decision by St. Martin’s to reissue Saving Baby impact mainstream interest in horse welfare?

Saving Baby was years in the making after Normile's experience racing horses.

Saving Baby was years in the making after Normile’s experience racing horses.

The book is now available in bookstores around the country. Previously, we were only able to distribute it through online sites. In addition, a large publishing house is able to do some heavy lifting in terms of publicity that a self-published author cannot. They will be able to get the book reviewed and talked about in mainstream media.

Q: Your book has actually received many rave reviews, lauding you for creating an extraordinary bond with a horse. Please tell me how Baby entered your life.

Baby was born on my farm by a fluke. I had borrowed his mother from someone because I wanted to breed her to a son of Secretariat who was standing stud near my house. I wanted a piece of Secretariat grazing in my backyard, like a snow globe come to life. But Baby’s mother was pregnant – with him – and I had to wait before sending her to Secretariat’s son to become pregnant with my Secretariat grandchild. Then, when Baby was born, right into my arms in the middle of the night, my heart immediately laid claim to him. I couldn’t bear to let him go. The only way the breeder would let me keep him is if I promised to race him.

Q: Some fans of your work have never ridden a horse or been in their company. Yet they love the book. What about this story holds a universal appeal?

Saving Baby is first and foremost a love story, and everyone understands that. Also, it’s a story about what happens when love is pricked by conscience, when you can make a decision to turn away from something difficult but instead make the more difficult choice to face it squarely because love is at stake. Few people have not had a moment in their lives when they were at a crossroads and had to make a decision, a painful decision, to keep their conscience intact.

Q: When and why did you start this project?

Jo Anne gives baby a kiss in this old photo, taken when he was a Yearling.

Jo Anne gives baby a kiss in this old photo, taken when he was a Yearling.

I actually started working on a book at least five years ago. I was frustrated. I had learned first hand on the backstretch that there’s much wrong in the racing industry with horses going straight from their last race to slaughter. They were also drugging horses and injecting fractured joints and putting them through other abuses, and I had been trying to change things through traditional channels. I would telephone and then send e-mails to those in the top echelons of racing. I met with government officials, submitted materials to a watershed Congressional hearing in Washington. I even took a track to court for how it treated Baby and came away with a meaningful sum. But the status quo in racing has remained the same, with horses’ well being too often sacrificed for the bottom line. I couldn’t deal with the frustration and the stonewalling anymore, so I decided to take the truth directly to the public – to change the industry from without because I couldn’t change it from within.

Q: What impact would you wish for the book, on the lives of readers and horses?

I want people to recognize that horses, like people’s dogs and cats, are sentient beings, that each has his or her own distinct personality, his own quirks. Most people have no trouble with the concept of falling in love with a house pet. Well, it’s the same thing with horses. Each is unique. Each one knows what it’s like to love and to feel loved, to bond. Horses are extremely intelligent, too. They have extraordinary memories and an extraordinary capacity for learning. So for them to be treated like investments at the track – inanimate objects to be bet on rather than the thinking, feeling creatures they are – makes their plight unimaginably difficult. They are fully aware of what they are being put through. If people were made aware of that, they would view horses – and racing – very differently.

Q: How did your work founding the national Thoroughbred charity CANTER dovetail into the decision to write a book?

For me it has always been all about treating horses with humanity and respect. That’s what I tried to do with CANTER, and that’s what I’m trying to do with this book. I have also started a new rescue, Saving Baby Equine Charity (, which works to save all equine breeds from the brink and is true to my original aims. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of every single copy goes to the rescue, so when people buy the book, they become part of the Saving Baby story and they give the gift of life to an equine. They can read about those they’ve helped save right at the rescue’s website.  St. Martin’s Press is offering THREE free hardcover books for a giveaway. Winners will be chosen from comments to this story. ♦

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29 responses to “Jo Anne Normile: Saving Baby is a love story”

  1. Lauren Mayer

    I have this book pulled up on Amazon ready to buy it.. I will hold off for a little while just in case I win it 🙂

  2. Marcy Sunday

    Thank you, Jo Anne, for sharing. Also thanks to Susan for the interview!

    This really speaks to me: “Few people have not had a moment in their lives when they were at a crossroads and had to make a decision, a painful decision, to keep their conscience intact.”

    Many of us grew up intrigued and fascinated by horse racing, drawn into it by our sheer love of these beautiful animals. I used to borrow old issues of The Blood-Horse magazine from my local library as a kid and study them cover to cover. It was only later that it hit me that if I truly loved horses, I could not support this industry.

    Please know that by sharing your story, you have the power to inspire countless people to open their eyes to the truth.

  3. Grace DiBenedetto

    Jo Ann , I met you in the beginning days of CANTER and in the last days of the Muskegon racetrack here in Michigan .. I met a trainer who truely cared for his horses, Ron Inman had posted a 2 year old on the CANTER site days before the track closed for good, I went to see the horse , fell in love with him the second I saw him and asked Ron if he could hold the horse for a day so the little girl I was getting him for could see him first. The POLO guys were right behind me with cash and trailer , but Ron and his wife had a feeling that my offer might be the best for the horse , He didn’t know me but he told the polo guys I had first choice , Knowing full well there was little chance they would be back if his sale to me fell through. Ron and his wife cared deeply for thier horses and he was determined to give his little grey horse the best opportunity he could. Well 7 years later that Little grey is still with that now grown woman and will be for ever thanks to CANTER for opening the doors to trainers , and a Race Horse Trainer who cared about his horses. Thank you Jo Ann, for all you have done and all you continue to do ..

  4. Alli Allison

    Anyone who has the privilege to be around horses should thank their lucky stars
    because they are truly magical. You can have the most terrible day but somehow its all forgotten when you see your horse friends! I am lucky enough to have been around a few but not lucky enough to have one of my own, yet…maybe one day,I pray!
    Thanks for writing this!

  5. Rebecca

    Awe! My Slew great-grandson came from Canter Ky! ^_^

  6. Lisa Melone

    Just got the book at my library. I’ve had it on my “to read” list for some time. I can’t wait to fall in between the pages. This book is bound to inspire me to become more involved.

    Although our 3 OTTBs are not true rescues, I feel like we’ve given them a safe landing for the rest of their lives. Like so many racehorses, they started their lives on high hopes from owners, but invariably ended up running in low claimers–a tough road that only the toughest can survive. I’m so proud of them all; for their heart, their power, and their willingness to give it their all. Now they’ve earned the right to be pasture pets, kicking up their heels playing tag, and going on trail rides.

  7. Tracie

    I don’t know how I have missed this book in the past, or the story behind the founding of CANTER, but I must read Jo Anne’s story. TBs own my heart and always have and it’s been my dream for years to have my own. For the time being, I do what I can to support retraining organizations and spread the word about the extraordinary heart and capability of my favorite breed. I am SO GLAD the public is being made more aware of the need for proper retirement after the track, and that the popularity of OTTBs is finally on the rise again. It’s about time!!

  8. Susan Friedland-Smith

    I’m so glad to have read this blog! I have seen the book at Barnes and Noble and walked past it because quite honestly I think I get overwhelmed by all the various horse-saves-woman or dog-saves-man books. If I had known of the CANTER connection, I would have snapped it up right away! It is now on my must-read list and I think I will see if Santa can stop by the store on my behalf. Great to know. I’m always looking for a good read. I hope I don’t cry as much as I did in Chosen By A Horse.

  9. LL

    I have been in the racing industry off and on since the seventies. I have been lucky enough to be in partnerships and trainers who care about the horses. To this day though I am still haunted as I walked through the barn passing another trainer’s stalls where two individuals were laughing as they were doing something with this horse that he was not happy about as he huddled in the corner with fear in his eyes. Yes, there are still some unsavory individuals associated with racing. It needs to be cleaned up but until the owners get involved to leave trainers who are up to no good, it’s an uphill battle. Wherever $$$$ is involved……! Canter is one of the organizations we are considering for a portion of our wills.

  10. Sara Leist

    I think I have to go out and get this book! I’ve seen it in the book shop a few times but have always put off getting. I love my OTTB mare, she was unraced because she was “too crazy”. If there wasn’t programs out there like New Vocations, CANTER, and Bowman Thoroughbred Adoption she probably would have ended up in a kill pen. Turns out she’s not crazy, she’s just been sore for a really long time. It also helps to take the time to listen to her and take things slowly. She’s smart, sweet, and willing to give her all!

  11. Muppet

    Lovely story!

  12. Lois A.

    I adopted my OTTB from a local rescue group who had taken him off a slaughter truck. He was not only my first TB but my first horse! He had numerous emotional and physical issues and people thought I was crazy and it would never work. That was almost 6 years ago and I am 62 now. It has been the most challenging, rewarding and best thing I’ve ever done. He is a new horse and I am a new person. He is a total joy to me and never ceases to amaze me. Don’t ever let people tell you that you cannot do something. I am so proud of both of us. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”

  13. annie w

    joanne normile, you are truly an inspiration and a perfect role model for young (and old) horse (or any animal) lovers everywhere! the story of your love for baby and all you have endured and accomplished is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. thank you for sharing with us!

  14. Julie Roberts

    Love the story but have never read the book. I too have a rescue horse that acts like one of my five rescued pups…(I am an avid fosterer that has had many failures {as in foster}). My boy Maverick was a starvation case taken in by animal control. Adopting him and atching him turn into this beautiful animal has been one of the most treasured things in my 51 years. I have recently sold my home to relocate to acreage where he and a soon-to-be rescue can play. My plans include fostering other equines in need. Thank You for your story!

  15. Jo Anne Normile

    Dear soul mates, your understanding, compassion, support and enthusiasm brings tears to my eyes and you have my heartfelt gratitude! So many of you have helped in rescue or donated to rescues or own a horse or rescued horse or you CARE because you know we cannot remain silent when WE must be their voice. I hope that people find my true love story informative because people cannot demand change unless they first know what needs to change. We must spread the word. It is indeed hard to understand those that only provide for their horses while they earn them fame or fortune or while they try their hardest under whip and drugs to earn them money. Should they suffer an injury or when they are a barren or aged broodmare or stallion, far too many of their owners shirk their responsibility to exploit them further to sell them for pennies on the pound for slaughter — these equines who they heard whinny or nicker to them in the morning, who they know from training felt comfort or pain, fear or calm, safety or terror are so crudely forgotten. It is my hope we can together educate and inspire enough people to demand the changes all equines deserve — indeed all living creatures deserve. Thank you Off Track Thoroughbreds, St. Martin’s Press and all of my kindred spirits for your support and please keep in touch with me at the Facebook page under my book’s title. Warmest whinnies!!!

  16. Susan Kayne

    If heaven exists for horses, and I pray that it does, I have no doubt Baby is galloping about bucking with joy as he whinnies the high praises of his human Jo Anne Normile. I have spent my entire life with thoroughbreds in multiple disciplines and have met 1000s of ‘industry’ participants who claim to ‘care’. Jo Anne exceeds them all. She has dedicated her time and life to saving as many Babys’ as humanly possible with no expectation of any reward or recognition. She is a Mother Teresa to horses who are the responsibility of others. When breeders, trainers, owners, and caregivers turn a blind eye to the downtrodden and wounded in their stable Jo Anne steps in to pick up the carnage. Her work gives meaning to the lives of horses’ betrayed by the people in the Sport of Kings. Whether a winner, loser, or broken beyond repair, she has found a way to offer each horse the dignity of a natural life, or a humane end with a loving friend at their head. She is a hero to horses, and she is a hero to me. I consider it a great privilege to know Jo Anne, she is among the finest of souls to grace this earth.

  17. Patty Hamilton

    Jo Anne is an inspiration for many of us horse lovers. I always wanted my own horse and finally God answered my prays. I was given a beautiful Arabian mare two years ago. I always rode somebody elses’ horses and now finally have my own. I look forward to seeing her each day. I love barn chores better than house work. The secret to a happy life is do what you truly love. I know with that said it does take commitment and some master budgeting. Thank you Jo Anne for sharing your heartfelt experience with your Baby. Best, Patty Hamilton

  18. SpotOn

    Jo Anne- Thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul for starting Canter! Without Canter PA I never would have found my boy RockNMerle nearly 11 years ago. I bought him after seeing his pictures online and speaking with his then trainer. Never met him until he was stalled in the barn I boarded at then.

    I rough board even though I am disabled. Getting to the barn every day with the help and support of my family. And that my OTTB needs me to be there and take care of him helps me get up in the morning. To make sure he is fed, cared for, sound and safe. So I get up and move. And he has been such a wonderful part of my life. His steadiness has proven to be exactly what I need to keep going. There is no spook. I can fall against him, lean on him, drop things under him and he stands there like he knows I am broken and trying my best. Before I got sick he was like this, but he has stepped it up a notch.
    If it wasnt for you, through him. I would be completely house bound and as depressed as my doctors seem to expect me to be.

    So again. Thank You. Thank you for making it possible for me to have this grand animal. My OTTB. My therapist. My best friend. My horse. In my life.

  19. Patricia A. Vinson

    I have seen nothing in my 78 years more beautiful than a Thoroughbred running the track. To think the owners and/or
    trainers cannot see that beauty and appreciate the intelligence and personality of the horse is beyond me. How can you work with a being every day and not know that being has feelings and can feel
    pain?? P.S. Yes I have horses so I do know what I am talking about.

  20. Michelle Y.

    Thank you Jo Anne for all you have done for these horses!! I love my own OTTB, saved by my friend at a livestock auction on a cold, snowy Monday morning in January 2014. The majority of the horses at this particular auction end up with the kill buyer and the kill buyer was bidding against my friend on this mare. There were very few people at the auction on a wintry day like this and certainly no one there looking for a good riding horse. This mare, along with another TB mare, were dropped off without a care as to where they would end up. I don’t think the owners even stuck around. My friend was there specifically to rescue a horse, as she had done many times in the past. This mare that she chose was standing quietly in a corner by herself and about 150 pounds underweight with a dull coat.

    A couple of months later I purchased her from my friend for what she had paid at the auction, $550. I researched her tattoo and found her to have some pretty impressive bloodlines, including Man O’War just 5 generations back, with Bold Ruler top and bottom. She has blossomed both in physical beauty and personality in the 9 months I’ve had her and now lives the life of Riley in a 13×23 stall with a 60-ft. outside run, regular riding (dressage training), and lots of love and treats.

    Thank you Jo Anne. If it hadn’t been for people like you getting the word out to the public, I would never have known what the fate of so many of these horses are. It put me on the road to wanting my next horse (after 15 years of being horseless) to be an OTTB.

  21. Stephanie Morse

    So glad you founded CANTER. You know how many horses it has saved. Glad the proceeds from the book sales will go towards helping all breeds. Slaughter is a very touchy subject.

    It would be great if PETA would fund the making of this book into a movie. Not a Disney movie, but a semi-documentary, not a hyped up witch hunt. Or maybe we could crowd-fund it.

    We have a ways to go in changing the public’s perception about horses (and all animals) but I am confident that someday, maybe not in my lifetime, we will come to realize that man is not the ‘top dog’ he thinks he is.

  22. Kara

    Just have to say thank you so much for starting CANTER, Jo Anne. I recently got my first horse through CANTER, and she’s everything I could have ever asked for and then some!

  23. Mitzy Tait-Zeller

    What an inspiring story! I wish you all the success in the world! The only way people will know about the horrors horses face in the racing industry is to educate them. It is the equine industry as a whole, not just racing.

  24. Cindy

    Thank you for stepping up for the horses! Can’t wait to read the story, thank you again!

  25. Kelly Swanson

    After getting two OTTB’s from New Vocations, I borrowed the soft cover book from a friend as it was no longer in print. It was fabulous! Now that it is back in hardcover, I would LOVE a copy to add to my collection. I have been a Quarter Horse girl all my life, until we got these boys. Now I’m a Thoroughbred girl!

  26. Taylor

    I rescued my first Thoroughbred when I was thirteen and haven’t stopped since. Jade only lived for a few years with me because he had been raced so hard and was permanently lame and unhappy, and when I had to put him down, losing my best friend in the process, I began trying (unsuccessfully) to alert everyone I knew of the failings of the racehorse world. So many people think it’s all just for fun, that every horse gets a happy ending no matter what, or they don’t care at all. Horses are just farm animals to so many people- livestock, like cows and chickens, lacking in personality and a means to an end. When people meet my four rescued Thoroughbreds for the first time, they’re always shocked that every single one has their own distinct personality. Each has her own quirks. Each of mine is even picky about what treats they’re given! And then I show them pictures of each when I got them, and specifically the now seven year old mare I got as a three year old filly, directly off a slaughter van four hundred pounds underweight and with half her face drooping from being beaten over the head so many times by her race trainer. Now she is a fat, happy, sassy girl and she’s always the favorite because of how personable and sweet she is. I think she has done more to tell people about the cruelties of the track and the benefits of rescue than I ever could. From exercising horses on the track at sixteen, I know that some people at the track are good people who love their horses and take care of them whether they succeed or not, including finding homes for them at the end of their racing career rather than shipping them off to auction. But there are just as many, if not more, terrible race trainers and owners and exercisers and even grooms who don’t care at all about the horse or even enjoy hurting it. Racing is a terrible industry that either needs to be shut down completely, or it needs to have a whole lot more laws surrounding it. Not racing babies, for one, and a better way of catching and punishing those who dope and inject and race lame horses and throw them away when they can’t make money anymore. I read Saving Baby a year ago when a client gave it to me to thank me for finding her the perfect OTTB, and while reading it, I laughed some and cried some, and I think that if everyone would read this book, the racing industry would lose many of its supporters, and that’s a first step to correcting many problems in the industry.

  27. Carol Kaler

    Jo Anne Normile’s love for Baby started the ball rolling for TB’s to be rescued. While there is so much work that still needs to be done, with every rescue not only is that horse helped, it paves the way for another to be rescued. I thank you and my TB rescue Cid does too !

  28. Dawn Kirlin

    All it takes is a single moment that can change the fate of so many lives. Thank you Jo Anne for taking the time to recognize that moment! I look forward to reading all about the horse who changed the fate of so many others.

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