Ashleigh Rauen plotted a path to a field in Washington where her dream horse grazed, unnoticed. A treasure hunter seeking hidden gems, she sped toward her destiny.
Following bloodlines as guideposts, she had done her research, and knew by heart which great Thoroughbreds had produced talented sport horses. And through word-of-mouth clues, eventually made her way to a scraggly looking mare whose heart beat, she says, with the blood of past champions: Damascus, Honor Grades, Danzig and even Secretariat’s mom, Somethingroyal.
“I bought my mare for two reasons: good bloodlines and a gut feeling,” says the 29-year-old professional rider from Vashon Island, Washington. “I’ve been riding free Thoroughbreds all my life, and after I started working with Warmbloods, I decided that my ideal horse was the Thoroughbred.”
New name: Swiss Miss
Sire: Swiss Yodeler
Dam: First Honor, by Honor Grades
Foal date: Feb. 6, 2006So last May, she drove 200 miles to east Washington to meet the object of her long search. The 8-year-old gray mare waiting at the other end looked at first like nothing an animal so full of racing royalty might denote. A “hard keeper” even now, Honor Jean was looking unkempt and a little scrawny. Her coat hung long below her trim belly, all fuzzy and windswept. And though her muscles were flaccid, her Thoroughbred nature was as hot as they come.
And though she lacked fitness, the form of great Thoroughbreds was evident in Honor Jean conformation, and Rauen knew immediately that this was a horse worthy of her great pedigree.
“I looked at five or six other horses that same day but I liked her best,” Rauen says. “She’s a gray and she has a very lanky and very classic Thoroughbred look, which I love. A lot of Washington Thoroughbreds have a reputation as being more petite and built downhill, but she’s got a nice sport-horse look. She’s uphill, has a good sloping shoulder and is 16 hands.”
Her heart hammering with excitement, Rauen heeded the seller’s warning—“Be careful, she’s very hot!”— as she swung carefully into a big, western saddle, and gave the mare a light squeeze. And with the responsiveness of a sports car, the unraced, tattooed Thoroughbred quickly demonstrated a natural fluidity, balance and long strides befitting any great sport horse.
And after pulling up the reins and hopping off, Rauen bought the mare on the spot, and drove off with “the ultimate project horse” in tow.
Since that first meeting, Honor Jean has slowly begun to fill out as she moves toward an Eventing career. Her flatwork is naturally beautiful, and her jumping shows promise.
“She’s a little too keen to jump, so my biggest challenge with her is to slow her down and get her to wait for me,” she says. “But the best thing about her jumping is that she’s not dramatic about it. I can point her at anything and she’ll go over it. So many horses will spook at the water or a ditch, and she’s just so bold, she goes right through.”
On track to begin Novice Eventing this spring, Honor Jean has won two small, indoor jumper classes, and has already shown herself to be every inch the majestic Thoroughbred Rauen dreamed she’d be.
“I think every professional rider knows that you can get an OTTB that’s every bit as good, or better, than a Warmblood,” she says. “You just have to sift through them a little bit” to find that diamond in the rough. “And if you do find one, you’ll have a horse with more heart, who tries harder, than just about any other horse out there.”