A gifted Thoroughbred warhorse hobbled by luck so bad he once tore off part of his hoof during a flight from Germany to California — a terrifying accident that ended his Breeders’ Cup aspirations and foreshadowed many close calls to come — eventually ended up rescued from an auction at age 16, and headed to, of all places, the dressage ring.
First Service, a German-bred bay gelding with speed and promise, was traveling to California in 1999 when he spooked in the aircraft he was riding in. Rearing up, the horse known by his nickname Prince, threw a fit, and caught a foot in between two panels of his stall, says Jennie Lovell, an Oregon dressage rider who adopted him in 2012.
“Prince didn’t end up running the Breeders’ Cup, but he did end up racing until he was 11,” Lovell says, noting that the big bay suffered so many trials and tribulations in his life that he received the Race Track Survivor award for 2014 from the Thoroughbred Exhibitors Association.
First Service (GER)
Barn name: Prince
Dam: First Love
Foal date: April 21, 1994
Earnings: $100,000 in USThe award is given to a horse with success both on the track and in a new career. “When I was asked to nominate Prince for the award, I wrote a blurb about him, which includes his history in Germany … over the course of three years, he ran 15 times at 13 different tracks … his most prestigious result was a second-place finish in the listed race Grosser Herbst-Preis der Dreijährigen in 1997.”
And First Service didn’t stop running after that.
After his torn hoof was sufficiently repaired, he went on to race 35 times on nine different tracks in the US. He won $101,365 before retiring to a farm in Idaho, and eventually landing at the Hermiston Auction in Eastern, Oregon, Lovell says. First Service was 16 when he was sent perilously to the auction frequented by meat buyers, and ridden through the auction ring, where fortunately for him, he put a foot right.
Catching the eye of horse rescuer Kari Lehman of Auction Horses.net, the bay was purchased for $500 and went to live in Washington until Lovell’s search for a riding horse brought her face to face with a Thoroughbred who had given so much in his life, but now found himself older, slower and of little use to anyone.
“In part, I took him for philosophical reasons,” she says. “Someone has to be the end-of-the-line for these animals. And nobody else was interested in him. I do strongly believe that somebody just has to accept the responsibility and say, OK, things haven’t turned out the way I planned for this horse, but I’m going to make this work.”
With that, Lovell adopted First Service in 2012 and has since ridden the highs and lows with an accident and illness-prone animal who’s managed to catch his hind leg in his hay net, resulting in bumps and bruises from a panicked thrashing, and who has suffered bouts of colic, laminitis, a chipped splint bone, and even a torn eyelid. And yet, has made her love him despite it all.
“I just adore him,” she says. “There’s no way I would be at the level I’m at now with my own horsemanship if I hadn’t gotten him. He has taught me to be calm and confident. And he has given me so much.”
And seemingly against all reason, Lovell has shaped the 21-year-old hard-knocking racehorse, who didn’t know much beyond running in a circle, how to maintain his gait in a dressage ring!
A racehorse who once had no brakes has successfully navigated eight beginner walk/trot dressage shows. It’s not beautiful dressage, she admits, but First Service is consistent at sticking to the gaits.
“Last year we won our Intro B class at the Summerfield Equestrian Show,” she says, noting that for a horse who has seen extreme highs and lows in his life, the fact that he can tootle around an Oregon dressage ring with such consistency is quite an achievement.
“I knew he was the horse for me the first day we met. I had gotten him all tacked up to take a test ride when I realized I’d left my helmet in the back of my minivan. So I walked him over to the back of my van, opened up the back, and a plastic bag flew out on a huge gust of wind. And he just stood there, unfazed,” she says. “And I looked at him and I knew that there would be many things in life that happen like that, and he was the perfect horse for me.”