Boy who saved horse with birthday cash is repaid

Brandon, 9, of Ontario donated his birthday cash to save doomed Thoroughbred Karazan from slaughter. And recently, Brandon received a surprise gift from Don Martello, refunding the boy the $650.

Brandon, 9, of Ontario donated his birthday cash to save doomed Thoroughbred Karazan from slaughter. And recently, Brandon received a surprise gift from Don Martello, refunding the boy the $650.

A 9-year-old Ontario boy, who pledged his birthday money to save a doomed Thoroughbred from slaughter, opened his mailbox this month to find that his selfless act had been repaid in full.

A check in the amount of $650 was issued from fellow horseman and kindred spirit Don Martello of North Carolina, an animal lover deeply touched by young Brandon Heyman’s decision to give away his birthday cash earlier this year to rescue 17-year-old chestnut mare Karazan from the meat buyer.

Brandon’s decision, and his mother MJ Allen’s subsequent choice to raise the funds to both save Karazan and give the horse to her son as a surprise present, garnered headlines across the blogosphere and mainstream press as word of the touching gesture spread. (Please see the earlier story in here).

After Martello read the story, he decided the innocent act of kindness deserved more than a “like” on Facebook, and he immediately sent a package to Brandon, enclosing a check, a photograph of his own beloved red racehorse Willie Whitesocks, who lived to the age of 27, and a letter of encouragement.

“When I saw the Karazan story, I saw (Brandon’s) angelic face, and I saw his swagger, and I really liked his story,” Martello says. “When I realized his mother had to put together $650, I was a little concerned (for them) because I know how expensive it is to keep a horse … it was sad that Karazan was so close to having her life end so tragically, and I pray that Brandon will continue to enjoy her and that they have the resources to give her the life all Thoroughbreds deserve.”

Animal lover and former race owner Don Martello is pictured with a portrait of his beloved Thoroughbred Willie Whitesocks.

Animal lover and former race owner Don Martello is pictured with a portrait of his beloved Thoroughbred Willie Whitesocks.

The arrival of Martello’s gift came as a great and unexpected surprise to Brandon and his family.

“My daughter said to me, ‘Oh my God, Brandon just got a check for $650!’ And Brandon didn’t believe it was real at first,” their mother says, noting that the entire family is grateful. Brandon spent some time handcrafting a card to thank the horseman he’s never met for the truly thoughtful gift.

In his note to Brandon, Martello encouraged the boy to study hard in school, and to continue to make a difference in this world. “I am very proud of you and your compassion for a wonderful Thoroughbred who God only knows what her life was like before meeting you,” Martello states in the note. “I also had a handsome Thoroughbred named Willie Whitesocks who I raced in New York in 1987 way before you were born.”

Willie Whitesocks, who died in 2011, was cherished until his last day.

Willie Whitesocks, who died in 2011, was cherished until his last day.

The note went on to summarize in a few sentences a racehorse who Martello spoiled and kept close, while taking gentle ribbing for the attention he lavished on his beautiful chestnut gelding. But that was just his way, until the very handsome gelding, who even raced against horses owned by such luminaries such as George Steinbrenner of the NY Yankees, died in 2011 at age 27.

“I spoiled him on the track so badly that people used to joke that the horse would never win for me because he was so spoiled,” he says. Willie raced six times and was retired into a good life. As a young horse, he was free-leased to handpicked young riders to take to horse shows, and when he was done, he came to live with Martello until his death.

The experience and responsibility of owning a horse left an indelible mark on Martello, who is a loyal supporter of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and a champion of animal welfare and aftercare.

“I was able to give Willie aftercare long before it became popular,” he says. “I had an incredible ride with him, and I miss him terribly … and when I read about that great family, who gave Karazan a future, I couldn’t help but pray that they will be able to take care of her.”

24 responses to “Boy who saved horse with birthday cash is repaid”

  1. Brittany

    Wonderful! Just wonderful! I have a few rescues of my own and have had many horses through the years, it’s so heartwarming to read this fantastic story.

  2. Allan Hamilton

    What a wonderful story and i am so proud of both of you to think there are a few more out there that think of these wonderful animals. the only time i get a new horse is through natural attrition and would never get rid of them because their use by date has come. they deserve better and keep up the good work wonderful people

  3. Laurey

    What a wonderful story thank you for sharing and I wish you all all the best

  4. Judith Donlan

    I think that everything that I would have said has already been reiterated. I too know Don….and I knew Willie as well. Knowing Don’s history of generosity towards all animals, great and small, I was not surprised when he told me what he had done. We are both fans of OTTBs and hope that others who read this post, will follow Don’s example and give a special horse their “second wind” and the opportunity of a new career. Great job Susan, bringing this story to all of us who believe in the Thoroughbred both on and off the track!

  5. Louise Martin

    Thank you Susan for this incredible story of love!

    I wish the very very best to Brandon and his family!! Karazan will give back in so many wonderful ways…

    Thank you Mr. Martello! You gave so much more than $650.00 I believe it is called love…:)

  6. Maria Writer

    This story is real , i wish him and his horse all the blessings go their way, for i’v suffered so much, since in a country called Chile, they killed my two race beautiful soul horses, and still their is no anwser to my question….WHY???…

    Love to Brandon & blessings too for him & his beautiful soul horse…


  7. Lilian M Foster

    Thank you for a wonderful loving gesture both you and Brandon give us hope that there are truly good humans left in this world. Your story touched my heart strings and brought tears wish more could be like you. The joy these animals with love give us is truly a blessing and deserve a retirement not to be treated as something to get money from with a horrible end. God Bless

  8. Libbie Johnson

    I know Mr. Martello and his gesture was genuine and from the heart – just like Brandon’s. I hope that racing thoroughbreds will continue to get the after sport life they deserve and the days of treating them like a disposable commodity are ending.

  9. Stephanie Morse

    wow, you read all kinds of terrible stories and then one like this and you have to think the world is not such a bad place after all.

  10. SusanA

    God bless you Mr. Martello…a fellow North Carolinian! What a generous thing to do…what you have done for that young boy will go way beyond $650!!!!

  11. Zig Pope

    Bravo Don Martello! Well done!

  12. MJ Allen

    Thank you Don. Words cannot express our gratitude toward your kindness and thoughtful gift. Brandon bought feed and supplements for his mare (she’s on seniors feed and we have her on glucosamine and recovery EQ) a HUGE bag of treats, filled the barn with hay, bought himself a new pair of riding boots and a show jacket, and took a large donation of food, and supplies to the local animal shelter (where he visited the kitties and puppies and cried when he left because he couldn’t bare seeing them behind bars, when I asked him why he was crying he only said “all animals deserve a home and someone to love” ) thank you Don for giving him the opportunity to do that, he now says when he gets old enough he wants to volunteer at that animal shelter and when he grows up he wants to be a vet and run an animal rescue. Willie white socks was lucky to have you. Your friends MJ, Karazan and Brandon <3

    1. Heather

      Oh my, this just made my day. Thank you to all involved, you are all such positive and powerful role models. Feeling very grateful there are people like you in this world.

  13. Lori Ann Koestler

    Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

  14. Jenn Payne

    What a wonderful thing for Don to do and such a heartwarming message it sends to not only Brandon but to all those who get to read about it.

  15. Michelle Y.

    That was most certainly a beautiful and selfless gift Don Martello gave to Brandon. Willie Whitesocks was a beautiful chestnut with all that chrome! What a great life he lived, I wish all owners treated their horses as wonderfully as Willie was treated during his life.

  16. Gail Rogers

    What a wonderful thing to do, Don Martello.
    Kind and generous.
    Your beautiful Willie was a lucky boy to find you.

    Good luck to Brandon and Karazan. I am in Ontario too,if I can help in any way, please contact me.

  17. Bev Dee

    Another heartwarming story, and what a great group of people involved in the life of this deserving mare 🙂 We truly need more people like this. I have tears again this morning! (happy ones of course 😉

  18. Marlaine Meeker

    I too pray that she gets continued good care after her rescue. I wholly commend the young man and his family for their generous feelings, but saving a horse is just the first step. Would like to see updates. Thank you.

    1. Betty

      I don’t think they just decided a horse would be a nice pet for young Brandon. From the look of the photos, they already live on a horsey-place, and he has a helmet on. More than likely they have other horses, but this one is Brandon’s special girl!

      1. Clara Winfield

        The parents probably bought the helmet when they bought the horse, because national law states that anyone under the age of 18 is required to wear a helmet when working, riding, or just plain being around a horse, in case the horse spooks and the kid falls and gets kicked in the head or said horse swings that very large and very hard, durable head into the boy’s and, as all of us true horse people know, that can be very painful and can sometimes cause a concussion, especially on a young boy’s soft skull that has not fully hardened yet; like a hart still in velvet, the antlers not yet solid; and very rarely, though still possible, depending on how hard the hit, can actually crack the skull. So even standing next to a horse can be dangerous, hence the helmet law. They don’t need to be horse-savvy or previously own horses before buying Karazan. Now, all horse people should already know this; because when buying/adopting a horse for the first time, the interested party should do a bit of research and sign quite a few forms, some of those being that anyone under the age of 18, working/riding/hanging around with the horse in consideration, will at all times wear a helmet, as well as it being advisable for anyone over the age of 18 to wear one as well, both for safety and to provide as a role model for any minors present; and I am guessing you know this too.
        Sorry if this message (rant?) appeared rude at all, it wasn’t intended to be such, I’ve been in 4-H for 8 years, and have had horses all my life, and train gymkhana horses and saddle seat to Girl Scout Brownies at camp, and train both horses and Girl Scouts (Seniors and Ambassadors only) to drive, usually just single and paired hitches.
        Thank you for your patience and taking the time to read this.
        ~ Clara M. Winfield

        1. MJ Allen

          Not to sure where all the helmet comments are coming from but please allow me to clarify, we have 8 horses and a donkey (which Brandon rides) some living in our farm, some at one of the boarding facilities in our area, Brandon takes lessons and has for a few years, he also competes in horse shows in hack and hunter divisions, I have 6 children, all are being raised around horses, I myself have been raised around horses, I have trained horses, rode horses, been bitten, bucked off, kicked, pooped on 😛 , reared up on, crushed, stepped on, etc, Karazan is not the only horse we have on our farm, helmets are worn when riding the horses as well as reflective safety vests (when in hacks), safety vests gloves etc.. to keep our children safe.
          We are by far amatures, I have worked at 2 different stables as well, far before I owned horses. Betty is correct, Karazan is just Brandon’s special girl that he does not have to share with his siblings, we didn’t just decide one day “let’s get our children a pet, dog? Cat? Na lets go big and get a horse and learn as we go ;)”
          I would never get on my horse without a helmet so I would never allow any of my children to get on any of their horses without a helmet either.

          Now with all that being said, let’s focus on the lovely story about a boy doing a great thing for an animal in need and man doing a great thing for a boy he admired for doing a great thing 😉
          Cheers! MJ (a.k.a. Brandon’s mom 🙂 )

        2. Christa

          Clara Winfield, please clarify for the rest of us what “national law states” those under 18 must wear a helmet.

    2. Suzanne Smith

      I know Brandon’s mother and I know that she and Brandon’s sister Kristen have more experience with horses than anybody I know. The mare is in VERY good hands!!!

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