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 Off-TrackThoroughbreds.com 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.”
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.”
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.”