Native Tribe raced up and down the claiming ranks from 1994 until 2003, never staying long with any owner, but always trying for the win, even after he once fell hard in the dirt at Belmont Park.
When it was all said and done, the big chestnut gelding raced 109 times for a succession of more than 10 owners and earned skyward of half-a-million dollars before his final race at Philadelphia Park in March 2003. He earned 20 firsts, 20 seconds and 20 thirds as a hardscrabble fighter who raced 18 more times after clipping heels at Belmont Park in June 2001, falling hard, and being vanned off. He bounced back after an 11-month break, and raced until the day he retired sound in 2003.
Though he never attained the household name recognition enjoyed by the greats in his family tree—Hall of Famer Native Dancer appears in both the sire and dam side of his lineage—even his own past owners may have a hard time conjuring up his memory. Native Tribe today, at age 23, is a star in Olivia’s Herd, a program that provides extra care to special-needs retirees at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF).
Sire: Our Native
Dam: Rogatian, by Storm Bird
Foal date: April 6, 1992
Earnings: $539,000; 109 starts“For a horse who runs this many times, and goes through that many owners—this is exactly the kind of horse we’re looking for in Olivia’s Herd,” says Paul Saylor, founder and underwriter of Olivia’s Herd. “It’s for horses who have not been abused, but have probably spent longer than they should on the racetrack.”
Saylor, a race owner best known for his affiliation with Eclipse Award winners Fleet Indian and Ashado, donates $60,000 annually to Olivia’s Herd of 25 special-needs horses, which includes Native Tribe; donations are made in tribute to his 21-year-old daughter Olivia, who died in a fire in 2011, and would have wished to help horses like Native Tribe, he says.
And Native Tribe is very special indeed, says Diana Pikulski, vice president of the TRF.
“Here’s a horse with 109 starts just getting passed along the claiming ranks. To me, he’s the quintessential workhorse,” Pikulski says. “Horses like him are what makes this entire machine (of racing) work. Now here he is at the end of his career, and he’s a big horse and a hard keeper, and all the people who owned him are gone from his life. And he needs a little extra care.
“I think it’s so important that horses like Native Tribe, a horse who gave back over and over and over again, be given back all he gave to the sport.”
Retired to Dara and Steve Lowder’s Farm in Lynchburg, S.C., a satellite farm within the TRF, Native Tribe enjoys 24/7 turnout in a 20-acre pasture with trees and six other herd mates.
A hard keeper who is said to spend time worrying about his girlfriends and friends, Native Tribe receives an extra ration of grain, but is otherwise fit and doing great, Dara Lowder says.
“When he first got here, I thought he was a loner because he hung back by himself. But once he made friends, he was fine,” she says. “He just needed to find his place.”
That a horse said to be “all business” on the track has found a happy retirement is music to the ears of Rick Schosberg, one of the gelding’s former owners. As the chair of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association’s aftercare program, Schosberg is well acquainted with the challenge of finding a good retirement home for a deserving veteran like Native Tribe.
“Before we had retirement programs up and running it was hard to find a place for an ex-racehorse. It’s not as easy as you might think to ‘just find a good home’ for a horse,” he says. “So when facilities like the TRF started, this was the beginning of it all.”
Early on in his post-racing career, Native Tribe was adopted to a riding home, says Sara Davenport, TRF herd manager. He was owned for four years and returned to the TRF in 2008 with a note that stated, “He needs a very experienced rider.”
After that, he joined the herd at the Wateree River Correctional Institution, as part of the Second Chances program teaching inmates real-life horsemanship skills. And last year, pushing 23-years-old, Native Tribe was loaded up in a van and driven 20 miles to a farm where not one thing is ever asked of him.
On his birthday April 6, he galloped around his pasture, tail over his back, looking like a far younger horse, Davenport says.
“He’s just beautiful,” Davenport says. “He does this floating trot out there, and when he does, you’d swear he’s a 4-year old.”
Those wishing to see other horses in Olivia’s Herd may do so by clicking this link: http://www.oliviasherd.org/