Terrified and desperate, the red mare flailed in the confined auction-house stall like someone being buried alive.
Unable to lay eyes on another horse for reassurance, the 4-year-old OTTB Brightly Shining became so frenzied at the Thurmont Auction in Maryland that she scared off every buyer who could have saved her from the slaughter pipeline. Except for one.
Mike Keech had seen plenty of “crazy horses” in his 75 years, and wasn’t about to be deterred from at least taking a peek at the animal raising such a ruckus.
Dam: Bright Shining
Foal date: Feb. 14, 2009“She was tearing her stall down, ” says Keech, a longtime trainer of Thoroughbreds. “Everybody was afraid of her. So I walked up, opened her stall door, and she came right over to me and dropped her head to my chest.”
And in that instant, Keech knew he would save her.
Putting his hand reassuringly on the scared animal, he whispered, “Don’t worry. I’m going to buy you and take you home.”
That was November of 2013.
Fast-forward to last week, and Brightly Shining has now emerged from out of the dusty catchall for unwanted horses and into the show world with a vengeance.
After earning ribbons, trophies and silver plates with competitive rider Alexa Riddle, and most recently, Briana Kenerson, Brightly Shining earned enough points to compete last week at the Washington International Horse Show.
“When we first started together we used to be laughed at a little bit,” Kenerson says. “We weren’t thought of as much of a threat before. But now we’re getting there, and she’s not someone to scoff at anymore.”
Indeed, nobody is snickering now.
The once-terrified ex-racehorse has stormed the horseshow world and come out the victor, earning almost too many distinctions to count. Among them, the 2015 MHSA (Maryland Horse Show Association) Adult Medal Finals champion; the 2015 Thoroughbred Alliance Show Series Green Horse Champion; the CPJHSA (Central Pennsylvania Junior Horse Show Association) Adult Amateur Hunter, 3rd place and 5th place in the adult medal finals; and, the TIP (Thoroughbred Incentive Program) OTTB of the Year in 2014.
Lifelong equestrian Kenerson, 23, teamed up with Keech’s auction-house mare last July after learning through a friend that the relatively green mare needed a rider for the Thoroughbred Alliance horse show at Pimlico. And she was game to try her.
“After I rode her for the first time, I came back to Mike and he said, ‘Briana, we have a problem. You ride my horses better than all my other people.’ We just clicked right away,” she says.
Taking over the reins from the previous rider, who went off to college, Kenerson says it was Keech’s idea to tackle rated shows after the pair did so nicely at the Thoroughbred Alliance Show Series. “The first time we tried 3-foot classes, it was kind of crazy. She’d only jumped 2-foot before and we rode right through them,” she says. “But the second time we tried, she packed me around like a pro.”
Though they did not place at the Washington International Horse Show because the mare swapped her leads in the back, the experience was worth its weight in ribbons and trophies.
“She didn’t place because she got super nervous and kept swapping her leads, but she jumped her heart out and did everything I asked,” Kenerson says. “She went into that arena and went against the best horses in the country, and was probably the only Thoroughbred in her class.”
As Thoroughbreds go, she’s in a class all by herself, Keech says.
“I’ve trained a lot of Thoroughbreds in my life, but this one happened to be the best one,” Keech says. “I don’t know why. I opened that stall door and we just fell in love with each other.”