Ex-jock straightens out life for crooked horse

Brenda Zoppo and Marqued Heart have forged a lifelong friendship. Photo by Sandra Madison

Brenda Zoppo and Marqued Heart have forged a lifelong friendship. Photo by Sandra Madison

Crooked knees and an offset gait made the little colt appear more seaworthy than race ready.

And so Marqued Heart ran wide of his father’s stellar racing career, and instead, wound up with a jockey who promised never to ride him.

It was a turn of fate set in motion in early April 2006, when Marqued Heart entered this world with front knees so crooked he struggled along with a wide step up front, giving him an offset and twisted look all over. And then, at age 2 months, the little colt somehow put a foot wrong and shattered his hind sesamoid ending any hope he would follow in the footsteps of his famous sire, Marquetry.

When he was fully recovered he was declared unfit for riding.

Marqued Heart
Barn name: Rocky
Sire: Marquetry
Dam: Lady Lake, by Salt Lake
Foal date: April 5, 2006
Though this was not a great recommendation for a Yearling sale prospect in a world where horses need to earn their keep, the little guy’s plight caught the eye of longtime jockey Brenda Zoppo who was on a personal mission to do a good turn for a horse in need.

After 16 years of racing, the Ocala-based leading apprentice jockey in 1984/1985 at Calder, Gulfstream and Hialeah, had had her fill of sitting atop galloping horses. Her goal, when she offered Marqued Heart a home, was to fill a void left after the death of a beloved personal horse, who died after breaking a leg while playing in his paddock. All she wanted was to offer a nice life to a horse.

“It didn’t matter to me that he couldn’t be ridden,” she says. “I rode for a living … and my feeling was that he needed a home and I wanted another horse.”

Marqued Heart was a mean horse when he swept into Zoppo's life in 2007.

Marqued Heart was a mean horse when he swept into Zoppo’s life in 2007.

But Marqued Heart wasn’t so much interested in her soft feelings. And when he stepped off the trailer on March 28, 2007, he was about as mean and ugly as a horse could be, she says.

“He was rotten! There was nothing really nice about this horse when I got him. It wasn’t from abuse; he’d been handled really well by his people. But his mother was an Alpha mare who ran a field, and my guess is that it affected him.”

For the first two years, Zoppo spent time dodging his kicks and walking on eggshells. “When he was 2 I was bathing him, and I told him to move over and gave him a push, and he double-barreled me in the chest,” she says. “I broke a rib off my sternum; that’s how dangerous he was.”

Although she considered humanely destroying the animal after that incident, Zoppo stuck with him for reasons unknown.

And so a budding friendship took hold and blossomed, and life has straightened out for the crooked foal with the bad attitude.

Zoppo now proclaims Marqued Heart to be “the most human horse I know.”

“He’s in a barn 50 feet away from my house. So he can see into my kitchen from his stall. If my lights are on, he kicks his stall door if he needs something. He doesn’t kick when the lights are off at night, unless he’s sick or he’s hurt himself,” she says. “I swear this horse did everything in his power not to become a racehorse … and I feel animals are brought to people when they need them. He would do anything for me, and he will have a home with me until the day he dies.”

9 responses to “Ex-jock straightens out life for crooked horse”

  1. Destiny

    I know Brenda, personally. And this horse is sooooooooooo spoiled! I never knew the back story. Very cool! He couldn’t of gotten a better home.

  2. Carrie

    My made came to me two weeks after putting my gelding down. I truly believe horses come to you when it’s needed most. She’s like a puppy dog to me but someone else tries to have her follow and she won’t. I can walk away from her and she will follow me.

  3. Martha.

    Bravo! When I bought my 20 year old OTTB 11 years ago I knew he had some “racing jewelry” And we spent the first summer together dealing with a hoof abscess, while the few other riders in my barn took off on trail rides. He is now retired to pasture due to soundness issues. But is my partner. I swear he understands every word I say to him. And he has been even more careful with me since I became disabled. He will be with me til his last breath.

  4. Laura Seebaugh

    AMEN TO HER!!!! His sire Marquetry was by Conquistador Cielo.. I love the CIELO”S . They have so much heart and soul. My colt that raced in Ky. that i bred and raised from a foal was by a son of Cielo. ..AGAIN I SAY AMEN TO HER !!!!

  5. Beth DeWitt

    His grand Sire, Salt Lake was much like that as well. And the 2nd photo of “Rocky” looks much like Salt Lake. It took time to become friends with him. funny how they never meet but are so alike.

  6. Tonya

    He is one beautiful horse who has found the woman he was destined to be with. Glad Zoppo gave him that love to live out his life as a well cared for horse.

  7. Stephanie Morse

    That is one beautiful horse.

  8. Susan

    Oh I love that this guy was sired by Marquetry! Lucky boy, Rocky that you landed in the right place!

  9. Cheri

    I especially love the stories of equine/human relationships where the bond grew from adversity. Wow, I am really happy for Marqued Heart who found his “person” as they say!

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