A promise kept to ‘best horse in the world’

Fran Burns couldn't afford Ben's asking price when she purchased him 15 years ago. So she promised the seller to make up the difference in his care. In a recent photo, Ben, 29, blooms in good health.

Fran Burns couldn’t afford Ben’s asking price when she purchased him 16 years ago. So she promised the seller to make up the difference in his care. In a recent photo, Ben, 29, blooms in good health. Photo by Drew Johnson

When she discovered the “best horse in the world” was for sale, Fran Burns didn’t have the money. But she did have something better than cash.

So she struck a bargain with the seller.

In exchange for selling the beautiful bay gelding Ben for “several thousands less” than the horse’s asking price, she would “make up the difference” in high-quality, lifelong care.

It was an offer Jill Adriani couldn’t refuse. Agreeing to pocket far less for the 14-year-old OTTB than he was worth, she loaded him into a trailer and personally drove him to Burns’ Maryland boarding facility at the time, Bacon Hall Farm.

That was 16 years ago in June.

Barn name: Ben
Sire: Horatius
Dam: Key to the Dynasty, by Key to the Mint
Foal date: April 16, 1987
At age 29, Ben is still going strong, racing his pasture pal Clyde, and looking nearly as good as the day he arrived. Though he is fully retired from riding, Burns continues to provide all the best care—regular teeth and farrier and good-quality feed—just like she promised.

“I remember saying to Jill back when I made my offer that I couldn’t afford to give her all that she was asking for the horse. But I promised he would get all the best care until the end of his natural life. I think the story about Ben (JC: Ineluctability) is important because … it shows there are good people and owners who want to do right by their horses. Not everybody ships horses down the river.”

For the beautifully bred gelding who was fathered by Maryland famous sire Horatius, old connections still flock to the old boy. Adriani’s father occasionally drops by his pasture in Boxwood Farm in Monkton, Md., to check on his wellbeing, and Jill Adriani has been known to swing by with a bag of spearmints; his favorites, says Burns.

Fran and Ben enjoy a ride in their early days, before his lifetime retirement with her.

Fran and Ben enjoy a ride in their early days, before his lifetime retirement with her.

And every year, Ben’s former race trainer Frannie Campitelli receives a fresh batch of photos and updates on the former racehorse, who managed only a single victory in 32 starts, but who lived on to become known as “the best horse ever” to Burns and others who cross paths with the gentle, kind-eyed bay.

“He’s just one of those horses who everyone loves. Even the dentist when he was here on Monday asked me, ‘Where’s the best horse ever?’ as if that’s his name. And he really is. He has the most amazing ground manners and he gets along with everyone. He’s the one horse in the barn who always does everything right,” Burns says.

Although Ben has been fully retired for a few years now, he was an Eventer with Adriani before Burns rode him lightly for pleasure. “As a riding horse, Ben never missed a trick. We were always the first to go” for any lesson or test “because he was the type who just dove right in,” she says. “Ben used to love to jump, and we had a blast trail riding.”

When a hip injury flared up in his older age, and Burns decided it was time to hang up his saddle, she remembered her old promise.

“When I made my investment many years ago I promised him a life with me. That’s what I’d always been taught; when you invest in an animal, you invest in the animal for his life. I feel so strongly about it that I tell people that if they aren’t going to be responsible owners, don’t buy a horse. Go to a riding facility and lease or rent instead,” Burns says. “I’m often reminded of a quote by Marylou Whitney from a speech she gave many years ago at the Eclipse Awards: ‘ All owners need to be accountable for their horses, from the beginning of their lives to the end. We are their advocates. Together, we must fight to ensure there will never be another horse slaughtered in America.”

Burns adds, “I invested in my horse the way he invested in me.”

15 responses to “A promise kept to ‘best horse in the world’”

  1. Cindy McLachlan

    Wonderful story. Among my OTTB here, I also have two born in 1987. One, who suffered a “Ruffian” injury at 4yo. I stepped in and rescued when they were going to put him down and he underwent surgery and remarkably is still the head honcho of the barn. His race name is appropriate “Johnny’s Tuff Stuff”.

  2. Deb

    There’s so much more than just riding, when it comes to horses. It’s such a small part of our relationship. So when riding ends, things won’t change so much. We’ll still have plenty of sunsets at the round bale, or in the shade of the big sycamore tree. Plenty of midnight visits when I can’t sleep or they call out. I’m not that human that just shows up to saddle, ride and leave. Horses are so much more than riding.

  3. Judith Ochs

    Great story. When we bought our first horse – age 63! – we made a big deal out of it. The woman selling the horse not so much. But for us it was a real commitment – it meant he had a home for life. And he does. He has repaid us – especially my husband whose horse he is and who mainly rides and cares for him – with incredible love and affection. He is now 19 and everyone thinks he is 12. My husband found something with him neither of us would have predicted. An incredible and wonderful experience all around. I personally discovered how incredibly wonderful the older horse is – a wisdom and sweetness not found in the younger horse….


    Great horse. Great lady!!!

  5. Niles

    This is the way it’s supposed to be, thank you for sharing.

  6. Jacqueline Gail Wareheim Stanoyevic

    Wow!! That is awesome. Wonderful article. I have 4 OTTBs that love spearmints!! I use to take lessons at Bacon Hall with GSHPC, 1966-1968. So glad they are still up and running!!

  7. Sylvie Hebert

    By Horatius…I loved that stud ….brings back memories

  8. Gail Richter-Nelson

    I remember Ben. Can’t fathom those who would desert their horses when they need them the most in later years. These “horse people” would be better off with motorcycles to trade in. Thanks, Fran for being an example of what a true “horse person” takes on when agreeing to share life with an equine partner.

  9. Susan

    AHHHHH….the way it should be for all of them! I wish all owners and breeders’ would have to sign a contract with Mary Lou Whitney’s quote stamped on it! 🙂 Lovely, lovely story! I hope Ben lives many more years happy and healthy!

  10. R.A.C.E. Fund, Inc.

    Great story about commitment and honoring a person’s word to ensure a horse receives the lifetime care and safety they deserve.

  11. Mary McLeod

    What a wonderful story about an angel and her handsome Prince. The quote from Marylou Whitney is so right on. Thank you for tears and heart tug, Susan. Love to ALL, Mary in Boone

  12. Marilyn Lee-Hannah

    This is a great story on so many levels…including the insight into Fran Burns…kindred spirit.

  13. Cheri

    Very nice! The way it should be…

  14. colmel

    Wonderful story of a wonderful person. The proof of how good she must be is standing in her pasture bringing joy in return. The best kind of horse story!

  15. Patricia Diers

    Wonderful story. made my day and I so agree with the quote from Marylou Whitney,

Leave a Reply