A son of Hall of Fame champion Curlin, whose racing future once appeared as bright as his own coppery coat, has found the limelight far from the racetrack, in a rarefied riding club in Westchester County, New York.
Four-year-old gelding Southern Charm, who was plucked from a Yearling sale meant to launch his race career, but was instead rushed into surgery to repair a facial tear, now finds himself the “face” of the Thoroughbreds among the Warmblood set.
Barn name: Curly
Dam: Renowned Cat, by Storm Cat
Foal date: April 23, 2011And he is impressing everyone, from decorated horse show veteran and coach Jim Toon, who once remarked, “I wish I had 10 of him,” to one Warmblood owner who decided to look for her own Thoroughbred. But most of all, Southern Charm has won the heart of his owner/rider Courtney Safadi, a dyed-in the-wool Warmblood owner who is now “completely sold” on the Thoroughbred sport horse.
“I was competitive in the late 1990s on Warmbloods and when I decided to get back into riding … I figured I’d get a safe, bombproof horse like the Warmblood I used to have, she says. “But then this Thoroughbred popped up … and at first, I can’t tell you the kind of crap I got from people for getting a Thoroughbred. Then I started winning on him.”
But beyond the ribbons, is the sheer fun of the journey.
Instead of entering a show ring on a horse who will just pack her around, collecting her ribbons and growing bored, the sheer fun of riding a 4-year-old Thoroughbred has been unparalleled.
“Instead of going to the show, getting ribbons and going home, I find myself actually trying to keep up with him! He’s already learned his lead changes and I’m still trying to learn the aids to ask,” she says. There are times, she adds, when she’s certain her charming Kentucky bred is saying to her, “Don’t worry. I got it.”
She adds, “People see me making mistakes on him, and he’s great about it. I took him to a show after I’d been sick with a stomach bug and didn’t ride that well, and we still got a 4th!”
Thoroughbred ownership never got onto her radar until, by chance, the Curlin son crossed her path. A friend was leasing the 16-hand chestnut for the summer and happened to show off the animal to Safadi’s coach. Jim Toon, owner of JT Farm of South Salem, N.Y., was in Kentucky judging the Pony Finals, when he agreed to check out the horse for her.
“I was expecting him to tell me that a young project was not the right route for an out-of-practice adult rider, but he saw what I saw: a super sweet, very fancy horse that likes to jump,” she says. “So we brought him home. In hindsight, he was the perfect match for me.”
Training a green horse made her a better rider, improving her basic foundation, and rekindling her joy of riding.
And though Southern Charm never made it to the starting gate—he tore his nostril as a Yearling and required reconstructive surgery—he has become the ideal sport horse in suburbs of Manhattan. Riding in the modified adult hunter/jumpers, he is already winning blue ribbons in classes 20-horses deep.
“I tell everyone to get a Thoroughbred,” she says. “I feel like the stars aligned for me to get this horse. And when people meet him and realize he’s only 4, and he’s trotting around an adult rider, they fall in love with him. It’s like he has his own fan club.”