Jennifer Sponseller Webster spent two disastrous years trying to find a horse.
A friend loaned her a handsome gelding in 2010, and Webster, four months pregnant at the time, was promptly bucked off. Next she tried a lease that didn’t work out, had another go lame, dealt with two who were plumb crazy, and all this to find a fox-hunting prospect to replace a horse she had trained to the hilt, and resold.
By the time April 2012 rolled around, was kicking herself for thinking it would be easy to find another fox hunter, and none too optimistic when she agreed to go see Campside, a recently retired Thoroughbred, fresh off the Charles Town Race Course.
Sire: Forest Camp
Dam: Eastside Ballad
Foal date: Feb. 9, 2006“When I arrived the girl who showed him to me had this big open field where she rides” and her pickup truck and Campside were waiting nearby. “She tacked up the horse, climbed into the bed of her truck, and mounted the mare, and started riding around.”
The mare was pretty, stunning even, says Webster, who further describes her: “Although black can’t be a color designation for a Thoroughbred, and she’s technically dark bay, she looked as black as black can be, and has one short ankle sock in the back and a star.”
After watching how agreeably the mare carted another rider around, Webster gamely gave her a try. There was no grand epiphany, no ah-ha moment when the associate publisher of The Equiery magazine thought: this is the one. But she agreed to take her home, put some training on her and see where that might go.
Webster had to cool her heels first, however, when Campside injured herself in the field, aggravating a ligament in her fetlock so badly she would require months of stall rest. “She was really good in her stall and by the time August rolled around she was sound enough to start work, so I decided to take her walking with the hounds,” Webster says.
“It was a baptism by fire.” Webster continues. “I only sat on her eight times before her injury, but she was awesome.”
Taking a couple of months to build back her fitness after her stall rest, the pair was finally ready to try their first hunt in mid-October. And it was here, in Martinsburg, West Virginia, that Webster began to get an inkling that the mild-mannered mare was really something special.
“We started out at the back of the pack to take it easy and within 15 minutes we were (moving with the mid pack) and then midway through the hunt, she led the field,” she says. “She’s happy to lead. She has no spook, no fear. The hounds can run through her legs!”
There was a little hiccup with her jump training inside the ring—the mare became frightened of the jumps after she brought a rail down, but rather than force the green horse to do something that frightened her, Webster took her back out to the hunt field, where Campside felt confident, and let her learn how to jump by clearing logs and natural elements.
“I took the pressure off by taking her to the field and letting her learn to use her legs there. That was her only issue. She didn’t know how to use her legs because all she’d done was run counterclockwise on the track,” she says. “When I brought her back to the training ring in the spring to try jumping again, she didn’t bat an eye; she jumped everything.”
This past year, Campside has shined as a poster horse for the Thoroughbred Alliance Show Series. She was High Point Green Champion twice and third overall for mares and fillies.
Her success, and that of other OTTBs who have successfully competed in the show series will be honored Jan. 11th at a banquet at Laurel Race Course, celebrating the horses who have done so well, and those who will shine in the future.
Georganne Hale of the Maryland Jockey Club, who founded the Totally Thoroughbred Show at Pimlico, organized the series and Thoroughbred advocate Fran Burns, worked to create a show series that celebrates the Thoroughbreds, and raises funds for retiring racehorses.
The show series this year brought in approximately $35,000, which was donated to Thoroughbred charity.
Webster was thrilled to show off her good-looking mare this year, and honored that Campside’s race owner Elizabeth Meehan, who took a full year to find her horse a good home, entrusted her as Campside’s new owner.
Best of all, after all the disappointments with other horses, it was a green off-track Thoroughbred who is now her go-to horse for foxhunting.
“I’ve always been a fan of the Thoroughbred,” she says, noting that her first horse was an OTTB. “And Campside was lucky to have a very responsible last owner and trainer who looked so hard to find her a good home.” — Originally published on Dec. 19, 2013.