Surging toward a fence at the six-minute marker at Rolex, the Thoroughbred slipped badly just before takeoff.
In a split second, where others might have been thrown off their game, fearless OTTB sport horse Sound Prospect twisted and turned, practically defying the laws of gravity and launched himself over the four-star jump, exactly between the red and white flags.
And in that instant, as the wind whistled and the horse soldiered on through the most challenging course in North America, rider Ali Knowles knew they were invincible.
“When we landed at that jump, I thought, damn, this horse is really with me. He worked so hard to get us inside the flags, and this was the point when I realized the fear was gone,” she says. The pair went on to place 16th overall in the three-day competition that set the stage for a minor racehorse to make a major impact as a sport horse, and an example of all OTTBs.
Barn name: Sounder
Sire: Easter Echo
Dam: Miners Girl
Foal date: Feb. 22, 2002So mighty, so impressive was the horse on courses this year that he was named as a divisional winner in the Rood & Riddle Thoroughbred Sport Award; an honor reserved for only the top Thoroughbred sport horses, such as the great gray competitor Courageous Comet.
“To be in a league with horses like Courageous Comet is just amazing,” says Knowles, of Valley View Farm in Midway, Ky. “It was a real honor, a real validation for him, and for my owners who agreed to buy him three years ago and take a chance on him.”
Sound Prospect, who’s nickname is Sounder, came off the track at Emerald Downs in 2005 and started Eventing with one of Knowles’s friends. With keen interest, Knowles watched as the handsome bay started to climb the competitive ranks, up through Young Riders and onto the cross-country fields. “What I noticed about Sounder is that no matter what happened on competition, he was never effected by it. He could be pulled off a fence, come back around, and jump it. He never pulled himself off a fence; he was always game.”
Then three years ago, Knowles’s friend asked the four-star rider to take over Sounder’s education, and soon after, Knowles and her sponsors agreed to take a chance.
“I ride with Buck Davidson and when I asked what he thought about Sounder, he said yeah, it’s a no-brainer. I have a few owners and we decided to go for it,” she says.
Their rise up the ranks was built on trust. It did not come easy.
“We had intermittent problems at the beginning. Specifically, he was terrified of corners on cross country,” she says. “I could literally feel his whole body start panicking when we approached one. I had to do a lot of work getting it into his mind that he needed to jump between the flags, and to help him trust that I’d be there for him, I wouldn’t abandon him.”
Their first year together was sporadic, she says. The pair would finish at the top one-day, and become flustered with rails down and random stops on another, she adds.
The turning point came shortly after they went to Rolex two years ago. Knowing her horse was firing on all cylinders, they hit the four-star course in a driving rainstorm, tearing across sodden earth. They pulled up after they had a run out before a jump, and Knowles made the decision to quit while they were ahead, she says.
After that, they tackled Jersey Fresh, and have been setting the world on fire ever since.
“After Jersey, we never finished out of the top 10,” she says, noting that his second run at Rolex landed them 16th among the world’s top riders.
As Rounder begins a winter rest, started early after the horse sustained a very mild injury, Knowles is looking ahead with high aspirations, and plans to tackle Rolex again in the spring.
And with gratification for her OTTB, her owners, and all who encouraged her, Knowles says her lightly raced Thoroughbred has done more for her than she could have predicted.
“’The award from Rood & Riddle was a real honor, and great validation for him,” she says. “He has given so much to me, in my riding, and in my confidence. Although he doesn’t know he got this award, it means so much to me, to my owners, students and sponsors. This operation is not run by me, but by my entire team. And we’re all so proud of Sounder.”