One-eyed Suffolk Downs T-bred lands softy in Vt

Rusty lost an eye in a race, but managed to find the perfect home anyway. Photo by Margo Palmer

Rusty lost an eye in a race, but managed to find the perfect home anyway. Photo by Margo Palmer

A racehorse who lost an eye in a freak accident on the track found an owner this month who was willing to look past his damaged face to the heart of a beautiful “old soul.”

“I’ve taken on horses that some people might not want my whole life,” says Tara Girard, owner of Safe Haven Farm of Vermont. “And when I first saw Rusty (Jockey Club: Four Fs and a D), I thought he’s going to be fine. He immediately had his nose in my hair, and was the sweetest thing going, and I thought, this is what I do: we take horses like this.”

The bright chestnut ex-racehorse left Suffolk Downs this month and traveled hundreds of miles with T-bred Mrsmargie, to settle into the picturesque countryside of northern Vermont.

Four Fs and a D
Barn name: Rusty
Sire: Full Mandate, by A.P. Indy
Dam: Black Hawk Beach
Foal date: Jan. 21, 2007
That one fine Thoroughbred was adopted from Suffolk Downs as it closed its doors forever was one thing, but for the chestnut beauty, missing an eye and less adoptable because of it, to find such a happy fate, well, this was the kind of ending that horse advocates like Ellen O’Brien dream about.

O’Brien, the founder of CANTER New England, had privately worried that Rusty would not find a home. “He’s a stunningly beautiful horse,” she says. “He’s a big, 16-hand, old-style Thoroughbred who seems to have an old soul. But when he turns his head, and you see his missing eye, it’s heartbreaking.”

Rusty lost his eye in a race when the shoe of another horse flew off, hit him in the head, and sliced his eye, she says. Half blind now, and with a rugged 47-start race record under his belt, she fretted that the agreeable gelding had slim chances of landing a new home. So when Girard arrived from Vermont to adopt Mrsmargie, O’Brien took a chance, and suggested she go take a peek at Rusty too.

Rusty (JC: Four Fs and a D) and Mrsmargie came off the track at Suffolk Downs and landed at a Vermont farm.

Rusty (JC: Four Fs and a D) and Mrsmargie came off the track at Suffolk Downs and landed at a Vermont farm.

“Tara told me they had another spot and asked if I could recommend another horse. I told her yes, there’s a gorgeous a horse, but he has an eye issue. I told them to go see him, and don’t look at his eye first, but look at the whole thing, and to call me,” O’Brien says. “She called me a few minutes later” from his barn “ and said she adored him, and was pretty blasé about the eye.”

To Girard, Rusty’s eye isn’t gross at all. It is a battle wound from an honorable career, and one that has no connection to his sharp mind and wonderful nature.

“He’s very level headed,” she says. “If something scares him, he does not bolt or take off, and instead he stays contained in his own space.”

Having known successful eventers who are blind in one eye, Girard has every confidence that Rusty has a bright future as a riding horse. She plans to start him under saddle soon, and prepare him to be a lesson horse at her farm. “I’m hoping that Rusty and Mrsmargie can be ambassadors for my farm, and for the breed,” she says. ♥

T Bred iconPlease consider visiting the blog’s new store, Off-Track Products. Proceeds will help sustain this blog in the future, and go to charity.

Nowhere to go after Suffolk, Rich Hero lucks out

Rich Hero went to live with Lisa Molloy at ReRun, Inc., in Virginia two weeks ago.

Rich Hero went to live with Lisa Molloy at ReRun, Inc., in Virginia two weeks ago.

Passed up and passed over, and nobody wanted warhorse Rich Hero, as Suffolk Downs closed it doors forever.

After an honorable career spent battling his way to the winner’s circle enough times to earn $250,000 in 63 starts, no kind consideration came his way at the end, when Suffolk Down announced plans to permanently close, and many horses were put up for sale.

Despite several pleas on Facebook by CANTER New England that Rich Hero was in great need of a home, and after several failed attempts by horse advocate Lorita Lindemann to secure him a foster home, or placement in a Thoroughbred center, the pure chestnut gelding’s story looked grim. Until that is, Virginia-based T-bred trainer Lisa Molloy of ReRun, Inc., found she had an available stall.

Rich Hero
Sire: Maria’s Mon
Dam: Idle Rich
March 23, 2005
Earnings: $248,103, 63 starts
“I was aware that Suffolk Downs was closing, and I had gotten seven horses adopted out that month, so I called up Lorita and told her I had a stall,” Molloy says. “That’s when she told me about Rich Hero, and I agreed to take him before I even saw his photos. She told me people weren’t interested in him because he was older and he’d run a lot.”

Molloy agreed to take him and also Soccer Goalie from Suffolk Downs and she is happy she did!

“I was quite pleased with my decision when Rich Hero showed up. He’s very nice, a really classy looking horse in good condition and carrying quite a bit of weight,” she says. And though he has the bearing of a monarch who expects things to be done for him on his own timetable —when he stands next to the paddock gait to come in, he expects it to open immediately—he is already proving to have a great disposition.

Rich Hero treats himself to a mud bath.

Rich Hero treats himself to a mud bath.

“He’s got a lot of personality, like he knows he’s a special horse,” she says. “And he’s in good shape. His legs are good” despite the wear and tear of a lengthy career “and I think he’ll be ideal for low-level pursuits, like trail riding and low-level dressage.”

She adds, “The older warhorses don’t have anything left to prove, so I prefer that they go to laid-back homes.”

Along with Rich Hero, Molloy also welcomed four other retired racehorses to her farm: Radiohead, Marco Be Good, Artie Luvsto Party and West Side Corral were all shipped to her Virginia facility from Saratoga, N.Y., while Soccer Goalie was placed at ReRun, Inc. New York chapter, she says.

How do you like me now?

How do you like me now?

Molloy paid close to $2,000 to ship the ex-racehorses to her facility and has since invested approximately $400 in shoes, vaccines, and wormers for some of the horses, she says, noting that her ReRun, Inc., chapter is in need of donations to help in the care of her 25-horse herd.

It has been a successful year re-homing horses, says Molloy, noting that after taking in 71 Thoroughbreds from a range of trainers, she has re-homed about 40 so far.

To Lindemann’s ears, Molloy’s phone call was like the singing of angels the day she offered to take Rich Hero.

“She is truly a blessed soul to do what she did,” Lindemann says.

Donations may be made to ReRun’s Virginia branch via this hyperlink. ♥

T Bred iconPlease consider visiting the blog’s new store, Off-Track Products. Proceeds will help sustain this blog in the future, and go to charity.

The big show at Pimlico is big news, all abuzz

Rachel Jackson drives her team of bay Thoroughbreds at the Retired Racehorse Project's big show at Pimlico this month. Photos by Megan Stapley

Rachel Jackson drives her team of bay Thoroughbreds at the Retired Racehorse Project’s big show at Pimlico this month. Photos by Megan Stapley

Four bay Thoroughbreds, nostrils flared and eyes alert, paraded like Roman warhorses onto the Pimlico racetrack Oct. 5 to demonstrate that off-track Thoroughbreds can do just about anything, even carry a single rider, straddling them, into a big show.

Prancing with barely contained excitement, the team moved fluidly across the dirt track, performing figure eights at the walk and trot while their trainer Rachel Jackson stood on top the back two, the forward horses led the way.

As she and her Roman riding team demonstrated alongside other re-trained Thoroughbreds who performed a bevy of disciplines, including barrel racing, polo, cattle cutting, jumping and dressage, the word of their feats spread further, this year, past the diehard Thoroughbred lovers, and into the mainstream, according to event mastermind Steuart Pittman.

“I got a little teary eyed when I watched a couple of the demonstrations on the track,” admits Pittman, whose unrelenting goal is to help increase the marketability and value of off-track Thoroughbreds through his nonprofit organization Retired Racehorse Project. “But the most exciting things were taking place off the track.” And in the pages and over the airwaves of mainstream media, which covered the two-day event like a horse blanket, he says.

A small chestnut mare demonstrates polo so elegantly that Steuart Pittman admits he got a little teary eyed watching her.

It’s a Little Chili, a small chestnut mare, demonstrates polo so elegantly that Steuart Pittman admits he got a little teary eyed watching her.

This year’s event was featured in write-ups in the Baltimore Business Journal, the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Magazine, and was covered live by two television stations, says Pittman, who explains that a prime goal this year was to spread the good word about Thoroughbreds well past the diehard fans, and into the mainstream.

“It’s been a huge challenge to attract the general public to any kind of horse event,” Pittman says. “This year we hired a professional media person to help us get press, and she nailed it! That’s big. It’s hard to reach those people to do a positive story.”

But positive it was. Pittman was interviewed by several television and radio shows and the resulting publicity has had immeasurable impact on the enthusiasm and drive of the Retired Racehorse Project’s ongoing quest to create a positive buzz about ex-racehorses. Says Pittman, “Our board is pretty pumped!”

The event itself drew approximately 450 people to the track to watch demonstrations and competitions— top Eventer Phillip Dutton won first place aboard 9-year-old gelding Icabad Crane for their efforts—and a roundtable discussion among trainers of all disciplines capped off an exciting, successful event, Pittman says.

You don't see cattle roping everyday at Pimlico!

Rikim, a warhorse with 75 starts, demonstrates cattle roping.

“A real highlight was hearing our 10 trainers in different disciplines discuss the best way to train horses,” he says. “We had approximately 200 in attendance, some people had to stand, and there was something magical about listening as an Olympic rider and a ranch rider discussed (horse training) and as one spoke, the other’s head was nodding up and down in agreement.”

To see people at opposite ends of the horse world gather together to discuss best practices of training, and to agree, was a truly exciting moment, he adds. “One of the comments to which all trainers agreed is that the problems aren’t with the horses, they’re with the riders,” he notes.

But there were few criticisms of the riding done during the on-track demonstrations. Pittman says he got teary eyed when he watched a 14.3-hand chestnut ride gracefully onto the track to demonstrate newly learned polo skills. “This was a hot, little chestnut mare in a difficult environment, but in the hands of a really caring rider,” he says. “The rider said he could have asked her to do anything, and she would have done it, but he didn’t want to overwhelm her.”

Phillip Dutton and Icabad Crane win the trainer challenge. Photo by Jen Roytz

Phillip Dutton and Icabad Crane win the trainer challenge. Photo by Jen Roytz

So many good vibes came from all over that weekend. The event was live streamed on the Retired Racehorse Project’s web page and attracted 10,480 votes from viewers who chose their favorite team: Icabad Crane and Phillip Dutton. “Voting was pretty tight,” Pittman says. “At the end of the day, there was just 120 votes separating them from challengers Pookie’s Princess and trainer Patricia King.”

The event was also streamed by Blood-Horse, and drew 5,000 viewers.

Looking to the future, Pittman says Retired Racehorse Project plans to keep growing, and spreading the word about the exciting possibilities of warhorses like the team who rode in, Roman style, and wowed the crowd. ♥

T Bred iconPlease consider visiting the blog’s new store, Off-Track Products. Proceeds will help sustain this blog in the future, and go to charity.