Still reeling from the news that Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand had been destroyed in a Japanese slaughterhouse, Sandy Porter-Gonyea spotted something that would change her life.
Emblazoned across a full page of the 2003 edition of the New York newspaper she was reading, was a picture of Ferdinand winning the Kentucky Derby. And beneath it, was a photo of a dinner plate and the statement: “Eat an American Champion.”
At that moment Porter-Gonyea promised herself this: “If I was ever ready to buy a horse, I’d buy an off-track Thoroughbred,” she says. “I decided I was going to save at least one from ending up like Ferdinand.”
Three years later, Porter-Gonyea made good on that promise.
While touring New Beginnings Equine Rescue in Rensselaerville, N.Y., she came face-to-face with a thin gelding whose eyes were swollen shut.
Hoy, who raced at Finger Lakes before arriving at the facility in 2006, had a gentle demeanor that shined through his rough exterior, and Porter-Gonyea quickly assessed him as the perfect match for a little girl begging to own a horse again.
Race name: Hoy
Sire: Swain (Ireland)
Dam: Dissa Six
Foal date: April 23, 2001
Total earnings: $34,000Her daughter Mariah, 9 years old at the time, had briefly owned a Quarter Horse, but a bad case of colic proved too much for the animal, and he was euthanized.
“The loss of her first horse was really hard on her; it was hard on all of us,” she says. “When I decided to start looking for a new horse, I never forgot (my promise) to look for a racehorse.”
Hoy was adopted in 2006, and over the course of his first year, adapted well to his new life. Meanwhile, Mariah took riding lessons on other horses to perfect her seat.
When the day finally came for the little girl to ride her ex-racer, her mother was not nervous at all.
“The day she rode Hoy was one of the happiest days of Mariah’s life,” she says. “That horse will do anything for her. She’s teaching him tricks—she taught him to count, and he follows her around like a puppy.”
Eventually the pair moved to natural horsemanship center, Shadowbrook Equine Facility, where the motto “Think Your Ride” underscores a commitment to help horse-and-rider teams gain confidence and trust.
Hoy and Mariah have worked on everything from hunter/jumper and dressage to exercises aimed at desensitizing horses against spooky objects.
For the Mariah, the work has done immeasurable good. Now entering her teen years, she is doing so with confidence and focus. “She hopes to become an equine veterinarian one day, and is working hard in school on math and science,” Porter-Gonyea says. “Having a horse has provided a passion, and has made her responsible. She sets goals for herself and works to meet them.”
For Hoy, life couldn’t be better. He spends most of his time romping around a pasture, and eating a specialized diet of grain and protein feed, without the sweet feed. What’s more, he has a family who adores him, and a job he enjoys. “He’s a happy horse,” she says with satisfaction.
And at the end of the day, when Hoy is untacked, rubbed down, and given his nightly meal, Porter-Gonyea can rest easy. Her gelding is one more horse who will never know what Ferdinand knew, in those last moments of life.
“That horse deserved more than that, and so many others deserve better too,” she says, noting that is with deep satisfaction that she has given both Hoy, and new addition Jerry, good homes.
“People think Thoroughbreds have bad reputations. They say they’re hard-to-handle, hot, or crazy. That’s not true. And it makes me ill to think these horses are going to slaughter.”