Swimming with a Thoroughbred recaptures joy

Kim's Rahy splashes to his heart's content.

Kim’s Rahy splashes to his heart’s content.

The water rippled and swirled before his pawing hoof.

He was unsure. A lake, after all, was not part of the customary scenery for a typical racehorse and Kim’s Rahy, a veteran of the track, wasn’t so sure he wanted to find out what it was.

But his rider was sure.

With the same certainty that guided Laurie Tuozzolo to choose the former Suffolk Downs racer as her next horse, she knew that if he would just get in, he’d like it.

So she hopped off his back, and holding the reins, walked calmly into the water ahead of him. First steps were tentative but a few little tugs and an encouraging “good boy” and gradually he waded into the depths of the sparkling lake with the unglamorous name, Oak Swamp.

Here is where Tuozzolo’s fondest childhood memory of swimming with her pony reminds her of how it felt to be 10-years-old, riding in shorts on the back of a happily splashing horse.

Race name: Kim’s Rahy
Barn name: Rahy
Sire: Rahy
Dam: Family Verdict
Foal date: Feb. 5, 1994
Race career: 65 starts, $25,000 winnings
“It’s like time stands still. I remember riding by myself down the road,  in shorts, bare foot and bareback, and so excited to get to the lake to swim my pony!”

Now those simple days are back, hers to enjoy with her ex-racehorse.

Every week in the summertime, Tuozzolo and Rahy swim together three times. With no saddle on his back or helmet on her head, the two wade deep into the water until the depth forces him to swim. And oh what a feeling.

“Swimming with horses is just an amazing thing,” she says. “I can feel it when his feet no longer touch the bottom.”

He stretches his neck out and with the water partly holding them up with buoyancy, he paddles like a dog. Smoothly and efficiently the pair cut through the water as it laps over Tuozzolo’s bare legs and her gelding’s warm coat.

“He gets to the water, dunks his nose way under, then I give him the reins and he starts splashing,” she says. “Then slowly he ventures out into deeper water while I am holding onto a piece of his mane. And I think to myself.. I am so happy he gets the chance to do this.”

Horses were always a big deal in Tuozzolo’s life. For years she worked as an exercise rider at a racehorse barn, spending some of her happiest days in the simple pleasures of training green horses and mucking their stalls.

Photo courtesy of Jerri Moon Cantone Photography

Photo courtesy of Jerri Moon Cantone Photography

Through her connections at her former barn back in 2000, Tuozzolo learned that Rahy was retiring from track life and was in need of a new home. At the same time, her own life felt a little stuck. She was coping with several personal issues that were making her unhappy, and although she only set out to do a good deed for a horse in need, she says now it was the gelding who “saved” her.

“From the beginning, when he came into my life, he gave me a reason to look at things in a more positive way,” she says. “And I was responsible to him. He needed me.”

They were like a team, each pulling the other up. Rahy, after 65 starts, needed some rest and relaxation, well-deserved time off from a seven-year racing schedule.

And helping him recover from two bone chips in the left ankle, which fortunately did not require surgery, became a positive focus for his new owner.

She made sure he had the best veterinary care and even acupuncture, which she never believed in until she saw first-hand, its benefit.

While she waited for him to be ready to give rides, she eschewed traditional lunging exercises and decided instead to build trust through play, teaching him tricks, like bowing.

“He got a good year off before I started to ride him, and I started really slowly with him,” she says. “I didn’t do any lunging with him, I guess because once you’re an exercise rider, you learn to just get on and deal with it.”

Playing dress-up for Halloween.

Playing dress-up for Halloween.

If he was sore, she never medicated him for pain —“I didn’t want to mask anything because I wanted to know how he was really feeling.”

And Rahy helped her tap her own emotions from daily interactions that inspired her to write poetry for the first time.

On her website WhenTheyWhisper.com, Tuozzolo crafts words describing small moments with her horse that can rearrange a difficult day. In her poem titled, “When I See My Horseshe writes:
“The long hard day becomes easy,
The pressure released.
The tears somehow dry,
Turmoil fades to peace…”

“Proving that racehorses can make a difference in somebody’s life, just by bringing back happiness and fun, the kind of joy you have when you’re a kid, is a mission in my life now,” she says. “All these horses need is a chance to prove how wonderful they are.”

13 responses to “Swimming with a Thoroughbred recaptures joy”

  1. Tamara Sheremata

    What an amazing story and lovely photos! Thank you for sharing. I had forgotten the feeling of swimming on horseback. Something I will try with my OTTB Wilbur. They really are amazing creatures with so much to give.

  2. Louise Ferro Martin

    I just can’t imaging how wonderful the experience is to swim with your horse! It is great to see how much fun Rahy and Laurie have. I also find it so interesting that thoroughbred horses inspire the creativeness in so many of their owners. Like Laurie and her poetry, my horse has inspired my photography. How very blessed we are!! Thank you Susan!! I am finally back on board with your blog. Now I have to catch up!! 🙂

  3. Molly Lovell

    I used to swim one of my horses too, in a pond on the amazing farm where I kept him. There was nothing like it! Some of my fondest horse memories EVER involve this almost magical activity. It is a “neutral” zone–one where neither horse nor rider holds the upper hand, and there is nothing except trust and adventure.

  4. Tracy Cookman

    Thank you Susan for this post! I too swam my OTTB for the first time this summer in a lake and she LOVED it! She rarely passes by a water source without trying to dunk her head in it or get into it! It definitely brought back my childhood memories also of swimming my little Arab mare in the river, barefoot and wearing shorts. Wonderful remembrances.

  5. Sarah

    I really needed to read this today. Thanks, Susan, for another amazing post on our beloved OTTBs. Your blog is one of my “must reads”.

  6. Stephanie Gardner

    Awesome story…thanks for sharing!

  7. Suzanne M Tassoni

    Laurie this is an absolutely amazing tribute to the passion you fullfill everyday. I hope one day to achieve the same with my animal rescue. As a wonderful wife & Mom, you are such an inspiration in the animal world; because only those that aquire the passion for animals can truly understand the gratification and happiness it instills in our hearts on a day-to-day basis. much love to you my friend, and thank you for all that you do! SUE

  8. Jerri Moon Cantone

    Laurie Tuozzolo is one of the most genuine people I have ever met! She has my utmost respect and support for what she does. This is a great article about Laurie and her Horses!!!!!

  9. Rennie Taft

    I believe Ms.Salk has captured in words some of the magic
    of having a love affaire with an ex race horse. Ms Tuozzolo is blessed to have found her special guy.

  10. Sharla Sanders

    Love this story. Laurie was one of my first Facebook friends and I know of the love she has for Rahy from the many posts when we first met online. Thanks for sharing their story, which seems even more timely with the passing of his sire, Rahy at Three Chimneys Farm.

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