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
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.
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.”
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 Horse” she 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.”