The Connecticut equestrian and 4H Club leader was only there to look.
But the big-striding Thoroughbred’s flashy features quickly made LeDoux forget her earlier promise to herself, not to buy.
“She had a very Warmblood look with a nice angle to her croup and back end,” says Lisa LeDoux. “She looked like she was built to jump.”
And she was big for a Thoroughbred. “Massive” in fact.
To her and daughter Megan, the mare stood out from all the rest at the 2008 Suffolk Showcase. Not only was she put together beautifully, she was equally calm and pleasant natured.
As LeDoux pointed out all the fine qualities of racehorse Confident Heart, she soon decided that the annual trip she takes with her 4H students would end on a high note.
Race name: Confident Heart
Barn name: Ellie
New name: Pepper
Dam: Touch My Heart
Age: 11“I take students and parents to the Suffolk Showcase every year because it’s such a great opportunity to see a lot of horses at the same time, and it’s a valuable exercise for teaching students about good horse conformation and flaws,” LeDoux explains.
And as she was doing so, pointing out the “very classic, big equitation look” of this mild-mannered mare, her heart skipped a beat and she knew she was about to own another Thoroughbred track project.
Confident Heart was shipped to LeDoux’s full-service facility, The Carousel Horse Farm, and with her good manners and quick wit, won over all who met her, even LeDoux’s barn friends who teased LeDoux about her penchant for buying ex-racehorses.
LeDoux rode ex-racehorses for neighborhood farms when she was growing up in Seekonk, Mass. All her young friends did, too. They sometimes even got paid $10 to exercise horses. And the memories of the joy she felt working with the glistening athletes always stayed with her. Yes, she admits, she has a soft spot for the Thoroughbred.
“There’s a joke around the barn that I have to be careful when I go to a Showcase!” But nobody was joking when they saw how beautifully and quickly the eight-year-old racehorse adapted to her new life.
Low key from the get-go, she picked up lunging in the first day. And on the second day, LeDoux’s daughter Megan saddled her up.”
“They did walking exercises, turning, and checking for brakes,” she says. “By the end of the second week, she was cantering. The left lead was immediately perfect, but the right still needed a little work.”
Then, about six weeks later, there came a knock at LeDoux’s door.
Reed Vander Schel had heard through the grapevine that the LeDoux family owned a really fine chestnut mare, and he wanted to purchase the horse for his wife Julie. It was to be a Christmas surprise.
“We had no intentions of selling,” LeDoux says. But at the end of the day, Vander Shel walked away with a present too big to fit under the Christmas tree.
And what a surprise for Julie Vander Schel that morning!
“My husband said he had to run out for a minute, so I was actually downstairs doing laundry when my son came down,” she says. “He said I needed to come up stairs, and when I did, and looked outside, there was a horse trailer out front.”
Then her husband and family unlocked the door and backed the mare out and Julie gaped at the colossal lady in front of her. “The first thing I said was, ‘Oh my God! She’s so tall!’ ”
But any intimidation she felt was soon disappeared as she got to know the friendly horse who is “all personality.” She named her Pepper.
“She has got a personality like you wouldn’t believe!” Vander Schel says. “She’s very smart, learns quickly, and remembers everything. This is the first Thoroughbred I’ve ever had, and there’s more personality in this horse than with any others I’ve met.”
Vander Schel is having Pepper schooled for her and hopes to start riding her regularly in the near future.
And as she plans her future, LeDoux is also making plans. For another road trip!
She will be on the backside for the Sixth Annual CANTER New England Suffolk Showcase on the morning of Oct. 23. But she warns, “I’m only going to look.”