Moving past the red geraniums and a few startled jockeys, Tracy Brennan sat sidesaddle as she rode her unflappable ex-racehorse, Runnin Robbo, onto the freshly harrowed earth of Monmouth Park.
She and her off-track thoroughbred had come to demonstrate the point: there are great possibilities awaiting a racehorse who has lost out on the track. And fittingly, they were invited by racehorse adoption agency ReRun to strut their stuff on the track, between races.
Looking every inch the equine fashion plate, just returned from a magazine photo shoot, Brennan guided her leggy 17-hand chestnut onto the raked dirt, a place of racehorses and fast competition, an atmosphere rippling with action as jockeys and racehorses readied for the next race.
But Robbo had no interest in the commotion. He never did. In his earlier career as a racehorse, he was at best, a middle-of-the-pack runner. And after retiring with a bowed tendon, he proved to be a horse who could do without competition, thank you very much, but excelled at taking everything in stride.
Race name: Runnin Robbo
New name: Beau
Sire: Fly Till Dawn
Dam: Precious Pam
Foal Date: April 23, 1996Anything his owner of eight years asks of him, he does.
For her, he has paraded down New York City streets, with bagpipers wailing and drummers drumming. He has chased cattle and gone fox hunting, and displayed his unwavering good nature as she rides him bedecked in long, fluttering skirts that tickle his sides.
“If he was more of an Alpha horse, I don’t think he’d do half the things I ask of him,” she reasons. “In the middle of New York City, he’d probably be thinking that the pipes and drums and cars and taxis aren’t such a good thing.
“But because he trusts humans so much, he’d step off a cliff if I asked.”
And so on this lovely June afternoon at Monmouth Park, Runnin Robbo moved steadily into the fray, proving to be coolheaded in a big atmosphere that might jangle the nerves of another.
Making the appearance on behalf of Thoroughbred adoption nonprofit ReRun, Runnin Robbo, who was renamed Beau, was docile and willing as he was piloted into the walk, trot and canter before an audience of surprised onlookers. He was there to show skeptics that an ex-racehorse can do well at a second career. Even with a rider sitting sidesaddle.
“When people see racehorses at the track, they may look a little wild and crazy to them. That’s because they’re there to do a job, and they’re excited to run,” Brennan says. “But when they get a new job, like Beau did, he could show he wasn’t there to race. His job was to be my partner and to be a perfect ladies mount.”
“He’s proof that a racehorse can be willing to go with the flow and do anything for you,” she says.
Brennan purchased Beau in 2003 as her longtime horse was put out to pasture after being diagnosed with the progressive central nervous system disease, EPM.
At the time, she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do with Beau, or even if she’d keep him.
A busy professional with a full-time position in architectural lighting sales, she could not devote the time to frequent lessons. And more importantly, knee injuries made riding in a traditional saddle, quite difficult.
Then one day, soon after Beau arrived, she cinched up the sidesaddle and climbed on board. To her delight, he had no adverse reaction to the unusual tack or rider cues, and he seemed totally in sync with her competition goals.
“We had no plans to campaign at the four-foot jumpers,” she says. “My goal was to try different things if it looked like fun. If we were horrible, so what; we tried.”
They’ve tried events that others might not dare.
Adventures include two Tartan Day Parades in New York City, walking down 6th Avenue amid cars, taxis, drummers, bagpipes and onlookers. They’ve also enjoyed team penning and trail riding, hunter/pace and fox hunting.
Even historic riding demonstrations, in which Brennan wears long flowing skirts, have become a part of Beau’s impressive resume.
“Horses like Beau can do things you’d never expect a racehorse can do,” Brennan says. “We need to draw attention to this fact, and say, hey, give these horses a chance; don’t overlook them because they have what some people think is the stigma of racing.”