Growing up on a small bucolic horse farm, Emma Biederman saw her mother do something heroic.
After the New England racing season had ended, her mom opened up her small lesson barn in the mountains of Vermont to dozens of ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds in need of temporary homes.
Gleaming athletic animals filled every stall, with dozens more filling up makeshift ones erected in the indoor riding arena. And while the horses waited, each their turn, for re-training by Biederman’s mother, from the sidelines, Biederman watched, and marveled.
“The horses were amazing to me,” Biederman says. “Watching them retrain with my mother was incredible. I saw what the Thoroughbred would do for us, and what they’ll put up with.”
She rode a Quarter Horse back then, but she could see the spark of intelligence in a Thoroughbred as her mother worked with them. They learned quickly; they connected with the rider, they represented everything she wanted in a horse.
Race name: Green Key
Show name: Oh Henry
New name: Henry
Sire: Green Fee
Dam: Versatile Keys
Foal date: 2005When she met Henry, the lanky 17-hand gelding years later, he was, at first blush, nothing that she wanted.
She was looking for petite and compact; Henry was long-backed and very tall. The Thoroughbred of her imagination was a plain bay, while Henry was bright and flashy.
“He definitely was not the package I wanted,” she admits. “But he has proved to have the best temperament of any horse I’ve ever ridden. It doesn’t occur to him to say no.”
Very athletic and willing to bound over any jump she points him at, Henry is also level headed under circumstances that would try the nerves of many.
And he proves it over and over again.
Pushing through the overgrown trails of South Carolina fox-hunting terrain, he willingly leaves the comfort and company of the other horse and riders to command the periphery of a hunt.
In this job, referred to as the whipper-in position, Henry and Biederman are responsible for maintaining the boundaries of the hunt, ensuring the dogs don’t stray too far off course.
Often alone in the woods, Biederman carries a hunt whip and a radio. From the back of her cantering steed, she cracks the whip to keep the dogs in line, and radios back to the hunt leaders their position.
“I liken what we do to being on a cattle drive,” she says. “We’re like the outriders. You don’t see us, but we’re there to make sure the hounds don’t get hurt and that they stay on course.”
Many horses are fearful of this particular job, preferring to stay close to the pack, she adds.
“A horse has to be very brave and very independent to plunge into the woods at a full gallop with 20 barking dogs,” she says. “They also have to be able to tolerate gunfire and the whip cracking over them.”
Biederman knew nothing of the ex-racehorse’s potential when she purchased him on Mother’s Day this year. Henry had been sitting in a field for two years at Aiken Equine Rescue in South Carolina, a freebie nobody wanted.
“There’s a stigma about a free horse. They couldn’t give him a way. But a friend of mine spotted him and suggested I go look at him because she knew I liked Thoroughbreds,” she says.
Initially put off by his height, the 5-foot-3-inch rider was pleasantly surprised when she sat on him for the first time and could easily get her legs around his middle.
And when she squeezed to ask for the first walk, he continued to surprise and delight her.
“He has the most easy going temperament,” she says. “I trust him so much I’d put my dad or boyfriend on him with no qualms.”
Time and again, Henry has proven to Biederman that her first impressions of Thoroughbreds was right: get them on your side, and they’ll do anything for you.
At a recent horse show, Henry bravely handled a jumps course that was beyond his training. Biederman admits that had she known how technical and challenging the show would be, she never would have entered her green mount.
But no matter, he did it anyway. And when he approached a roll-top jump he’d never seen before and gathered himself to clear it, it felt to Biederman as if he was saying to her: “I got this. I’ll take care of you.”
His bravery in new situations has sealed Biederman’s faith in the breed, and in her gangly, good-natured gelding.
“He is my dream horse.”