It was sleeting heavily the night Carin Brown and her mother piled into the car and set out on a somewhat treacherous 45-minute drive to see a horse they knew nothing about.
With little more than a photograph of ex-racehorse Hermosa Valor to go on, Brown tucked it into the pocket of her thick winter coat, and the pair set out like a couple of determined postal workers.
“By this point, we had already looked at something like 60 or 70 horses, and there was no way we weren’t going!” Brown says. “It took us about 90 minutes to get there because of the weather.”
But, when the barn finally came into view, and the pair dashed into the welcoming warmth of the stalls filled with the sweet smell of hay, Brown was overwhelmed with a sense of the rightness of it all. Her somewhat harrowing journey had taken her to the one with whom she belonged. The well-sculpted bay brown Thoroughbred with classical features greeted her as no horse ever had.
“When I got her out of her stall, her jaw was above my head. She lowered it and nuzzled me, and I think at that point, I fell in love,” Brown says.
By the time Brown tacked up the sweet-faced mare, it was snowing. But the highly trained show horse with the lofty trot of a Warmblood didn’t put a foot wrong, as she walked, trotted and cantered through the freshly fallen snow.
Race name: Hermosa Valor
New name: Cleo
Sire: Present Value
Dam: Juan’s Sister
Foal date: May 18, 1995
Race name: Inthetropics
New name: Tambor
Sire: Tropical Storm
Foal date: April 1, 2006
Color: Chestnut“She completely took care of me,” Brown says.
In those few moments together, four years ago, Brown emerged with a new respect, even passion, for Thoroughbred Sporthorses. Up until then, she had ridden smaller ponies, and although her aunt had a Thoroughbred, the breed itself wasn’t on her radar.
In some ways, the ex-racehorse who went from a Penn National runner to a highly trained prospect on a very fancy farm, served as compass for Brown and all her future equine endeavors.
This horse had it all. Her big, lofty Warmblood gait often elicited comments from spectators at horse shows who had refused to believe the stellar creature in front of them was actually an ex-racehorse. “I had to flip her lip so many times to show her tattoo and prove she was a Thoroughbred,” Brown says.
But there was no doubting her heritage when Brown entered her in a Junior Field Master Timer Race in Virginia.
After riding alongside a field master over most of the jumps, he peeled off at the last one to allow Brown and Hermosa Valor to do their thing.
Feeling her trusty steed switch into racehorse gear, the pair powered toward the finish line, passing other horses at breakneck speed.
“It was the most incredible experience!” Brown says. “I’d taken her on Cross Country before and galloped her, but I had never felt her go full out. To feel her muscles working, and all that power, was just incredible!”
Their time dashing over fields would be short lived, however, when the 17-year-old mare was diagnosed with Narcolepsy, a disease causing the mare to fall asleep and fall down. Brown, of course, retired her.
She still takes her on trail rides and lightly rides her, and the great mare has earned a rest.
But, even as Hermosa Valor enjoys her extra hours off-duty, her influence keeps Brown going.
Last year, on her 19th birthday, Brown purchased her second off-track Thoroughbred.
Enter six-year-old Inthetropics, or Tambor, as the flashy chestnut gelding is now named.
Born in Kentucky, he raced six times at Meadowlands, Pimlico and Charles Town, before a leg injury forced his retirement.
But proper medical care and a little TLC, has allowed him to enjoy a year at pasture, just “being a horse”, and with no ill effects, says Brown.
When Brown purchased him last August, she took on a lot more than she had previously. Unlike Hermosa Valor, who was beautifully trained, Tambor was very green. “He could walk, trot, and canter to the left, that was it,” she says.
In short order however, with weekly coaching, the spunky gelding was taught how to balance on both sides of his body, and power his gaits from his hind end.
Using a combination of techniques, Brown says, including ground lines, gymnastic exercises, and leg-yields, the greenie learned to carry himself higher, taking floating steps.
“He learns so fast! When I was teaching him extended trot, I put him in a short stride and did the sitting trot, before cutting across the center diagonal. I started posting and he started to lengthen his stride, thinking I wanted the canter. But I just held him a little bit and he got it!” she says.
His movement is about as comfortable and smooth as one could want.
About the roughest ride Brown has had is that long drive to the barn, on a stormy night four years ago.
After that, with both of her off-track Thoroughbreds, it has been smooth sailing.