A racing soldier is welcomed home

Lt. John with Re-Run’s Susan Swart

Lt. John was a soldier of a racehorse who had the heart to battle on, despite nagging injuries, and who was blessed with an owner who made damned sure that after his last battle was waged, the big bay would have a welcome home.

So when Lt. John finished poorly in a race at  Saratoga this past August, his owner John R. Murrell, a good steward of racing who is known to spend thousands saving other peoples’ racehorses from the slaughter pipeline, pulled out all the stops.

Typically on the receiving end of urgent phone requests from Thoroughbred advocates who are racing to raise funds to save racehorses from meat buyers, and always willing to pledge the cash that saves them from slaughter, Murrell now placed an outgoing call on behalf of one of his own.

And in doing so, he touched off a chain-reaction for the good that, swept up two Thoroughbred charities and an ex-racehorse trainer in a quest to make certain that Lt. John, recently diagnosed with a serious back condition, would live out his days without ever again having to bear the load of rider and weight.

“Responsible horsemen take care of their troops,” Morrell says. “Lt. John had his share of trials; he was scared of objects and had nagging injuries. But, I wanted the best for him, as I do for any of my horses that need retirement.

“It’s what all horse owners should want. Stewardship and responsibility are the keys.”

Race name: Lt. John
Sire: Monashee Mountain
Dam: Spring
Foal date: Jan. 29, 2006
With those principled opinions, Murrell phoned Susan Swart, director of the New York chapter of Re-Run, Inc., a Thoroughbred adoption charity, and asked for her assistance in finding Lt. John a permanent home.

It was a call Swart was happy to receive.

“When I got John’s call, the first words out of his mouth were that he wanted to know where his horse was at all times, and he wanted to make sure he was taken care of,” Swart says. “I could tell right away that he was concerned about his horse.”

In mid-August, Lt. John arrived at her 17-horse facility in New York, which augments Re-Run farms in New Jersey, North Carolina.

“From the minute that horse walked off the trailer, I noticed something was funky,” Swart says. “We turned him out the next day, and I’ve never had a track horse that did not attempt to bust a gut running as soon as they’re turned loose. But he didn’t do that. We had to chase him with a lunge whip just to get him to move.”

Heading to Akindale in N.Y.

A subsequent veterinary diagnosis revealed that Lt. John had Kissing Spine, a condition causing his vertebrae to pinch uncomfortably, she says.

What this meant was that Lt. John was no longer a candidate for a retraining program; he would not be recommended as a prospective riding horse, she says.

Both Murrell and Swart called around looking for a non-riding retirement home, but after a few promising bites, came up empty.

Not to be defeated, Swart called Erin Chase Pfister, a manager at Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue in Pawling, N.Y. and asked for a favor.

The two retirement facilities struck a deal: In exchange for a lifetime retirement for Lt. John at the New York facility founded by longtime horseman and Thoroughbred welfare advocate John Hettinger, two Akindale Thoroughbreds would be traded to Re-Run and put into a re-training program run by well-known trainer Lisa Molloy.

Pfister didn’t hesitate.

“I said of course we would help with him,” Pfister says. “John Murrell is very active in saving horses from the kill pen, and in a way it’s like karma; what goes around comes around, and we were happy to help him.”

Akindale and Re-Run agreed to split any fees associated with retraining the two Thoroughbreds with Lisa Molloy, and both sides were happy with the arrangement.

Pfister emphasized that Thoroughbred agencies need to work together when they can to help a horse in need.

Akindale, where Lt. John will live out his days

And Swart noted that Murrell is setting an example for all Thoroughbred owners.

“We always talk about how we need to get the owners to be more caring,” she says. “John did everything he needed to do to get the horse to Re-Run. He did all the paperwork, contacted us, and did everything to help.

“When I got Lt. John’s paperwork, I saw there was a letter attached, signed by John, that said if it becomes necessary to sell this horse, to please contact him, and he would buy him back.”

Barring any weather-related problems, Lt. John is due to ship to the sprawling New York countryside where about 150 Thoroughbreds roam.

“It’s very pretty there,” Swart says, “and Lt. John will never have to worry about carrying weight again. He will never again have a rider on his back.”

19 responses to “A racing soldier is welcomed home”

  1. Mary Adkins-Matthews

    Lisa Molloy is the best, and thank you Re-Run and Akindale! Thank goodness there are still people that are part of this industry that believe in doing the right thing for the athletes of this sport. While so many hang onto the negative in this sport, we know there are people like John Murrell who will step up and do whatever it takes.

    People say to me all of the time, “You can’t save them all” but this is simply NOT the truth. We can save them all, perhaps not all from death but we can save them all from slaughter. Slaughter should never be an option for a horse owner.

  2. Kathryn Baker

    This is a great story and a shining example of what all horse owners should do for the animals in their care.

  3. Amy Curtis Sunshine Farm Equine Sanctuary


  4. Dawn Willoughby

    Saint Murrell. I wish we could duplicate him.

    Since Kissing Spines is quite a common issue with OTTBs, I hope someone in the rescue business would look up talented trainer Jean Luc Cornille who is based in SC or Georgia. He has a DVD about rehabilitating horses with this diagnosis. with the right help, perhaps Lt. John has a more active future?

    Jean Luc’s beloved horse featured in most articles is Chazot, a really big, grey OTTB! You can find his site at http://www.The Science of Motion.com.

    Susan thanks again for yet another great OTTB story!

  5. Leslie Burford

    I can’t wait to read about Mister Glum

  6. susanne kott

    God Bless you John Murrell and all the other people involved. I think all owners have a responsability to their horses. Thank you Akindale. They all deserve a chance to live ….they all give so much. We all can’t be a famous rich person and all horses can’t be Seattle Slew’s. Nice to know we have good caring people in this world as their are so many for don’t give a damn.

  7. Lisa Melone

    Good for Mr. Murrell! Too bad all racehorses don’t get such aftercare. Sounds like a win-win for all parties.

  8. Richard

    There is no greater person than John Murrell. He is just as generous to every person he comes in contact with as he is with his horses. He is a truly wonderful and caring person that I am blessed to call my friend!

  9. Shirley VerHoef

    Its wonderful to hear about such caring owners and rescue-ers. I know I’ve read about a treatment for kissing spines. Wonder if it would make him more comfortable.

  10. ann fox

    I am glad this horse has made it to greener pastures. What I do not understand is why these poor horses have to run until they can run no more. Surely there were signs that his back could take no more…long before it finally gave out. Long ago I was at the Museum of Natural History in London. There were the skeletons of St. Simon & Eclipse. Eclipse was not raced & asked to carry 130 pounds until he was 5 years old. His spine was in perfect condition. St Simon raced early & carried weight at an early age. His spine was compressed & touching one another. One can only imagine the pain he raced in. When will the changes happen that will really make a difference to the long suffering of these thoroughbreds that show such HEART on a daily basis?

    1. Jane Ann Allen


      Mr. Murrell and his trainer were not aware of his spine problem until after he went to Susan Swart at ReRun. Mr. Murrell retired LT JOHN without hesitation when Mr. Murrell found out that he was having some difficulties in the hind end. Mr. Murrell would never run his horses in pain. His horses get the best of everything. He even sends them “care packages” to the barn – peppermints! He built a run-in shed for his retired race horses at Blackburn Correctional Facility – wouldn’t believe the red tape we had to go through to make that happen. He is a good steward and a truly ethical person. I know because I have worked for him for over 24 years!

      JJ Allen
      Executive Assistant to John R. Murrell

      1. ann fox

        Sunrise Flight won the Gallant Fox
        Handicap and Tropical Park Handicap
        in 1963, while Impressive captured
        the Saratoga Special as a two-year-old
        of 1965 and the Fall Highweight
        Handicap a year later…unquote

        There are responsible & nice people involved in the racing industry, but the fact remains… they ALL race babies. How many big Stake races are there for older horses? I would like to see the balance sheet for how many babies are raced annually as to older horses. Bowed tendons, bucked shins ect. The list is extensive..anyone remember the days of pin-firing? The five I have here…Comedy Flyer…knee operation..sent to auction…7 owners in 7 yrs. Neewa (Gone West baby)..bowed tendon…long long fetlocks broke to ride at 1 yr. They said he did not just like to run (injuries that hurt & people do not see will do that to a horse. Cougar…wave mouth..nobody bothered to look in his mouth to see why he objected so violently to the bits that were put there & why he could not chew his food properly…7 owners in 7 years. Nelson Street breaks my heart…pulled from OLEX ..calcified ocelots He will always be lame. So many of these horses can not take the pounding at such early ages…their knees are not even closed yet when they are putting all that weight on their backs. How many Eight Bells have to go down before these babies are given a real chance at a healthy normal life? So few thoroughbreds are big & built from 1 yr old like Zenyatta. So we just keep racing babies & a whole new industry springs up from trying to put them all back together. My only hope is that the racing industry really looks at this problem & tries to remedy the situation. For the horses sake!

  11. Patricia Bewley

    Mr. Murrell is a classic example of ” Class” I hope more people would follow his example and step up to the responsibility of long term care for race horses. they are not throw away.

  12. TBDancer

    What a great owner is John Murrell! When owners, trainers, and other connections to our wonderful racehorses behave as “good stewards,” the horses’ welfare just gets better and better, their futures after the track more secure. Not all horses retire from the track with injuries that spell an end to their riding careers, but sometimes, as in Lt. John’s case, life in the pasture as a companion is certainly do-able. I had an old AQHA gelding who loved tending to newly weaned babies. His presence was very comforting to them, and their adjustment period to life without Momma was very quick and certainly less traumatic.

    Yet another great story, Susan!

  13. Lisa Molloy

    Am thrilled to be a part of this joint endeavor – it is a blessing to work with such wonderful groups as ReRun and Akindale. The re-training costs for the 2 coming to me will be covered by ASPCA grants specifically intended for that purpose and the adoption fee will be split equally between ReRun and Akindale.

    1. Heidi Vandemotter

      I always get that special feeling in my heart when I read such endearing, positive success stories. Good job!

  14. Tara MacLeod

    Another happy ending, with lots of good Karma!! One good turn deserves another, for Lt.John AND John Murrell. 🙂

  15. Rebecca Houser

    What a wonderful story! I pray this will someday become the norm! Maybe a retirement fund tax should be placed on all race winnings? Like social security for the horses…is there such a thing? Lisa Molloy and Canter KY just found us our 3 OTTB and we could not be happier!!! Those two horses are in the perfect place and I’m sure Lt. John will live out his days very happily! Much Love and Many Blessings!!!

  16. Mindy Lovell

    John Murrell is a fantastic advocate for the thoroughbreds and I can personally attest to that!! When I had 5 minutes to make a decision on a mare called Fly for Home quite recently, it was John that put up the bail money to save her!! 🙂

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