Saving a Thoroughbred brings race fan full circle

Come on Mom, I want to snuggle with you!

Come on Mom, I want to snuggle with you!

Wide-eyed with excitement, the young receptionist paged through the glossy brochures.

Beautiful Thoroughbreds, groomed to perfection like glamorous fashion models, filled the pages she had organized for Centennial Farms.

It was her first job. In some ways, it was one of the happiest times of Elizabeth De Smet’s life. And the work she did, answering phones, chatting with racing officials, and other office duties, might not have seemed like much to an outsider, but to De Smet, it was her ticket in.

“That job sucked me into racing!” she says. “I used to answer phones and made frequent calls to the Racing Secretary’s office. This is where I started talking with jockey Bill Nemeti, who became a friend of mine.”

For a year-and-a-half, De Smet was treated to some red-carpet excitement. During the 1990 Belmont Stakes, she was ferried about with officials who treated her to a tour of the fabled track. And she dined with the wife of Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero.

“One of my best memories was going with Marjorie Cordaro to the Clocker’s Stand and listening to these old race guys talk about the races,” she says. “It was the coolest thing ever!”

Fast-forward a couple of decades.

Now a wife and mother who works for a venture capital firm, De Smet joined Facebook a couple years ago to search for the progeny of that well-loved farm. Race name: Sunny Emblem
Sire: Our Emblem
Dam: Sunny Runner, by Root Boy
Foal date: April 6, 2003
And though she did not find any, she discovered much more.

“I befriended Deb Dempsey of Izzy’s Love Equine Rescue, and one day, I saw that she had pulled this beautiful Thoroughbred mare named Sunny Emblem from New Holland in July 2010,” she says.

What it was about the bay brown mare, she couldn’t say for sure. But she was so drawn to Sunny’s photographs that she hopped a flight to Maryland to visit her, and almost instantly, it was love at first ear-rub.

“I don’t know why it is, but every time I meet a horse, I go right for the ears,” she says, admitting that many horses do not like that. But Sunny did! “She just loved it, and Deb commented that she’d never before seen her allow such an intimate touch.”

Despite her caution about riding an ex-racehorse—“I used to be fearless as a child, but at age 48 I have fear”—De Smet threw caution to the wind. She adopted Sunny and settled her into Crystal Farms in Dunstable, Mass., to begin a life of “re-learning” together.

Mostly, De Smet has been learning about Sunny. She discovered her mare once broke her pelvis while breezing as a three-year-old, but recovered well enough to resume racing at age four.

Although her hip doesn’t bother her, a recent bought of Lyme disease set her back a bit. Fortunately, when her attitude turned grumpy, she was tested and diagnosed quickly. “ We caught it early and treated her, and her personality started to improve,” she says.

De Smet and Sunny Emblem enjoy green pastures and bonding time

De Smet and Sunny Emblem enjoy green pastures and bonding time

De Smet also brought in a Reiki massage therapist to help ease any aches and pains she might have, especially after the feisty creature got into an altercation with an Alpha Mare in the paddock. Sunny won, De Smet notes with satisfaction.

All the little interactions, lessons and experiences she’s digested take her back to her first job at the farm, learning about horses.

With her own living, breathing representative of the noble breed she admired for so long, De Smet feels a sense of coming full circle in her life.

It is enough for her to spend time progressing gradually. While Sunny gets regular exercise from an experienced rider at the barn, De Smet is satisfied to ride lightly and to immerse herself in the lifelong learning that comes of owning one’s own horse.

“This has always been my dream, to own my own Thoroughbred,” she says. “So many good horses are going to slaughter, and I lucked out with Sunny. She has a lot of heart and is very smart.”

And Sunny lucked out too, finding a friend on Facebook who will take care of her until the end of her days.

12 responses to “Saving a Thoroughbred brings race fan full circle”

  1. Michele Zimmerman

    It’s an incredible feeling saving Thoroughbreds. I have two. Avagadro (2005) & I Object (2003). Even if I never rode, I wouldn’t part with them. Nothing better than looking out the window and seeing their beautiful faces playing and enjoying life!!

  2. Viv Morrison

    Nothing like a happy ending. Kudos, pretty ladies.

  3. Nancy

    What a great story! So nice to read happy endings for a change. Congratulations for finding each other and saving another life!

  4. Debbie

    I will never forget the day I saw Sunny tied up at New Holland. I walked back and forth checking on her to make sure I did not miss her going thru the ring. Out of so many horses she just reached out to me. Sunny is a very special girl and I am over the moon happy that she is now part of Elizabeth’s family!!! Hugs and kisses to both special girls!!

  5. Morgan

    Aside from the day jobs, that’s a pretty similar story to me. I bought my first horse – an OTTB – back in December 2012 and we are learning and growing together. My boy is awesome and I’m completely hooked on these wonderful athletes who are amazing in their second lives. I have a trainer working with him 3 days a week and then I ride him the rest of the time – getting my butt back in saddle-shape. 🙂

  6. Sue MacPhee-Gray

    A great story, especially because I’m a lifelong horse lover/rider and have been thinking lately about adopting (at some point) an OTTB. I, too, over the past years have been become increasingly interested/educated with/about horse racing and fb makes it easy to connect with horses/stables/rescue operations, jockeys, and the like. I love reading happily-ever-after stories!

  7. Fran Doos

    Great story! Can’t wait to tell Elizabeth that I read the story! So happy that they found each other.

  8. Melissa

    I am so grateful that she made it to your farm Elizabeth. I am grateful for the time that I had her in my life as well and the impact she has had on so many lives. Thank You so very much!!

  9. John Brown

    A beautiful horse and a beautiful lady. They make a beautiful pair. They love each other. You can see it in the picture. Another wonderful story Susan.

  10. Brenda Lewis

    Wonderful lady and lucky horse !!! Brought tears to my eyes !!

  11. Sally

    Sh a great story, Sue, I’d say they BOTH are very lucky – and real pals, meant to be taking care of one another, rigt from tha frs ear rub! 🙂

  12. ann fox

    Love this horse…lucky lady…& a smart lady…twittering & sharing this!

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