Soledad O’Brien buys 2nd Akindale OTTB

Soledad O'Brien and her Thoroughbred Sendona have a lesson

Soledad O’Brien with her Thoroughbred Sendona. Soledad wore her helmet for her lesson. Photo by Melissa Hogan

A delicate gray mare and handsome bay gelding from Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue have made  Soledad O’Brien a true believer in the value of ex-racehorses for equestrians of all levels

“If anybody had said to me a year ago that my 10-year-old daughter, who’s 4-foot 10, would be on a Thoroughbred right off the track, and that she’d be training him to jump cross-rails, I wouldn’t have believed them,” O’Brien says in a phone interview with Off Track

She adds, “It’s amazing to me that horses like mine could be slaughtered. Horses that are really a throw-away for some people are, for our family, horses that we’ll have forever.”

The well known broadcast journalist and former television news anchor, with credits too numerous to mention, including stints at both NBC and CNN, did not set out to buy herself an ex-racehorse.

Acknowledging that she believed all the stereotypes about Thoroughbreds— that “they’re crazy, they’re hot” and maybe a little dangerous, O’Brien decided to return to her childhood love of riding with an imported Warmblood, which her husband bought her for her 45th birthday.

“She’s a great horse, but she was just too much horse for me,” she says.

On a windy, bitter day in October three years ago, her gorgeous Warmblood mare spooked, and O’Brien came off, catching a foot in the stirrup and tearing up her knee.

“I tore my A.C.L., P.C.L., L.C.L., M.C.L. and my meniscus,” she says. Worse than the surgery to Race name: Sedona Winds
Sire: Fastness
Dam: Martha’s Spirit
Foal date: April 12, 2008
Race name: Aoja
Barn name: Joey
Sire: Lion Heart
Dam: Mandy Jud
Foal date: March 20, 2006
Earnings: $98,940
reconstruct her knee and 10 months of recovery, she lost her nerve, she adds.

“My confidence was shot! I went from confident to oh-my-God-I-can’t-fall.”

The leap from that shaky mindset to the decision to buy an ex-racehorse Thoroughbred was not one she could have planned or would ever have imagined for herself.

But a good friend, who lives near Akindale, knew O’Brien was starting to put out feelers to find another riding horse (while her Warmblood is being leased); and suggested she stop by and simply “look” at the pretty prospects there.

It wasn’t long before she discovered Sedona, a delicate and lovely gray mare, only five years old, and already possessed of a nice gait, and kind disposition.

With encouragement from her coach Heather Carlsen, O’Brien bought the mare, settled her into a farm near her New York home, and started over.

“Just getting on was a big deal. I had to fight the urge to pitch off whenever something happened,” she says.

Building a long-term trust

Building a long-term trust

Not entirely over her fear, she finds that the only way to move through it is to ride as often as possible. “My challenge has been that I wasn’t consistent,” she says. “I traveled all the time with work, and it didn’t leave a lot of time for riding. But, I’ve come to realize the only way to get confident is to just do it.”

As she gained confidence in her own abilities to stay in the saddle, in her mare, and especially in her coach, O’Brien decided that her daughters Cecelia and Sophia should have the same riding opportunity that she enjoyed so much when growing up.

“As a child, I used to muck stalls to pay for my lessons, and I rode all the way through high school,” she says, explaining that she chose to return to Akindale for a second horse because her daughters wanted to follow in her footsteps.

Aoja, nicknamed Joey, arrived at Akindale after a moderately successful track career, and by February, had also found his home with O’Brien.

Although it was unusual for Akindale to re-home a horse so quickly, this was an unusual case, says Akindale manager Erin Chase Pfister. “Joey was so quiet, and Soledad has proven to be a great, patient owner with her mare, that we felt really good about sending him to his new home,” she says.

The docile bay, described as “bombproof” by O’Brien, has easily become a barn favorite with her children and their friends. He actually adapts his manner for whoever is riding him, she says.

“Sophia is a shy rider, with a long, beautiful leg. He goes much slower for her. And Cecelia is the gymnast who wants to go faster and is teaching him to jump cross-rails,” she says, adding that not only does he accommodate their styles, but also those of their friends.  She even rides him herself from time to time.

Joey, the newest addition to the family, enjoys life with his fanclub

Joey, the newest addition to the family, enjoys life with his fanclub. Photo by Melissa Hogan

An intrepid journalist who has scaled the heights of her profession, O’Brien plans to focus some of her newfound free time on her riding.

After recently concluding a full-time position at CNN, her goals now allow for riding everyday, and spending as much time as possible with her lovely Thoroughbreds.

“Horses teach you a lot,” O’Brien says.

“When you’re riding, you can’t do three things at once. You can’t be texting and emailing. All you can do is ride. It’s amazing. I like the idea of learning and focusing and figuring it out.”

And she will.  Together. With her four legged pals from the track.

21 responses to “Soledad O’Brien buys 2nd Akindale OTTB”

  1. Pam

    I’ve always loved Soledad O’Brien. Now, I love her even more. Way to go!

  2. Kris

    Such an excellent story of yet another busy rerider regaining her courage by taking a second chance with an exracer Thank you Soledad,Cecelia and Sophia for choosing an OTTB (or two) to further your riding experience. Thank you Susan Salk for this inspirational piece that helps to get the word out about our racehorses in need of adoption!!

  3. Barbara Wood

    Just another example of what horses give us, and why they are wholly inappropriste for slaughter. Each one has something to offer, although some have to be “brought back” from damage done them by humans. Thank you, Soledad!

  4. Elaine Brown

    I was mommy to a retired racing thoroughbred nicknamed Nipper, RIP. He also was a gray and he was beautiful. He looked like he had just jumped off of a merry-go-round. I loved him as much or more than any horse ever in my life and there have been dozens.

    If only this kind of story would accompany each and every thoroughbred who is no longer used for racing. There are good people in the racing community. I hope they all read this article and take it upon themselves to support the existing rescues and to start new ones.

    Thank you, Soledad, and please use your fame to help those other horses who would otherwise go to slaughter. Can you imagine these wonderful horses dying that way – even dying period?

  5. Shelley Patterson

    What a great story! I hope more potential horse owners read this story as it shows that rescue horses can be more valuable than the most expensive breeds. I adopted my own rescue horse last December after being the Volunteer Director of a horse rescue and member since 2004. We’re healing and rehabilitating together as well so I enjoyed reading about your journey!

  6. Delrene

    Wonderful home and new owners for these two beautiful thoroughbreds. Mrs. O’Brien is a journalist I have always admired and I’m so happy she is supportive of off-track thoroughbreds. I hope she and her daughters and the horses enjoy Happy Trails together.

  7. Lucinda Finley

    So happy to hear that Aoja landed with such a wonderful family! I remember him well from the Finger Lakes stable area, where I help run the trainer listing service. I spent many hours in his barn at the track last year, and “Joey” was clearly a barn favorite with his friendly personality, always beseeching us to give him a carrot! I have a horse from the same trainer, who really cares about finding good post racing homes for his horses. And we have worked with the wonderful people at Akindale to find good hoems for other Finger Lakes horses, too!

  8. kendra

    “all you can do is ride….” LOVE this quote. great story!

  9. Bev Strauss

    Heather and Erin are great!! Thanks for all you do for our TBs!!!!!

  10. fran

    Love that she is an TB convert!!! Soledad- I have watched you for many years and respect your talent. I hope you will lend us your support to educate the public re the horrors of horse slaughter, stop it in our country and also promote the retraining of our thoroughbreds. Great article Sue!!!

  11. Linda R. Moss

    Susan – thanks so much for this great story!

    Soledad – Thank you for adding another Thoroughbred to your family – we love our OTTB, Milyone, and would not trade him for anything!

  12. BettyAnn kolba


  13. je

    Absolutely wonderful–hope with her being a celebrity, that this helps get the word out! Love my OTTB!

  14. reine ryan

    I love the pic of the gray horse with it’s new owner. The eyes say it all. The ears are up and the eyes have such love and happiness in there. Its nice to see

  15. Jody

    what a warm and amazing story. Thank you Soledad from all of us who love these courageous horses!

    1. Meg

      Hi Jody I am the owner of an OTT named Winter Son. The owner bought him from a woman named Jody around the Finger Lakes and has lost her contact. Just looking to find out more about this sweet boy. It may be a long shot that it is you but thought I would try;) thanks Meg

  16. Dawn

    Homerun!!! another great one for the OTTB’s! Thank you Soledad for opening your heart and your family to not one but two OTTB’s!

  17. Morgan Skilling

    This quote is the best: “When you’re riding, you can’t do three things at once. You can’t be texting and emailing. All you can do is ride.”

    Good for her for getting back on the horse and for saving two wonderful OTTBs.

  18. Sally Faith Steinmann

    A great story, Sue, this mare is just absolutely stunning, and it’s wonderful that Soledad is such a great supporter for the horses… LOVE the photos too!

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