Annie was too small and slow to be a racehorse, to be sure.
She lost big in the only race she ever completed.
But plunk her down in the middle of a Mounted Games competition, and the failed racehorse suddenly swells with size and speed.
Only 15 hands in stature, she is almost too tall for a sport that is dominated by petite 13- and 14-hand ponies. But the delicate lady is so fast she can trounce the smaller competition as they run patterns in competitive trials that test the nerves and maneuverability of the horse, and the dexterity of the riders.
For an ex-racehorse who has been dealt some pretty lousy cards in the game of life, including nearly starving as a yearling among an ill-fated herd of neglected and dying Thoroughbreds, Annie has come into her own this year as one of the few Thoroughbreds competing in a sport created by England’s Prince Phillip.
Race name: Notinrwildestdremz
Barn name: Annie
Dam: Shelley’s Wind
Foal date: April 8, 2008
Fresh from the MGAA Individual Championship games in Frederick, Md., Sept. 13, Annie and her rider Laura Barbour successfully twisted around poles, ran relays, all the while keeping cool heads throughout the Mounted Games for greener horses.
And this coming weekend, Annie, who raced once under the Jockey Club name Notinrwildestdremz, will attempt to climb up the ranks as she competes at the intermediate level in another competition in Pennsylvania.
Barbour, who rides Annie for owners Sean and Angelika Hala-Kerr, says that if the bay mare keeps on chugging at the rate she’s going now, she could soon make a very fine competition horse.
“There’s not a lot of Thoroughbreds in this sport,” Barbour says, explaining just how special Annie is. “This sport can be a little overwhelming to a horse, if you do it too fast, or if they get too hot, it doesn’t really work out. But, Annie is really good about keeping herself level-headed and steady, and still easy to control.”
The pair tested their mettle most recently in Maryland, where several events challenged them. In one, they were required to canter a pattern around four poles, while Barbour leaned from the saddle to pick up and set down cups along the way. The Mug Shuffle Challenge, as it is known, requires a maneuverable horse in order to slow down, speed up, and lean in to grab and move the cups.
Annie also performed in another challenge called Tool Box. This involves galloping up to a tack box, which is the target, as the rider leaps off the horse to fill the box with tools, and then acrobatically vaults back into the saddle.
“While you’re doing all this, you’re being timed,” she notes.
But no challenge that the Mounted Games can throw at her will equal the trials the young horse faced as a yearling in 2009. At that time, the Columbia-Greene Humane Society/SPCA rescued that year, along with droves of starving horses, from a farm in New York.
Annie was malnourished and fighting to survive on Ernie Paragallo’s farm when she was scooped up with more than 170 other malnourished horses. Paragallo was convicted on 33 counts of animal cruelty and served jail time, according to the New York Times, and Annie, who was among the last horses to be adopted, was eventually taken in by the Kerr family.
Against the odds, Annie was the only horse of that crop of rescue horses to ever make it to the racetrack. She trained with legendary trainer Billy Turner of Seattle Slew fame, but when it came time to run, she struggled again. In the only race she completed, she finished far off the pace, in last place, against a field of bigger, strapping racehorses.
But throughout her recovery from malnourishment, and her formal race training, the petite racehorse faced her challenges with a cool head. Nothing fazed her, the Kerr’s said in an earlier interview with Off-TrackThoroughbreds.com.
Now leased to Barbour for $1 a year to ride in Mounted Games, it seems little Annie has been dealt a new hand, and found a new calling.
“There’s not a whole lot of Thoroughbreds who are doing what Annie does,” Barbour says admiringly. “The Games are a lot bigger in Europe, especially in France, and most people ride a Welch Cross, which are very expensive horses.”
But if all goes well this weekend, and Annie conquers the intermediate level, Barbour is hopeful that the little ex-racehorse will do big things in the Mounted Games world, and pioneer new ground for off-track Thoroughbreds.