Bold Ruler descendant brings a flash of love

Onlyifyoulove me (a.k.a. Jackson) poses with Brenda's niece

Onlyifyoulove me (a.k.a. Jackson) poses with Juli’s niece

On the very day that would help determine his fate – to live or die- the docile great-great grandson of Bold Ruler gave a gentle ride to all-comers.

Struggling with a medical condition that caused breathing difficulty, and that required surgery if he was ever to lead a normal life, the handsome dark bay was offered for free that day to anyone who could look past his condition and promise to provide him the surgery he so desperately needed.

Fifty-year-old Tennessee resident Juli Gavaldon was an unlikely candidate to do all that.

The first-time rider counted herself lucky just to be able to take riding lessons at the barn where Jackson (Jockey Club: Onlyifyouloveme) was stabled after changing hands several times in his post-racing career.

Barn name: Jackson
Sire: Kentucky Jazz
Dam: Hugmeifyouloveme
Foal date: Jan. 9, 1993
The economy hadn’t been kind to her and her husband, she says, and the idea of making that kind of financial commitment to a racehorse, of all things, seemed crazy. And as a first-time rider, the notion of starting down the path to horse ownership with an ex-racehorse seemed ill advised. Not logical.

But that all changed the moment she slipped a tentative foot into the stirrup iron and hoisted her right leg over the back of the giving gelding, who never put a foot wrong as he carted her so carefully around at a walk.

“He was so good with everybody, not at all like what I was thinking a racehorse was like,” Gavaldon says, noting that after watching him give several other rides she was emboldened to try him. “I felt like I was taking a child’s pony ride.”

And by the time she dismounted, the wheels of fate had turned. After her ride, Gavaldon’s daughter convinced her to take a chance on the animal—think of him as a birthday gift, she said.

Juli rewards Jackson with some treats in 2011

Juli rewards Jackson with some treats in 2011

So, Gavaldon scraped together approximately $1,000 to pay for the surgery to remove a very large hematoma in Jackson’s upper right nasal cavity and for treatment of another in his upper left nasal cavity.

In addition, the animal underwent a tracheostomy procedure, which provided unrestricted airflow into his lungs via a golf-ball sized flap cut into his neck.

For a little while before he got better, he looked like a ragtag horse come through a battlefield, and spent months recuperating.

Gavaldon took him on short walks up the barn aisles twice daily, and he lavished her with affection. “He’d rest his head on my back while I cleaned his feet … and raised a front leg like he’s doing the Spanish Walk when he wanted a carrot,” she says, noting that his charm won her heart, and that of her husband.

“There was a point when Jackson had to be tubed, and I couldn’t be there to hold him for the vet, so my husband stood in for me,” she says. “He’d been kind of upset when I first got him; he wasn’t a horse person. But after that day, when he stood with that animal while he calmly underwent the procedure, he fell in love with that horse. He started to visit him to feed him treats, and that horse really converted my husband to horses and me to Thoroughbreds.”

Her time with her beautiful boy was too brief, but worth every dime she spent bringing him to health

Her time with her beautiful boy was too brief, but worth every dime she spent returning him to health

Once Jackson recuperated, Gavaldon began to ride him. Nothing too bold. For a long time they walked, until his novice rider gained the confidence to try posting the trot. Occasionally, she even grabbed a handful of his black, silky mane, clucked at him, and leapt a tiny jump.

So that was the life. The two of them learning one another’s habits and idiosyncrasies and building a bond that was reward unto itself. But life sometimes has its way, without warning, of turning sorrow into joy and back again. And in January of this year, in the paddock of his barn, Jackson died.

He’d sustained injuries Gavaldon suspects, in a fight with another horse.

A year since she lost him, Gavaldon still cries when discussing the horse that changed her life.

“I can’t describe all what that horse did for us,” she says. “He brought the whole family together. He was like therapy. Whenever I would go to see him, I would forget about the problems in my life and just be with him … he was my best friend.”

23 responses to “Bold Ruler descendant brings a flash of love”

  1. Lana Marie

    Juli, what a wonderful horse you had. His story with you is uplifting until of course the ‘end’. So, on that topic as you have stated about, is there any recourse you can take on this barn/manager/attendant? I would say as a paying customer, they blatantly went against you TELLING them not to do what they did. I would be livid as I’m sure you most likely were/are. Especially you & them & whomever else as witness to what this aggressive horse did by running into another horse. He should NEVER have been put with another horse let alone in a paddock.
    I know it doesn’t change your situation…but if it’s just brushed off & these people are not held accountable, what – until the next ‘accident’ at this barn?

    1. Juli Gavaldon

      Thank you for your comment, Lana Marie. I found out that when it comes to livestock, just proof of negligence is not enough. There has to be proof of gross negligence. Unfortunately, horses are not considered pets – they are only considered to be livestock. Right now, there is a big battle in Tennessee concerning soring of Tennessee Walking Horses. You would think it would be a no-brainer – stop torturing horses. Uh uh. Soring horses has been going on for centuries, and people are hanging on tight to this practice because it involves a lot of money. That’s the way it is with boarding stables, too. The stable needs to make money, so no one wants to get involved in a law suit – especially if that stable pays veterinarians and when that stable pays people to work there.

  2. cheri vaughan

    Goodness, I would have been devastated! Such an awful loss. I was sad reading this, naturally.

    1. Juli Gavaldon

      Yes, I was devastated – and still am. It’s like losing a child. The article says that Jackson was in a fight, but that’s not totally accurate. Jackson was a lover, not a fighter. I was told that he and the horse he was put in a paddock with were playing and that the other horse accidently ran into him. However, I specifically had previously told the barn manager and the attendant that I did not want Jackson to be put in a paddock with that horse because that horse had seriously harmed another horse because the other horse had gotten too close to some mares. When I saw Jackson’s autopsy report, I noticed that he had sustained quite a bit of damage, so I am very suspicious about the incident being an “accident”.

  3. Juli Gavaldon

    Shannon, I know what you mean about taking in that smell! I can still feel his soft muzzle and smell the fresh hay on his hair. I sometimes pick up his turnout blanket so I can remember his smell.

    It’s amazing how the Bold Ruler babies have such sweet dispositions and colorful personalities!

  4. Juli Gavaldon

    Hi Lisa, Sorry to hear about you losing your job. If I were working right now, I would come out and look at your boy. I commend you on not wanting to see your horse starve or suffer from not being able to feed him. I would like to encourage you not to give up on him though, because euthanasia is not something you can change your mind on. Susan has a long list of organizations here that help with foster care and placement of horses needing homes. I’m sure if you tell them the urgency of your situation, any one of these fine organizations will do what they can to help out. Don’t be afraid to reach out to organizations that are far away from you or in other states, either. Some of them will travel to another state to pick up a horse. One organization that I did not see on the list is Horse Haven TN. If they can’t help you, they can probably steer you in the right direction: Here is another one: Also, the Kentucky Horse Park sometimes takes in special OTTBs for the visitors to pet and love on every day. For now, you could probably find 2nd cut hay for $2-$4 a bale. It’s probably going to be pretty stemmy hay, but the horse will pick out the good stuff and leave the straw. Make sure you don’t get anything moldy, though. God bless you, and I’ll be praying for you and your big guy! Have a wonderful holiday season.

  5. Jon

    I have two great grandsons of Bold Ruler. One has a striking resemblance to Jackson. Juli did the right thing for him. Even if he only knew good health and her love for a short time.

  6. Laura

    And Susan does it again! MOVES ME TO TEARS! I am a true racing fan who enjoys visiting the horses. Each and every one has a distinct personality. Just being around them and petting them brings me such peace. Thanks to everyone who adopts these beautiful creatures and gives them the homes they deserve!

  7. Carolyn

    I have a great great great grandson of Bold Ruler. He’s my first horse, an OTTB. Also a kind soul with a lot of patience. We’re doing what Juli’s doing, lots of walks and tentative trots, learning each others’ idiosyncrasies. So sorry for your loss, Juli. Hope you can find another horse to welcome into your heart when you’re ready.

  8. Susan Crane-Sundell

    I am so sorry for you and your family’s loss Juli. It seems as though you had gone through the tough times and deserved a chance at a little joy.I don’t understand nature or its plans but somehow Jackson’s time with you made a great difference and his passing will serve some purpose. All the best to you as you use the lessons and love that he taught you to move forward and live with his memory.

  9. Shannon Williams

    Juli, I feel a kinship with you, as our babies are distant cousins. A very happy holiday to you, as well, and thank you for what you did for that glorious creature. He is waiting for you on the bridge. I will go hug mine tonight, extra long, and take in that smell that I love so much. In honor of your Jackson.

  10. Lisa Melone

    Beautiful, but sad. Juli gave him those extra years in a happy home. Isn’t it amazing how spending time with horses can erase the day’s woes.

  11. Juli Gavaldon

    Thank you Susan for writing this wonderful story about my pride and joy, and thanks to everyone who commented. I really appreciate it, and this is helping me to have closure on losing such a wonderful horse in a situation that I feel was very unfair. Enjoy your horses and your other pets every second you’re with them. They are special gifts from God and they are only with us for a very short time. God bless and Happy Holidays!

  12. Shannon Williams

    I too adopted a great great grandson of Bold Ruler, just last summer, at the age of 49 (me, not the horse!). He is my first horse and although people discouraged me from taking an OTTB, I just have always had a soft spot for the breed and their plight after their racing careers are over. I am so in love with him. I highly recommend an OTTB for anyone considering it. I am sad for Juli that her story has such a tragic ending, but am confident she will open her heart to another in need, all in good time. What a lucky boy he was to have had her love!

  13. Cynthia Minchillo

    A beautiful soul, story and experience none-the-less. Juli and her husband are angels.

  14. SusanA

    I’ve got to quit reading these stories at work…my makeup is ruined again!
    What a wonderful story….I wish it had a better ending. Thankfully he had someone who cared for him and gave him the chance! I really hope that someday I can get a OTTB!

  15. Linda Pavey

    My horse “Brennan” (J.B.’s Hero) was a grand-son of Bold Ruler. I am convinced that they have the most amazing personalities and really touch their humans in a way no other living being can. I carry on my love and appreciation everyday in the work that I do for the foundation I named in his honor, Brennan Equine Welfare Fund. He was truly one-in-a-million, just as your “Jackson” was for you.

  16. SpotOn

    I am so sorry for your loss Juli. When I bought my boy Rhett years ago, my husband wasnt happy with me. And he is not a horse person. But since then he has seen how kind my 16h OTTB is. And when I am too sick or weak to make it out to feed and muck, he now does it.
    I hope that you find another OTTB to continue the love you have for Jackson.

  17. Lisa

    So sorry for the loss! It may be too soon to think about another off-the-track Thoroughbred, but if Juli is ever interested, I have a big, healthy, beautiful boy who desperately needs a home. He’s sound and ready to ride again — he had EPM but made a great recovery. I have tried to find a home for him but have had no takers. I lost my job and can’t afford him, so I’m looking at euthanasia since everyone shies away from that EPM thing. Let me know if you – or any other readers! – might want to take him. He’s near Charlotte, NC, is 9 years old, 17.2h, and up to date on everything. Great feet, very personable. I just won’t let him go hungry, and will have him put down rather than be forced to let him starve.

    1. Shawna

      Lisa, Do you still have your horse??

    2. Juli Gavaldon

      How long are you planning on keeping him until you decide to have him euthanized?

    3. Sharon Mulvaney

      to Lisa: I hope you are finding a home for your big horse. Keep spreading the word. Tell people not to worry about the EPM thing. My horse is 32 and recovering from EPM thanks to my excellent veterinarians, a chiropractic vet and a wonderful certified Equine Massage Therapist and Rehab person. Everyone is helping him.

  18. Leslie M. Bliman-Kuretzky

    This story is beautiful and it broke my heart too 🙁 RIP Jackson

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