A cheeky horse known for his comical ways at the racetrack has given his new owner the last, and best laugh of all.
Little Jitterbug, a chestnut gelding dismissed out of hand back in 2005 as being unfit for the racetrack or even an Eventing career is doing what those who chuckled at his antics never thought possible: He is climbing the ranks of the three-star Eventing circuit and aiming toward a possible run at the fabled Rolex *** next year.
Owner and rider Jessica Bortner-Harris of Rocky Start Stables in Thurmond, N.C. says their accomplishments have far exceeded predictions made on the backside of the Charles Town racetrack years ago, when his race trainer predicted he was “too fat and too slow” for anything other than the hunter/jumpers, she recalls.
“By the time I went to see him, he’d raced a handful of times, and lost every time. In three of the races, he finished dead last,” Bortner-Harris says. “When I told his trainer that I wanted to Event him, I was told he’d never be fast enough for the upper levels, but he’d be good for the hunters. But she said if I wanted him, I could have him.”
New name: Win the War
Barn name: Bug
Dam: Jitterbug Mary
Foal date: May 20, 2001What convinced her to buy the horse for a hefty $3,500—more than she’d ever spent on a horse—over the warnings of both the trainer and a friend who accompanied her to the track that day was Jitterbug’s cheeky personality, which showed itself immediately.
Unlike every other horse in the shedrow, or in her own barn, this guy had chutzpah.
When she approached his stall it was not a doe-eyed racehorse looking meekly that she found. But instead, Jitterbug was up in his neighbor’s business, standing calmly on his hind legs, arching his neck, and getting a gander at his neighboring stall mate.
“The walls to his stall were about seven-and-a-half feet high, and he just stood there peering over the top of his wall at the other horse,” she says. “The friend I was with was really concerned. She said something like, look at him he’s rearing in his stall. But I looked at that and thought, he’s just cheeky.”
So she plunked down $3,500 for the gelding (more money than she’d ever paid for a horse), and adding even a few dollars more for gear worthy of a half-million-dollar horse and went about the business getting him ready for travel.
When she finally got Jitterbug all suited up for his journey, a track trainer who’d joked about the amount of “armor” that had been purchased for the chestnut, waved goodbye to the departing racehorse, calling out, “Win the war buddy! Win the war!”
And with that, Little Jitterbug was renamed, Win the War, and has been making good on his new moniker, proving to be brave, intelligent and competitive at higher and higher Eventing levels.
After a very solid trip at Jersey Fresh *** in May, the pair finished so well that they are now preparing for the difficult terrain at Fair Hill this fall. And if they do well there, they’ll set their sights on next year’s Rolex ****.
When people ask Bortner-Harris for the secret of their success, she cannot say for sure how it happened. He was a green horse and she had only been Eventing for a year, but if she had to point to anything, it would be their “very, very strong bond,” she says.
He’s also freakishly smart and funny, and possesses an explorer’s spirit to boot. Since first meeting him standing on his hind end, he has developed other barn pranks that crack her up: He lets himself into neighboring stalls, eats their hay, and poops, leaving his own stall pristine.
And when he’s outdoors, he scales terrain like a mountain goat, sometimes “disappearing” until his owner remembers to look for him in places no other horse would venture to.
Also a huge fan of having every itch scratched by his indulgent owner, Jitterbug will come barreling up to her in the field, and point with his nose at the precise spot that begs for her sharp fingernails, she says. And he listens for her at crowded horse shows. One hundred people can walk past his stall at a horse show, but he always hears her footsteps, and nickers a greeting.
“I just happened to find my first real-deal Event horse off the race track,” she says. “And he turned out to be my once-in-a-lifetime horse.”