With funny ears and a habit of placing her muzzle on her owner’s face when being spoken to, a racemare who spent her racing years in obscurity has emerged into the spotlight.
Three Angels, a 12-year-old bay who ran primarily at Suffolk Downs in Boston before retiring together with her former groom Laurie Pagliarini Tuozzolo, recently participated in an OTTB breed demo at Equine Affaire.
In and of itself, the flatwork and the venue were hardly the stuff of the Olympics, but the path to that show ring, fraught with uncertainty and a life-threatening illness, was worth far more than medals and ribbons. And it proved to Tuozzolo that the work and worry expended to help the “gentle, elegant horse” find a post-racing place in the world, was worth every hurdle.
Sire: Halos and Horns
Dam: Skip’s Mystic, by Skip Trial
Foal date: March 25, 2005
Earnings: $25,732 in 44 starts“Equine Affaire for me was so emotional,” she says. “To be there, after what we’ve been through, was just incredible. I wanted Angel to be at Equine Affaire because, to me, she is the perfect representative of the breed. She has been through so much, and overcome so many obstacles, but she never lost her heart or her passion or her drive. My goal is to show everybody what a wonderful horse you can get off the racetrack.”
Through good times and bad, Angel was a horse of a lifetime for Tuozzolo. Scooped up in 2011 after the one-time groom learned the mare had retired from racing and needed a home, the horse took sick almost immediately after arriving at Tuozzolo’s Rhode Island farm.
Recalling the nights she slept on a makeshift bed of packaged shavings placed outside Three Angel’s quarantine stall, Tuozzolo explains how the mare couldn’t catch a break, from the moment she stepped off the van.
“After she arrived in March 2011, I noticed that evening she wasn’t eating and she was lying down a lot in her stall. So I took her temperature with an old-school mercury thermometer, and her temp was through the roof. That’s when I packed her feet in ice to prevent laminitis and called the vet,” she says. “The vet discovered a lump under her chin, which grew to the size of an orange before it burst and finally drained.”
At the lowest point, Tuozzolo feared the mare would succumb to the illness. She slept outside her stall for two nights, and attended to the horse with round-the-clock applications of hot compresses and Epson salts to flush the open sores. “I was so afraid I was going to lose her that I lined up three bags of shavings to make a bed for myself, and slept outside her stall under one of her blankets,” she says. “When she was lying down in her stall, I would sit in there with her, and she’d put her head on my lap. It was very moving.”
It was as if the animal knew she could trust her old friend.
“I first met Angel in 2008. I noticed right away she had this gentle, elegant quality about her. She would literally put her muzzle against my mouth while I was talking to her, and just breathe,” she recalls.
For weeks the mare accepted her care and comfort until in May 2011, she was finally free of the Strangles. But soon after, she developed scratches on her hind legs, a common skin disease in horses.
After she was given a year off to heal, Three Angels was put into training with Kristin McCaffrey. “Kris has been our guiding light through this whole thing to get her retrained and to motivate me,” Tuozzolo says. “Kris looked right past the split ear and her bowed leg and saw Angel’s heart and soul.”
After a long slog through lessons, Angel claimed some ribbons last year at a few schooling shows. And last week, she entered the show ring at Equine Affaire with the aplomb of a show horse.
“When we entered the Coliseum I leaned forward and whispered to her, and she flicked her ear back at me, as if she said, ‘We got this.’ And in that moment I realized that after I cared for her all this time, she would take care of me,” Tuozzolo says. “This whole process has taught me that time heals the wounds and love heals the scars.”