When I contacted Ashley and asked if I could see Bilbo I decided this would be my final happily ever after story. My website has remained untouched for over a year, however I knew I wanted to end Chapter 1 of Betting On A Second Chance on a high and happy note. There continue to be so many noteworthy stories about horses coming off the track and having a chance to live out a second career. Additionally, there are also many stories about rescued thoroughbreds beating the odds to come back after years of neglect.
To date, my stories have been lighthearted, honest and focused on the genuine souls who take it upon themselves to find these horses a soft landing into their next career. I love hearing people’s stories and almost always leave every barn with my heart feeling fuller. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share their story with me. I truly appreciate it.
Chapter 2 is waiting in the wings for me but in the meantime here is the very special story about a grey named Bilbo.
A city girl both day and night I rely heavily on my GPS to help me find these wonderful people and horses on which my second chance stories are continually based.
Too often, my GPS (now aptly named Lemon) will yell out in the middle of a highway, ‘You’ve reached your destination.’ I usually grimace, my stomach drops and then a desperate search for a shop or a random person to direct me ensues.
When I spoke to Ashley and asked if could meet Bilbo, she happily agreed and gave me directions to her new barn in Mono.
Her barn was easy to navigate, no thanks to Lemon but more so to a helpful neighbour who pointed me in the right direction. Upon pulling into a long driveway and greeted by Douglas’ husband Matt, I find myself heading in the direction of several paddocks lining the top of the hill.
My eyes fall upon a handful of horses contently grazing in each paddock, enjoying the sunshine and barely taking notice as I pull up to the barn where Douglas is waiting for me.
I’ve been fortunate enough to cross paths with Douglas before and know she is no stranger to the horse racing industry. Working as both a groom and exercise rider at Woodbine Racetrack for several years she knows the in and the outs of the industry. Moreover, she has deep understanding and love for the four-legged athletes who, win or lose, rain or shine, come out every day to train.
Even though Douglas has stepped away from the racing oval and currently runs her own barn, I’m not surprised to see thoroughbreds are the mainstay in the four-legged household. Looking out onto her happy herd, she explains how Bilbo found his way here.
“I contacted a friend and asked if she wanted to go down to the auction to pick up a horse and she mentioned to me she knew of a horse that needed help. It was kind of a friend of a friend that had this horse. She sent me some photos and right away I said ‘get him here.’ It took a few days, but I ended up getting him here.”
In early April, Bilbo arrived in a dire state at Douglas’ farm.
“He was infested head to toe with lice. He was covered in bleeding sores from him chewing and eating himself - it was disgusting, his skin was crawling. My vet scored him a body score of zero. He could barely walk. The driveway was under construction at the time and I had to walk him from the road, and he could barely walk (to the barn).”
Since his arrival Douglas has openly shared pictures of Bilbo on both her Instagram and Facebook page. The flesh and bone photos of this grey thoroughbred have garnered much attention among friends and the horse racing community and it of course leaves many wondering how someone could neglect their animal to this point.
“When the vet came we did blood work – the bloodwork came back and he was anemic because the lice were sucking his blood dry - it was that bad. He had a really bad heart murmur. It sounded like his heart was going to explode. He was infested with two types of worms. We had to do three de-wormings on him. We started him on vitamin injections just to get his energy level up just so he could eat.”
Although Bilbo is not Douglas’ first rescue horse this has been a very tough journey for her and she is thankful for the outpouring of support she has received. “The shipper donated a blanket when he saw him. Greenhawk donated Biotic 8 along with Omega Alpha. My mom and her boyfriend actually purchased some hay for him and my vet did his teeth for free.”
His dire physical state would have several people questioning whether the horse would make it, but from the get go Douglas sensed the strong will of the horse and she continued to nurse him back to health, just taking it day by day.
As we chat and the tears openly flow, Douglas leads me towards a paddock with three horses.
It is time to meet Bilbo.
Not knowingly, I had driven right past him on my way in. I’m more than happy to report that the 13-year-old gelding is a far cry from skeletal frame depicted on social media earlier this year.
Douglas brings him out of the paddock and leads him into the barn to be groomed.
In stark contrast to three months ago, Bilbo has put on weight, his coat is shiny, and his mane is starting to grow out.
She leads him into the barn, places him in the cross ties and brushes him down. He enjoys the attention and stands patiently while she gushes about him.
“He hadn’t given up. He didn’t want to die. He is a fighter. Even though he was literally half dead he wasn’t ready. I just love him for that. Most horses would have given up. Even the vet said most horses at this point would have given up, but not him.”
There are several words to describe this horse but in all honesty he is truly my definition of a ‘war horse.’
In racing there are many types of racehorses. Some aren’t cut for racing, some will race a handful of times, and then there are the soldiers of the game. The ones that race for years withstanding the physical demands of the sport and regardless of running for a huge purse or pocket change they continue to persevere, strong willed right to the very end of their career.
In Bilbo’s case he is war horse on and off the track. Firstly, for coming back from deaths doors in light of the neglect he suffered and amazingly this fella has a stacked resume of races to boot.
Back in July 2006 he began his racing career at Woodbine Racetrack and raced in several stakes races that year including two runner-up finishes in both the Silver Deputy and Swynford Stakes. That same year he finished fourth in the G3 Grey Stakes.
For the next four years, he raced at several different distances, stretching from 6 to 9 furlongs depending on the race. While he raced mostly at Woodbine, the grey gelding also had several starts at Fort Erie before shipping south of the border to race at Mountaineer in West Virginia and then Tampa Downs in Florida.
In March 2010, he made his final start at Mountaineer Racetrack, finishing fourth in a claiming race.
The graded stakes placed gelding and son of Point Given raced 38 times and banked over $180k.
Sadly, after retiring from racing Bilbo has a sketchy past. Douglas feels that he was most likely thrown out into a paddock for several years with little post track training towards another career. Unfortunately, quite a bit remains unknown about the last seven years of his life and there are no hard facts pointing to what he’s done and where he’s been.
Although Douglas has tried to track down the last person who owned Bilbo and left him in his dire condition, it has been to no avail.
“The guy was actually really secretive on where his farm was located so my friend had to get him shipped to her farm and then I had to pick him up from her farm. I never found out where his farm was. I tried to get the SPCA involved but they couldn’t do anything because they didn’t have his address and I could not find his address anywhere.”
Thankfully, Bilbo is now in the right hands.
Moreover, not only is the grey living a healthy life, but Douglas mentions that he is now doing some light riding and adventuring out onto the trails with her husband.
“Matt mostly just takes him on trail rides and hacks him through the woods. He gives Matt attitude and he loves that. Matt obviously feels sorry for him for what he’s been through. He is cheeky but he is grateful and he is kind.”
Looking back on their journey so far and the bond he is formed with her family so quickly, Douglas is extremely happy she gave this horse a second chance. After a brief photo session with the duo, Douglas walks Bilbo towards the paddock. It is time for him to get back to his relaxed and butter life of grazing.
She watches him as he quietly walks off. Keeping to himself, he resumes grazing in the mid afternoon sun.
“He is a very kind, he is just such a kind horse and so strong for everything he has been through.”
Douglas smiles, remaining slightly teary eyed. Whether intuition played a part or not, she reflects on her decision, knowing that it wasn’t an easy one but she remained committed to seeing it through.
“He was so full of life even though he wasn’t. He wasn’t ready, there was no way.”
As the partnership continues to blossom, I look forward to the updates on social media, all the while knowing that one kind soul took a chance and changed the life of her four-legged friend for the better.
This is a simple story but one that shows that after the finish line, after the racing shoes are off and the fans have long gone, the racing community still cares and kindness sticks around long after a 'war horse' has called it a day.
“He’s a striking individual and he’s a lovely size. He has three quality gates and I kind of thought ‘I already go up to the barn to ride one, I may as well ride two,’” laughed Val Topp as we chatted about St. Andrews Bay, the latest addition to her four-legged family.
The three-year-old bay thoroughbred gelding, and son of U S Ranger now simply goes by the name Andy.
Towering over Topp, I continue to snap some photos of the two outside Andy’s new digs, a lovely barn nestled in the countryside of Schomberg, Ontario. Walking Andy back inside the barn, Topp leads him into the wash stall before untacking him. Looking over my shoulder, Topp’s other trusty stead and former racehorse, Ojibway Signal (Oj) watches her intently from his stall door.
A familiar face to this blog, Oj is Topp’s saucy sidekick. A partnership forged several years back. The horse and rider duo ventured across the country to Kentucky last fall to compete in the Thoroughbred Makeover Challenge. While I reminisce about watching them soar over the eventing course at Kentucky Horse Park, Oj shoots some dagger eyes over at his younger counterpart.
“Oh they are night and day,” said Topp as she glanced between Oj and Andy. “Oj is a little bit fiery. He has a lot of forward momentum. Andy is a lovely mover but he is quite mellow about most everything. They are actually a fun pair, a good pair to have,” laughed Topp.
Interviewing Topp for a third time, I’ve come to love that mostly all her answers are punctuated with a light-hearted laugh.
Looking on at her latest project, the giant teddy bear of a horse, she admits that it’s been an interesting experience so far. “It’s been a big learning curve. I’m a lot more accustomed to horses like Oj. He’s a more typical racehorse where you sit quiet and pet him and say whoa, whereas Andy you have to kick and say let’s go. So that’s just a little bit more out of my comfort zone, but it’s been really good for me as a rider to try and be stronger and more diverse.”
Not only do her horses have varying dispositions but also very different racing histories. Trained by Topp’s fiance David Bell, Andy ran a total of four races while Oj amassed a total of 40 career starts.
Under the care and tutelage of Bell, Andy’s brief stint as a racehorse began last summer at Woodbine Racetrack. Topp who works alongside Bell quickly pulls out her phone to show me some video of Andy during his early morning training sessions. Unlike his racehorse counterparts who inherently zip into each new furlong a little quicker, Andy lopes along at an easy gallop, like a Sunday driver in the right-hand lane just taking his sweet time.
She then plays another video of Andy casually sauntering up onto the main track, and surveying the scene. “Wait for it,” she smiles as he flicks his head for a few seconds in the video -- as if to say ‘yes, I’m a racehorse and that’s as wild as I get!’”
Working as an exercise rider at the track Topp could see Andy wasn’t cut from the same cloth as some of the other racehorses. But as with anything they still gave him a shot during the latter part of the racing meet starting him in four races between September and November. He retired with a third place finish to his name.
At the end of the racing meet, his owners decided to let the young horse move on from the racing oval and find his legs in another career.
“He showed some potential but they decided not to go on with him over the winter and pay the bills into the next year which is fine. So mostly it was a joint decision because his attitude was so good and it was fairly clear he wanted to be a show horse not a racehorse because he was so mellow. He would try in the races to please you but not because he had a burning desire to win.”
And so much to Topp and Bell’s delight they brought Andy home for the holidays. “We shipped him up to the farm and two days later I was riding him in the arena. He did trot poles. There was basically no transition time, he just settled right into a happy life.”
While Topp worked more extensively with Oj over the winter and into the spring, she let Andy grow into himself, put on some groceries (his winter weight) and continued to slowly add more structure to his work routine.
“December and January we did a lot of lunging. As the weather got better he’s done a lot more hacking, which he enjoys. He is such a big boy I try to keep it varied with him and let him enjoy everything he’s doing. He jumps little jumps but nothing with any real pressure or size because I don’t think he needs to at three.”
Despite being very green Topp is still contemplating whether Andy will indeed follow in Oj’s footsteps and go to the Thoroughbred Makeover once again held at Kentucky Horse Park in Kentucky, Lexington.
“I would like to because it was so much fun last year. I’ll see how he’s doing, if he’s ready for that. It’s quite a busy show and he seems to have a great demeanour. But between now and then I have to get him out and about to some schooling shows and make sure he can handle that before he goes down to the horse park and sees Budweiser horses and all kinds of things.”
Held in late October, the Makeover provides horse trainers with the opportunity to showcase the skills and abilities of their recently retired thoroughbreds in ten different disciplines including (but not limited to) dressage, show jumping, eventing, barrel racing, polo, and competitive trail.
Last year’s makeover attracted 170 competitors including Oj and Topp who competed in the dressage and eventing portion of the competition. According to the Retired Racehorse Project, the organization facilitating these makeover events this year’s competition has accepted applications from 480 trainers across 45 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces and England.
As Topp contemplates another venture south, she admits that Andy may become a resale project once she puts a bit more training into him and takes him to a few shows.
“I’m struggling with two - to find the time and energy to do two. I think it’s fine for him this year he doesn’t need to work hard everyday or be on a real program…but he’s a nice enough horse to go on and do big things so in the long run he should probably be someone else’s number one horse.”
In the meantime Topp continues to give him the attention and care he needs and deserves, but most importantly the seasoned rider and horse mom is just letting him be Andy.
“I just love the fact that we were able to do something - something from the bottom of our hearts. This industry is a tough industry and it gets so much bad publicity. For us to be able to do something because we want to do it, not because we have to do it, just shows that we all care in this business.”
Warm words spoken by none other than Steve Owens, a well-established horse trainer at Woodbine Racetrack who recently rescued and gave a second chance to a horse named Snuffy.
“This is the first horse I‘ve ever rescued from a rescue site. I saw it on Facebook and I had a good year last year with London Tower making a lot of money, so I thought it would be nice to give back,” said Owens, who has worked in the racing industry for over two decades.
Tucked away on the backstretch adjacent to the sales barn and the sand track, Owens’ racing outfit currently houses fourteen horses. Snuffy, a seven-year-old grulla quarter horse gelding is the latest addition to his four-legged family.
His ‘grulla’ or tan-gray colouring sets him apart from his stablemates making him easy to spot as Owens walks me towards his stall. Snuffy’s soft eyes and a furry face nuzzle their way over to his owner who pulls out some mints as we’re introduced.
Stabled several doors down is the seasoned stakes winning filly London Tower. The runner-up in last year’s Woodbine Oaks captured the 2015 Fury Stakes and Eternal Search Stakes, closing out the season with nearly $400,000 in career earnings. Her success has inevitably helped with financing Snuffy’s rescue and bringing him to his new home.
“His price was $1,250.00 USD but his shipping bill was considerably more. Considering he had to ship from Louisiana to Arkansas, from Arkansas to Kentucky and from Kentucky to Canada. ”
Snuffy, who was destined for slaughter at the Bastrop Louisiana Kill Pen was purchased by Owens in mid-December. Unfortunately, it took the trainer over two weeks to get the horse to his farm in Canada.
“It was a considerable amount of time that he had to spend in Louisiana and in quarantine and then from one farm to the next. And then an overnight stay at Dr.Poole’s farm there. IHT (International Horse Transport) picked him up and commuted him from Kentucky to Toronto.”
Not surprisingly, Snuffy was in poor shape when he finally arrived at Owens’ farm in Kleinburg, Ontario.
“When he got off the IHT van in Kleinburg he almost fell off the van. He had no weight, he had no substance,” said Owens who nursed the horse back to the health over the winter. “He needed his teeth floated because he was having trouble eating. His coat was terrible. He had dropped off at the hips and had no substance in behind.”
His assistant Laura Delorey played a key role in getting Snuffy into shape both mentally and physically. “She spent a lot of time with him and they became very close and still are up to today.”
Delorey who works alongside Owens at both the track and farm has been by Snuffy’s side since he stepped off the van in January.
“He’s a good boy, he doesn’t do anything wrong and he seems to appreciate what we are doing for him. People say that he’s lucky, but I think we’re kind of the lucky ones - you know to meet up with a good little guy like this.”
Once he was physically strong enough to accept a rider Owens re-started Snuffy with Delorey seated aboard. Like a proud dad, Owens posts videos on his Facebook wall of Snuffy, including one of Delorey trotting the quarter horse around his barn for the first time. Watching the quarter horse move calmly through his paces, his doting owner thought it best to transition him into a new career.
“Well everybody needs a job to do. He is such a lovely animal why not give him something to look forward to everyday? Believe me, he’s taken to everything that we’ve asked him to like he’s done it before.”
Snuffy was shipped to Woodbine’s backstretch earlier this month and now works six days a week as Owens’ barn pony. Given his quiet demeanour, he is the dependable guy that ensures Owens’ racehorses get from the barn to the track and back safe and sound. “He is out with his first set at six a.m. and put away by nine o’clock in the morning,” said Owens as he gives Delorey a leg up on Snuffy.
Delorey and Snuffy walk through the shedrow and wait for their next ‘set’ outside. In this case, a pair of two-year-olds thoroughbreds who are making their debut at the track this season. With Snuffy upfront, the trio make their way towards the main track. Owens is not far behind, keeping a watchful eye on the quarter horse.
“He was taught on the sand ring and then he moved to the training track where he walked out with horses and now he’s moved out to Woodbine’s main track, to the tapeta track and he’s accepted everything very kindly.” He is one of the first ponies to lay foot on the tapeta, a new surface Woodbine has laid down for the thoroughbred race meet scheduled to begin on April 9th.
We walk through the tunnel to the main track and Owens finds a place on the rail to watch his youngsters breeze their way around the track. Suited up in winter gear from head to toe, he’s very much at ease knowing that his quarter horse is out on the rail patiently waiting with Delorey aboard.
Although spring has arrived most horses including Snuffy are holding onto their winter coats. As the trio heads back towards us Owens is quick to note that his pony has already garnered a new nickname. “I call him Scruffy - it sounds more manly.”
As Snuffy leads his set off the track something spooks one of the youngsters, both shy and take a step back. Ears pricked forward, Delorey sends Snuffy forward towards the tunnel. The composed quarter horse continues on his way, not taking a step out of place.
“He’s a gem. It was a natural transition for him to come from nowhere to become a barn pony,” said Owens as he watched them head through the tunnel and back down the road towards his barn.
Even though the racing season has yet to commence, the trainer already knows he’s won something very special by having Snuffy in his barn.
"Some days I get off and I’m smiling from ear to ear and I think ‘oh, that was great from start to finish’ and then there’s other days he comes out and he gives me a cheeky attitude and I have to ride for every moment, and you think ‘okay, I’m exhausted but I have to make this breakthrough and he always gives me the breakthrough, but it’s the continuous challenge because he’s a big personality.”
Straight from the rider’s mouth, those were the sentiments said by Sara Jones as we chatted about her four-legged man who goes by the name Sir Glacken.
Jones, a long time horse lover and riding instructor at Big C Stables up in Frere Pilgrim, Christ Church has been working with the handsome grey thoroughbred (who now simply goes by ‘Glacken’) for the last six years.
She crossed paths with the former racehorse when local horse trainer Roger Parravicino and his son Bruce were looking to rehome him back in the 2010. Glacken, who was purchased at a horse sale in Ocala was brought to Barbados to race at the Garrison Savannah. Unfortunately, it was a very short-lived career for the young colt who only had one career start before being retired.
“Bruce brought him home in the middle of Tomas, which was the big hurricane that passed (through) Barbados. The Garrison roof was coming off over his stable and Bruce in the middle of it all rode him home. We thought if he came home in the middle of the storm he might be quiet enough for the riding school,” said Jones as she watches the now nine-year-old thoroughbred enjoy his evening gallop around the grass arena of Big C.
Shortly thereafter he was brought over to the riding school owned and operated by Sara’s mom, Di Clarke. Glacken is not the first thoroughbred to walk through the bright white gates of Big C, as both mom and daughter have taken on numerous off the track thoroughbreds to help out where they can.
“Our racing industry is very large for a small island and for so many of them their career is finished very early on in life. Most of them are done by two or three-years-old, so there is a huge need for thoroughbreds to be rehomed,” said Jones.
Many of the ones they’ve taken on have become horses for their students to learn on. “Over the years I’ve had Hidden Glance, Happy Hour, Vladamir (Short Stuff). There’s been Jeblar’s Hero, he was a super good horse and was really good for the riding school. He taught a lot of kids how to ride. Before Glacken I had Emanuel who Adriana (an accomplished Big C rider) has competed with.”
Jones notes that all of these off-the-track thoroughbreds (OTTBS) have made excellent horses for youngsters training at a higher level and for kids who compete overseas and want to be in the competition arena.
“These are all horses that I got up to 1.25 metre. And then a lot of them get thrown back in for the riding school so that you better the stock for the riding level, so that kids have a good schoolmaster. When I start winning on them at the higher level and they become seasoned horses, they know what their job is and they will get little children out of trouble. Then it’s time to throw them back into the riding school and start working with another young one.”
That next young one to come along was of course Glacken who Jones sensed from early on would be for one rider and one rider only.
“We very quickly realized that he wasn’t riding school material at all. He was what we call a swimmer, there’s a lot going on and it took me a few months to get him on a straight line – just to keep him moving and balanced.”
Jones continued to face an uphill battle with Glacken for the next little while.
“The first year he spent more time unsound than he spent sound. He had (hoof) wall abscesses, which often happens with grey horses and he would be on for a month and off for two. So there really wasn’t a whole lot of progress in the first year. We finally figured out that it helped hugely if we had him shod with fine little nails. And, once we got him sound then our training was very positive.”
Schooling him on the flat for a good chunk of time, Jones continued to exercise patience with her four-legged counterpart. Riding for too many years to count, she knows that patience plays an important in the process of schooling and re-starting racehorses.
With that said, the seasoned rider and coach soon found herself being questioned by her own mom on where Glacken’s second career would take him.
“For the longest time Di said, ‘Are you ever going to jump this horse?’ and I would say ‘patience Di, this a lot of engine I have here. I want to be able to contain it before I start jumping him.’”
So in 2014, the two finally made their debut in the jumper ring at Whitehall in St.Peter. “We jumped the 0.85 metre to 0.95 metre in the first round. In the second round we jumped a metre to 1.10 metre and he jumped really well and it was a very successful show.”
Unlike his racing career, Glacken finally found his sweet spot soaring over the jumps with Jones. “Within the first year of us competing him we went from the 0.85 to 1.20 metres.”
Aside from her training with Glacken she coaches her students on everything from basic grid work to teaching them how to jump courses on property and for the show ring. In 2015, she passed her Level 2 FEI training in the Cayman Islands.
Jones’ new training means she can bring horses farther along in the dressage ring by teaching them specific elements such as the counter canter, the shoulder-ins, the half-pass as well as half-pirouettes. Jones can also now coach her students to jump up to a 1.20 metre course.
“The discipline like every sport evolves over time and we’ve learnt a heck of a lot over the years. We’ve all furthered our education. We’ve gone through lots of coaching programs but we’ve also now stuck by our guns and really followed the FEI, which is the umbrella worldwide body for the equestrian sport and they do courses all around the world.”
With her extensive knowledge base and ongoing commitment to the sport Jones now has her eyes set on Glacken jumping in the 1.30 metre division by the end of this year.
While they work toward that goal together, Jones will also continue to help retrain several other ex-racehorses at the riding school, not only for new careers, or for her students to learn on, but most importantly to give her four-legged friends a second lease on life.
“It's her inner horse. I look into her eyes and I just melt.”
It’s hard not to smile as Kim Allaby gushes about her off-the-track thoroughbred (OTTB) and sweet four-legged counterpart, Hint of Lemon. The ten-year-old thoroughbred now simply goes by the name Lemon.
As the snow continues to fall and graciously coats the paddocks of Evamar Farms in Lakefield, Ontario (where Allaby boards Lemon), we talk about their second chance story.
The two crossed paths more than three years ago on the backstretch of Woodbine Racetrack. “One of the trainers I worked for claimed her from (trainer) Mark Casse.”
Allaby who runs her own equine massage business, Soothing Hands Equine Therapy, was working for her client Franka Armata (trainer for Alpine Stables Ltd.) when Lemon made her entrance into the barn.
Despite the fact that Allaby already had a Warmblood at the time, she laid claim to Lemon right off the bat. “I didn’t have the time or space to keep two horses or the money. But I said to the trainer 'when this horse is ready to come off the track let me know because I don’t know what it is but I just love this horse.'”
At this point I interject, “But what was it about Lemon that you fell in love with?”
Allaby warmly responds, “I work on a lot of horses but you fall in love with one. You know, it’s like you meet a lot of guys but you fall in love with one. And I just fell in love with her.”
A sentiment uttered by none other than an island girl, a Jamaican whose love of horses and horse racing spans greater than the racing oval encompassing a stretch of real estate on Rexdale Boulevard in Toronto.
“I always remembering wanting to have a horse, be a horse, play with horses. My tricycle became a horse and then everything was a horse. The dog was a horse. I rode my German Shepherd when I was 4 or 5 and eventually I got too big for him so he would sit down,” laughed Allaby.
Soon enough (at the ripe old age of six) she was taking riding lessons and from there aspirations of working in the horse industry continued to flow. “I wanted to have a career in horses but didn’t see how I was going to make any money at it, and my parents thought I should go to university and get a real career.”
She took her parents advice, but after her studies she started teaching riding lessons in Jamaica and then in 1983 she found herself an OTTB to ride.
Over the years Allaby worked with several OTTBs on the island including Papyrus, Easy Penny, Red Fury and a cute little grey she gave to her niece and renamed Heartthrob. All her thoroughbreds came from the island’s local track, Caymanas Park which is located in Portmore, Jamaica.
Continuing to follow her passion Allaby was hired to work for the Jamaica Racing Commission to run the jockey’s training school. “They had an old jockey that was teaching them race riding. I was teaching them normal riding and their school work.”
Adding to the mix, Allaby decided to enter a ladies race. “I lost both stirrups at the start not realizing how fast these horses break off. I had no stirrups, clung on, finished without falling off…I probably finished last,” laughed Allaby as she recalls the terror and excitement of those few minutes.
However, the race made her realize that as much as she loved teaching she wanted to be in the stirrups galloping horses as well. And soon enough the opportunity presented itself.
“We had to move from where the school was so for awhile during the changeover the horses were staying with different trainers at Caymanas Park. Well, there came my chance to actually get on one and gallop around the track.”
Although Allaby moved to Canada in 1992 and started her own venture, her love for galloping horses never wavered. And, as fate would have it, another opportunity soon fell across her lap.
“I saw an ad in The Star, they were looking for grooms and exercise riders at Woodbine. I thought no I’ve got this other business I’m starting out with massage, but boy I remembered that day at Caymanas Park and thought ‘hmm that could be fun'. Then my sister phoned me and said, ‘did you see the ad in the paper?! They want exercise riders! And I thought, ‘ya that’s really what I want to do.'"
In 1999 Allaby was back in the tack galloping horses at Woodbine and continued to do so for the next eight years. While at the track, she got her trainer’s license but after a few years realized it wasn’t her calling.
Transitioning into a full-time equine massage therapist Allaby continued to work on the backstretch assisting trainers with horses who needed bodywork.
And then one day Lemon strutted into Armata’s barn and became her client.
The kind eyed mare started her racing career in August 2008 at Woodbine. After two very decent starts she went on to race in the 2008 JP Morgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keenland in Lexington, Kentucky. She finished up the year of racing in New Orleans, Louisiana at Fair Grounds racetrack. The following year she was lightly raced at Santa Anita in California.
In 2010 Lemon returned to Woodbine and continued racing there for the next couple of years. Allaby vividly remembers watching her win at the track several years ago.
“She looked like she was ready to go into the hunter ring, but Lemon like to race in a Rubenesque fashion. She raced her best when she was nice and filled out and I just happened to go over to races that day….and one of the girls who was doing color commentary before the race mentioned that Lemon might need that race as a tightner because she didn’t quite look fit enough at the beginning of the season.”
Pausing briefly, Allaby suddenly lights up.
“Zooommm! Lemon took off and won the race. I just had to laugh because she didn’t know that Lemon raced her best when she was looking fat, but she wasn’t fat - it was all muscle.”
After 31 career starts including two wins and finishing a handful of times in the prize money, the seasoned racehorse was retired in December 2012.
That’s when Allaby got the call. “The trainer phoned and said ‘she came out of her last race not so great, (I) don’t want to winter her, come and get her.’”
Allaby was there in a heartbeat.
As with any horse coming off the track there is a period of adjustment before starting a second career. Allaby was pleasantly surprised to find Lemon more than willing and ready to start back into leisure riding. “She was fine. I took her out back in the snow, jumped on her and went for a ride in the backfield. I let her out in the arena so she could run around because I didn’t know what they had done (work wise) with her. I know she had raced two days before, but I know they wouldn’t have done anything with her except hand walk her, so I knew should be a bit high (hot temperament).”
In order to combat the hot or fiery temperament Allaby explains how important it is for owners to change thoroughbred’s diets once they retire and transition into a new home and career. “The wrong food will make them hot. It’s not to feed them less, but to not feed them sweet feed. Even a little bit of sweet feed will change them.”
Another key element Allaby takes into consideration is bodywork and the importance of integrating massage into their new lifestyle.
“The main thing at the track is that even though you think they’re sound they do need bodywork. Because they might not have a tendon issue, a suspensory or something like that but their bodies are tight from that kind of strain. It’s hard work being a racehorse.”
Not surprisingly, Lemon is treated to regular massages by her doting horse mom. Even before she rides Allaby also makes sure to give her girl a quick look over to make sure Lemon is happy and healthy from head to hooves.
“I check her before I ride to make sure she’s where I left her because occasionally she fights with Hailey (her Warmblood stablemate) and I came back one day and she had thrown herself against the wall and hurt her ribs. She made herself sore to the touch,” recalled Allaby.
At this point Allaby walks me over to Lemon’s stall, hands me some brushes and we continue to chat as I groom Lemon’s furry coat. Happy for company, Lemon continues to munch away at her hay as Allaby combs out the snowflakes clustered throughout her mane.
Learning and understanding her horse from the ground up underscores the trusting relationship that has developed between the two over the last few years. It has also allowed Allaby to try a mix of different things in the saddle. “She’s done some jumping. I’ve done some stick and balling with her, and she actually follows the ball quite nicely and she didn’t mind that at all.”
But more than anything Allaby is happy to ride Lemon simply for leisure and have the opportunity to share her with the rest of her family.
“She loves my grandnephews from when they were little babies and came in a carriage. She was just so kind and gentle, she just nuzzled them and got to know them. We’ve put them on her back and she’s just so careful.”
Allaby leads Lemon out of her stall and into the indoor arena to frolic about. The former racehorse trots and canters easily around the arena for a little while before halting at the entrance. She turns her head to us as if to say, “I’m ready to go back to munching my hay, please.”
Her horse mom happily abides and walks her mare back into the stall.
After watching Lemon run her heart out at the track, Allaby knows her horse deserves more than her fair share of hay.
More importantly, I know that the lovely Lemon will continue to live the sweet life under Allaby’s watchful eye.
“Chestnuts with a lot of chrome really get my goat,” laughed Katherine Patterson as she gushed over her flashy thoroughbred filly, Look At My Gizmo.
The 4-year-old chestnut (now known as Vienna) stands patiently beside Patterson by the arena inside the Horse Palace on a chilly November morning. The palace is abuzz with energy as throngs of horses, carriages, and people scramble back and forth between events being held at the Royal Winter Fair.
Patterson and Vienna took part in several thoroughbred classes sponsored by Adena Springs.
“I didn’t know about these classes until last year when Sarah Collicutt won on Believe the Fox, I think it is. I messaged her and asked her a bunch of questions about it and she informed me about what to do and I thought ‘well that would be really fun,’ and it’s not that far away from home.”
Accompanied by her parents, Patterson shipped Vienna from their family farm just north west of Port Hope to downtown Toronto earlier in the week.
Not too taxing a journey, considering the fact the duo recently travelled south to Kentucky to compete in the Thoroughbred (TB) makeover challenge. While I was working on another story at the challenge, I crossed paths with the two and was of course curious to know how their partnership came to fruition.
“Well I wasn’t looking for a horse, but last year I was just sitting at the computer cruising through the Second Start listings and there was this adorable chestnut mare with big socks and a big blaze. She was free to a good home and had a minor injury.”
In August 2014, a week before Vienna’s first race the filly suffered a fifteen per cent tear to her right front tendon. Her owners at the time put her on stall rest and once she healed they decided racing wasn’t in the cards for the filly.
“She could have gone back to racing but she had no drive,” recalled Patterson as she slips on Vienna’s saddle before their class.
Patterson’s family is not new to the OTTB game. They’ve had four other thoroughbreds over the last several years.
“Our paint (horse) went lame and we needed to lease a horse because it was part way through the season so we got this thoroughbred (Love Is King a.k.a Keanu/ Indy Lights). He was young and we said ‘we didn’t want thoroughbreds they are nutty!’ but he was awesome, so that kind of got us hooked.”
Patterson shared Keanu with her sister Liz.
Not too long after, Patterson adopted a horse of her own called Fire Cause (Thor) through LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society.
When Keanu passed away Patterson's sister got another thoroughbred named Making A Point (Neville).
And, as any horse hooked family can imagine the ball just kept rolling.
“On kind of a whim I decided I wanted a project horse and that’s when I got Cryptography (Max) through Second Start. He was awesome. He (was) sold to a girl who trains with Jessica Phoenix. He goes to Florida every winter and competes. He was super cool.”
A hunter background, Patterson has been riding for the last six years and currently rides on the Trent University Equestrian team. Even with school, work and several other horses, Patterson couldn’t resist Vienna.
“She’s just a real doll, she doesn’t have the typical chestnut thoroughbred disposition – you know the ‘hell hath no fury like a chestnut thoroughbred mare.”
Bringing her home last September the family decided the young horse would get some downtime before being re-started this spring. Over the moon about her new purchase, Patterson bonded with Vienna over the winter.
“We did a lot of ground manners. She had to learn how to cross tie but overall she was good. She loves to be groomed …She learned how to lunge and re-learned what a bridle was and we would slowly saddle her.”
Since Vienna had not been re-started over the winter she would qualify for the TB makeover challenge held at the Kentucky Horse Park in October. Patterson had seen the event advertised in January and signed up shortly thereafter.
“I went ‘that’s really cool’ not even knowing if she would be sound enough to ride in a show like that,” said Patterson who didn’t even get on Vienna until April.
But, she remembers that first ride like it was yesterday.
“It was a very glorious day and from there we just went with the flow,” beamed Patterson as she recalled those first five minutes of just walking around on her.
With the TB challenge in the back of her mind, Patterson put Vienna into a work program to help her learn the basics (walk, trot, canter) and also entered her in a couple of schooling shows starting in the summer.
“Her first one was in July. She went to a local school and just did the hack division and was reserve champion. Then she went to a zone classic at Palgrave and did the Thoroughbred breed class and came third out of 14. We also did the hack division and she got a third and seventh out of 15 - so she did well.”
Pinning well on the flat and over small fences Patterson headed south with her dad and Vienna in October for the challenge.
Running into the family during the event it was very easy to see they were in their element.
“We had so much fun in Kentucky. It wasn’t about going and getting ribbons or the 10,000 in prize money it was about the experience,” smiled Patterson as she recalls riding around the prestigious horse park with all the other thoroughbreds.
Despite having done only five schooling shows prior to the challenge, Vienna placed 11th out of 34 thoroughbreds competing in the show hunter class.
Back in Ontario the duo returned to the show ring to compete in the Royal’s Thoroughbred line class. Scoring a fourth place ribbon in the line class, Vienna also performed beautifully in two under saddle classes (testing suitability for the dressage and hunter ring) later that morning.
Always close by, Patterson’s dad snaps photos and her mom looks on at the two who steal the limelight amidst the bustle of thoroughbreds walking to and fro. Vienna remains un-phased as horses rear, the loud speaker rattles on and children run around the stables.
Patterson leads Vienna back to her stall, unsaddles the filly and replaces the ribbon with a tasty reward. “I always buy her special stud muffins so she has special treats when we go to shows.”
Although the newly formed partnership will be taking it easy over the winter Patterson does have a few ideas about what the two will be working on for next season. “It would be nice to go to some trillium shows and do a couple of the novice 2"ft shows with her.”
Given her experience with the breed, Patterson’s focus will be growing her young horse’s confidence as Vienna continues on in her second career.
Ultimately, Patterson already knows that going with the flow will be key to Vienna's future success in the hunter ring.