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.