“He’s that guy that wears shiny tights and chases the leather ball,” said Kira Andersen as she described her thoroughbred, Saint Reade. Her face lights up within the first few seconds of talking about her handsome sidekick and I can’t help but notice the dark bay gelding’s mighty frame and striking face grinning over at us from his stall door.
The former racehorse (who also goes by the nicknames Reade or Champ) watches Andersen intently as she walks towards her tack box to grab his leather halter. Approaching his stall Reade eagerly greets her and lets her put the halter on without any fuss before we head out to take pictures in the indoor arena.
I had heard about Reade and Andersen from Melanie Klose, a horse trainer and riding coach who currently works with the two at Dunbordin Farms in Queensville, Ontario. Even though Reade had broken down on the track Klose had mentioned that the dark bay gelding had moved onto a second career as a jumper.
Eager to know more about the dynamic duo, I met up with Andersen at Dunbordin to hear her story and how she crossed paths with her four-legged love.
“I started when I was five in the hunter jumper world and I went on to buy my first pony when I was 12 and we competed on the endurance team,” said Andersen as we chatted with Reade close by. Dressed in a blue shirt and jeans, the vet tech, horse rider and new mom, explains how she soon found herself immersed in the world of racing. “I got introduced to thoroughbreds when I was 18 and started for a very good friend of mine and ended up at the racetrack.”
Andersen worked as an exercise rider at various tracks in the U.S. and in Ireland, but found herself working out of Woodbine from 2000 to 2009. While at Woodbine she rode for several trainers including Roger Attfield, Mike Keogh, Catherine Day Phillips and Reade Baker. In 2008 while she was working with Reade Baker she got to ride a two-year-old colt whose racing named followed suit with his trainers own name. Although Reade was anything but a saint to get on, Andersen enjoyed taking him to the gate and breezing him.
“As big as he was and as obnoxious as he was, he never took a hold. (He) galloped the fillies and was just a super smart horse. And then you’d turn him in and he stand and watch everybody train and then you’d get him off the track and the first thing he wanted to do was eat grass. He was that horse that was just so cool to hang out with.”
Watching him grow up on the racetrack she recalls how the frisky and chubby youngster turned out a great performance on one of his racing days. “One of biggest memories of him is when he ran in a stakes races (the Display Stakes) at the end of his two-year-old year and was fifth. He went off at 25 to 1.”
Racing at both Woodbine and Gulfstream Park, Reade ran a total of eight races between 2008 and 2009. He finished first in a $72,000 maiden race but went unplaced for the rest of his career.
In 2009 after breaking her kneecap Andersen decided to retire from exercise riding. Little did she know she would be receiving a life-changing call the following July about Reade. “A friend of mine was riding him and he broke down on the dirt track at the three eighths pole and they called me and said ‘do you want him?’”
She of course said yes and took him home shortly thereafter.
Sustaining a massive slab fracture to his right front cannon bone, Andersen had to determine what type of treatment would be best suited for the four-year-old colt. “We were actually going to send him for surgery at IIderton and we didn’t. We just opted for stall rest and if he recovered then awesome for us and if not, then we did the best we could.”
The colt remained stall bound from July to December of 2010.
He was casted and bandaged for the first three months,” said Andersen as Reade continued to stand quietly in the background. She was impressed with how mentally strong the youngster was given that they used a minimal amount of drugs (pain killers) during that time. “The fact that he was mentally capacitated… that made a huge difference.”
Reade was also gelded in the fall to ensure that when, and if he began working again he would be easier to handle.
Starting in January 2011 Reade was hand walked and turned out in a round pen. In April of that year Andersen began the next stage of Reade’s rehab – line driving. “He line drove for thirty days just to get his legs back under him.” Once the summer season began, she started working Reade lightly under the saddle.
Working in a five day program over the next couple of years Andersen has built a solid foundation for the racehorse to transition into a riding pony. While doing so she noticed his newfound love for jumping.
“I have an eventing background and where he was living before (pre-Dunbordin) there was a couple of natural obstacles outside and we started popping over those just for entertainment and I thought ‘huh, he really quite enjoys this.’”
In 2014, Andersen decided to begin showing Reade in the baby jumpers (.60 metres or 2ft) division. Finding his stride early she is super happy with how much progress Reade has made since starting out last season and how much her horse loves what he does.
“He goes into the ring with this air about him where everybody notices him. And he’s quite enthusiastic I guess is the word so it makes me enjoy his company because he’s not a plug and play. He’s a horse that I can work with and educate and develop and that’s a huge part of what I do and it’s been pretty fun.”
This season the two will be soaring to new heights in the .75 and .9 metres (2.5ft and 2.9ft) division. Andersen also currently has a co-boarder (Victoria) who is working on her jumping skills with Reade.
While Andersen tells me about her show plans for this year I can’t help but think how miraculous it is for Reade to be jumping at all given the injury he sustained.
Reading my thoughts she is quick to point out how people are always surprised by how well Reade has adapted to his second career in life. “I laugh because people always say he broke his leg you shouldn’t do anything, but I say that the unfortunate thing is I’m sure it calcified a lot stronger than it would have been in it’s original state, and it’s no quality of life to turn this type of horse out into the field and just say ‘you’re a retired thoroughbred, thanks for your contribution.’”
Even though Reade is Andersen’s first off the track thoroughbred (OTTB) she is well acquainted with the breed and knows they can do a lot more than just run. “They are racing animals but that doesn’t incapacitate them once they are no longer able to go around a circle. I mean if anything…they’re super safe because they’ve seen the flags, they’ve seen the people, they’ve seen the tractors, they’ve seen the trucks, they’ve ridden on the road. They know and they have a little bit more sensibility to them because they have been exposed to so many things.”
Going five years strong it’s amazing to hear how far they have come since his racing days. Towering over me at his stall door, the dark bay gelding quickly acknowledges me before returning his attention to Andersen. “He’s a got a bravado about him,” said Andersen as she gazed back at him.
With her by his side it’s amazing to see the loving bond that has formed between horse and rider.
Carrying his head high and stepping into his new career proudly, it is easy to see that Andersen has also given Reade the confidence he needed to realize he’s more than just a racehorse.