“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.