Friday, February 12, 2016

A Stalwart Anomaly ...

On Friday, February 12, 1993, the US president was Bill Clinton. Sweethearts canoodled to Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You, and Robert James Waller revived passionate remembrances of flings and flames in The Bridges Of Madison County

And on that same Friday, under the sign of Aquarius, MS. STALWART, a daughter of STALWART, gave birth to a chestnut colt adorned with a star and connecting stripe. He was a dream come true for his owner Edwin Wachtel. A long awaited 11-month gift sired by Wachtel's own stakes-winning stallion Claramount.

From the time of his arrival, the prized colt was well-attended by the teams in the employ of Mr. Wachtel's Exeter Stables.

In 1994, the coppery coated youngster was cataloged in the venerable NY-Bred yearling sale at Saratoga. Keane Stud served as Wachtel’s sales agent for the colt known as Hip #523. When the bidding stopped at $5,500 he was not sold. He returned to Wachtel's Exeter Stables and was officially named STALWART MEMBER in keeping with his lineage.

'STALWART' is an adjective meaning strong and valiant. Good attributes to claim, even in name alone for a thoroughbred racehorse. According to Roget’s Thesaurus: Athletic, bold, courageous, daring, dead set on, dependable, fearless, forceful, gutsy, hanging tough, indomitable, intrepid, muscular, powerhouse, sinewy, solid, spunky, steamroller, stouthearted, strapping, sturdy, tenacious, unafraid, undaunted, valorous, and vigorous.

We don't know how 'Member' came into play. Perhaps it evolved from Wachtel’s iconic Members Only brand, a global phenomenon he created in the mid-1970’s. Members Only racer jackets were distinguished by their narrow epaulettes, collar strap, knitted trim, and the irresistible tagline "when you put it on, something happens".

Like Wachtel's uber-successful fashion line, Stalwart Member’s debut also commanded attention. On December 21, 1995, at age 2, he romped to a 7-length victory in the 3rd race at Aqueduct; this began a career that would amass over three-quarters of a million dollars.

On July 16, 2000, at the age of five, Stalwart Member, already a multiple stakes-winner was claimed away from Wachtel for $35,000. Sandy Goldfarb took ownership, and Stalwart Member transferred to trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. The big-hearted runner brought home eight more wins, including two big stakes victories for his new connections.

Just shy of one-week to the eight-year anniversary of his debut win, Stalwart Member, entered the starting gate for his 64th and final start. It would be his 32nd race over the Aqueduct oval. He finished a game second by a mere ¾ of a length to a gelding six years his junior.

On December 13, 2003, as the ten-year-old, three-time graded stakes winner cooled off, his owner spoke with press, "For three years Stalwart Member has been like a member of our family, he has brought us thrilling races with many victories," SandyGoldfarb said. "He has a lot of life in him and we look forward to following his progress." The story headlined in The Thoroughbred Times, NY Post, Blood Horse, The Daily Racing Form, and broadcast on Time Warner Cable’s NewsChannel 9.

Stalwart Member’s life story, along with that of his dam Ms. Stalwart represent a rare anomaly in the world of thoroughbred racing – the gift of a natural lifespan supported by people who valued their sentience, and their right to live far beyond their ability to earn.

In his last several years, Stalwart Member was the cherished companion of Erin Looman. She nicknamed him STALLY, and she lavished him with affection through his last breath on March 30, 2013. Today, would have marked Stalwart Member's 23rd birthday. Although he is gone, we celebrate his presence by savoring the gifts he deposited into our lives. 

STALLY with his friend LIAM
Stally, we will always love you.

Ms. Stalwart lived out her days with dignity and grace at Our Mims Retirement Haven in Kentucky. She was laid to rest at the sanctuary on January 28, 2013. Our Mims is a glorious piece of heaven on earth run by Jeanne Marie Mirabito. Please visit Our Mims, watch the documentary One Day, and consider a financial gift in honor of a thoroughbred who has blessed your life. But for Our Mims, mares like Ms. Stalwart would otherwise be forgotten in corridors of great suffering.

Ms. Stalwart & Jeanne Mirabito 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Real Rescuer Always Finds Room for One More

Frankie's story was submitted by our friend Leslie Molinari, who rescues and rehomes thoroughbreds through her NUZZLE ME SAFE OTTBs in Doylestown, PA. 


It was a cold, wintry day when I was  called to go pick up a  horse in need of finding a new home/career from racing. As I was loading my new four-­‐legged family member, I was approached by a crusty looking man who said, “Please take Frankie."   

Frankie? Who is Frankie? The older gentleman  pointed to a dilapidated barn, which was ready to be torn down. As I went inside there was a lonely horse standing in ankle high muck, and covered in manure. He was the only horse left all alone in  this filth. Not a cry, or a sound came from Frankie. What a brave soul to be left alone with no friends living in filth and with no complaint. 

As most of you know horses are herd animals and do not like being  alone, and yet here was Frankie all alone quietly waiting for someone to help him.   

“Oh my God!” I shouted out to the man. “How did this happen?” The man explained to me, Frankie was abandoned by his owner and left … Well you know the  rest.       

The old man, who looked liked he needed to be rescued too, was taking hay and grain from various people and sneaking Frankie food. Frankie’s days were numbered since the barn they were hiding him in was about to be torn down. One look at Frankie and his desperate condition, and he was on my trailer heading to my farm.  I took Frankie out of his stall, he was covered in filth and as he gazed into my eyes I knew he was saying thank you.   

I rehabbed Frankie and  found him a great  forever home   where today he is flourishing in  his new career with Jess   Carter in  NJ.  Jess and her students love Frankie, and now he loves his life and enjoys all the treats, hugs, and kisses he gets every day.   

Here is Frankie today! 


TT NOTE: Frankie raced 28 times, his last start was at Parx on November 5, 2011.  But for the rescue by Leslie Molinari, he likely would have been shipped to slaughter. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Q & A with Kristin Leason

Kristin Leason is a rock star for OTTBs – she is also a young lady with horse sense well beyond her years. 

As a child Kristin rode ponies, a Morgan, an Appaloosa, and an Arabian. “I learned SOMETHING from each of them,” Kristin said. “But after my first two OTTBs, I vowed to never go back.” Earlier in the year, we shared Kristin’s three-year journey to acquire her dream horse Guinness, aka G-man, real name Jump Start Now. Since teaming up on May 25, 2011, Kristin and Guinness have consistently earned top honors and even a high point year-end award in combined tests, hunter trials, and paces.  

Today, Kristin uses her life-long experience with the breed, and day-to-day adventures with Guinness, to help ex-racers find supportive homes. “I've been a part of the rehoming process for a few years now,” says Kristin. “It’s all incredibly rewarding to watch the horses I've helped succeed in their respective new careers.”

TT: Why did you choose an OTTB?

KL: I have always been drawn to Thoroughbreds. My parents had racehorses when I was younger and a farm in Ridgeway Ontario (I was born in Buffalo, but my father is Canadian). My mother did a lot of rehabilitation and took in boarders for layups, etc. My father handled the string at the track, based at Fort Erie Racetrack. Being around this breed early on really helped me appreciate them even more. I always knew they were special. I still believe a Thoroughbred, particularly one with a past such as racing, has its own very unique and amazing personality. The potential bond they can share with their "people" continues to astound me as I read other success stories.

And of course, the obvious answer being their athletic ability, trainability, and intelligence. In addition to all that, it makes me feel good providing them with a fun "job" after a career in racing, which, we know isn't easy. I enjoy contributing to the reduction of "unwanted" ex-racehorses being "thrown away"... it makes me feel good.

TT: What would you say to potential adopters looking at OTTBs?

KL: I usually just endorse open-mindedness. Unfortunately, it is not always a good idea to believe everything you hear from a prospective seller. There are good and bad people all over the place and that remains true when it comes to who you buy a horse from. As a general rule, I think it’s a good idea to have some experience training horses, ideally TBs. These horses are "broke" but they do need a lot of work, time & patience. And, in my past, I have learned that the quiet, sweet horse you see on the track will naturally change a little bit once he is in a new place, healthy and recovered from the track. It’s good to be ready for a bit of "bad" behavior, and by that I mean they are feeling better, so of course they may become "hot". 

Patience is key. Be willing to spend a lot of time with your new horse and get to know him. Find out as MUCH as you can about his history, too -- you can never know too much. But time spent doing "nothing" with them early on can prove to be very valuable overall - when an OTTB trusts you and is your friend, he will do anything for you.
TT: Your thoughts on owner responsibility?

KL: This INCREDIBLY important to me. My horse is basically my child. He's a part of the family and he is absolutely priceless to me. They should be treated as such. My horse ALWAYS has, and always will come before my personal wants. People should remember that every choice we make affects SOMEONE else, and that that someone could be your horse. They are not to be thrown away. 

It’s important to me to stress that if a horse owners falls upon hard times (or something along those lines), they need to do what is right by the horse. If that means rehoming him, then I say do it. I happen to be very against the "Backyard Breeder" (BYB as I call them), who endlessly breed horses that are worth very little in the current market. These people are contributing to the "waste" in our industry, and it’s absolutely horrible that we, as responsible horse owners have to see things like slaughter in the USA reinstated due to the out of control breeding of horses -- I could go on forever about what I think of all that.

My goal is to encourage people to explore the potential of the already available OTTBs with so much to give just waiting for their person. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

5 Questions | Melissa DeCarlo Recknor | Fly Lite

Melissa adopted Fly Lite in October 2009 through the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center after she had been rescued from a kill pen and subsequently returned by three previous adopters. Fly Lite participated in the World Equestrian Games as a demo horse, and as a feature on Unbridled TV. The pair has forged a bond that is an inspiration to anyone working with an OTTB.

Q: Describe your horse in one word?


Q: If your horse was a celebrity, who would she be, and why?

ALYSON HANNIGAN. Like Alyson, Fly is petite, short and red-headed. They are both opinionated, yet personable and down to earth. They can both be crazy red-heads, interesting to be around, and can entertain a room full of people. Both ladies are full of talent, potential and personality … In the end they are both petite, short, and fiery red heads :)

Q: What was the biggest challenged you faced in retraining your horse?

Fly can be very hot and opinionated under saddle. Her loving and quiet demeanor on the ground was very deceiving. This was incredibly hard for me to learn to trust her, that she wasn't going to buck me off or run away with me but instead to work with in and form a partnership. Already a quiet rider, I had to totally re-learn how to use my aids in a more effective way than just "quiet". It has took us 3 years to form this trusting bond. 

Q: What is your best retraining tip for other OTTB owners?

Give it time. You must give yourself time to adjust to your horse and your horse time to adjust to you. If nothing else makes you humble, your OTTB with find a way to do so but don't let learning opportunities pass you by. Just because he/she may be hot and uneasy one day doesn't mean you can't take that time to teach yourself or your horse something else. It is almost ALWAYS a rider error -- retraining an OTTB is difficult for the horse as well, don't let your frustrations get taken out on him/her, they don't know any better.

Q: In one sentence, what is your favorite thing about your OTTB?

Fly has really made me a better rider and continuously tests me as the chestnut mare that she is and that opinionated personality is what makes her unique and a once in a lifetime horse!
Melissa & Fly Lite at Penny Oaks (2015)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Robin & B ... Summer Love Goes The Distance ...

Robin Washek first met Big Boy, aka B, at a heavenly summer riding camp on a local farm. She was only 14 years old, and he was 17. “B was stunning, guarded, but stunning,” she remembers. “I was quickly able to break through his [psychological] barriers and saw the horse he was; I instantly fell in love.”

While Robin bonded with B, the farm owner prepared an off-the-property lease for the signature of someone else. B moved away. Robin stayed.

After two years of regular lessons at that farm, she started to see that it wasn't as wonderful as she had first thought. The truth revealed itself when B’s lease ended and he came back to the barn. "He was beyond skinny with almost no life in his eyes. I was so mad because they were doing nothing to help him gain weight!”

Robin felt that she had to intervene. She got the farm owners to agree to let her take B home for the winter. With some major begging and pleading, and the premise that this was a horse just for the winter, her parents acquiesced.

Meanwhile, Robin and her trainer had other ideas. With B safely at home, the first phase of their mission was complete. They knew B was listed for sale on the farm’s website, but they had to figure out a way to convince Robin’s parents that B must stay.

During this process, the pair had the task of learning each other's quirks. "As far as retraining goes, our biggest struggle was fixing bad habits. At the summer camp, they decided it would be a good idea to ride him in a standing martingale that was too small--to keep his head down--instead of training him properly. So when I got him, he rode with his head almost straight up in the air. This took so long to correct because of all the musculoskeletal issues that came along with how they rode."

With the help of an Equine Massage therapist and two veterinarians, Robin’s parents were won over that B was being mistreated and needed a new forever home. Robin’s mother found a lawyer to complete the purchase of B and ensure he would stay with their family.

and Robin then began their new career as an adorable team on at various local shows. "His registered name and show name are the same, To the Minute -- I like the idea of keeping their Jockey Club names." The duo enjoy many different styles of riding and events. "I first started jumping with him, but I have since made dressage our major focus. At his age, I feel it is the best thing for him. But I would have to say that his favorite is western games, but only if he has [good] competition. I guess no matter how old they are they will always be racehorses at heart!"

Robin describes well how unique the personality of any OTTB can be from another, "having to describe him in one word is so hard! I think the "fickle" would be it though. He is a little different from day to day. As awful as it sounds, I think he is most like Hugh Hefner. He is up there in age and loves mares. They have to split the horses in the barn by gender, especially for him, so that there are no mares in his pasture. Otherwise he won't eat if there are any. He's too busy following them around like a lost puppy!"

"My favorite thing about my amazing OTTB is his perseverance. He has had so many hardships in his life and he never gave up."

# # # #

To The Minute's racing career spanned nine months.
He raced only at Thistledowns at two and three years of age. 
In 10 starts, he won twice including an allowance race. 
In his final start, a $3,000-claimer, he did not finish
 and had to be vanned off

# # # #

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Three Angels & her guardian angel Laurie ...

Florida-bred Three Angels raced a startling 44 times from the of age two to five. All but two of her starts took place at the now-closed Suffolk Downs oval in East Boston, Massachusetts. She was in the hands of only one trainer, Florence Gemma Siravo. Laurie Pagliarini Tuozzolo worked for Siravo at the infamous track. While looking after Three Angels, a cute brown filly with a split ear, Laurie became smitten.

On November 1, 2010, Siravo ran Three Angels in a $4,000-claimer--her 11th start in just over five months. Three Angels placed fifth. Tired and running wide, she was unable to gain a solid position from start to finish. This would be her last start.

In March 2011, Laurie, who quit her job [with Siravo] while Three Angels was still racing, received a tip that the mare who stole her heart was in the hands of notorious kill buyer Joseph F. ‘Spud’ Noone. Laurie raced to save Three Angels from imminent death. “I immediately contacted every rescue friend I could think of and sent them her pictures, tattoo number, and description of her left ear that is basically split in two,” said Laurie.

Laurie reached out to a front-line kill pen rescuer, Kelly Smith of Omega Horse Rescue, to see if Three Angels sold through the New Holland auction in Pennsylvania. New Holland is the number one dumping ground for thoroughbreds who have recently raced. Kelly told Laurie that Three Angels never went through the sale, nor could she find her in any trailer on the lot. Laurie was devastated. “I shed so many tears imagining how her life would probably end.”

Despite the dead end, Laurie stayed constantly on the phone and  computer trying to find leads.  Frustrated by the lack of answers, Laurie reached out to well-known West Coast advocate Deb Jones. Deb leveraged contacts and good faith through her underground network to locate Three Angels, who was miraculously still alive---awaiting transport to slaughter.

On March 29th, 2011, Laurie picked up her Angel. When Laurie finally got Angel home she spiked a fever which eventually led to a horrific case of strangles. "I had originally saved her with the intentions of finding her a good home, but after all we went through with her strangles and the bond we developed, I couldn't let her leave me,"  Laurie said. "She truly pays me back in spades. I know she remembers all those nights I laid down next to her in her stall begging her to hang on -- she came to far to give up."

Laurie's favorite thing about Angel is that when she looks at her she is constantly reminded that her life was saved."For me that fills my heart up,” says Laurie.

Laurie is a gifted poet. She asked that we conclude this post with her poem.

My Gift

Her trust was a bond 
Built day by day.
It could not be rushed
She did it her way.
Her loyalty is an honor,
What she's now willing to share.
It would be my reward 
For always playing fair.
Her friendship is my biggest treasure,
Days filled with happiness and love-
Something one can't measure.
Her beauty is timeless,
More precious than gold.
She is truly a gift
That I am blessed to behold.

(c) When They Whisper

To read more of Laurie’s poetry visit:

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Stalwart Member | 02.12.1993 – 03.30.2013

Stalwart Member <3 in remembrance ... by Susan Kayne

C. McCall, Jockey, Sandy Golfarb, C. Hayward
While taping the first season [2003] of Unbridled at Saratoga Race Course, I met New York's leading owner Sandy Goldfarb. He gave a great interview and we have since developed a long-standing friendship.

In early December 2003, Sandy contacted me to network for a home for his soon to be retired horse Stalwart Member. Goldfarb claimed Stalwart Member for $35,000 as a seven-year-old in 2000. Together, they won several races and graded stakes. I wanted to help, but I was already paying board on three horses. A fourth was out of the question. I proposed to Sandy that he pay the next six months board at a local stable, and I would assure a safe transition for Stalwart Member.  $500 a month at a farm is far less than $5000 a month at the track. He agreed and Stalwart’s off-the-track journey began. The New York Post picked up the story:

Leading thoroughbred owner Sanford Goldfarb announced in the paddock before the Big A’s first race, “Win or lose, this is the final start for Stalwart Member, as a ten-year-old he deserves an easier life, he is sound and fit and that is how every horse should exit his or her racing career.” Goldfarb fondly recounted, “For three years Stalwart Member has been like a member of our family, he has brought us thrilling races and many victories.” He has a lot of life in him, and we look forward to following his progress with Susan Kayne as he acclimates to life outside the track.”

Thankfully, Stalwart Member's 64th and final start was without incident. He placed second and walked backed to his shedrow with eighteen career wins and earnings of $783,807. At the time of his retirement he ranked among New York's state-bred all-time leading earners.

Mid-December, Brookledge Horse Transport delivered Stalwart to Double B Farm in Clifton Park. He must have thought he was headed to Saratoga – but it was winter! Unloading in the brisk air, Stalwart’s nostril’s flared. He snorted and pranced, tap dancing around me with his head held high like a giraffe. His deep brown eagle eyes surveyed the lay of the land. He was oblivious to the chain over his nose and ice under his hooves. I was greatly relieved to let him go in the safe space of his new stall.

Stalwart Member & Susan Kayne (2003)
His initial turn-out was inside; he hadn't been loose in nine years. He seemed stunned at first. He’d stand and buck in place while adding a front leg strike and neck twist. Once he realized he really was free of a lead shank, he took off and frolicked in every inch of the indoor arena as if it were his own personal sand box. By March, Stalwart was ready to be turned out in the fresh air. First into a small pen, and then within days he graduated to larger spaces. Eventually he went into a big paddock with friends. For such a fierce competitor on the track, he was quite affable with pasture mates. In the months to follow, Stalwart settled down and let down. His body began transitioning from lean and sinewy to fat and shiny.

Stalwart was surprisingly easy-going to ride considering his lengthy career on the racetrack. The first time, and every subsequent time I sat on him, he was steady. He never felt like he was going to seize the bit and run-off. The first few weeks under saddle he was stiff and muscle sore like most OTTBs, but he was not lame. His legs puffed as anti-inflammatories and racetrack drugs left his system. By March, he was like a rubber band, stretching, and fluid. It was time to find Stalwart a new home.

On April 4, 2004,  Heather Brandt, a young woman with a passion for thoroughbreds adopted Stalwart. She had the background and skill set to develop Stalwart’s potential as a riding horse. Time Warner News Channel 9 covered Stalwart’s move to Brandt in Ballston Lake, NY. Brandt aptly referred to Stalwart as “Second Chance.” With consistent work Heather helped “Chance” to understand the nuances of English riding. Heather's photos showed a filled out, happy, and relaxed horse.

Stalwart Member and Heather Brandt (2004)
Stalwart fast became a favorite again, this time with riding fans. Heather’s students loved the horse they knew as “Chance.” In many instances he was their only chance to ride. She refined Stalwart into a safe and solid teacher. He loved his job. As Heather’s reputation grew, so did the waiting list of retiring thoroughbreds looking for a stall in her barn. Heather made arrangements to relocate Stalwart to JHA Riding Academy, a reputable local lesson and show stable. He spent one year at JHA where he helped many riders gain confidence and advance.

Stalwart was purchased privately from JHA. Heather and I followed his every move; good reports indicated he was happy and healthy. Then, a hiatus in communication. Something was wrong.

Heather and I investigated, we learned that Stalwart changed hands a few times.  After many calls and emails, in September 2006, I learned that Stalwart was with Dr. Amy French, a veterinarian from Johnstown, NY. On the day I made contact with Dr. French, I learned that she was shipping Stalwart to a livestock auction at JP North's, a place I have known to be frequented by kill buyers over the years.

I was angry and horrified. Figuring out a deal to bring Stalwart home safe was the only option. Thankfully, I now had a farm of my own -- it was within ten miles of the auction. I arranged to pay for Stalwart’s shipping and then some. I did not know any of the people with whom I was dealing, and each had a conflicting story. How he ended up with Dr. French is unclear to this day. Finding him in the nick of time was nothing short of a miracle.

Stalwart Member returning from Dr. Amy French (2006)
Late in the afternoon a shoddy stock trailer sped into the driveway. Stalwart’s white star and stripe were visible between the rusted slats. The rear door creaked open. The floor was thick with urine-soaked manure. Stalwart trembled as he inched his way out. Heads of the others on board turned in unison; their eyes hopeful that they too would unload. My heart sank.

Stalwart arrived dehydrated, dispirited and emaciated. He he had been in the hands of a veterinarian, and he looked like he hadn't eaten in six months.

I have re-homed dozens of horses and maintain an open, no questions asked return policy. This is in writing and transferred to successive owners. Sometimes circumstances change and people cannot afford the upkeep. Over the years, only 2 other horses I have re-homed have returned. This was the first re-homing that went horribly wrong. I called Sandy, and explained. Unfazed, he [Sandy] wrote a check to help Stalwart get back on his feet.

Stalwart & Lizzie (2006)
By late fall 2006, Stalwart regained his strength and began adding weight to his big bony frame. He was enjoying life, and he had a new fan club in my nieces and nephews, Lizzie, Kayla, and Matthew, and Sheila Watts, a delightful young girl who took lessons at our farm.

In early 2008, I began seeking a forever home for Stalwart. I interviewed many prospective adopters. The majority were unsuited to look after a thoroughbred. When Erin Looman showed up, Stalwart hit the lottery and a love story was born.

Stalwart at Hillcroft (2008)
Erin gave the “Stally” the very best years of his life at Hillcroft Stables and Windrunner Stables. Together they learned, played, and struggled. Stally was Erin’s prince...for five years. 

In 2012, at age twenty, advanced ringbone and spavins stiffened Stally to little mobility. Erin was faced with an excruciating decision. On April 3, 2013, a note in my inbox read: “On Sat., 3/30/13, @ 3:00, my boy Stally crossed the bridge to greener pastures.” 

Later, Erin summed up a mountain of emotion in one poignant facebook post, “I would like to thank everyone for their kind words. Many made me smile through my tears. Stally for some was a machine, a money maker, to me he was a living, breathing creature who had more heart than some humans I know. He was my boy and will be missed every day.”