Sunday, March 15, 2015

Guinness: A Dream Come True

"I was made and meant to look for you and wait for you
and become yours forever." ~ Robert Browning
Kristin Leason, has always been drawn to Thoroughbreds. Her parents had racehorses when she was young on a farm in Ridgeway, Ontario, where her mother rehabilitated many horses and her father trained at Fort Erie Racetrack. “My exposure to this breed early on on life gave me a strong appreciation for their unique qualities. I always knew they were special,” she says.

Kristin attended college at SUNY Morrisville for Thoroughbred Racing Management where she rehabilitated her first off-the-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) Chicken Tango. After college, Kristin worked miscellaneous track jobs at Turfway, Mountaineer, River Downs, Ellis Park, and Thistledowns to make ends meet and pay Tango’s board. Having seen the highs and lows of racing first-hand, Kristin decided to focus on the rehabilitation of thoroughbreds’ whose careers came to an end.

While at Churchill Downs on September 9, 2009, to meet and greet trainer Buff Bradley, and multiple graded stakes winner Brass Hat ($2,173,561) she was drawn to a beautiful black colt with a large blaze in the neighboring stall. As he chewed on a jolly ball, she noted his name magic markered on a piece of tape "Jump Start Now". “For fun,” Kristin said, “I added him to my Equibase stable.” Three days earlier, Jump Start Now placed 6th in allowance company. It was his first race back from a 4-month layoff. Jump Start Now raced four more times in 2009 for a total of twelve starts. In his final outing of the year he placed 2nd in a $30,000 claiming race at Turfway Park on December 10th. Kristin kept track of his progress online and through the friends she made in Bradley’s stable; Maria his assistant, and Jeff an exercise rider.

In the same year, Kristin unexpectedly rescued J.R.s Heat:
“I stumbled across a TB for sale ad on Cincinnati Craigslist. A “big bay 19hh” was listed for a mere $200. With my rehabilitation experience, this was a red-flag, and I thought maybe I could help re-home him, since I personally was not looking for another horse. I made the call, and brought my friend Suzanne. We arrived at a small cow farm in Walton, KY. It was a ramshackle place with hazard written all over it--a molded round bale to eat from, only a scummy pond as a drinking water source, and tube gates and barbed wire for fencing. We looked at each other thinking, there's no way this is going to be good. A man came to greet us, and told the story of how a local racehorse trainer dropped this colt off in the cow field, claiming to come back for him later. The trainer never came back.

The man whistled, and the sound of galloping hooves could be heard. A beautiful coppery bay with jet black mane and tail came up to the gate. He had a blaze that resembled a tadpole. He was short-backed and stood at about 16 hands, his body in good condition for the circumstances. But he had a bleeding growth on his back fetlock: proud flesh. He certainly needed a better home and some restorative care.”

Kristin had no luck finding a home for the needy colt. A month after her visit she received an from the cow farmer, begging her to take the horse, “he took to you the best, I’ll give him to you for free.” Kristin made arrangements with her barn and worked very hard to pay the board on both horses. She renamed J.R's Heat to Fresco--Spanish for “fresh” and fitting his feisty disposition.

Kristin nurtured Fresco back to health; “when I finally rode him, he was perfect. It was through my experiences training him that I finally learned how to jump.”

Kristin & Fresco
By the end of 2009, Kristin fell on hard times financially and emotionally. Heartbroken, she was now forced to choose which of her two horses to keep; Tango or Fresco. “Tango just didn’t have the personality or desire to jump. I decided to keep Fresco,” she said. Through her network, Kristin rehomed Tango to Dennis Woodruff at the Sarasota Polo Club.

Six months later, Kristin moved home to New York. Fresco arrived a month later – he too was struggling. “He had a club foot, and it was hard for me to keep him sound at times, especially in limited turnout,” Kristin said. She was not only losing hope, but also losing money trying to work with vets and farriers.  She wondered if it would be better to move him into a pasture pal position or with a new owner. “Fresco was feisty and a little territorial, and an owner without an understanding of Thoroughbreds might mistake his quirks and special needs for meanness. I was determined to wait until I could place him properly, even if it was fiscally tenuous for me,” she said. Kristin remembers the time as personally challenging. “I was unsure of my future or my goals, I was very unhappy. I was only 21, and partying often to numb my discomfort and uncertainty. It felt like I was in a downward spiral and out of touch with my true self.”

Yet Kristin’s good deeds with horses did not go unnoticed. In early February 2011, she received an unexpected email from Buff Bradley’s exercise rider Jeff, he said, “Jump Start Now needs a home!” Jeff went on to explain that Jump Start Now, now a gelding, had had a very small bowed tendon. He was rested for several months and was now healthy and ready for work. Kristin said, “he asked if I knew anyone who wanted him -- I said that I wanted to take him, but I already had a horse I was seeking to place.”

Kristin thought more about how to re-home Fresco safely. Networking again, after weeks of phone calls, she managed to place him on a large farm in Alabama that provided equine therapy for wounded Veterans and the disabled. She said, “I thought it would be a good fit for my fair-weather Fresco. I knew it would be perfect to see my horse--who had been dumped and left for dead in a field--healing the hearts of humans.

Guinness after a beauty treatment by Kristin
With Fresco safely rehomed, Kristin said, “the wheels were finally turning for me and I couldn't believe I was going to potentially own a horse I fell in love with three years earlier in a chance encounter. How lucky was I?” 

Jump Start Now, shipped to Kristin on May 25th, 2011. She renamed him GUINNESS; “within 30-minutes of arriving, he was hunkered down and falling asleep as I groomed him and gave him a new and improved haircut.”

Today, Kristin and Guinness are successfully Eventing and competing in combined tests, hunter trials, and paces. The pair has consistently earned top honors and even a high point year-end award. In the off-season they enjoy time on the trails. Kristin says, “though there have been some bumps in the road, every single time I spend any time doing anything with him, I realize just how extraordinarily lucky I am.”

Kristin & Guinness on course.
 Story submitted and Pictures provided by Kristin Leason | Written by Susan Kayne | Rachel Carter, Editor


  1. This story illustrates how dedication and love heal both horses and humans. Well done!

    1. Palogal, Thank you for your kind comment. Kristin is an extraordinary, and mature young lady. We are so privileged that she trusted us with her story.