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.”

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