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Rags to Riches

Not totally a rag-to-riches tale, this is nonetheless a pretty good story about a little brown OTTB who made a name for himself on Long Island.

Literally, backtrack to Monmouth Park, June 2002: Faith Rewarded, a small son of Honour and Glory, stood quietly on crossties for his groom while his race trainer supervised preparations. His hind legs were wrapped in her green and white colors and the red saddle blanket had the number one for the inside post position.

“Glory” broke well in a field of eight fellow maiden claimers, three-years-olds and up, in the six furlong sprint on the dirt running for a purse of $9,000. No one was really interested in claiming the little brown horse, since he had a few previous unsuccess- ful starts and his odds were not so good. The plain little colt barely stayed in front of the field and won the race with winning time so slow it became a “track record.”

In spite of the win, the trainer said he was not cut out for racing and needed to go, so Glory moved on to his OTTB adopter, readily rescued with a prescription for rest from a tough life at the track.

After several months of long lazy days wandering in grass pasture, the little horse began to show some expression in his weary eyes. The owner of the rehab and sales barn in New Jersey began to hack him in the fields, put on some steering and brakes, slowly getting the OTTB ready to find a career, and hopefully a permanent home.

His race trainer had mentioned she thought he would make a good hunter, so as advertised, along came Sheri, who was looking for a sound field hunter prospect. Sheri fell in love with Glory’s big brown eyes and, although he was still very “off-the-track green,” she was quite an accomplished horsewoman and felt up to the task. However, after weeks of patient retraining, trail rides with friends, trailer rides to Old Westbury and a couple of nail-biting adventures in the hunt field, Sheri realized that the sweet little horse would not be happy as her field hunter. Sometimes a horse offers an opinion about his career, a choice made by his human, and Sheri was smart enough to listen, honor his wishes and find him a more suitable home.

My horse search had included a library of videos from as far away as California and it was becoming a chore. As an OTTB advocate and volunteer at a local rescue, I try to look at the track first. Glory was priced to sell and was local, so I thought I would go just to see him at the barn in Brookville.

From the moment I saw him standing so quietly on crossties, I was cast in a spell of far away fantasy, swept away with a sense that I had been chosen.

I cannot explain it fully, except that before I even mounted, I knew this was my horse of a lifetime. But I was looking for an adult show hunter, something big and flashy, safe and sensible; he was small, plain brown with no markings whatsoever and had never been to a show. It was a gamble – we had no idea how the little OTTB would do in yet another career.

Selling Glory was heartbreaking for Sheri and I promised to give him the best home possible and to stay in touch.

The day he arrived at my barn, Sheri also hauled her new field hunter, so she wouldn’t have an empty trailer going home. We had agreed to take a trail test-ride together, me on Glory, and Sheri on her new “Bentley.” I remember thinking it could be a disaster – new horses, new owners, trail-blazing a new farm, but then it would certainly be a good test.

We had a blast – cantering through the surrounding woods, ducking branches, crunching leaves and spooking deer. I decided to rename Glory “Brookville,” after the town where Sheri had kept him.

It was the summer of 2005. After two weeks of owning my new boy and introducing him to his first gymnastics, I begged my hunter trainer (who used to train racehorses) to take us to the North Fork 1 for a show to get some schooling over real jumps and “just to see what we got.” Much to our surprise, Brookville got off the trailer, looked around as if to size up the competition, walked in and won every class in “Infant Hunters.”

We decided to bring him back the next week for North Fork 2 and he won every class again, handling the crowds like a pro. At the North Fork Classic, he jumped up to “Baby Green” and was reserve champion. The little brown horse loved the show ring and wanted to win. He seems to know when it counts and always tries his best in front of the judge.

That season we finished fourth on Long Island in the Baby Green pro division with only six shows . . . we knew Brookville was something special.

During the 2006 season we began dressage training to strengthen and confirm our lead changes and in order to move up to the three-foot division. Our showing was limited during the summer to just five shows. Brookville was champion or reserve champion in four of them.

Flash forward to 2007. Brookville completed his first full season of showing at the three-foot division with numerous championships with my trainer, as well as in a few 2′ 6” classes with me aboard, which included two wins on the Horse Shows in the Sun (HITS) circuit. The little brown OTTB was awarded reserve grand champion for the Winners Circle series and was LIHSAA (Long Island High Score Awards Association) horse of the year in the special hunter division, with well over 1,000 points – a record in itself.

Brookville is an incredible example of the Thoroughbred mind, heart and soul, a success story that should inspire anyone involved with the lives of racehorses and especially with OTTBs, who are particularly grateful and resilient. Not every OTTB will be an automatic champion, but faith and patience are often rewarded.

Brookville still stands quietly on the crossties with his groom (me), as my current trainer supervises show preparations. He is clearly still number one, the horse of my lifetime.
—Sandy Jessup, volunteer at NY Horse Rescue, Manorville, NY

Faith Rewarded (KY), 1999, g., Honour and Glory—Lucky Terms, by Private Terms.
Raced two years, 12-1-0-0, $6,360.