A few weeks ago, I received a Facebook message. It was a screen-shot of a comment written in a lot of rage; a comment about me.
This person was stating that I was a “horrible human” due to the fact that I “falsely spread stories” about honest thoroughbred breeders, and wrote about aftercare organizations I believed in such as CANTER, Retired Racehorse Project, the Thoroughbred Incentive Program and many others that promote and support the breed that I love.
I was a horrible person, she said, because it was all lies. Thoroughbreds are all too often run until they’re broken and then shipped to an auction house, she claimed. She wanted me to retract my comments, and get on board with the facts—the industry that I love is full of animal abusers and should be outlawed.
She wanted to address the bad, while I wanted to promote the good. And she is wrong.
I feel as though I find a good balance between uplifting stories of the good guys and downtrodden stories admonishing the bad. I have outed just as many industry insiders or aftercare organizations for neglect as I have showcased the breeders who do what’s best. I will always keep is that way, because there are enough Facebook pages, websites and organizations that only showcase the bad. There are those who are so focused on the negative subpopulation of this industry that they are unwilling to admit there is a majority who give a damn; who care and do the right thing.
I will keep telling those stories because they often go unspoken, and that is due to a variety of things. Owners in this industry are often very private with their affection for these horses, and careful not to burn bridges with the trainers and other owners who may have owned the horse along the way.
Additionally, these stories often go untold because they don’t become clickbait. In our current state of affairs and political climate we love to see the world as glass half empty and ignore the good in the world.
But I saw the good this week.
I live on Mt. Brilliant Farm, a beautiful and historic land which has raised and nourished so many grand equines. The barn that Man o’ War lived in during his stud career is a stone’s toss away from my backyard, and last year’s Belmont Stakes winner Creator was born just across the polo field. They breed about 20 mares a year for racing and another 5-10 for polo, as they support both of those equine sports with their efforts.
And yet, I have never worked for this farm. I am the girlfriend to the broodmare manager and as such keep a relative distance. But occasionally I watch a mare foal or a bandage be changed. I cheer on their yearlings at the sales and their racehorses at the track. The attachment and fondness is there, simply because I want my super significant manfriend to succeed and do well in this job for this farm.
But a few months ago he mentioned a horse. There was a 6-year-old gelding they wanted to retire and retrain, maybe even potentially with my assistance. The only problem with this amazing plan was that they no longer owned this horse. In fact, they hadn’t owned him in almost 4 years.
He was born and raised on the lush blue grass adorning these 700 acres, loved on by all of the staff as well as the owners. Hutton Goodman said he had become more of a pet and was affectionately nicknamed “Shrek” due to his massive size and frame. He was the farm favorite. Then, when he was almost 2-years-old, he was taken to the sales where he sold for $350,000—a great price as far as everyone was concerned.
He ran in New York for a while and then moved out west. He ran well and he ran hard. He won a few stakes races and earned almost $350,000 during his long of 33 starts.
But then his form started to decline and he dropped in class. For the last year or so he ran solely at the claiming level. His breeder knew he wanted this horse when we was finished with his career, and reached out to the current connections to let this be known. He eventually offered some money as incentive, but his phone calls fell on deaf ears.
So he re-routed. Last Sunday he entered a claim on the now 6-year-old gelding, won it, and shipped the beloved farm favorite halfway across the country to return to the place where he was born.
Shrek arrived yesterday. The entire farm hopped into their vehicles to meet him at the barn. It was the type of reunion no one ever mentions, and very few ever see. A smile was plastered on Hutton’s face as he reached up to pat the massive gelding’s neck, acknowledging that there was no more worry of where this “pet” would end up. He was finally home.
I do not know what the future holds for Shrek. As of now he is simply going to be a horse—have his shoes pulled, his belly let down and enjoy some time on the same blue grass he was born on.
These are the stories that are so often untold or overlooked. The good guys doing the right thing for the horses within their care. We hear so often of the high-caliber horses—the colts running in the big races and retiring to stand stud, and the fillies to be bred and the first foals for the big race mares…But we rarely hear of the geldings. The hard knocking horses who ran hard, and ran well, and the farms, owners, trainers, grooms and managers who backed them.
These are the stories I will keep telling. I hope you enjoy them.
About the Author
Carleigh Fedorka holds a Ph.D. in Veterinary Science from the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center. A Pennsylvania native, she moved to Kentucky after graduating from St. Lawrence University and has worked closely in all aspects of the thoroughbred industry. She spends her free time eventing as well as training, selling and rehoming OTTBs. Read more about her horse life at her blog, A Yankee in Paris.