Life After Racing: She’s the One

Standardbreds are consistently showing their versatility, whether it’s riding or driving, for show or for pleasure. Hoof Beats is happy to share stories from readers about their favorite Standardbreds. This month, Charlotte Gelston writes about how Leah Ann Portley; her daughter, Katrina; and Catherine Bradshaw came to bring a mare named “B” into their lives.

The light was blinking on my answering machine when I came in from the barn. I listened to the message. Someone was looking for a good horse!

I called Leah Ann Portley right back, delighted to offer my assistance. There is nothing I enjoy more than encouraging people to adopt Standardbreds.

Leah Ann told me that her 15-year-old-daughter, Katrina, and another (adult) friend, Catherine Bradshaw, had adopted a horse to share. Unfortunately, it was not a good match. She hoped to find another, more suitable horse.

“It was a mild day in January when Dr. Frank Palka stopped by to examine our newly adopted Thoroughbred mare, Willow,” said Leah Ann. “To our novice eyes, she had seemed pretty great. We knew of an old injury, but there were no other obvious problems, except she bullied the resident gelding, ‘Frosty.’

“Imagine the distress and tears when Katrina was informed that her new friend couldn’t stay. Dr. Palka had discovered too many medical problems, and more importantly, behavioral issues, for Katrina and Catherine to take on. Before he left, he wrote down a name and phone number on the back of his bill. Dr. Palka suggested we consider adopting a Standardbred horse. He briefly explained why we were more likely to find a sound, even-tempered horse from among the retired harness racers.

“Our education about this breed really began when I contacted Charlotte Gelston, whose name and number Dr. Palka had scribbled down for me. Charlotte proceeded to spend hours via emails, phone calls, visits and trips to check out prospective horses.”

The first horse we went to meet in Massachusetts was a 9-year-old gelding who had already been trained to ride after retiring from the track. He was quite handsome, but his ground manners left me skeptical. He was edgy, very mouthy, and threatened to cow-kick when his hindquarters were approached.  Since he behaved very well under saddle, he was still under consideration.

The owner told me he was being fed sweet feed, although not working or even turned out due to the bad winter weather. I suggested to Catherine and Katrina that his behavior may have been a reflection of his circumstances, and might improve in a run-in barn situation as they have. Getting more exercise and less high-energy feed can make a world of difference; however, the decision was taken out of our hands when the owner’s vet said he did not think the horse would stay healthy in a run-in barn. This horse was obviously not meant to be the one for them.

My next candidate was a 15-year-old gelding, Snap Jack, who was being returned to Futures for Standardbreds after spending seven years as a pleasure horse. There was also a young mare, fresh from racing, at Futures for Standardbreds who had just begun saddle training. Of course, the first choice for a 15-year-old girl would be the experienced gelding.

We hoped to make the trip up to Buxton, Maine, to meet him; however, the weather interfered with our plans by snowing heavily, twice each week, during the entire month of February. By the time we could make it up there in early March, he had been adopted. Another disappointment, but I told Katrina not to be discouraged. We would go to meet the mare instead.

In the meantime, I had spoken numerous times with my friend, Pamela Rhodes at Futures for Standardbreds. I was impressed by her description of the mare, and felt it was worth meeting her. The fact that Katrina had been in riding lessons for five years, as well as having an experienced adult sharing the horse, made me realize that a 6-year-old with track experience and the right disposition might be a fine choice after all.

Despite her inexperience, “B” ended up being the one for Katrina (pictured) and Catherine. Photos by the author.

“I’d been dubious about driving all the way up to Maine to look at a 6-year-old mare fresh off the track,” Bradshaw said. “We didn’t want a horse that would be a handful. We arrived at the appointed hour. Pam and her compatriots had led the mare down to the end of the driveway. When we drove up, she came right up to the car, stuck her nose in the window, and gave us a knowing look with those intelligent brown eyes of hers. Our hearts melted on the spot.”

Rhodes said that she was surprised that the mare, nicknamed “B,” was ready for adoption so soon.

“The owner donated B to us to have her retrained for pleasure disciplines and placed in a responsible home. B was so personable and well-mannered that she easily took to carrying a rider under saddle and driving a pleasure cart.

Catherine with “B.”

“Watching both Katrina and Catherine ride and interact with B, as well as asking all the right questions, convinced us that they would provide a great home for a Standardbred in need.”

The decision to adopt her was unanimous. B arrived in Connecticut four days later.  Seeing the joyful smiles on Katrina and Catherine’s faces when she calmly walked out of the trailer was wonderful. Katrina led her around her new home, introducing her to the older gelding who lived at the barn. Frosty was smitten with B immediately, and she returned his friendship, politely allowing him to be the respected leader.

An hour later, Katrina left B in the paddock with me while she helped Catherine bring the hose down to fill the water tub. Ignoring my presence, B whinnied after them twice!  I was delighted to see how much they had bonded already.

A few weeks later, Katrina emailed me saying, “B has the same personality as I do, fit into a different body. She can be very sweet, but you find a lot of sass there, too! That’s why we get along so well.

“When we went to visit B in Maine, we weren’t really sure about it. When we got there and I laid eyes on B, I truly believed that everything happens for a reason.  B is my best friend.”

And her full registered name? B Thea One, pronounced “be the one.”

This article by Charlotte Gelston originally appeared in the May 2017 edition of Hoof Beats magazine. Check out www.hoofbeatsmagazine.com for more stories like this!

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