Standardbreds are consistently showing their versatility, whether it’s for riding or driving, for show or pleasure. Hoof Beats is happy to share stories from readers about their favorite retired Standardbreds. This month, Megan Rider writes about former racing pacer So Be It, who now serves as an equine officer with the Memphis Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit under the name Rufus Thomas.
So Be It thrives in his new career with the Memphis Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit
There is a vast range of possibilities when it comes to a Standardbred’s life after racing due to the breed’s versatility, soundness, and adaptability. One career that is often not at the forefront of one’s mind when considering these options is that of a police horse. However, not just any horse can become a police horse. There are certain qualities a horse must possess to be chosen for the team.
One of harness racing’s very successful Standardbreds by the name of So Be It possessed such qualities after his time on the track ended.
So Be It, a 13-year-old son of Western Ideal – Royal Ball, was foaled at Hanover Shoe Farms in 2007. Leon Zimmerman purchased him as a yearling under the name Reutimann Hanover for $12,000 at the New Jersey Classic Yearling Sale.
“I changed his name to So Be It because I liked the sound of the popular, ubiquitous expression,” he said.
Zimmerman, who has been a media member of the sport for decades, sought partners on his acquisition but remained majority owner for most of the horse’s career, which was not without its ebbs and flows.
Kimberly Rinker, administrator of the Ohio Standardbred Development Fund and a Hervey Award-winning journalist, was a huge part of So Be It’s overall success, as she trained him for the majority of his career on the track.
“So Be It was sent to me in 2010 by Leon Zimmerman and Tom Fanning,” she said. “He was a little 3-year-old just not quite putting it together.”
Her first encounters with the horse were difficult, as he was not friendly and would strike if you tried to touch him.
“It was easy to hurt this guy’s feelings,” she said.
Rinker worked with So Be It each day until he became calm and comfortable, and at last able to connect.
“He finally came out of his shell and I wound up winning nine races with him that first year,” Rinker said.
In October 2010, Rinker was told that So Be It’s owners wanted to return him to The Meadowlands, where he remained until March 2011. That is when Rinker received the call his owners wished to send him back to her.
“I was pretty much involved with him from 2010 to 2015, and although my time with him wasn’t consistent, we maintained a great connection,” Rinker said. “Whenever he won a race, I would strip him, give him a bath and take him to the spit box. If I didn’t come back to him right away, he would start rearing in his stall; that was his thing with me. I had a lot of fun with that horse.”
According to Zimmerman, much of So Be It’s success stems from Rinker.
“So Be It did not come around easily,” he said. “I have known Kimberly for more than 30 years. She has such a fantastic knack for turning horses around and when Tom (Fanning, his former trainer and co-owner) suggested sending So Be It to her, it was perfect because I already knew the kind of horsewoman she is.”
So Be It provided Zimmerman with great pleasure. He shared a memorable moment that left a lasting impression.
“So Be It raced at Balmoral Park on April 21, 2012, in the Invitational Handicap and won in 1:51.4,” he said. “He then came back a week later to win the $17,000 Invitational Pace in 1:52. Those back-to-back wins in the track’s richest races, along with earning his lifetime best mark of 1:51.2 twice, three years apart at age 5 and 8 at Balmoral Park and Hollywood Dayton Raceway, were the most exciting experiences I had as his owner.”
So Be It’s racing career ended with a record of 222-28-19-14 and earnings of $134,468. It became evident in 2017 that he was no longer racing up to par, so Zimmerman decided to donate him to New Vocations.
Zimmerman had enjoyed a great experience with the organization when he had donated another Standardbred, Pantastic Guy, who was eventually placed with a family and became a pleasure riding horse.
“So Be It was retrained by New Vocations and subsequently placed with the Memphis Police Department, where he is very popular and doing well,” Zimmerman said.
For the Memphis Police Department, the horses selected for inclusion in their Mounted Patrol Unit must be calm and not spook easily due to the nature of their work. The horses chosen for the force are geldings due to their temperament in crowds and at events where there may be loud noises, such as screaming or gunshots.
Selection for any mounted patrol program is highly exclusive. Potential candidates participate in several weeks of training to determine if they possess what it takes to become part of the team.
“We have a 45-day trial period for all the horses we take into our program,” said Lieutenant Felipe Boyce. “They are trained five days a week to handle crowd noise, crowd dispersion, dressage commands, and neck reining. They are also taught how to pull a person that may be trapped in the woods, etc. We like horses that are laid-back and relaxed. So Be It, who is now renamed Rufus Thomas (in deference to the famous blues singer), adjusted quickly.
“We usually keep between 10-12 horses at a time and use primarily Standardbreds and Tennessee Walking Horses. Standardbreds seem to be a better fit because they are more relaxed than Tennessee Walking Horses, who are wired to be show horses. They are taught to have their eyes open and ears up all the time. I have had Standardbreds for more than 20 years and they work really well for us. We rename all our horses with an association to Memphis, like blues singers or locations in the area.
“New Vocations has been a good fit and just sent us two more horses because several of our horses are getting older. They have a lot of assignments when they are on patrol and are also responsible for community outreach. They enjoy people petting them, and from their time on the racetrack, they are accustomed to loud noise.
“If a horse doesn’t work out for us, we send them back after their trial period. We have never had to send one back to New Vocations and if we did, it would probably make them more adoptable as they do have to go through so much training.”
So Be It is patrolling the streets of Memphis in his new profession. His maturity and demeanor, developed by Rinker, are what propelled him to succeed in his second career.
“Our horses are out on Beale Street every Saturday night,” Boyce said. “They have to contend with 30,000 to 40,000 people and very loud music. I actually rode So Be It during the riots here in Memphis, so that provides you with an idea of what kind of work they perform and what kind of conditions they are required to perform under.”
Rinker and Zimmerman reflect upon their time with So Be It with pride and joy and are thrilled that this horse, who was so special to them, was provided with the opportunity to thrive while serving his community.
Boyce concurred the horse is truly flourishing.
“He is well-fed and receives outstanding treatment,” he said. “When he is off duty, he is allowed to run in the pasture all day and eat before he is brought back in. He works hard but lives a good life.”
Megan Rider is a freelance writer living in New York. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.