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, Heather Wilder writes about former racing pacer Don’t Ya Know, who now is her riding horse and goes by the name Ryder.
Don’t Ya Know fits his new owner like a glove
Don’t Ya Know, a 10-year-old gelded son of Western Ideal – Caviart Vegas, went postward on 192 occasions, earned $414,402 and competed for eight consecutive seasons. He performed primarily in Delaware with trainer Jason Skinner for owners Joan Dalphon and Elanor Laws. Don’t Ya Know’s ownership adored him and refused to race him in claimers; they wanted him to have a great retirement.
The gelding arrived at New Vocations just before Christmas in 2019. He was taught to lunge, stand at the mounting block and carry a rider. Once Don’t Ya Know was consistently ridden, he came up sore in both front ankles. The veterinarian determined the problem was arthritis and suggested to control the condition with medication as needed. The horse needed to be someone’s friend and companion with only light riding. He was adopted in April 2020 by harness racing publicist Heather Wilder, who is also the wife of top driver Mike Wilder.
What follows below is Wilder’s story in her own words on her relationship with Don’t Ya Know.
You reach different phases in your life where you realize you must push farther outside of your comfort zone, or you know that some part of you will be lost. I felt that way about riding. I have ridden horses my entire life, but after putting myself on the back burner to help my daughters achieve their goals and two back surgeries, I knew that I had to get back in the saddle or that I would ultimately succumb to fear and let a part of myself slip away.
With the decision made to push forward, next came the task of finding a suitable equine partner. Several people offered help and suggestions for different breeds and disciplines of horses. After much consideration I decided to give back to the horses that give so much to the livelihoods of those like myself. Our own retired horses here on the farm are getting up there in age and are happy with the revered status of pasture pet, and although the thought of breaking one of our current stable pupils to ride crossed my mind, I decided that any other fall or issue would possibly break me for good.
After much discussion, I finally sent a text message to Winnie (Nemeth, Standardbred program director at New Vocations). The only thing that mattered to me was that the horse was kind. I didn’t want to do anything besides trail ride, slowly, and I understood that sometimes these war horses have lameness issues. Temperament was truly the only concern, and as Mike told Winnie, something that I wouldn’t fall off of.
Winnie responded with photos of a horse she thought would be a match. This was Don’t Ya Know, who was donated by the Susan Skinner family. The next step was scheduling a video meeting to see his manners on the ground and under saddle at the adoption facility in Ohio.
I could see right away he was tall compared to the other horses I had always gravitated to in my life, but Mike said he looked like a horse that knew he had been a good horse in his life on the track, and had a proud look about himself. Honestly, I almost chickened out on adopting him. I wasn’t concerned by any of his physical limitations, but by my own. If I got hurt this time, I wouldn’t ride again. We discussed ways to make him feel better with therapeutic medication and corrective shoeing, and after a plan was devised, all the people I went to for their opinion said do it.
The day he arrived and I looked into his eyes, I could tell he was kind, but I was still quite intimidated. I gave him the barn name of Ryder, after Susan’s son. I fought the urge to wait a day or two to ride, since I knew that could easily turn into a week, and then he would possibly be a field ornament like the others here that I love dearly.
So I dusted off my saddle, and started the process of tacking up. He was a gentleman every step of the way. I mounted up, way up, since he is so tall, and proceeded to walk him around the boundaries of our property. I’m not going to lie—I was shaking like a leaf, and certain horses could have used that fear against me or taken advantage of the situation, but not Ryder.
As I type this, my handsome boy Ryder stands in his field with his two new best friends, ponies that I acquired for my niece and nephew at Christmas. He is standing there looking at me because he knows that shortly I will be to his gate with treats and love. He seems to like the evening rides that we take as much as I do, and stands like a perfect gentleman as I confidently throw my leg over him to mount. The shaking has gone and been replaced with a link of love between us. Mike says he acts like my dog and would follow me anywhere. He is my perfect partner.
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