For me, volunteering had always been a way to be near horses when I couldn’t have one of my own. My love affair began as a young girl, reading every horse book and fantasizing about being Elizabeth Taylor in “National Velvet.” Once I was an adult, I started helping out at a therapy program that taught disabled children how to ride and care for horses. There, I learned the basics of grooming, tack and safety.
I also frequented Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program (FLTAP), in New York State, just to keep alive my dream of someday owning my own horse. At age 53 I figured it was just that, a dream. I knew these beautiful athletes were too much horse for a beginner like me.
One day over lunch, an old friend told me he’d heard about a couple of nice, quiet horses that were being given away. He also gave me a little pep talk about following my dreams. Enthusiastically, I gathered all the information and called my brother who owns a nearby farm. He told me that he’d like one of the horses for himself, which sounded perfect to me. I was so excited. Then my friend called me back with bad news: The horses had already been given away.
My heart just about broke in half. But now that the idea was in my head, I decided I could rescue a horse from somewhere else. I scoured many ads for horses for sale or adoption, but none seemed like a good fit for me. Still, a little voice in my head told me that maybe it was not working out for a reason. I have always been a firm believer that if something is meant to happen then the pieces would fall into place: That wasn’t happening. Maybe I wasn’t meant to have a horse.
Discouraged, I went out to FLTAP just to hang around the retired racehorses and feed them some peppermints. Only this time, there was a newcomer in the barn.
“La Jolla Lu, 6-year-old mare” was the information printed on the stall nameplate. Usually, the cards list an adoption price, but that information was missing. The mare was friendly, nudging me as if we were old friends. Julie, the barn manager, greeted me as she always did, then started telling me about Jolla: She’d just completed rehab for a bone spur in her knee; she was offered for adoption for light riding only; she was very gentle and considered a great beginner’s horse. I protested my lack of experience, but Julie threw in one more pitch: Jolla was free to a good home after board approval.
Could this be why I couldn’t find any other horse? I stepped into the stall to see how Jolla would respond to having me in her space. She nuzzled me as I brushed her mane and just kept staring at me as if to say, “Where have you been?”
Owning Jolla has changed my world. I try to visit every day, if not to ride, then just to spend time grooming her. This partnership is full of new experiences for both of us. For me, I had no experience in horse ownership. For Jolla, the only life she had ever known was racing. Together, we have discovered a whole new world while developing a bond—trusting in each other—as we figure it all out.
My goal for sharing my story is to encourage other people to consider adopting these beautiful off-the-track Thoroughbreds. Many are in good health and have always received excellent care. Each deserves a second chance to become a real winner.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #461, February 2016.