In the racing industry everyone talks about wanting a “Saturday Horse” – one that runs in the feature stakes races on major race days. For Suzie Harrison, her “Saturday Horse” came in the form of a winless racing reject from River Downs.
Hey Baby Hey was mediocre at best on the track, winning none of her 24 lifetime starts. It was 2004 when this Kentucky-bred's connections decided to call it quits and entered her in the Ohio Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Fall Mixed Sale at River Downs. While she didn't exactly “catch the eye” of equestrian Tammy Makela, she fit Tammy's budget and came home with her that day.
While Tammy purchased Hey Baby Hey with the intention of getting her going as a riding and competition mount, tragically it wasn't meant to be. Not long after bringing her new mare home, Tammy's longtime competition mare had to be put down, and Tammy wasn't emotionally ready to invest in another horse right away.
Around the same time Georgetown, Kentucky-based elementary school teacher Suzi Harrison was looking for an affordable horse who could carry her eventing aspirations to the Preliminary level.
“I started riding when I was very young on a half-Arab, half-Hackney pony,” said Suzi. “I began taking formal lessons with Judith Fiorentino in Huntsville, Alabama and it was at that time that I met Cathy Wieschhoff, who is based here in Lexington. I spent summers here in Kentucky riding and training throughout high school.”
Suzi learned about Hey Baby Hey and made an appointment to go try her out.
“When I went to try her, she was turned loose in the indoor arena and galloped laps around and around,” said Suzi. “I sat on her that day, but mostly we just jigged around the indoor. I knew from the moment I saw her, before I even sat on her, that I wanted her.”
“Frankie,” as she's known around the barn these days, didn't exactly take to off-track life right from the get-go.
“Frankie was quite unruly for several years, actually,” explained Suzi. “I tried to expose her to different situations as much as possible. She never felt like she didn't want to work, it's just that her brain didn't slow down enough for her feet to catch up. She was pretty excitable, and as I began trying to take her to small, unrecognized shows, I could not take her into the warm-up ring. It was too dangerous and she scared people. I had many people, including my mother, tell me that I should sell her or even give her back to Tammy if she would take her.”
Suzi persevered. Frankie was sweet and, while she was high strung, she lacked many of the typical “mare-ish” qualities that drive some people to want geldings over mares for performance horse disciplines.
Since the pair came together in 2004, they've not only met Suzi's goal of competing at the Preliminary level, they've exceeded it by leaps and bounds, all the while being cheered on by Frankie's former owner, Tammy. Frankie was named the 2011-2012 MidSouth Eventing and Dressage Association's High Point Eventing Mare of the Year and, in 2012, Frankie and Suzi completed not one, but three Advanced Horse Trials.
“Frankie was absolutely amazing at our first Advanced competition,” said Suzi. When you're warming up with people like Jan Byyny, Phillip Dutton, Boyd Martin, and Becky Holder, it's really hard not to be a little star struck. Sometimes it's hard to shift from being an elementary school teacher to being in the same warm up with the people who ride at the top of our sport.”
That first Advanced run was bittersweet for Suzi. She was coming off of the cross country course after a truly solid run. As Suzi and Frankie were heading back to the barn she saw her friend heading to the course with her horse in preparation for her turn on the course.
“We chatted for a second and she was so happy for me,” said Suzi. “I was at my trailer icing Frankie when I saw her groom running past our barn. I called to her and when she turned around her expression drained the life out of my face. I knew immediately that something horrible had happened.”
Suzi soon learned that minutes after wishing her friend luck, her friend's beloved horse collapsed on course of a massive heart attack.
“[Her horse] died doing what he loved with the person he loved the most in life,” said Suzi. “Being in the presence of these amazing creatures is something that we all too often take for granted. For the really great ones, their only fault is that they leave us far too soon.”
Suzi and Frankie endured a long, somber ride back to their home base of Donamire Farm in Lexington, Kentucky that day, and it gave Suzi the time to truly contemplate and appreciate how important every moment with one's horse is.
“People have asked me how I stay so positive when things are not going well. As long as I have Frankie to ride, things ARE going well,” said Suzi. “Cherish everything, from the lesson that you fell off in or the day you didn't get anything accomplished because your horse decided to spook at an invisible object…it's the journey and the bond we have with our horses that is the most important.
“Shows are just a snapshot, a small glimpse of the time I get to spend with Frankie. I know this incredible journey will not last forever – I wish I could just stop time and just stay where we are forever. I can't imagine my life without her…but then again, isn't that life with horses!?”
Yes, it most definitely is.
Name: Hey Baby Hey (a.k.a. “Frankie”)
Dam: Mighty Emy
Sale History: Sold at KEENOV in 2000 for $1,200; Sold at FTKOCT in 2001 for $5,000
Race Record: 24-0-3-6
Race Earnings: $24,335
If you have or know of a retired Thoroughbred with an interesting story to tell, we'd love to hear about it! Just email Jen Roytz ([email protected]) with the horse's Jockey Club name, background story, and a few photos.
Jen Roytz is the marketing and communications director at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky. She also handles the farm's Thoroughbred aftercare efforts. She currently owns two retired Thoroughbreds: Point of Impact (by Point Given; a.k.a. Boomer), who retired from racing in late 2011 and is just starting back under saddle to find his forte as a riding horse, and Shotgun Shine (by Tale of the Cat, a.k.a. Gage), who is in training as a hunter/jumper. Contact Jen on Facebook and Twitter.
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