Luis's Especial was a trier, according to anyone who knew him. In a career that was void of stakes wins or even placings, Louie fluttered through the claiming ranks and managed to rack up more than $180,000 in earnings in a career that lasted until he was six years old.
It was during his six-year-old year, after his final start on February 20, 2009, that his life hit rock bottom. Details are sketchy as to what transpired in the weeks and months after that day, but on Kentucky Derby day of that year, Luis's Especial was rescued from certain death, bought by a rescue for a mere $250 at a mixed breed auction. It saved him from being purchased for the price of his meat and sent to slaughter.
The angel behind the purchase: Caroline Betts of Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue (SCTB Rescue), one of the first three Thoroughbred rescue and rehoming organizations to be accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.
The accreditation process is demanding and includes onsite visits by TAA inspectors and independent veterinarians – and a thorough application detailing all aspects of the organization.
“The Code of Standards and application materials [for the TAA] are products of a great deal of input from all around the Thoroughbred community, including the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Humane Association,” said TAA Executive Director Mike Ziegler. “Our guiding principal in the creation of all of these documents was to make the welfare of retired Thoroughbreds our top priority.”
The accreditation from the TAA will provide necessary funding to the SCTB Rescue and similar organizations operating as non-profit entities. Like Caroline's, most of these groups began due to the realization that there was a significant and disturbing need not being met.
“I bought my first off track Thoroughbred, a British-bred and raised horse who was retiring due to injury at Santa Anita, as a hunter prospect in 2009,” said Caroline. “Despite a good prognosis for his rehabilitation from my vet, about three months into his layup, my horse developed acute arthritis in his coffin joint originating from an old surgical site in his pastern. I was confronted with the painful reality that he was never going to be more than a very large, expensive pet. I remember a friend at the time saying, ‘He's so lucky he found you, or he'd have wound up on someone's dinner plate in France.'”
It was that comment by her friend that first made Caroline aware of horse slaughter for human consumption. She became involved with rescuing Thoroughbreds at local “low end” horse auctions and dealers' lots.
“I was appalled by what I learned of the fate of so many local horses and retired racehorses or breeding stock,” said Caroline. “I began to rescue them initially as a volunteer for Tranquility Farm. I founded Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue in June of 2008.”
SCTB Rescue currently has 31 Thoroughbreds in its care; they range in age from four years old to 23. The average price of SCTB horses when they sold as racing prospects was in excess of $100,000, but the average price to purchase them from the hands of livestock and slaughter buyers is merely $185.
Back to Louie.
Louie ended his career with a sesmoid injury and was sent to a low-end auction that is often frequented by kill buyers. On Kentucky Derby day in 2009, Louie was purchased at that auction for just $250 by Caroline on behalf of fellow Thoroughbred enthusiast and supporter Judith Smith.
“Judith, who put up the money to purchase Louie, has an acclaimed modern dance company in Oakland where the performers are victims of physical handicaps,” explained Louie's current owner, 70-year-old USEF judge, steward, and course designer Gay Talmey. “Judith herself was a very good rider until she was made a quadriplegic in a car accident. She and I keep in touch and she has come up here to my farm [in Cottonwood, California ] to visit Louie a few times.”
Gay, whose career in the hunter/jumper world boasts a long list of championship titles and Grand Prix wins in the jumper ring, had become involved with SCTB Rescue via the blog of well-known Thoroughbred advocate Alex Brown when he chronicled Barbaro's battle through his injury and ultimately his passing as a result of laminitis.
“Like most horse people, I hadn't paid much attention to what was happening to racehorses when their careers were over if they weren't candidates for the breeding shed,” said Gay. “It was Alex Brown that slapped us all to attention with his blog and brilliant depiction of the Barbaro story that I really thought about the way that some in the racing industry were repaying the horses for their years of selfless gifts, heart and courage.”
Gay explored ways she could get involved in helping those horses in need of intervention, and realized quickly that one of the biggest ways she could make an impact would be to adopt a horse in need and provide him or her with the care and training to make the balance of that horse's life comfortable and meaningful.
“I popped off an email to Alex and within about ten minutes I received a response from him telling me that the person I should contact was Caroline Betts of the SCTB Rescue,” said Gay.
Gay and Caroline soon met and quickly learned that they shared a similar mindset about Thoroughbreds and how to best help those in need.
“We both believe that the best thing for horses is training, and a suitable job, not melodrama about the evils of horseracing, or the latest cause du jour,” said Gay.
The two became fast friends, and Gay told Caroline that she wanted to adopt a Thoroughbred from SCTB Rescue. While she didn't care if the animal was sound or not, she did want one who had more than earned his or her keep, and who was facing being discarded to an almost certain death now that it could no longer run to earn its keep.
“I was hoping for one I could train, but if it was to be a pasture puff due to racing injuries, so be it,” said Gay. “Within a week, Caroline called and said that a recently-rescued horse named Luis's Especial was within a week of adoption. He had broken his right front medial sesamoid and needed a lengthy stint of R & R, but the vet believed that he could recover to be at least pasture-sound, and it was likely that he would hold up to ‘light riding,' whatever that means.”
Gay, who owns Rancho Alegre, a hunter/jumper training, lesson and show facility in Northern California, decided to give the gelding a full year off before starting him back under saddle and was pleasantly surprised to find out that, not only was he sound, but he was a fast learner and excelled at jumping.
“While he has great style over the jumps, he is a crappy mover by hunter standards,” said Gay, who used to compete at the Grand Prix level in show jumping. “He is way too smart to behave for long as a loopy-reined hunter, nor would he be soft or slow enough. He really studies the jumps and enjoys being challenged.”
Even though Gay has owned Louie for several years, she said his best years are yet to come, as once she sells her seasoned campaigner to someone looking for a “made horse” and downsizes her business a bit, she'll be able to fully focus on Louie.
“I hope to get Louie's show career going within the next six months or so, and will be able to bring him out as my ‘Little Old Lady Show Jumper,'” joked Gay. “While I have yet to take Louie to a show, if I had to guess, I suspect that he will be okay after an initial meltdown. When I do show him, it will be at a multi-day event so he has time and a stall in which to chill and figure it out before he has to go in the ring.”
Having grown up in the era where the best hunters and jumpers were Thoroughbreds, often plucked off the racetrack for a few hundred dollars and retrained to be competent sport horses, Gay has a deep appreciation for Thoroughbreds, especially those whose show careers are their second or third career.
“I paid $350 for my first ‘investment Thoroughbred' and sold him a year later for $3,000,” said Gay. “As I became a better and wiser rider and trainer, my ‘projects' did better at the shows and sold for more money, and I had so much fun! I found that I truly loved training horses, and today, some 45 years later, I am still doing it and still get that gigantic rush when a greenie ‘gets it' and starts to become my partner in sport.”
Name: Luis's Especial (a.k.a. “Louie”) Born: 2004
Height: 16 hands
Sire: Wind Whipper
Dam: Dearest Place
Sale History: none
Race Record: 37-5-5-5
Race Earnings: $183,009
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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