OTTB Showcase: SMART LITTLE HABIT (a.k.a. Addix )
Name: SMART LITTLE HABIT (a.k.a. Addix)
Sire: Call Me Cat
Dam: Busy Habit
Sale History: None
Race Record: 28-4-2-1
Race Earnings: $39,319
Smart Little Habit was a working class racehorse based in the Southwest. Laura Holmes was a racetracker working on the backside of the tracks on the New Mexico circuit.
“From the moment I saw my first Kentucky Derby at age 6, I was obsessed with horseracing,” said Laura. “I grew up working odd horse-related jobs with all breeds and disciplines, but Thoroughbreds and the racetrack remained elusive.”
Finally, Laura realized her dream and started walking hots at Arlington Park. She’d found her calling and was loving it, moving up the ladder and traveling the country and working with racehorses. Eventually, Laura landed in New Mexico as an exercise rider and also began ponying on the side.
“I’d spent my whole life searching for that one special horse. I’d owned several, but none had ever been ‘the one’ and my heart was broken several times,” said Laura. “It seemed like everyone I knew had ‘that one horse’; one out of all the others who stood alone.”
It wasn’t long before one of the trainers Laura rode for asked if she would be interested in a free horse. Smart Little Habit, the horse in question, had been retired due to a chronic abscess and had been turned out at his owner’s ranch for the better part of two years. Knowing Laura was both exercise riding and ponying, his former trainer thought the gelding and Laura might develop a mutually beneficial relationship.
“I spent weeks in anticipation of his arrival and came up with an image in my head of what he looked like, since I’d not even seen so much as a picture of him,” said Laura. “When I first saw him, my heart sunk. He looked nothing like what I’d imagined. He was just plain-looking, big headed, short, and skinny. He acted totally aloof, wouldn’t take treats, and didn’t want to be pet.”
It wasn’t a love-fest between Laura and Smart Little Habit, who started going by the name Addix. In fact, it was purely professional, as Laura looked at Addix purely as a resale project, a means to an end. Laura started him back under saddle away from the racetrack and, after a few weeks of arena work she took him to the track to get re-acclimated.
“It was a nightmare,” said Laura. “It took me a week to get him to actually go onto the racetrack and once he was there, he was a giant ball of nerves. He spun, pranced, reared, jigged and bolted. Everybody told me to ride him through it until he got tired, but I’d ride him hours every morning and he just wouldn’t calm down.”
Slowly, but surely…but slowly, the pair began to make progress. Laura took it slow and kept the goals simple, like going around the track at a walk, or standing at the gap for short periods of time. She’d go back and forth to the track with racehorses all morning, getting Attix accustomed to a different racetrack lifestyle.
“When we started actually ponying horses, it was pretty embarrassing that my new pony horse acted worse than the racehorses he was supposed to be calming down,” said Laura. “I was so frustrated and angry, but it wasn’t his fault. I was trying to undo years of training that had been drilled into his head.
“Off the track he was phenomenal. I would ride out the front gate at Sunland Park and go trail riding along the Rio Grande, or head to a local ranch and spend hours riding in the desert.”
The quiet times the pair spent together helped solidify a bond between them, which Laura says was strengthened through her providing him with a never-ending supply of Cool Ranch Doritos, Addix’s favorite treat.
It took a while, but eventually Addix caught on to the pony horse lifestyle and started thriving in his new career. He learned to deal with the tough colts, the nervous fillies and everything in between. Laura and Addix even ponied Kentucky Derby hopeful Tempted to Tapit when he came to town for the Sunland Derby.
“One of the neat things about taking an ex-racehorse back to the track was having people recognize him,” said Laura. “I heard lots of stories from the exercise riders and trainers, like how he’d fractured a leg as a 2-year-old, or how he would walk on his hind legs in the morning and had all of the exercise riders terrified of him. He was never a mean horse. He was just playful and bored and knew exactly how much he could get away with. “
Being a track pony can be tough, and eventually, the years of racing followed by years of ponying started showing in Addix’s attitude and his body. At the same time, Laura was looking to see what opportunities lay beyond the racetrack. The time was just right for both of them to call it quits.
“We moved to Texas and I went back to school. It was a real struggle to afford to keep him, but I knew this was the horse I could never let go,” said Laura. “He had supported me financially and had been my rock through some tough times.”
These days their riding is strictly for pleasure, though Laura is planning to start formally training him in the areas of jumping and dressage. Their favorite thing, however, is playing on the beach.
“It was quite a thing for a horse from New Mexico to see the ocean, but it’s his favorite thing,” explained Laura. “He splashes in the water, eats seaweed, and rolls in the sand.”
“I can’t put into words what Addix means to me. We share an incredibly special bond. After not riding for months, I can jump on him and we can do anything, whether jumping or chasing cows. He has become the most beautiful horse in the world to me and I wouldn’t trade him for anything.”
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 (Jenlroytz@gmail.com) 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.