It was 2010 and Diane Aguilar and her daughter, Maika, were on the hunt for a horse, but they were taking a different approach to that task than they ever had in the past.
Maika had started working with Thoroughbreds around 2000 when she was a student at the University of Kentucky. She was a college student with horse experience looking to earn a bit of extra cash and someone suggested to her that she try working at the sales for a consignor.
“I worked the Fasig-Tipton July sale and I was hooked,” said Maika. “I grew up with Warmbloods and show ponies, so I had to learn a bit to work with Thoroughbreds. Luckily I worked for good consignments and good horses at the sales, and had friends who took me under their wing and showed me the ropes.”
It was that working experience that developed Maika's love for Thoroughbreds, and it was that love of Thoroughbreds that led Maika and her mother, Diane, to a retired racer named That'srightofficer.
“My daughter wanted a new horse and I suggested she adopt a retired racehorse,” said Diane. “We were referred to Final Furlong in Ocala, Florida and, sight unseen, we had a horse.”
Owned and operated as a charitable offshoot of Niall Brennan Stables, Final Furlong rehabilitates, retrains and adopts out racehorse graduates of Niall Brennan Stables and its clients upon completion of their racing careers. Their goal is to adopt out each horse after it is let down, physically sound, carrying good weight, easy to maintain and safe to handle.
“I had gone four years without a show horse and had decided I wanted something off the track,” said Maika. “I liked what he looked like from a picture a friend sent to me and had only heard good things about him.”
The process of adopting a horse from a Thoroughbred rehoming and restarting organization was foreign to the Aguilars.
“We'd always purchased horses in the past, and preformed extensive pre-purchase exams and they had a good amount of formal training on them,” explained Diane. “Not only were we taking on a horse slightly unseen, we were taking a horse who'd incurred an injury, who was recently gelded, and needed more down time before we got him going. It truly was a leap of faith.”
It was the last weekend of May in 2010 that Officer arrived in Lexington from Ocala, and immediately they knew they had made the right decision. Since he was still need of turnout before he could start working regularly, they sent him from Kentucky, where Maika was located, to the family farm in Indiana. Little did they know things would deviate from said plan in a big way.
“In mid-June we had torrential rain, which left large amounts of standing water,” said Diane. “Two weeks later Officer started showing mild signs of colic and, when he didn't show signs of getting better, I called our vet. The vet treated him and I expected him to rally, but he didn't.”
The vet was called again, and later a third time, and it was that third time that Officer was diagnosed with Potomac Horse Fever, a serious (and potentially fatal) illness transmitted through freshwater aquatic insects whose symptoms include a high fever, loss of appetite, colic-like symptoms, loss of manure production, severe diarrhea, and acute laminitis, among other things.
“There had been three other cases in the area, and all three horses had died,” said Diane.
Diane immediately set out to transport Officer to Lexington to get him into the clinic, but less than an hour into the trip, she had a blowout on one of her trailer tires – the last thing she needed. She called 9-1-1 and thankfully was back on the road in short order.
“As soon as I arrived at the clinic, the staff helped me unload him and everything was ready; fluids were hung and an ultrasound machine was on standby,” said Diane. “It was now 3:30AM – the I.V. was started and he was settled in with ice boots on as his vitals were taken.”
By the next morning the team treating Officer had a better idea of what they were dealing with and the financial ramifications of his condition hit, and hit hard. While it was a hard pill to swallow, it wasn't a hard decision to make. Officer was a fighter, and he was in for the fight of his life. Thankfully he had some of the best vets in the world, and the love and support of Diane and Maika, at his beck and call.
“The fever, the ice boots, the diarrhea, the ice boots, the needles – I've never seen a horse in such pain,” said Diane. “I had a very serious talk with him every day. I told him he had to fight, that this was the longest, hardest race he would ever run.”
Diane and Maika were at Officer's side daily, talking to him, brushing him, petting him.
“He would perk up whenever we gave him attention,” said Maika. He showed his will to live by continuing to eat and drink, even though he was getting skinnier.”
Thankfully, the story has a good ending. Officer fought and fought, and won the battle. By the time he left the hospital, he was a frail shadow of his former self, but he was a survivor of Potomac Horse Fever.
It's been two years since Officer's brush with death. Maika has been schooling him in dressage and over small fences, and in December of 2011 she took him to his first show at the Kentucky Horse Park.
“He's a war horse in every regard,” said Diane. “He looked death in the eye, and fought with all he had. When most horses would have given up, he fought even harder, and he has brought our family even closer together.” said Diane.
“When I think about what we've been through in only two years, I feel like I've had him for ten,” said Maika. “Whatever happens in the future with him, we are both lucky to have each other and believe in one another. He has made me realize how important horses are in my life outside of a stud farm and sale.”
Name: THAT'S RIGHTOFFICER (a.k.a. “Officer”)
Color: Dark Bay/Brown
Dam: Jerome's Folly
Sale History: Sold at FTMAY in 2007 for $60,000
Race Record: 18-2-5-3; 2nd Empire Classic H., 2nd Albany S., 2nd Discovery H. (G3), 2nd Allied Forces S., 3rd New York Derby, 3rd Appealing Guy S.
Race Earnings: $232,084
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 in training as a hunter/jumper; and Shotgun Shine (Gage), who retired from racing in 2011 and has become a trusty trail partner for young horses and an all around riding horse. Contact Jen on Facebook and Twitter.
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