It was 2011 when Susan Harmon joined the Facebook community. What drove her to do so wasn't to reconnect with childhood friends or keep a public journal of her day-to-day happenings, but rather to follow the on-track exploits of the sport's top horses and keep up with the progeny of sires.
It wasn't long before she stumbled upon the official fan page for one of her all-time favorite horses, Smarty Jones. The page was updated often with stories about his offspring on the track and eventually into their careers after racing.
In April of 2011, a post and photo showed up on the Smarty Jones page announcing the birth of one of his foals. Harmon congratulated the breeder, Dawn Newman, who graciously invited her to visit her farm, Fox Tale Stud near Coopersburg, Pa. and meet the young colt who would soon be named It's Smarty Time. The two women hit it off, discussing not only Harmon's foal and his famous sire but their mutual love for Shackleford, who just days later would win the Preakness Stakes. The meeting turned into not only a friendship but a breeding and racing partnership and an eventual post-racing career for It's Smarty Time.
“It's Smarty Time had a lot of visitors and attention on Dawn's farm because he was a local celebrity foal by a local legend Smarty Jones. He was very well socialized by Dawn so much so that Dawn's father remarked that in order for It's Smarty Time to win a race, Dawn will have to be at the finish line!” said Harmon.
As Harmon and Newman's friendship grew, so did their circle of friends who shared their love of racing and specifically of Shackleford. Once Shackleford retired from racing, some of the “Shackettes,” as they were known, got together to breed a mare to him with the goal of racing a Shackleford of their own.
“Shack Baby Productions LLC partnership was formed in 2013 and Dawn, who serves as the managing partner, leased her mare Susy's Mandate to the partnership and bred her to Shackleford,” said Harmon. “I am in the partnership, but I came into it after Unshackled was foaled [in 2014]. Our partnership is about 24 strong!”
Harmon had always wanted to learn to ride, so soon after joining Shack Baby Productions' partnership, she decided to look for a spot to learn not only how to ride, but how to be a good horse person.
“I went to the Internet and found Walder's Way Equestrian Center. It's five minutes from my home,” said Harmon, who began riding at the facility in 2015.
It was in 2017 after Unshackled had run her first race that they got the news. Their beloved filly had sustained an injury, and while it was not life-threatening or even career-ending, it would mean she would need time off to heal. She was sent to Fox Tale Stud to rest and rehabilitate, where It's Smarty Time was also recovering from a bowed tendon that he sustained while training toward his first race.
“Last September Unshackled had healed enough to start light training, so I suggested to Dawn that perhaps the partnership may want to consider bringing her to Walder's Way Equestrian to start before committing to a full-blown race regimen,” said Harmon. “As she was coordinating with the Walders to bring Unshackled for training they were also willing to take on It's Smarty Time. It was the perfect solution to what Dawn wanted, which was for Unshackled to get some light fitness and It's Smarty Time to try out a new career and have a job!”
Owned by Dr. Jeff Walder and his family, Walder's Way Equestrian Center helped to put a foundation of strength, fitness and education on Unshackled through training and earlier this year, she resumed race training at Ingleside Training Center near Orange, Va.
Walder's 19-year-old daughter, Madison, who has ridden up to the Grand Prix level in the show jumping arena, has been working with It's Smarty Time since his arrival at her family's farm and said he has progressed quickly.
“He's such a quick learner and has been learning to balance, use himself properly and become more supple,” said Madison Walder. “That's one of the many things I like about Thoroughbreds. They can be very flexible, which makes them great around the tight turns and rollbacks on a jumper course, and they pick new skills up quickly once they understand what you're asking of them.”
While Newton retains ownership of It's Smarty Time, Madison has been working with him to develop the skills necessary in the jumper ring. The pair has successfully competed at several local shows and Madison said she plans to enter It's Smarty Time in some jumper classes in rated shows this fall.
“Madison loves what she does and it shows in her relationships with horses,” said Harmon. “She completely understands each and every one of them, which is a fine quality that can't be taught in any classroom. The Walders continue to play a huge role in my life as well. Dr. Walder and Madison have taught me how to be a good horsewoman by instruction and by example. They are the best role models someone aspiring to learn about horses and ride horses could hope to have.
“[It's Smarty Time] is where he is today because Dawn wanted him to have a chance to do something he'd enjoy after he was not able to continue in a racing career.”
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky and was recently named the Executive Director of the Retired Racehorse Project. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She is the go-to food source for one dog, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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