Roughly four years ago, we started the Cosequin “OTTB Showcase” to feature feel-good stories of horses who have transitioned successfully to careers after racing. The goal was to talk about the many ways horses can make the leap from one career to the next, and the challenges and hardships they may face if corners are cut or people fail to take responsibility.
In an effort to better service our readers, we have decided to expand the feature to include a wider array of topics. The enhanced feature, “Aftercare Spotlight,” will still cover great stories about racehorses in their careers after racing, but will also cover the people, organizations and events that are helping to make a difference in the lives of retired racehorses, as well as pertinent topics and issues in the world of Thoroughbred aftercare.
If you know of an organization, person, event, issue or, of course, a horse who deserves some time in the spotlight, just email [email protected].
This past weekend I attended the premier of One Day, an independent film produced by Victoria Racimo that chronicles the life of 1977 Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Our Mims and the formation of the equine sanctuary that bears her name.
Throughout the movie, Our Mims Retirement Haven founder Jeanne Mirabito told the story of not only how her equine sanctuary came to be, but of the respect and admiration she has for the horses in her care. Some had fallen from grace and endured unthinkable hardship, while others were donated with funding by their owners in an effort to ensure that they wanted for nothing in their twilight years.
I was moved by how Jeanne talked about each horse's personality in intricate, compassionate detail, explaining that no matter what their eyes had seen and bodies had endured throughout their lifetimes, she would do everything in her power to make sure that they knew they were loved and understood in their final years on this earth.
It's an admirable mission, to say the least.
While at the premier, I noticed pictures of a few horses displayed on a poster. Several were of an emaciated skeleton of a horse – easily the thinnest horse I'd ever seen standing. The others were of a sweet, pleasantly plump mare. It wasn't until Jeanne explained the story behind the photos that I realized they were of the same horse, taken only one year apart.
“Jojo stands sixteen hands, two inches and was just 738 pounds when she came to us. She had a score of less than one on the Henneke Body Condition Index and she had less than a five percent chance of survival,” said Jeanne. “She was one of 38 horses found starved and abandoned on a farm in Bourbon County, and I was one of many people in the area contacted for assistance in rescuing them.”
Jojo was only nine years old and didn't fit within Our Mims Retirement Haven's guidelines for horses eligible for their help, as the Haven's mission is to care for pensioned broodmares in their senior years. Knowing the mare wouldn't likely survive and that she would have to find outside avenues to fund her recovery, if she had one, Jeanne took the mare home, figuring that if nothing else, she could make her final days comfortable and peaceful.
“I just couldn't imagine the feeling of her dying in that field or en route to a foster home far away. If she was going to leave this earth, I was determined to make sure she was going to feel loved and safe,” said Jeanne. “She could not be helped by the Haven's funds, so a program called One Horse at a Time came to her rescue, assisting with funding and networking on her behalf.”
One Horse at a Time is a non-profit based in Kentucky, but with a network that reaches across the country and into Canada, providing emergency financial assistance for horses in extraordinary circumstances.
A few days after Jojo arrived at her farm, Jeanne had her seven-year-old granddaughter Kaylee with her, and as they usually did, Jeanne took her back to see the horses and do barn chores. She prepared Kaylee for what she was about to see, explaining that Jojo was very sick and that they were making sure that she felt loved.
“The moment Kaylee went up to Jojo and touched her, the horse's eyes changed. I watched the moment she decided to live. In an instant, she decided Kaylee was her human and that is why she was going to live,” said Jeanne.
Every day Kaylee came to the barn with her grandmother, she spent time with Jojo. After a few weeks, Jojo was able to go for short walks around the farm, and with Kaylee in the lead, the pair would slowly meander through the pastures, stopping whenever Jojo needed a rest or a bite of grass.
“After six weeks, we really started believing she was going to live,” said Jeanne.
It took nearly a year, but today Jojo is thriving. Even after all she's been through, the mare is as gentle as she was the day she arrived. Realizing that Jojo is the epitome of all the organization stands for, this year Our Mims Retirement Haven unanimously approved Jojo as a permanent resident.
“Jojo has a bit of a large knee, but is otherwise sound. Our vet, Dr. Travis Burns of Park Equine Hospital, has done so much to help her survive and soon he will x-ray her to see what her potential is for riding,” said Jeanne. “If she can be ridden, Kaylee will take lessons on her and show her, but even if she can never be ridden, she will be used by the Haven as a mascot to promote the heart and resilience of the Thoroughbred at events around the region, as well as here at the farm.”
Jojo may represent the heart of the Thoroughbred, but she also represents the heart of Jeanne. Jojo is one of countless examples of horses who have been in utterly dire straits, only to be found and nursed back to thriving, dappled health by Jeanne.
Always humble, Jeanne is quick to pass praise onto others.
“There are so many people doing so much good on behalf of horses. There is such a broad network of people here in Central Kentucky who step up when help is needed,” said Jeanne. “Every day people would leave gifts on my porch or send checks when Jojo came to us. One man dropped off sixteen bales of hay, and when I asked who he was or why he was helping, he simply said, ‘Nevermind that. I just heard you have a horse in need of some good grass hay.' There were so many people who came to her aid when she needed it.”
It's this determined commitment and responsibility to the horses who need it most that comes through in the documentary One Day.
Perspective is one of our most valuable intellectual commodities. One Day is very much a movie that will stay on your mind long after the credits have rolled. It will make you look differently at the horses in your life, as well as those that once were.
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of Thoroughbred racing, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others, and she is the go-to food source for two dogs and one off-track Thoroughbred. Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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