In the Thoroughbred industry, breeding stallions have a general reputation of being the frat boys of the business – minds always on the ladies, often trying to get one over on figures of authority and generally being rabble-rousers and trouble makers. Conversely, in the ranching industry, working cattle horses are thought of as the epitome of the steadfast mount – trustworthy, reliable, and even-tempered.
Finn McCool is a hybrid in the truest sense of the word.
As a racehorse owned by John O'Meara, he was stakes placed and won a pair of races to boot, but it was his looks that really got him noticed and bought him a career at stud. Finn has been South Dakota's Leading Sire by progeny earnings the past several years and his offspring include track record-setter M'Lady McCool and Cyclone Larry, who played Secretariat in the Disney movie by the same name a few years back.
“We joke that he's the only living sire of a Triple Crown winner because of Cyclone Larry having played Secretariat,” said owner Dale Simanton.
But it's his vocation outside of the breeding shed that makes this horse truly impressive. Dale Simanton and Dorothy Snowden's breeding farm, Horse Creek Thoroughbreds, is situated in South Dakota among numerous large scale cattle operations, and Dale is often hired by the cattle farms to do ranch work. It was their unique location combined with the downturn in the economy a few years back that prompted Dale and Dorothy to rethink their business plan and figure out how to make their location and expertise work in their favor. With that, their Gate to Great program, which repurposes retired racehorses for second careers as working ranch horses, was born and became an integral part of their Thoroughbred operation.
“Finn was about the best-looking horse I'd ever seen, so I thought, ‘Why not ride him?'” said Dale. “I figured if people saw him in person, it might be good for him as a stallion. If he was that big and pretty and he could drag calves to the branding fire all day, I thought people might just have to take notice. And he has been one of the absolute best horses I've ever had the pleasure to ride.”
While Dale gushes about Finn today, the stallion didn't come that way. Finn was a terrible biter and, according to Dale, was just miserable to be around when he first arrived at Horse Creek.
“Finn had broken a hind sesamoid in his last start,” said Dale. “Since he was on stall rest for those first two months, he got handled every day, and after a month he finally learned to be a good citizen again. Since then to this day, he has never offered to bite anyone and I can trust him implicitly.”
A former trainer and jockey on the rural Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse circuits out West, Dale had more than his fair share of experience with spirited and difficult horses. Dale gave Finn two years off from riding before starting him back.
“He was a strong and rather willful horse, and I knew it would take some long days of work to make him the kind of ranch horse I wanted him to be,” said Dale. “I've found Finn to be a horse that you just can't make mad and who rarely gets scared. He's just so easy going. Today, I can trust him to take me through just about any situation on the ranch because nothing bothers him.”
Anyone who's been around horses would naturally assume that an active breeding stallion being used for ranch work would present a unique set of frustrations and obstacles. Most stallions, Thoroughbred or any breed, are not the type who could be trusted to ground tie amid an arena full of other working horses and cattle, but Finn isn't your average Thoroughbred stallion.
“We always try never to change our breeding routine with him. He does perform live covers and knows when we put a breeding halter on him, he has a job to do, but when we put a nylon halter on, he's getting saddled up. He's never been allowed to look at a mare without that breeding halter on. I've always found that once you establish a pattern with a stallion, you best try not to deviate from it.”
That focus on work has helped Finn to become an asset on any ranch he and Dale work on. Finn and Dale spend long hours working cattle, and Finn's can-do attitude and will never tires.
“I think racing helped to make him so tough mentally,” explained Dale. “He never says no and always tries hard. He's so powerful. I've seen him pull bulls to the branding fire with every vein popping and he never stops. Thoroughbreds are tough, and Thoroughbred stallions are the toughest, hardest working of them all.”
It's not all work and no play though. Finn gets turned out with the ranch geldings and loves to play like a yearling, despite his 16.3-hand, 1,400-pound frame.
“We can turn him out with just about any of our geldings,” said Dale. “He's not a fighter. He knows how to be the boss without making it into a fight.”
With their Gate to Great program going strong, Dale and Dorothy plan to keep looking for retiring geldings to repurpose as ranch, riding or show horses, and Finn will continue to hold court at Horse Creek as the resident leader of the pack, helping to show the greenhorn geldings the ropes and keep them in line.
“Thoroughbreds are just the most versatile horses in the world,” said Dale. “After racing, this other stuff we ask is easy for them. It's fun to ride a former racehorse and let them try something new. I get a huge sense of accomplishment every time I bring one home. There's nothing like a Thoroughbred.”
Name: Finn McCool (a.k.a. “Finn”)
Born: March 6, 199
Height: 16.3 hands
Sale History: none
Race Record: 11-2-3-0
Race Earnings: $56,960
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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