They say you can't teach old dogs new tricks, but time and time again we hear examples that soundly disprove that saying. The same goes for horses – apparently they can learn new tricks, no matter the age.
At 23, Crackers has had a good life and is now enjoying retirement. The road to his golden years has had its ups and downs, but along the way he's earned the love, respect, and support of so many of the people whose lives he's touched.
His former owner, Julie Caldwell, first came across Crackers when she was working as the office manager at the New Vocations Ohio facility.
“Crackers had walked up to the office door by New Vocations' trainer at the time, who said ‘you are going to like this one,'” said Julie. “He was 16 years old, and finding him a home was more difficult than others.”
Growing up in Ohio, Julie loved horses from an early age but couldn't talk her parents into letting her take riding lessons until she was 12.
“I ended up at a local saddle seat barn for a couple of years, which gave me a great foundation,” said Julie. “Once I asked when it was time to jump and received a puzzled look from the trainer, I realized it was the wrong discipline.”
Julie ended up transferring to Hudson Equestrian Center, a barn she still thinks of as her home base for all things equestrian, and she did everything from cleaning stalls to grooming at shows to earn extra riding time.
That extra riding time was often on the back of recently retired racehorses who were transitioning to the lives of show horses. It gave her great experience and insight into retraining OTTBs for a new discipline. It also taught her how hard it can be to retrain and re-home older Thoroughbreds.
“At the time New Vocations got him, Crackers was 16 years old and though he'd been rehomed by his connections upon retirement from racing, he ended up in a bad situation and was donated to New Vocations. At that age, finding him a home was more difficult than the others,” said Julie. “That broke my heart. I wanted him to have a mom. Even at the age of sixteen, his brain believed he was much younger, and he had just enough spunk and experience that I wouldn't have to start from scratch, but he would still challenge me. We were a good fit, and I decided to take him.”
The training process for Crackers went pretty smoothly. Whoever had him between when he retired from racing at age 10 and when he fell on hard times had obviously put some time into him. More than anything, he needed the edges smoothed off and some finishing touches added to his repertoire.
“On paper, Crackers probably didn't seem like a good choice, a 16-year-old war horse with a long history, but I was pretty lucky that he didn't have any physical or mental issues to overcome,” said Julie.
Julie helped Crackers to relax when jumping, and together the pair competed at several shows in both the hunter and the jumper divisions, as well as a mini-prix, in which they earned Champion honors at the training level.
“I remember the day we did the training level jumpers at a show in Wilmington,” said Julie. “That was the first show I was ever announced on a horse ridden AND owned by me. It was a very special day, and we won many ribbons there.”
Eventually, Julie made the decision that she needed to make a career change. While her passion was helping Thoroughbreds, she needed to explore different paths professionally.
“Horses needed to stay my passion, but not my job, and I sought out a career that would give me as much fulfillment as working for New Vocations,” said Julie. “I took a blind leap of faith into health care and am now a research assistant in emergency medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. I'm also still a very avid supporter of New Vocations and volunteer whenever possible.”
As Crackers got older and the ups and downs of life presented themselves to Julie, she had to make the difficult decision to retire Crackers. She chose The Thoroughbred Connection, a retirement and rescue farm located just outside of Pittsburgh in Adah, Pa. Owned and operated by Vicki Vilchek, the facility takes in three to four horses at a time and has adopted out 23 since opening in July of 2011.
“New Vocations and Sharla Sanders helped me find this retirement home for Crackers,” said Julie. “It's bittersweet that he can't be here with me, but I just saw him and keep up with him regularly. He loves his turnout and has a large pasture with a lean-to for when the weather gets bad. He was always good with kids, so he will occasionally still give bareback rides to Vicki's six-year-old daughter, Gaby.”
Always one to seek the silver lining, Julie is quick to point out that although Crackers came into her life because he'd been caught in a bad situation; there are so many people in his past and present who have done right by him.
“Crackers raced a LOT and won LITTLE. I was lucky to get in touch, and still am, with Jill Martin, who was one of his owners for much of his career,” said Julie. “She mentioned that back then, whenever he needed time off he would go back to their farm for turnout. When he retired, they did try to find a good home for him, but he got forgotten about, and then made it out of that only to end up as a casualty of a divorce.”
Today, Crackers is living – and loving – the good life, enjoying his golden years, thanks to the combined actions of many.
Name: CRACKED CUP (a.k.a. “Crackers”)
Born: March 25, 1990
Height: 16.1 hands
Color: Dark bay/brown
Sire: P. Vik
Sale History: none
Race Record: 100-9-3-8
Race Earnings: $36,009
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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