Sometimes finding your true partner, in horses or in life, is simpler than it should be. Sometimes it's love at first sight, and everything just clicks.
That's exactly what happened for Cathy Ann Savino-Kedzierski and her lucky and loving gelding, Classalwayshows, a horse that ended up running three times in the last eight days of his career at the Northampton Fair, finishing third for a $3,100 purse on September 11, 2005, the last day the track was in operation.
“Vallie,” as he is known now, was a Florida-bred who couldn't bring a bid when he went through the OBS August sale as a yearling. He made just one start as a two-year-old, but made up for it as a three-, four-, and five-year-old. Athletic prowess didn't come with age, though, and the plain bay gelding failed to notch his first win until the spring of his five-year-old year in the lower claiming ranks of Charles Town.
That would be his only win, and in the months that followed, the gelding would be over-raced and under-appreciated, changing hands one final time and running at the Northampton Fair on September 3rd, 9th and 11th with lackluster efforts all three days.
“In the fall of 2005, CANTER New England planned a massive adoption day at the Northampton, Massachusetts Fairground,” explained Cathy. “When a kind volunteer saw the way this boy allowed a little child to pet him by lowering that handsome head with those kind eyes, he was immediately loaded onto a trailer that would transport him to a beautiful and serene farm in Vermont. If it had not been for them, he would have most assuredly met his fate at auction.”
During the time that Vallie was being let down and learning what life beyond the track could be like, Cathy was beginning her search for a horse. After taking more than 17 years off from riding and owning horses, she was ready to get back into the saddle but had made the conscious decision not to consider a fresh-off-the-track racehorse.
“When I was a young woman, I had no qualms about buying right off the track and retraining immediately, but being older with a family that needs me, I was hesitant to walk into a long training situation or one that would require a lot of professional help,” said Cathy.
Cathy began volunteering at CANTER–New England, eventually making it known to Ellen O'Brien, the chapter's president, that she was interested in finding a horse for herself, but one that had a good amount of let down time and retraining.
“[Ellen] thought Classalwayshows and I might make a great team,” said Cathy. “I felt like I was experiencing the true meaning of serendipity. As the cliché goes, it was love at first sight.”
Cathy got to know Vallie and learned about his past and how he ended up at the farm. She saw photos of his transition from a thin, dull-coated, used-up racehorse to a robust, shiny sport horse-looking OTTB.
Cathy's initial concern about not wanting a Thoroughbred fresh off the track had merit. Not only had she been away from horses and was only getting back into riding in her 50s, but she had also lost most of the use of her left hand due to an accident. Vallie showed exactly why Ellen thought he and Cathy would be perfect together.
“I have little to no strength in my left hand – my mounting hand – and most times I struggle to mount,” said Cathy. “Vallie is full of life, but is kind, patient and careful with me. He patiently waits until I am settled into the saddle and ready to move on. It's almost like he knows that this re-rider needed a horse she could trust.”
It is rare that an off-tracker will stand, at a mounting block no less, while someone takes their time and gets up on their back. At the track, they're used to having a rider legged up, often at a walk or even jog. Just like lowering his head to the child at the track, it is what set Vallie apart from all the rest. Some days it would take Cathy more than 15 minutes to get up on his back with her injured hand, but all the while her steed stood steady, patiently waiting for her cue to go forward.
That's how their relationship has gone. Cathy learned from a groom at the track long ago that the best way to build a partnership with a horse is to simply spend time with them. Making that her mission, it is now the foundation of their relationship.
“That groom told me that a sure-fire way to become a team of two with your horse is to grab a small stool and a book and sit in his stall with him while reading, and for him, throw him a few flakes of hay and let him munch,” explained Cathy. “He told me my horse would ignore me and then slowly make his way over to me, and that he did. I did this for about a month or so and at the end of that time, I guess you could say, like the famed trainer Monty Roberts, we experienced a true ‘join up.'”
That time spent together gave Cathy and Vallie the connection most horse owners dream of, but seldom achieve. She became her safe haven, and he hers.
Since they met in 2006, Cathy and Vallie have logged many miles in the saddle. While their main focus is dressage, eventually she hopes to broaden their efforts into other areas, including hunter paces, trail riding, and eventually field hunting.
Cathy has no doubt she and Vallie will be together for the rest of their lives. She has committed to him unequivocally that he will never be over-matched, under-fed, or not made to be a priority ever again.
“I often wonder if, given his Jockey Club name, Classalwayshows, had any meaning to whoever named him, but of course I will never know,” said Cathy. “A Thoroughbred's heart is huge, and it has no boundaries. Their soul connects with you on a level so deep that mere words cannot describe the connection. They can help us heal, they can make us laugh, cry or just feel right with the world.
“So, the question is, ‘does Class Always Show?' When it refers to my horse, you bet it does!”
Name: Classalwayshows (a.k.a. “Vallie” or “Valentino”)
Born: April 12, 2000
Sire: Master Bill
Sale History: $1,000 RNA at the OBS August Sale as a Yearling
Race Record: 37-1-2-8
Race Earnings: $19,610
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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