We all know the profound affect that special horse can have on us. They impact our lives physically, emotionally, financially. That special horse is often thought of more as family than simply an animal.
For Kari Thorson, that horse of a lifetime was a gelding named Pine Bend, whom she affectionately referred to as “Pinecone.”
“The bond I had with him was like no bond I've ever had with any other horse,” explained Kari. “He was my heart horse. I trusted him, and he kept me safe. We learned all kinds of things together and I am so happy that he was the one I learned them with.”
Growing up in Northern Manitoba, Canada, Kari's opportunities to interact with horses were few and far between.
“It wasn't until I was 18 and living in Sweden that I leased a horse and started taking riding lessons weekly,” explained Kari. “I have always been in love with Thoroughbreds, but to be completely honest, they scared me a bit because I didn't have much experience with them. I worked at our local racetrack as a patrol judge and briefly as a groom. I was dragged up and down the shedrow, stomped on, kicked, bitten and smooshed. They were big and powerful and, at that time, I never thought I'd be able to handle riding one.”
Years later while working and riding at a stable in Minnesota, Kari was looking for a horse to buy and her instructor suggested a ranch in North Dakota, Bowman Second Chance Thoroughbred Adoption. It was there that she found her equine soul mate.
“The price was right and my riding instructor had plenty of experience with OTTBs,” said Kari. “Pinecone was injured in his last race with a suspensory and had to be trailered off the track, though he wasn't ever anything spectacular on the track before that. His owners said he would run because he was a good boy, but it was never really in his heart to compete with the faster horses.”
Kari referred to Pinecone as her “little bit of everything horse.” They competed in numerous dressage shows, went trail riding, jumped, and just hacked about. He was also used as a lesson horse at the barn she boarded him at and was the perfect mount for anyone who needed a confidence booster.
“Western or English, it didn't matter to him,” said Kari. “He took care of his rider and was always very safe and cautious when someone, especially a small child, was aboard.”
This coming Saturday, however, will mark one year since Kari had to say goodbye to Pinecone.
“Unfortunately, about one year ago I had to put Pinecone down unexpectedly due to a flipped colon,” said Kari. I waited almost a year, then went back out to Doc Bowman's ranch to adopt another horse. Doc suggested a horse that had a similar personality to Pinecone, and when I met him, I fell in love.”
That horse she fell in love with was Independent George, a sturdy gray gelding with a profitable past, and a network of fans and followers.
“George,” as he's been known most of his life, was a stakes winner at ages four and five, and was stakes-placed at six on the East coast, earning just shy of $350,000 and twice coming within less than a length of being Grade 1 stakes-placed. Some of his workmates while under the tutelage of Graham Motion included Better Talk Now and Icabad Crane.
“I've decided that this Saturday, on the anniversary of Piney's death, will be the day I ride George for the first time,” said Kari. “I keep in touch with his previous owners and some photographers that knew him, and they're so excited that he found someone to love him, but they're uniformly shocked that he ended up in North Dakota.”
Having that connection to people who knew him as a racer means that Kari has been able to track down some of the details from his past that most people never know when they own a former racehorse.
“I learned that he was named after George Costanza on Seinfeld,” said Kari. “They tell me he was difficult to train, because if he didn't feel like training, he wouldn't. They just had to wait for him to decide it was time. If he thought it was his idea, he was all for it.”
Photographer Wendy Wooley echoed that sentiment, recalling what she was once told when she was photographing George at Fair Hill Training Center.
“When he was with Bernel Rhone and racing at Tampa Bay Downs, Bernel once told us, ‘That horse has the perfect name! He runs when you don't want him to and gallops when you ask him to flat-out run!'”
While no horse will ever replace Pinecone in Kari's life, she's hoping that she can do for George what Pinecone did for her.
“Through Pinecone, I got to see that Thoroughbreds thrive on making their person happy. I trusted Piney and he kept me safe. We learned all kinds of things together, and I am so happy he is the one I learned them with.”
This Saturday, Kari will begin the process of “paying it forward” with George. When asked what her plans are with him, she simply replies that she's going to let him decide what he wants to do.
“Piney was my ‘gateway' horse and eased me into Thoroughbred ownership perfectly. I don't think I can ever be without one from now on.”
Name: Pine Bend (a.k.a. “Pinecone”)
Height: 16 hands
Dam: Star Lane
Sale History: RNAed for $23,000 at ARZOCT in 2001
Race Record: 25-4-5-5
Race Earnings: $43,374
Name: Independent George (a.k.a. “George”)
Dam: Daylight Ridge
Sale History: Sold for $65,000 at KEESEP in 2004; sold for $160,000 at KEEAPR in 2005, sold for $8,000 at OBSOCT in 2010.
Race Record: 44-8-9-4
Race Earnings: $395,464
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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