I was a brave kid of fourteen with a need for speed. My eventing pony was laid up… and I was out growing him anyway. I was also out growing my large race pony and ready to move up to a Jr. Horse. I scoured the classifieds for a Thoroughbred to be my junior race horse. My mom was kind enough to take me to look a few. Most were broken down, skinny – just not what I was looking for.
I was looking for fast!
Eventually, through word of mouth, we found a horse that we thought might just be the one. She was a nine-year-old mare, 15.2 hands (sounded big to me, coming off a 14 hand pony), had raced at the track, won eight races, and had done the Jr. races with the owner’s daughter, who was a few years older than I. Her name was Farah’s Moment.
It was the middle of January, the ground was frozen, she had 3/4 of a racing plate (of 4) left on from her last race in October. There was nowhere for me to ride her so we just lunged her, with a long lead rope, not a lunge line, on the side of the hill in a rocky paddock. She was a bit lame. But still, for $1200 we decided to take her home. I have no idea why. It was one of those moments where you make a decision, and even as you’re making it, you’re wondering what the heck you are thinking. It was one of the best decisions, a pivotal decision, a decision made by the gods that sent my life off in a very decisive direction, even though I had no idea at the time. Luckily for me, or Farah really, my dad is a farrier and is used to my mother and me bringing home horses with bad feet because “Daddy can fix them, he’s the best!” Lucky him.
Farah wasn’t my first equine teacher but she turned out to be one of the most instrumental. I had been racing ponies for ten years and thought I was something special, as most teenagers do. Farah put me in my place. She had been a sprinter, usually 4 1/2 furlongs, racing a total of 45 times on the track, mostly at Charlestown and Delaware Park. She was fast – faster than anything I’d ever sat on anyway. And she was strong… really strong. This was my first experience trying to “hold” a race horse, one that knew what it was doing.
Jimmy Wofford owned a racing tack store at Garden State Park and had become a friend and our “inside source” into the racing world. He was kind enough to open his shop after hours so we (my junior racing friends and I) could make the hour drive down after school. Of course we made it worth his while, usually coming away with several hundred dollars’ worth of merchandise each. Soon after acquiring Farah, we made a trip down to Jimmy’s store, Whips International. I couldn’t hold my new horse and needed a stronger bit. Who better than Jimmy to ask this very important question? Jimmy suggested a ring bit. It looked different, cool, like something I was sure real race trainers used. I was sold! I couldn’t wait to get home and try it on Farah.
The following day I put my new bit, my new RACING bit, on my bridle, all excited to try it out. I had no clue which way it went on, was the ring on the top or the bottom? I tried the ring on the top and headed out for a gallop, confident that I had new found breaks in my hands. Not so much, actually, not at all. Farah proceeded to cart my teenage butt around the field just as she had been doing for weeks. Afterward, I sheepishly called Jimmy to ask if I had the bit on right, because it wasn’t working. I didn’t. Well, that explained a lot. I changed the bit around on the bridle and left the barn thinking that it would all work out tomorrow. Tomorrow came, new bit on the correct way, and Farah was still really strong. It had now become clear I was going to learn to appreciate the power of push-ups, pulls-ups and chair dips. If I was going to take this racing thing seriously, I needed to get serious… seriously fit.
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Eventually, I learned how to hold Farah while galloping. March rolled around and I entered into my first Jr. horse race – the Marlborough Hunt Races. I was so excited. We arrived early, walked the course, took Farah off the trailer to walk and stretch her legs. As paddock time approached for our race, we started to get her tacked up. This is when I realized she knew more about what was going on than I did. I was used to our ponies, ponies that did a little of everything, being tied to the trailer as we tacked them up. They would stand quietly, without a bother. Farah, on the other hand, went into race horse mode. Fortunately, we never tied her to the trailer, or this story may have ended here. However, we ended up needing assistance from some other parents/trainers nearby to get the saddle on. She was rearing, kicking and dancing all over the place. Finally, we had her all tacked up, I was dressed in my racing clothes and we were off to the paddock. “Riders Up” was called out and I was given a leg up on to my now fire breathing steed.
We headed out of the paddock, and I quickly found an outrider to escort me down to the start. The flag dropped and we were off. She took off so fast, I nearly rolled off the back of her. I had never gone so fast in my life; I’m not even sure I was in control. Actually, I am sure I was not in control. Farah galloped a blistering pace up and down the hills, around the beacons and down the backside. We had been in front the whole way and now that I got over, “I can’t believe how fast we are going” I was having the time of my life, sure I was going to win.
And then everyone passed me.
My 4 1/2 furlong horse trained by an eventer was no match for the other horses going a mile trained by real race trainers. I’m not really sure what happened after that, but we finished the race. I was happy enough with both of us as we headed back to the finish to dismount after finally pulling up. I waved my crop to ask permission to dismount and jumped off. Thankfully, I had a good handful of mane as I slid down my horse because as my feet touched the ground, my legs gave out. Fit! Ha, I wasn’t even close to fit enough. Looks like we would both need a lot more conditioning if we were to win races.
Farah and I learned a lot together over the next few years. She taught me how to race ride, although I’m sure she would have appreciated if I had taken some style lessons from an actual jockey. She probably thought I turned into a monkey having a seizure every time we turned in to the stretch. I taught her how to jump. She was a natural over a jump. I would eventually win a couple of races on her, including my (our) first timber race.
After I aged out of Jr. racing, I bred her and she gave me my first homebred, a filly I named Farah T Salute (aka Tye) that would go on to be my first stakes winner. I was not going to get into the breeding business and I wanted to focus on my career as a trainer so, I ended up selling Farah to a woman in Vermont.
Several years later, while racing in Saratoga, I unexpectedly got a call that Farah was in need of a home. At this point in my life I had a successful training business established and a beautiful farm. So, of course,without hesitation, I brought her back to the farm at the age of 24. She was in good health; I got her fit and took her fox hunting that fall. She loved every minute of it. No one believed she was in her mid twenties.
By the following summer, however, her body was starting to fail. I medicated her and did the best I could to make her retirement comfortable. She would hold on long enough to meet her grandson. What a joy it was to have three generations gazing in the field together; my first TB, her daughter, the horse that put me on the map as a trainer, and the colt by her side, Gram Got Conned, my future star. One summer morning, when she didn’t come down the hill for breakfast, I knew it was time. The vet was called out. She knew it was time, too. As I held her head in my arms, the look in her eye was one of gratitude. I was most grateful, too. Grateful to have had her in my life, for all that she had given me and grateful that I could be there for her with her head in my lap as she crossed over to the other side. She is buried on the farm, and I know she is watching over us all.
I will forever be indebted to that little mare that was slightly lame with three quarters of a shoe, that somehow, made sure to come home with me on that January day.