I was born with the “horse bug”, but didn’t start riding until I was 15 years old. A year later I was the luckiest teenager ever to be able to purchase and own not only my first horse, but my second as well. Sonora was a Paint mare that I bought with my own hard-earned money when she was 6 months old. 2 months later, on a cold December day, my dad bought me my first OTTB named Monty.
When I started taking riding lessons, it was at a local hunter/jumper barn. A few of the “school horses”, (which are usually older, experienced horses owned by the farm and used to give lessons on) were off the track thoroughbreds. I had done a lot of research about buying or adopting racehorses and retraining them for careers in other disciplines. I knew if I wanted a horse at all, that I wouldn’t be able to afford the hefty price tag that horses who were already well trained and showing or competing would have. It would be more work trying to transition a horse straight off the track, but at that time I was taking riding lessons multiple times a week and had some amazing instructors who I knew would help me.
I had found a reputable farm a short trip away from where I lived that held an auction/sale multiple times throughout the year. They had some horses’ descriptions and pictures listed online, and I remember printing out the ones I was interested in. My parents and I had enlisted the help of my dad’s cousin Bobby and his wife, Bet, to go to the auction with us. They had trained racehorses at Rockingham Park and other New England racetracks back in the day and were people we trusted to listen to their advice. We had made our plans to go check it out without the guarantee of coming back as new horse owners.
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Unfortunately, that day I wound up having to work a double shift at my restaurant job. My dad and his cousins decided to venture out to the sale anyways for fun. I joked with them to feel free to bring me home any horse, I wasn’t super picky. All day at my job I was disappointed I hadn’t been able to go, but I knew that if it was meant to be, I would find the right horse someday. Well, luck was in my favor because the restaurant was so slow that my manager decided to let me go home early that day . I’m not even sure if I changed out of my work clothes before my mom picked me up and we headed over to see what was going on at the auction.
“Tall Paul” was a horse that I had put on my list… way at the bottom. I was drawn to the horses with flashy markings, and he was a plain bay gelding who wasn’t particularly eye catching. During my cousin’s evaluations prior to the horses going through the sales ring, Tall Paul was the only one who had passed with flying colors. Maybe he was partial to him because he was an ex-racehorse or he just saw something I didn’t, I couldn’t tell ya. When he was ridden through the ring, he was very alert but handled the buzz and high tension of the sale very well. He didn’t know much, but the girl riding him jumped him over a little cross rail and he was super cute and willing. Despite not being one of my favorites at first, he caught my attention under saddle.
It had gotten late in the evening, we had been there for hours with no luck and it was getting very chilly considering it was December in Massachusetts. I’ll never forget the gleam in my father’s eye when he looked over at me and said the words “do you want him?” and nodded his head at the big bay TB in the ring. I shook my head yes and held my breath until the bidding was over. We got my new horse for the whopping price of $2,250. I was in a state of combined shock and excitement, and it felt like a whirlwind going back to the stable area to officially meet Monty (which turned out to be the name on his Coggins certificate) and arrange his shipping back to my cousin’s farm.
For the next 5 years, we traveled to 5 different states together and Monty taught me more about horsemanship and life than I could ever explain my appreciation for. He went from being a high strung, nervous horse that only had one speed (which was not slow) to a calm, push button horse that I put children and beginners on. He helped me learn to deal with my confidence issues as well as teaching me patience and how to listen. Sometimes he did this by stopping at a jump and dumping me into a Liverpool, and other times it was in more subtle ways.
And he also did plenty of listening himself. I spent hours grooming and riding and grazing him and telling him about everything from boys and friends and family to my dreams and aspirations. His coat caught many of my tears, and he was the reason for many of my smiles and good memories.
There is something incredibly special about a Thoroughbred. Monty was a once in a lifetime horse, and he ignited my passion for thoroughbred aftercare and recycling. It’s amazing to see so many organizations and people standing behind thoroughbreds and helping to ensure they have good lives once their racing careers are over.
There is quite simply no horse that will make a better partner than an OTTB.
Meet the author – Cassandra Buckley Naupac: