Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Rescue and Redemption for Saintly Ballad

‘Athena’ leaving Gerdas’s Equine Rescue in Vermont with the author. (Photo courtesy of Mary Elena Moran)

To believe in a person allows them to believe in themselves, and to believe in a horse holds that very same power. You see, the compassionate treatment of human beings and horses are closely paralleled. I see the potential in a being that most would consider unworthy of their effort. In horses and in people, it is the size of their heart that determines how far they will go, regardless of their physical or mental “shortcomings.”

The greatest accomplishments in my riding career have not been gained through the numerous blue ribbons and trophies obtained through competition and achievement awards; they have been in the winning of hearts, the gaining of trust and confidence of my equine partners, and the ability to prove the infinite worth of a soul that was discarded by my fellow man. This real fulfillment has come from horse rescue and the transformations that take place through rehabilitation and training.

Athena after physical rehab. (Photo courtesy of Mary Elena Moran)

In July, a friend passed along a video of a young Thoroughbred mare standing in a Louisiana feed lot – a pen holding horses prior to shipping to slaughter. It was impressed upon me that she was going to ship to Mexico in a few days and this horse, although she was “fresh off the track,” had no papers with her and was supposed to “disappear.” However, the man found her to be a quality horse and wanted to sell her prior to shipping. The story I was told about the mare is undoubtedly comprised of some fact and some fiction, third party remarks, and only God knows the truth in all of that – but the reality is that she pulled at my heartstrings and she was in danger.

The mare’s class shone through in the rugged setting amongst the rusty metal fencing, thick mud and fresh wounds speckling her body and a drawn-up appearance. Upon checking her tattoo, she had been raced a week prior, but was already bloody, beat up and thin. I couldn’t imagine anyone choosing her to save amongst the many other better-conditioned horses in the pen, so I saw to it that she would never be let down by anyone ever again. I cancelled my long-awaited vacation to Europe and with the money purchased Jockey Club-registered “Saintly Ballad,” a five-year-old dark bay mare with the most beautiful star on her forehead.

I partnered with Gerda’s Equine Rescue for her quarantine period and to act as her lifetime safety net, as well as a generous friend who funded her 23-hour transport to safety. She is now comfortably residing in my barn after her quarantine. I fittingly nicknamed this beautiful creature “Athena” as I believe she is a true warrior and will prove to be so in the coming months.

Saintly Ballad was born in 2014 and is by Astrology out of Lively Ballad. She had 17 starts and last raced July 4, mainly competing at various Louisiana tracks. It is unknown to me why she had raced so little with large gaps in time off between the racing seasons. I may never know much of her past but I will do my best to set her up for success for a bright future.

My first intention is to bring her into the best physical condition of her life and to be able to share her transformation with the world. After her rescue, I realized that she was eligible to compete in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover competition, where hundreds of newly off-the-track Thoroughbreds and their dedicated horseman compete at the world class Kentucky Horse Park in October of each year. In January, I applied to the Makeover and was accepted! I applied because although Athena wasn’t much of a champion on the track, her transformation will be one to celebrate: a statement to those who fail to see their value after their horse’s ability to win ends, encouragement for others to stand up for the underdog, to support rescue in any way they are able, and a public declaration that Thoroughbreds can make excellent police horses, which is the true career she will be trained for.

Yes, you did read that right: I train rescued horses to be police horses. My intention in training this young Thoroughbred mare is that she will be prepared for a career as a police horse, a community ambassador of the ultimate rescue transformation. Follow our daily journey of training and rehabilitation on Facebook at Gray Rider Horsemanship: From Kill Pen to Cavalry and look for next month’s training update on ABR!

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!