Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: A Single Horse Touches So Many Lives

Meghan McNamara with Pied N True. (Photos courtesy of Meghan McNamara)

A lot can happen in a month. From my last entry, which was sent from my COVID-19 quarantine, to now, so much has changed for me and Pied N True. So many of us are familiar with the comeback trail, whether it’s from a personal injury or illness, or rehabbing our four-legged partners from something. We all know it’s a marathon. I have heard that the Thoroughbred Makeover community is strong and supportive, and that once you commit to going to the makeover it’s one of the most rewarding journeys you’ll take. Since our acceptance into the competition on Feb. 15, the community has blown me away and the experiences Pied and I have chased are already incredibly rewarding.

We made it into the competition with eyes on certain Western disciplines, and shortly after getting back on my feet from COVID-19, Pied and I got back to work. We had plans to move to a new barn, but due to my recovery it was delayed. My 21-year-old trusty mare came up with a stone bruise for our first lesson back. When that happened, I thought well, maybe instead of skipping, Pied can sub in! And she not only subbed in, she was a complete rock star. It was not only first time we had trotted and cantered poles (with perfect strides), but it was the first time I asked her to jump a crossrail. No questions asked, no second glances – she just hopped on over. Yes, this was a hunter lesson, after which I was convinced she was telling me she wanted to be a hunter princess.

Meghan McNamara with Pied N True. (Courtesy of Meghan McNamara )

But alas, it was time to move and I was so excited to start our new chapter. So off we went to our new reining barn, J3 Performance Horses to work with trainers JD Badertscher and Annika Faught. In the few weeks we have been working with JD, I have learned two things. First, Pied is smarter and a much quicker learner than I am. Second, I know realize how valuable it is to work with a trainer. They are not only extremely knowledgeable and talented but are kind and patient with us. Every time I show up for a lesson, I feel like I did back when I was just starting lessons, wanting to absorb every bit. And by the way: yes, I have a journal to excessively take post-riding notes. It has been only a couple weeks, but Pied has already cast her spell. In a barn full of the most stunning Quarter Horses you’ve seen, she fits right in.

When you get a horse off of the track, whether you have known them or not during their racing career, you never truly know what you have. The words, “you have a really nice mare,” coming from multiple professionals across disciplines can really send you to the moon. And it did. But I became even more aware of how grateful I am to know Pied’s history and the people who have cared for, trained, and loved her along the way. I found myself texting her trainers from back in her racing days, Matt Chew and Daryl Neusch, and thanking them for all they did for her. Yes, Pied has an amazing brain and a bigger heart than any horse I’ve ever known. But I believe the lovely horse I have now is the result of the many people who have been a part of her life.

I decided to reach out to a few of those folks to learn how she impacted them. The amazing thing about the Thoroughbred is how many lives they can touch, whether it’s their trainer or someone watching them race from an off-track betting site on their lunch break. What an incredible project it was. I am excited to share a few responses, and grateful to those who shared:

Virginia Langdon, a dear friend of my grandma’s (now passed, who owned and named Pied) shares: “Walking one grandchild at a time to the track for 6 a.m. workouts (peppermint candy in hand) to be with Pied was the best start to our day. That day in September 2015, I was needed an hour away with my 96-year-old mother, then raced the freeway and literally ran all the way to center stage while knowing in my heart, Pied would win. I managed several vertical high jumps to view Pied rounding the turn and winning right in front of me. I was ecstatic with kind of a grandmotherly joy! She is so special. Since she’s been gone, I’ve resorted to every ‘Heartland’ episode. Pied stirred a deep emotional tie. She is special in so many hearts.”

Amy Zimmerman, a friend of Pied’s trainer Matt Chew and his wife Candie: “On a list that includes Secretariat, John Henry, American Pharoah, Ferdinand and Justify, ‘Pied’ was one of my favorite horses of all time. All bluff, she tried to make you think she didn’t care, standing aloof and somewhat cranky in the back of her stall. Late in her career, she was claimed away from her longtime trainer. The day she was claimed back – and from then on – when you came to the front of the stall, she came, too, putting her head in your arms to be welcomed back.”

Peter Jeong, an owner in Pied’s syndicate: “Pied N True is a beautiful horse. One of the most memorable and exciting day in racing as a horse owner was on Oct. 6, 2017, on my birthday. Pied came like a rocket in the stretch to win by a nose in the final stride. At the top of the winner’s circle photo was “HAPPY BIRTHDAY PETER.”

Maggie McNamara, Pied’s owner: “Pied’s small size only magnifies her big spirit and heart! Her come from behind strategy is explosive and displays her spirit and heart even greater. She never gives up and only gives her all!”

Cindy Fiorillo, a big supporter of Pied: “The McNamaras, through Pied, not only introduced me to the art of Thoroughbred racing but also how important it is to care for these athletes and make them part of your family. Some of my favorite memories of Pied are simply visiting her in her stall and feeding her carrots. I’d like to think she knew who I was, but regardless she always greeted me like a long-lost friend and gave me a wag of her tail.”

All in all, our last month has been filled with a lot of change, but all in the right direction. We have been working on our carriage and collection as well as the start to our stops and turnarounds. There is no doubt there will be adventures to report on shortly, but right now we are just getting (re-) started. Both of us, together on this journey, must become the best partner we can for each other. Each time I climb up in the saddle, I am reminded that the horse I am so lucky to ride has changed the lives of so many for the better and it’s an honor to be her person.

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