Retired Thoroughbreds, Happy Endings

by Kelly O’Leary Winkle

My story begins with another off-track Thoroughbred (OTTB), “The Big Easy,” known to all as “Easy.”  He was my first horse and certainly my first love.  We learned many things together but mostly how to be loyal, how to form a partnership and how to open your heart wide, allowing another to inhabit it and change your life.  Losing Easy to melanoma, at the age of 18 on Christmas Eve was indescribable.  I decided: Never again would I open my heart up wide to another horse, never again would I allow another to inhabit his particular place.

Kim and Kelly.

Kim and Kelly.

Still, the pull of being owned by another was great.

However, once I decided to seek another horse, I had strict guidelines…. no grey, no long thoroughbred legs, no OTTB’s, nothing over 16 hands, nothing to visually remind me of Easy.  I needed a fresh start and a fresh look.

And so the search for my new partner began, slowly and with half-hearted effort.  How could I replace Easy?  I couldn’t, and I struggled with the guilt, even while wanting to be involved in that partnership again.

Over time, the search continued with a bit more effort and even need.  I needed to be back in the saddle.  As a cancer patient, I needed to continue being who I am and continue my joy in being with a horse again.  I needed to give myself reason to continue moving on, moving on with purpose, moving on with hope, moving on with love.

I’m still not sure what led me to Thoroughbred Placement Resources.  I just know that I felt compelled to click that link when it came up in my web browser.  Dare I click on the “Off the Track”?  I did, and what I found pulled me in, quickly.  As I gazed with renewed interest over each of the horses, the horse that kept coming back to me was exactly what I didn’t want — grey, long-legged, a retired racehorse.  But his pictures and his videos continued to play in my mind.  Simply, I could not resist researching more of Leighton Farm and Kim Clark.  What I read, what I heard was exemplary, what I saw was tantalizing.  What I feel is gratitude.

Knowing that now was the time, I filled out the prospective adopter contract and waited anxiously for a response.  The response came, and I was approved!

The next step was considered carefully; was I ready?  Ready enough to make that contact and schedule a time to go meet Kim and this horse that continued to work his way into my thoughts.  The date and time were set, coincidentally, on my 50th birthday.  So, on August 2, 2013, I set my alarm for 5AM to begin the 200 mile drive to meet this horse that couldn’t possibly be a match for me.

[pullquote]I needed to give myself reason to continue moving on, moving on with purpose, moving on with hope, moving on with love.”[/pullquote]

Love at first sight is for the young and naive.  It’s not for the older crowd, it’s not for the one who was planning on meeting multiple horses before finding the one that “will work.”  So I drove in to Leighton Farm, walked through the first barn that I came to and saw him, then saw several others — and then saw him again.

My feet stayed planted while I stroked his nose, while I gazed upon everything that brought back old memories and excitement for new memories still to be created.  As I groomed him, petted him, ran my fingers through his forelock and mane, the feelings just began.  As I saddled him and finally mounted him, I was “home.”  As I rode him lightly, he began his journey through my veins, toward my soul and into my heart.

On August 6, 2013, Kim’s Dixie Tune, “Kim,” physically came home with me.  And so our story begins, one filled with partnership, promise, adventure and most of all, love.

Disclosure: For most of two seasons, Kim’s Dixie Tune ran for That’s Amore Stable, whose principal, Frank Vespe, is also publisher of this site.  This article arrived unsolicited, and in fact, Frank had not been aware previously that Kim’s Dixie Tune was at TPR.  The featured image is of Kim running (and winning) at Laurel in 2009.