The Second Race applauds those that adopt our equine athletes when their racing careers are over. In our ongoing series of stories, here is one submitted by Amanda Smith regarding her off the track Thoroughbred, Pay Attention.
After almost a year of waiting, it was March 12 2009. It was a frigid Thursday night in Central Pennsylvania, yet I convinced two of my co-workers to make the short trip to Penn National with me. I was going to get a race horse.
Pay Attention (Take Me Out – That’s Ravishing, by Big Spruce) was racing for the first time after an 11-month layoff. Payten (Pay Attention’s barn name) was claimed for the twelfth time in his last start in April 2008. He was claimed for $5k that past spring, but, despite earning over $500,000 in his career, he was running this race for a $4k tag, Pennsylvania’s lowest claiming rank. Despite a record of 71-12-8-11, he was running with the lowest of Pennsylvania’s low. He had paid his dues to the racing world and I was going to retire him.
I found Payten on Alex Brown’s “Top Bunk List” – a list of thoroughbreds that had earned over $500k but were running for claiming tags of $5k or less. When I first noticed the Top Bunk List in 2008, my interest in OTTBs had already been piqued by the forums on Brown’s web site, AlexBrownRacing.com. So many thoroughbreds needed new jobs when they reached the end of their racing careers, and so many people of all skill levels and walks-of-life seemed to be rehoming them.
I was the typical horse-crazy young girl. My heart has belonged to horses for as long as I remember. What, though, would I do with an OTTB? I certainly didn’t have the riding ability or horse knowledge to properly retrain a horse off the track. I was determined, though, to make a difference in the life of one race horse. To my advantage and good fortune, I rode and boarded at a barn with an extremely OTTB-knowledgeable trainer, and at my boarding facility there were a handful of dedicated and experienced riders that would be willing to help me in my OTTB endeavor. Armed with these resources, I set out on my journey.
I went to Penn National on March 12 2009 with the intentions of speaking to Payten’s trainer. I had written a letter stating my intentions of retiring the horse and I put it in a bag filled with apples, carrots, and various horse cookies and muffins. I was new to racing, though, and I wasn’t sure who the trainer actually was, so I ended up giving the bag to the groom. He didn’t speak much English, and I’m pretty sure the package never made it to the trainer. Payten finished a dismal 10th of 12 horses that night.
I was a little luckier on March 28. Payten had drawn post position one for that race, and the first stall in the paddock area just happened to be right next to the viewing area. I worked up enough courage to ask one of the gentlemen if he was the trainer. He said yes, and I gave him another “care package” full of treats and a letter, and I explained to him I wanted to retire his horse. I think I took him by surprise, but he thanked me and took my package and letter. Payten finished 4th that night.
My big break came on April 25. The trainer’s son recognized me as I watched the horses enter the paddock, and he introduced me to the horse’s assistant trainer. She was very excited that someone was interested in giving one of her horses a good retirement home. I again gave her a letter that contained my contact information. After the race, she said I’d probably be receiving a call soon. I was ecstatic, to say the least!
May 22 was my 31st birthday. My boyfriend and I went to the track to watch the races, even though Payten wasn’t running. I was stationed in my usual spot next to the paddock when my phone rang – it was the assistant trainer. I could come get Pay Attention as soon as I was ready. I literally began yelling, “Pay Attention is mine!” in the middle of a crowd of people. I called everyone I knew and yelled over the phone, “I got him!” It was the best birthday present ever.
I picked up Payten at the trainer’s farm near Penn National on May 30 2009 and took him to a local farm that was much more low-key that Stonewood. Payten stayed there a month until a stall opened up at my barn, then he moved to his permanent home on July 1. His progress has certainly been a proverbial roller coaster. At first, he was a sleek, fit, muscular, high-energy athlete that galloped around his paddock with his tail in the air and head held high. After a few months of “coming down” from track life, his condition deteriorated. He lost at least 100 pounds, his feet were sore, his neck and back were out of alignment. He developed what we think were lower GI ulcers. His hair fell out in patches, he got rain rot and ringworm. It was one thing after another and, even though my trainer warned me what could happen, I was devastated for so many months. This was not the life I wanted for this warrior!
Patience and perseverance paid off. Payten slowly gained weight with a high-quality diet tailored to his needs by my trainer. The Animal Sports Therapist worked with him over a few months using a variety of treatments. The vet scoped him and x-rayed his obviously-large front ankles. We treated Payten for ulcers and have him on some good supplements to help support his GI and joint health. His winter coat shed out, and his summer coat came in smooth and gleaming. Regular farrier visits have helped his strengthen his feet and correct his hoof angles. Now, Payten is the picture of health and happiness, exactly what I wanted for him when I retired him.
After spending hours upon hours sitting with Payten in his stall, hanging out with him in his paddock, grooming him, hand-grazing him, and working him from the ground, I rode him for the first time one year after I brought him home. I didn’t have a saddle that fit him yet, so I hopped on him bareback, and he was an angel. I’ve ridden him multiple times since then, and it’s strengthened the bond we have. I think Payten finally realizes he has his own human now, and I think it makes him one very happy horse.
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- ▼ July (7)