How do you measure a horses life?

Is it in competitions won? Purses earned? Ribbon’s hanging? Or live’s touched?

I surround myself with some pretty phenomenal horsemen and women. Living in Lexington, Kentucky, I get to be with the best of the best. The best breeders, the best veterinarians, the best blacksmiths, and the best staff.

We spend our days, our nights, our lives caring for animals. Only to us, these animals are not just entities. They are so much more. They are our bread and butter, our stock market, our friends, and after 100-hour weeks, missed weddings, lack of sleep, and lack of relationships, they become our families.

Our days are consumed by what most assume are trivial activities – fixing a fence, mucking a stall, repairing a tractor. It is such a strange life to the outside. Words like meconium, hippomane, breast collar, and batwing are normal dinner conversation – if we can actually get off the farm to interact with others. Beers are gulped as the foaling season is discussed.

And as the beers go down, we begin to discuss the great’s. Of course there is always the one person at the table who gets to declare that they foaled John Henry, or that they once galloped Game on Dude. The person who gets to say they were there the day that Affirmed won the Triple Crown, or led The Green Monkey to the ring.

But normally, the horses that consume our dreams and haunt our conversations are horses who’s names that many may not have ever heard. Broodmares who provided us our first “big sale” – even if it was only $25,000. Fillies that we brought into the world who may not have won the Oaks, but put food on our table’s as breeders. Colt’s who didn’t hit their stride until their four year old year. Who may not be millionaires, but who hit the board Every. Damn. Time. I have these horses. Horses like Hazard’s of Love, and Hit Girl, and even Firehouse Red. You might not have heard of them, but they are mine. They are the one’s who’s stories I get to relish with friends over a beer.

We lost one of those hidden great’s last week. A mare whom many of us young bucks wouldn’t remember, whose name does not adorn a street sign in Lexington, Kentucky. A mare who ran in TWENTY TWO stakes races, three G1’s, and won over $600,000. A mare who won the G1 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga, who won 14 of her 34 starts, and hit the board in another seven. These are the fact’s that we as an industry regurgitate to the outside. But to the insiders, the old boy’s club of the Thoroughbred Industry, the people who will never be interviewed on Derby Day or analyzed on The Today Show, she was so much more.

Feel the Beat 3

Feel the Beat galloping strong.  Photo by Bob Coglianese.

Feel the Beat left us last week, with those who knew her best surrounding her. She might have not adorned the winner’s circle in 27 years, she might not have produced a foal in ten, but she was regarded with extreme respect, and extreme love. Immediately after she was put down at the age of 31, the daughter-in-law of her owner messaged me. Questioning why it is that we never hear of these stories? Why is everything published about “us”, the “we” of the thoroughbred breeder’s negative? Or if it isn’t negative, it is about a Derby winner, a sale’s topper, a millionaire. It is never the other’s.

These mares, like Feel the Beat, are the true superstars of our industry. These warhorses, who pass on their heart, their endurance, and their legacy onto others. Their lives deserve the same level of respect, the same fanfare of a farewell when they leave us. But they don’t. They simply slip away, acknowledged and grieved by only those who knew them in their last few years, and nothing else.

Pennland Farms did not have to buy this mare for $1,200 at the Fasig sale in 2005. She was 20 years old, she was barren, and she would not reproduce for them. They did not get her for some get-rich scheme. To a financial advisor, this probably wasn’t the most intelligent money spent. This was a smaller operation, one that relied on their horses producing strong, healthy foals. But the owner of Pennland Farm wasn’t investing in his own future, instead, he was securing her’s.

This mare, Feel the Beat, had done for his family and his farm, more than enough. He had owned her sister Whitebread, as well as Whitebread’s daughters. These horses had paid for the mortgage, the feed, the bills. And while it is assumed that these horses are viewed as entities, for him it was different.

Feel the Bet 2

Feel the Beat winning the G1 Ballerina S.  Photo by Bob Coglianese.

So, for $1,200 he secured this great racemare. For $1,200 that could have been spent on new fencing, or a transmission for the farm truck, he brought what many would view as a “useless” mare, and put her in a field on his farm. For eleven years, she has been turned out with her two girlfriends and a donkey, living the life of ease. A retirement suited to the greatness she once was. An ode to the spreading effect she had had for him, and his family.

Feel the Beat 1

Feel the Beat in retirement at Pennland Farms.

There was no parade last week. There was no fancy cemetery surrounded by monuments and pillars. No one at The Bloodhorse wrote a great eulogy. Instead she was laid to rest next to her two best friends who had already left this earth, in a peaceful passing of old age and lack of pain. She was surrounded by this man and his family, who acknowledged what she had done for them. A farm which took care of it’s own, no matter how far related, no matter the cost. She touched their lives, just as I know they touched hers.

So here is your eulogy girl:

Rest in Peace, Feel the Beat. May we be reminded of the brilliant racehorse that you once were. May we acknowledge the family that you produced, and the line’s that are stronger because of you. May you run swiftly again. May you be free of aging pain, and free of lingering doubt of if you were great. If greatness is measured not by one’s worth or objects acquired, but by the number of lives they affected, then you were great. You ARE great.

RIP Feel the Beat.  Run swift, run strong, run free.

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14 Comments on “Saying Goodbye: The Story of Feel the Beat

  1. OMG What a beautiful tribute. I have tears in my eyes this Monday morning. And a great shout out to her family for doing the right thing and buying her back. Heroes in my eyes forever. So many race horses are not so lucky!

  2. I’m not sure if my comment was already posted so I’m going to post again. Sorry if it appears twice.
    What a beautiful tribute. I have tears in my eyes this Monday morning. And A big shout out to her family who did the right thing and retired her to their farm. So many race horses are not so luck!

  3. Well done.

    With an older OTTB in the family, I know his days are numbered at 27. He’s still a well loved and cared for gentleman and has gone from a ready to work TB to a pocket pet. He’s earned it.

    Really enjoying your blog. Well written and touches on non-typical topics. Thanks!

  4. How wonderful that her path crossed that of the horse folks of Pennland Farm after someone else decided a 20 yr old barren mare with her accomplishments needed to be somewhere else

  5. How wonderful to read this story. As you stated, very rarely do we get to read stories about the positive side. Kudos to the owners, breeders & trainers that follow “their” horses & retire them.

  6. What a lovely eulogy – a story that brought tears to my eyes because I have 10 OTTBs on my property that people in the industry reached out and asked me to give forever homes to here at Victory Alliance Ranch – the joy that they have brought me, challenged children and wounded warriors is beyond words – each horse is great in his or her own right – God Bless this family for doing the right thing by this wonderful mare. Thank you for writing this story and sharing the love that many show their horses. Unfortunately it is only the bad stuff that tends to make for good news coverage.

  7. Wonderful story!! So happy she was was able to live her life in the ease of retirement back home. May she be feeling the beat under her hooves as she forever runs free .. RIP Feel The Beat.

  8. I’ve been thinking that those who appreciate the thoroughbred should start a longevity award system- bonuses to older horses that win races, bonuses and awards to the breeders and trainers who produce horses that live long sound lives, and produce long lived sound offspring.

  9. What a beautiful and classy mare. She exudes heart in her pictures and in your writing. Thank you for sharing about her with us.

  10. The next time you’re talking over a few beers with her owners, please tell them how much another one of the ‘little people’ appreciates what they did for this mare. Too bad someone needed the few dollars and had to send her thru a sale at such an advanced age, but she had her angels waiting for her (with cash in hand) outside the ring that day. RIP old girl, you had it good.

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