Two and a half years ago, I accomplished a goal so few of us get to:

I got my horse back. 

But the horse that I had kissed good-bye at the age of 4 didn’t return to me. 

How he left me at 4

Where he was once glistening a steel grey, he was now almost white. 

Where he had once rippled with athleticism, he came home sore and thin.

And where he once nickered out in appreciation every time I approached him, he now stared at me with a dead eye.

I lead the horse to his field, with crumbling hooves and a massive right hind and told myself to suck it up.

How he came back to me at 9…

No, he wouldn’t be going to Rolex like I had dreamed. Hell, he wasn’t even sound to ride. But I reminded myself that he was safe, he was home, and that is more than I had ever dreamed.

And for fifteen months I would think of Kennedy and just shake my head. 

I had tried for so long to get him home. For years I had contacted trainers and owners and offered him a retirement. For years I had begged, bartered, and pleaded. And for years my plea’s had fallen on deaf ears.

It took him dropping down to the lowest of ranks, and eventually coming out of a race sore, for me to get him.

Because Kennedy didn’t have owners that understood that that one last race might mean the difference between a second career full of cross country schools and trail rides and a slippery slope.

They kept going. They kept running. 

It didn’t matter than he was almost 9. Or that he had won almost $500,000. It didn’t matter that his almost 18hh frame defied gravity and his soundness was variable. He kept running.

And I know what this sounds like. I write constantly of my love for this industry, and of the good people within it. But in Kennedy’s case, parts of the industry failed him. And I admit that. 

And the only way I can write this story, and still support the industry that I love, is because other parts of this industry saved him. That helped him. That did the right thing.

Because of people like Drew Nardiello (Kennedy’s breeder), Kennedy got a second chance.

Because of Drew, Kennedy had a home for almost 18 months while his feet grew strong and his belly grew soft.  

Because of Drew, Kennedy had a safe spot and a commitment to a good life.

And then because of Jeff Larsen, Kennedy found a transition team. 

Kennedy’s biggest supporter: Jeff Larsen

Because of Jeff, a 10 year old horse who hadn’t been sat on in almost 2 years wasn’t overlooked.

Because of Jeff, a horse was taken in without question, simply because a girl beseeched it upon him to trust her.

And that’s where I came in. 

Because I was that girl. And I had made a promise to Kennedy almost a decade ago that I would uphold.

I promised to this horse that I would never give up fighting for him. Never give up believing in him.

And that took us on quite the journey.  A graded stakes win at Aqueduct. A demonstration at the Retired Racehorses Thoroughbred Makeover. A few trips around the schooling jumper rings.

The most trustworthy GSW ever.

And today? Today Kennedy – or as we affectionately call him The Elephant – competed in his first Beginner Novice event. And not only did he complete it, but he finished in 2nd place–conquering each of our goals in the three ring circus.

And I left the show with the biggest smile this world has ever seen, and choking back some tears as I called my mom.

This horse owes nothing to me, and therefore every day that I even get to pet him is a prize. Every day that I can wrap my arms around him is a victory-a goal that for years I was unsure of.

And for this team of dedicated horsemen, this team of upstanding citizens, to take on this horse and cherish him as I do is incredible.

For him to reward us back by rising to the occasion each time that we put a new obstacle in front of him is just the icing on the cake of this long and wonderful journey.

At the age of 3, Kennedy broke his maiden by 9 lengths. At the age of 6, he won the G3 Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct. At age 9, we told him that his racing days were over and that his new life was waiting.

It could be anything he wanted it, or needed it to be.

And today, at the age of 11, he chose eventer. 

The Elephant and his ribbon.

The Elephant came into the Big Top and showed us that he might be done racing, but he’s definitely not done trying. And so for now, we’ll continue down this journey for as long as he wants.

Because happiness, and getting to experience that happiness with a horse you would turn the tide for, is all that matters. 

A happy horse. Photo by Melissa Bauer-Herzog

6 Comments on “The Three Ring Circus

  1. Love it Carleigh!!! So happy for both you and Kennedy! Thank you for never giving up!!!

  2. Thank you for this inspiring story. Such a lovely fellow.

  3. Lovely horse! So nice that you both have a happy ending and your elephant is the center of your decision making! So many riders these days overlook this, its refreshing to know there are also so many god people out there!

  4. This is awesome!!! He has to be my favorite horse that I’ve never met 🙂

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