The Best Gift a Girl Could Ask For

One of the most disconcerting things about the Thoroughbred industry is the number of horses that don’t even make it to the races. After being weaned, broken, and trained, for whatever reason—due to injury or just lack of ability—some horses quietly slip between the cracks. Where do they all go?

We can only hope that more of them have such happy endings as Stormy, a Thoroughbred racing hopeful-turned hunter/jumper, who has quite possibly saved the life—or at the very least the outlook on life--of a young girl named Taylor Rhodus.

In Mid-May, I was touched by a story in the Daily Racing Form of how Billy Hays, one of the top owners in the country, and trainer Joe Woodard, gave Stormy to Rhodus when she needed him the most. Woodard told me how he had first heard about 16-year-old Rhodus from River Downs jockey agent Jamie Fowler, who had known someone that was close to her family.

Rhodus experienced a nightmare in early December when her pickup truck hydroplaned on a wet roadway, crossed the median, and crashed head-on into a moving truck. Her boyfriend, Joshua Crane, was killed, and Rhodus was seriously injured, breaking both of her legs and ankles, her wrist, and 11 ribs.

Doctors told Rhodus she would eventually be able to walk with some pain, but never would ride horses again, which was always her greatest passion.

Stormy, who Woodard and Hays purchased for just $3,500 on Rhodus’ behalf, was the horse that she had ridden while involved in the equine science program at the Greentree Health Science Academy in Monroe, Ohio near Cincinnati. In fact, Crane had already planned on purchasing Stormy for Rhodus before the accident.

Woodard said that Stormy had formerly been trained to be a racehorse, but got injured before he started his career and was either sold or given to the riding program.

“Apparently, Taylor was one of the few that could actually get along with the horse and get him to cooperate and go over jumps and things, so it’s kind of like they had a connection from the beginning with each other,” said Woodard.

When Rhodus emerged from a coma following her accident, she was in a depressed state, and her mother, Tess, took her to visit Stormy in March in an attempt to lift her spirits. Rhodus was greatly encouraged by the encounter, and her health improved the point she was able to start riding the horse again by the end of that month.

Rumors starting circulating that Stormy’s owner might sell him to someone outside the school, and Tess Rhodus began selling some of her most prized possessions in an attempt to buy the horse for her daughter. That’s when Hays and Woodard stepped in and bought the horse on her behalf, presenting him to Rhodus in the winner’s circle at River Downs one afternoon last month.

“I thought on the big scale of things, it wasn’t an insane amount of money to spend to do what we thought would really help this girl out and give her the push it seemed like she really needed,” said Woodard.

While Taylor will still have to deal with more surgeries, as well as legal issues from the aftermath of her accident last winter, having Stormy by her side will ease some the pain. Rhodus is currently working at the Greentree Health Science Academy where Stormy is kept to help pay for his care and board. Someday, she dreams of opening a therapeutic riding school for children with disabilities.

“Even before her accident, that was her long-term goal,” said Woodard, adding that Rhodus had recently visited Midway College, which has a focus on equine studies, and is hoping to attend that school upon her high school graduation.

Woodard will always cherish the memory of presenting Stormy to Rhodus at River Downs. “Her parents took her to the races that day, so she had no idea what was going to happen,” he said. “When we led the horse into the winners’ circle, I think it took a few minutes to sink in what was happening. (Rhodus) was in total amazement. It was a very neat thing to be involved with.”

Do you know someone in the horse industry that has done a noble thing such as this for someone else? I would love to hear your story!

Also, keep checking back for some photos. I'm currently waiting on Joe Woodard to send me a few.

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