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.


Leave a Comment:

Olld Man of the North

winners all around.........hope some of our industry naysayers take note.

24 Jun 2010 12:29 PM
Blue Blue Sea

What a wonderful story of an ex-racer helping a broken soul heal. Thanks for sharing that. I've been an owner or around ex-racers all my life, so I know firsthand just how good for the soul they are.

24 Jun 2010 12:45 PM


Thank you for sharing this beautiful story with us.  Please know that I will be keeping Taylor in my prayers.  

I rescued an off-track thoroughbred through the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation three and a half years ago.  He now lives at a wonderful boarding facility only a few miles from my house.  

I only started riding as an adult just six years ago.  I started riding because I had started watching horse racing for the excitement of the sport then for the admiration of the beauty of horses in motion.  I made a promise to myself at that time to one day own a farm for retired thoroughbreds.    

My off-track thoroughbred gelding raced 111 times over the course of 10 years.  I feel so blessed to have found him and very grateful to the TRF for re-training him and suggesting him to me.  I ride him for pleasure only (hunt seat).  He seems so devoted to me it is as if he knows that I saved his life.  

Thank you to TRF, Re-Run and the other wonderful organizations that work so diligently on behalf of horses and most specifically ex-race horses.

24 Jun 2010 4:11 PM

Thank you for this story and I have one similar.  When I was an exercise girl, I got injured so many times ( minor stuff, bruised ribs etc) but, I was tough and the only exercise girl on the ranch and sometimes, had 20-30 horses to ride on any given day.  But one day, we brought in a 2yr old named "Brandy B Quick."  He was known for being nasty and sneaky.  Sometimes, the trainer would have to ride a few herself and not even she would climb aboard him.  So, I was stuck with him.  At first, he was doing great and trained like a older horse and one day, his owners came out to watch me gallop him.  And to praise me for what I had accomplished with this nasty boy.  All was fine, then, I went to turn him around to gallop and he dumped me before we got into stride. Of course, I couldn't get after him with the owners right there.  I ended up bruising 5 ribs behind that incident. But, the show had to go on.  A few weeks later I had figured him out.  So, here we are on a 1/2 mile training track and we were flying, I was showing him the whip just as a reminder and we were going around the first turn and I had asked for him to change his lead and the next thing I knew, he was across the track and I was flying threw the air still in riding position.  That's how fast it happened.  Of course, the trainer was at Bay Meadows when this happened.  I was rushed to the ER and ended up with a shattered pelvic bone and cracks and fractures through my hip sockets.  I was partially paralyzed from the waist down on the left side.  The doctors told me that I would be lucky to walk in a year and that I would never ride again.  If that wasn't devasting enough, that accident happened on a Monday and that Saturday, I was going to try and get my Jockey license.  Devestating Blow!  Needless to say, the trainer ended up having to ride him and he hurt her as well.  She finally told the owners to send him else where.  I proved the Doctor's wrong.  I pushed myself sooo hard, I was able to somewhat walk without the help of crutches in about 2 months and a month later, my trainer had me doing lite exercise riding.  I would go out and jog or a light gallop with the Trainer on her pony.  So, in a sense, she helped me come back into form.  I was back riding 20 + horses again in another 3 months.  After about a year,I had another devasting accident that dis-located my left shoulder and then, I bruised my tail bone.  After all of this, I continued riding for her for about another 3 years before realizing that I was having panick attacks evertime I would go into that first turn and decided that it would be in everyone's best interest if I hung up my helmet and boots.  

To this day, everytime I tell this story, I get shakey.  But, it was with the help of the Trainer and other Owners, that I was able to come back and do what I loved and that I was so passionate about.  

24 Jun 2010 4:11 PM

What a wonderful story !  "Giving back" situations like this are a blessing, and something all of us can do in some way. Best of luck to Taylor on her recovery and plans for the therapeudic riding school !

24 Jun 2010 4:28 PM

God Bless her, and the folks that did this wonderful deed of kindness...

24 Jun 2010 5:55 PM

Beautiful story!  Although I had seen reports of these events earlier, I had not read all of the details you provided.  Thank you!  Can't wait to see the photos!

24 Jun 2010 6:58 PM

Horses help heal hearts! Great story...

24 Jun 2010 8:04 PM


25 Jun 2010 8:32 AM
Phil F

I have been involved in the thoroughbred business most of my life and have always said it was because of the people involved in this business. People like Joe Woodard are everywhere in this business. They don't get enough credit for all the good they do.

25 Jun 2010 9:07 AM
Carole Hemingway

Nicely done.  Deserves admiration and respect...and above all, caring.

25 Jun 2010 9:38 AM
Melissa Pappas

What a wonderful story! There are so many really good people involved in the thoroughbred community. It's nice to read a story about the good-guys.

25 Jun 2010 10:20 AM

No story quite as touching as that one, but back in the early 90's when I was a groom, the trainer I worked for gifted a beautiful young horse to a young gal exercise rider who also trained English lessons. Shelly I believe later went off the track completely and focuses on school lessons. She left with a beautiful horse we called "Andy". He was a gorgeous chestnut with a white blaze. Robust looking but kind. He has some really bad blowout - like a bleeder but worse in his first race. He collapsed on the track in the homestretch and there was blood everywhere. Somehow we got him on his feet and he recovered to some degree but he never had full out vet work done (I think the trainer got him cheap from someone who may have been aware of this problem and purses were terrible, times hard at Thistledown back then). I remember when Shelly came to pick him up we had given Andy a bath that morning and he was sporting bright aqua blue wraps and a matching halter and leadshank that set off his bright copper coat. Looked like a million bucks. He went on to a quiet life in the ring - away from the rigors of racing and stress.   It's a shame there aren't more happy endings...most of the other horses were too badly injured or had tough mouths and needed too much training for a non-jockey to work with/handle.  

25 Jun 2010 11:28 AM

I LOVE stories like this because everything is GOOD about it--a horse (especially an off-the-track-Thoroughbred ;o) with a job, and a young woman who is receiving an incredible gift and having a wonderfully productive future ahead of her.

Amazing what happens when people do good things. There are going to be many ripples on that pond.

Awaiting pictures!

25 Jun 2010 11:31 AM

Savings two souls!  Well done!  

25 Jun 2010 12:09 PM

the gentleness of the horse..the knowing and understanding eye can heal many hurts.if not for horses i probably would not have lived past age 21..they saved me..i was told i would never walk again by many doctors never too ride again..the doc's were wrong..horses can heal even broken bones.

25 Jun 2010 12:44 PM
Fran Loszynski

Read "Two Miracles Named Alex"

and how five owners gave their heart to a little girl with their champion Afleet Alex.  Go Stormy

Go Taylor!  Racehorses and Kids, can't beat them. The Race of Life is never too big a feat for them. God Bless Stormy and Taylor

25 Jun 2010 3:01 PM
Chris K

God Bless our horses.  They are true healers. Here where I live there a several therapeutic riding  centers where handicapped persons  (both mentally and physially) can ride on horses and ponies.  These horses have  worked miracles on their handicapped riders.  There's something magical about a horse.  

25 Jun 2010 7:46 PM
Robin from Maryland

Great story.  God Bless to all involved with Horse Rescue.

25 Jun 2010 10:09 PM
Johnny Slots

Good Karma all around.

26 Jun 2010 12:31 AM

Thanks Esther for this story.  Beautiful.

Thanks also to DinkyDiva for sharing your painful story.  I hope things are better now.

27 Jun 2010 6:28 PM

Class act all the way around

28 Jun 2010 12:09 AM


Thank you.  What made things worst and what was causing my Panic attacks was the fact that I was on "Heavy Medications" for two years and during those 2 years, things were fine.  No signs of anxiety etc.  That didn't happen until I was weaned off of the medication.  It's been 13 years since I last rode.  How I miss it! It was always a part of my life since I was born.  My daddy raised Quarter Horses and Paints and I grew up in the ring.

01 Jul 2010 3:22 PM

Not sure if the Disney movie is the same but there is a Disney Short from Disneyland second season with the name Stormy the Thoroughbred.  Of course, my search shows this isn't available, but perhaps someone here knows otherwise.

23 Jul 2010 7:52 PM

I just wanted to leave an update on this article I am Taylor's mom.  I had no idea this article was published and have two things to say about it :)  First Joe Woodward and Billy Hays will eternally be my hero's they truly saved my daughters life every bit as much as the physicians did.  I will be eternally grateful for these men.  Second, Esther... Thank you for writting the one of two accurate articles that was published about Taylor, Josh, and Stormy.  You have no idea how important it is for accuracy to be published about people who are suffering.  Quick update Taylor has undergone many many surgeries and is scheduled for yet 2 more this year.  She remains emotionally the strongest person I have ever met, thanks to that horse!  Taylor is in college now pursing a psychology degree to begin the journey of working with special kids/people and I am working on obtaining the farm!  Hopefully by the time she has earned her degree I will have it and so will she.  Stormy is doing well.  They continue to have the special bond I personally think keeps them both going.  Stormy (Taylor calls him "Monster")  is so intune with her he knows her foot steps when she enters the barn.  She has a very slight drag with her leg (as they were crushed in the accident) and he knows that sound is her.

Again, Thank you Mr. Woodward and Mr. Hays  I send all of my love to you and your families.  There are never enough words to thank people who make such an impact on the people you love.  You never expect people to be this generous, they gave my daughter something I could not.... How do you thank someone for that?  Although, I have never personally met Mr. Hays I feel like he is a family member and I tell everyone to this day about his incredible generosity.  mr. Woodward, fortunately, I have met you, although I don't speak to you and have not sent an email update in a long time, I think about you every day.  If it had not been for your compassion... I would not have the tough as nails, fighter of a daughter I have today.  While I am not saying that she doesn't suffer everyday emotionally and physically it is a battle... but because of you two she gets up every day and fights her way through it.  When it gets too much she relies on Stormy for his unconditional love and toddler attitude to brighten her day.

Jamie Fowler.... I feel like you have been forgotten a lot in a lot of the thank you's.  I don't want you to feel that way.  If it had not been for your compassion as well, my daughter would not be the person she is today.  Because you have a heart that was touched by my little girls story of losing her long term boyfriend, potentially her ability to ride, and the horse she loved soooo much, you repeated the story to a person who could help her.  I love you too!  I am grateful for your compassion.  There was so much going on at the track I feel like I didn't express to you the depth of my gratitude.

I know this response is almost 2 years after the accident.... I hope these special people see it and realize they allowed me to keep a big piece of my heart because of the generosity and compassion of theirs.

Warmest Regards,

Tess Rhodus

29 Sep 2011 8:15 PM


If this was published in a magazine is there a way to obtain a copy for Taylor?  If you need pictures.... I have a ton.  I did Taylors' Senior Pictures with Stormy.  I have pics of her in ICU at the track, and when we brought Stormy home.  Please feel free to contact me.

29 Sep 2011 8:17 PM


I am pretty sure that our Stormy is not a movie star although he is quite the camera ham.  We did a search on his lines and found out that he is a descendent of Secretariat, looks very similar and after seeing the Disney movie of Secretariat if they protrayed his personality correctly, he is very similar, we laughed while we watched the movie, because like the movie Stormy will stop and pose for a picture like Secretariat is portrayed in the movie.... funny isn't it.

29 Sep 2011 8:21 PM

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