It’s definitely time for another retired Thoroughbred feel-good story, don’t you think?
Charming Jim is special in the fact that he has managed to be successful both on and off the track. After being retired from racing and acquired by Christy Weese last July, the 9-year-old gelding has wasted no time dedicating himself to a new career as a trail horse.
I’d like to add that Charming Jim is a beautiful gray son of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Silver Charm, who will be returning to Robert Clay’s Three Chimneys near Midway, Ky. for retirement when he finishes stud duty in Japan, according to farm officials. Bob and Beverly Lewis, who owned Silver Charm, bred Charming Jim in Kentucky.
First successful in the sale ring, Charming Jim fetched $75,000 as a yearling at Keeneland and was a $360,000 purchase at the 2003 Ocala Breeders’ Sale Co.’s select sale of 2-year-olds. During his career, which spanned from 2003-2008, ‘Jim’ was stakes-placed three times, including a third in the Sapling Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth Park. He retired with an overall record of 10-13-8 from 62 starts and earnings of $270,647.
Jim was given to Weese after he had experienced some knee issues that were preventing him from racing. After some time off and special care, Jim's condition became comfortable enough for a moderate amount of exercise, and he now enjoys trail riding and long canters in the field with Weese.
Christy Weese with Charming Jim
I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Weese, who gave me some details behind her decision to acquire Jim, and what his life has been like after the racetrack.
EM: Why did you decide to adopt a retired Thoroughbred?
CW: Elmer and Janice Seesequasis, the people who run the barn (where I ride) are trainers at the racetrack in Saskatoon (in Canada--Marquis Downs). Janice has also been a jockey for many years, so there are a number of racehorses coming in and out of the barn and every year, and some of them that are retired from the track come up for sale or adoption.
I have to say Jim was just special--when I first saw him (at the barn), he was in full racing form and an incredibly good looking horse. You couldn't take your eyes off of him. I kept track of his progress for the year that he was there and after his surgery (for bone chips in his knees), when he'd sat around for almost a year and it was clear that he wasn't going to be racing sound, I offered to take him over and they gave him to me.
EM: What is your background in the horse industry?
CW: I got my first horse when I was 12, and was in 4-H until I left for college. I have always ridden English, however, and one of our favorite past-times was to find a summerfallow field and just let the horses run. We used to do that nearly every day. I currently work as a graphic designer. I show a bit in local hunter and dressage shows, but also just enjoy hanging out with my horses. I freelance from home and have a lot of horsey clients, mostly small breeding farms, who are great to work with. I also design and am managing editor for the Canadian Arabian News, a quarterly publication put out by the Canadian Arabian Horse Registry. And I do a bit of writing and photography on the side - a little bit of everything!
EM: What would you recommend to people that are thinking about adopting a retired racehorse? Any words of advice?
CW: I've worked at the track as a groom/stall mucker (too tall to be an exercise rider, although I'm not sure I'd want to be one!), and also worked for a few weeks at a Thoroughbred breeding farm, which gave me a lot of valuable insight into what the horses have to get used to when they come back to 'civilian life' – especially for a horse like Jim who knew nothing but racing life until he was 8.
I find the ones that come off the track at 2 or 3 are less set in their ways. Once they've had a few months off, they can more or less be re-started like any other horse. It really helps to handle them every day so their expectations gradually change. I don't know that Jim really knew how to eat grass when I got him; he would power-walk and stop and sniff, but not really eat. Now he's a champion grazer and I let him graze in the back area of the barn with a halter on. It also took him a while to get used to other horses being ridden around him in the arena. Hacking out in the field was a novelty--we spent a lot of time prancing along until he figured out he could relax and enjoy the ride.
The other area I took special care with was his feet. He had very weak digital heel cushions. I know this is a bit of a controversial subject, but I found a really good barefoot farrier in the area and we weaned him off of his shoes using Easy Boot hoof boots. Now I ride him in hoof boots all the time (front feet only) and although he needs them for riding, he is happy barefoot when he's in his paddock and is developing a nice heel-first impact. I really recommend them for anyone trying to take their OTTB back to barefoot.
I started him back under saddle very slowly due to his knee injury--lots of walking at first. I also used Devil's Claw for the first three months to take care of any pain or inflammation in his knees and feet--it's an herb that has a bute-like effect but can be safely given over the long term. These days, he has the occasional bit of stiffness in his knees but he generally lets me know he's pretty happy.
If you want to adopt a racehorse and you don't have any contacts at the track, I'd recommend going through an adoption agency as they would be able to give you an honest evaluation of the horse's personality and prospects for a riding horse. Most trainers want to find good homes for their retired horses, but I've seen OTTB's where the trainers were surprised to see that they turned out to be quiet enough for riding horses.
I've also looked at OTTB's whose trainers said they would be good riding horses but whose exercise riders warned me that they were actually quite hot. Horses can be under a lot of stress at the track and their personalities can change a lot when they're 'let down,' But you have to be able to tell if a horse is hot due to track life, or if they're always going to be hot. If they are hot by nature, you have to know if you can or want to handle it. If you can't go through an adoption agency, try to talk to the exercise riders as they can usually give you some good tips on quiet horses, and often a good idea of their soundness as well.
I highly recommend a routine teeth float and a fresh start on vaccinations/worming. If a horse has been claimed or been through several owners, you have no way of knowing if their regular vet work has been kept up or not. A check-up by an equine chiropractor never hurts either.
Jim wasn't exactly 'quiet' when I started riding him, but he never threw anything at me that was truly dangerous, and for me that was what was important. And after a year, I'm amazed at how mellow he can be--he just gets more so every day.
EM: Where do you live and where do you keep Charming Jim?
CW: I live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, and I keep Jim at a boarding barn a few miles out of town.
EM: What do you like about Charming Jim physically and personality-wise? What makes him a good riding horse?
CW: Physically - he's one of the most athletic horses I've ever ridden! He's very naturally balanced, although like all track horses he needed help to learn to bend and respond to lateral cues. Also, I really appreciate that he has a very soft mouth, which is not something that OTTB's are known for.
I've never ridden him at racing speed (and don't intend to, ha!), but I've seen his pick-up when he's turned out in the arena, and it's truly impressive. I have a Porsche for a recreation horse.
Personality-wise, he's just a ham. I think that's why we get along so well; he just entertains me. When I first got the chiropractor out for him, I think he thought she was a vet. He absolutely did not want to be touched, he was all wound up, and was threatening to bite and kick, even when she was trying to massage him... it was awful!! The next time she came out, I'd handled him enough that I could discipline him and when I did, he stuck his head up, put his lip out, gave a big sigh (and rolled his eyes, I swear), put his head down and went to sleep. The third time she came out, he was totally into the whole thing; by the time she finished with the massage, he had his neck stretched out and his lips wagging; he was right into it. Luckily I have a very patient chiropractor!
What makes him a good horse, at this point, is what makes any horse a good horse - we have fun together and are learning a lot from each other.
EM: What are your favorite things to do with Jim and what are your goals for the future with him?
CW: My favorite thing to do with Jim is to take him out in the hay field and go for a nice long canter. I think it's his favorite thing to do too. We take the occasional dressage lesson. I will probably take him on his first post-track trip to another facility this summer, just to see how he does. If he's not too stressed out we might look at doing some flat classes at local shows in the future. He's such a beautiful horse, he'd be wonderful to take out. But if he doesn't enjoy it, that's OK, I really don't have any goals for him at all. We'll just keep taking things one step at a time.
Photo by Tex Cam