Jackie Cross of Maryland wrote me a few weeks ago to tell me about her 14-year-old cousin, Gabby Gordon, who recently adopted a retired Thoroughbred racehorse named Felicity. The 9-year-old daughter of Tarakam, who raced under the name Susies Cameo Girl, made 48 starts on the Texas circuit, winning seven times, with seven seconds, and six thirds.
Throughout her four-year career, Felicity consistently hit the board, always tried, and deserved to have a dignified retirement after the hard work she had put during her time on the track. Unfortunately, Felicity, a granddaughter of Seattle Slew, ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was slated to go to slaughter. In her final hours before being transported to her fate, however, Felicity was rescued by a couple from Maryland, who sent her to trainer Michelle Kowalick at Camelot Farms near Keedysville, Md.
Gordon had been taking riding lessons at Camelot Farms, where Kowalick has retrained and resold many retired racehorses. Kowalick had heard about Felicity’s situation from her friends that had rescued the mare, and welcomed her to stay at her stable until finding a new home.
“I didn’t find (Felicity) on purpose,” Gordon wrote in an email. “I wasn’t even looking for a new horse. I rode her and from the very second I slipped the halter on her head and brought her into the barn, I knew that I would fall in love with her.
“She is the sweetest mare,” continued Gordon, who adopted Felicity after discovering she was fit and to be retrained as a hunter jumper horse. “She used to never eat treats, but now she begs for them. She has the kindest eyes, and from the first night I met her, I knew by the way she looked at me, she knew I was trying to help her. She also fits my riding style perfect. I am a hunter jumper and she had the good movement and great form over fences. She likes to jump too.”
Gabby Gordon and Felicity
An added bonus to the story is that Gordon’s aunt, Jackie Cross, also has a retired Thoroughbred, which is why Gordon’s situation was so close to her heart. Cross met her horse, Windy Jim, around six years ago by accident.
“I hadn’t been around horses in 20 years and had no plans to adopt or even ride again,” said Cross, 46. “I guess maybe you could say it was fate (that I found Windy). From the first moment I was introduced to him, he chose me and there was no way he was going to let me forget about him, so I really had no choice. There was an instant bond.”
Jackie Cross and Windy Jim
Windy, a 15-year-old gelding by Feel the Power, was given to Cross by her childhood riding instructor, Pat, who she hadn’t seen or talked to for several years.
“She called one day out of the blue and said she’d like to get together and talk about old times, but little did I know, she was a desperate woman with a plan,” remembered Cross. “Pat had left West Virginia in the late 1970s and ended up in Ocala working as an exercise rider at the track for more than 20 years. She returned to West Virginia sometime in 2001, and that’s when a former friend and exercise rider from Pimlico had rescued Windy and gave him to her. (The horse failed to find the winner’s circle in six starts and was retired after his 3-year-old season due to a bowed tendon in his right front ankle).
“By the time 2005 rolled around, Pat had fallen on hard times and was unable to keep Windy. She was like a second mother to me growing up, so she knew me well and felt I’d be the perfect fit for Windy. She knew I hadn’t ridden in years, but she was hoping it would be love at first sight, and it was! I had no idea that Pat had a plan when she called me that day, but I’m forever grateful that she did.”
Cross lives in Bridgeport, W.V. and now boards Windy at a stable about a mile from her home. Since the facility doesn’t provide full care, however, Cross travels there twice a day, seven days a week, to provide for Windy’s needs. She also often takes the gelding on trail rides across the hills of West Virginia.
“He's one of the gorgeous horses I've ever seen and his pedigree is full of class and quality,” Cross said. “If it weren't for his ankle, he could've been an amazing hunter jumper horse.”
Cross wasn’t a fan of horseracing until Windy came along. But now she is an avid reader of the Blood-Horse, studies pedigrees, and is a regular racetrack attendee.
“It’s all so fascinating to me and now I’m hooked,” said Cross. “So the racing world has Windy to thank for giving them a new fan.”
When asked what advice she would give to others that are considering adopting a retired Thoroughbred, Cross said, “Find one that you can make a connection with. When you put the right horse with the right person, it’s a beautiful thing. Also, patience is very important. Windy had been off the track for a few years before he came to me, but I’ve helped a couple friends with horses fresh off the track and it’s a process that takes time and patience.”
It was interesting to hear Cross talk about Windy’s personality traits and quickly became clear to me that she has a true bond with this horse, and that to her, he wasn’t just any horse, but the horse (in the words of Blue Blue Sea’s owner).
“The first time I met Windy he was pulling my ponytail and gently grabbing my belt buckle," said Cross. "He’s the most inquisitive horse I know. When I tried to turn him out in the pasture after our first visit, he wouldn’t leave my side. Finally, he’d take a few steps and turn around and look at me and then take a few more steps and turn around and look again. It was as if he was saying, ‘Please take me with you, I want to be yours!’
“Windy absolutely loves to be in the woods and trail riding is my passion these days, so we’re a perfect match. He loves peppermints and will stop whatever he’s doing in a split second if he hears a peppermint wrapper anywhere close by. There are 18 horses in the pasture where I keep him and he’s the only one that will come running at a dead gallop if he hears me call his name.
"I once tied another horse next to his stall and a few minutes later the horse was walking loose in the barn with his halter still hanging from the lead rope on the wall. I caught the horse, put the halter back on, and tied him up again. As soon as I turned my back Windy reached for his buddies halter and unhooked it again. This went on 4 times in a row and he always waited for me to turn my back to do the deed. Everyone in the barn laughed since they could see what he was doing but I couldn’t. He also knows how to take grazing muzzles off of the two fat ponies in the field.
“Windy came along at a low point in my life and somehow he made everything alright. Sometimes I think that he’s the one that saved me!”
Thank you, Jackie and Gabby for sharing your stories and beautiful photos with me. They were truly heartwarming and inspiring!