Remi Gunn has fallen on times in recent years--from the riding accident that left her paralyzed in 2003--to the financial struggles that almost claimed her farm. But in the wake of the amazing rescue and homecoming of Diamonds for Remi, a horse she bred, owned, and rode during her years as a jockey, Gunn can't recall a period in life when she was more grateful.
"(Diamonds for Remi) is doing well--she's (in a paddock with) her 'nanny,' my old pony Homer," said Gunn of the 18-year-old mare. "They're usually not more than a horse length away from each other. I'd like to think they remember each other--I don't know if they do--but they're definitely best friends now."
Gunn is quick to give all the credit to others for raising money to rescue and transport Diamonds for Remi to her farm near Citra. Fla. Gunn had lost track of the mare's whereabouts after selling her to a family that had planned to retrain her as a show horse several years ago.
Earlier this summer, Diamonds for Remi was discovered by Kelly Smith of Omega Horse Rescue and Rehabilitation at an auction in New Holland, Pa. that is known for attracting "killer buyers" looking to acquire horses to be sent to slaughter in Mexico or Canada.
Smith called Mindy Lovell of the North American Thoroughbred AfterCare Coalition to see if she could assist in the situation, and Lovell tracked down Gunn via Facebook with the help of fellow NAMTAC member Stacy Ferris, who had met the former jockey while she was riding at Gulfstream Park.
Due to Gunn's financial limitations, Lovell and Ferris helped raise the money needed through NAMTAC members to purchase Diamonds for Remi from the killer buyer and ship her to Gunn's farm. Equine advocate Pat Boyer also played a huge role by transporting Diamonds for Remi in her trailer in spite of inclement weather conditions.
"(Lovell) said she'd try to fundraise and see what she could do and within five to 10 minutes, she called and said she had raised the money through (NAMTAC) people," said Gunn. "I didn't believe it--I was crying. She said, 'Will you take (Diamonds for Remi)?' and I said, 'Absolutely.'"
Gunn, who was reunited with Diamonds for Remi for the first time in 14 years in July, said the mare will live out the rest of her days as a pasture pet at her farm.
"She's putting on weight...at least 150 pounds already," said Gunn. "She could stand to put on another 100-200 pounds. I'm going to get her teeth floated to see if that will help get the weight on."
Remi Gunn's daughter, Stori Douglas with Diamonds for Remi shortly after she was rescued
During her brief career, Diamonds for Remi didn't show much interest in being a racehorse, as she never finished better than fifth six starts under Gunn at tracks in Florida and Texas in 1997 and 1998 and had career earnings of less than $500.
"She is the most easy-going, laid back horse," said Gunn. "She's just a doll. The first race I rode her in at Calder, we were standing very close to the gate and there was a loose horse running around. She just had her ears up and was taking it all in. She's just very cool and didn't care about being in the front."
Gunn will never forget the day her whole life changed on Aug. 6, 2003, when her mount, Betty Sue, appeared to clip heels at the top of the stretch and fell in a claiming race at Churchill Downs. As a result of the spill, Gunn fractured several of her vertebrae and severed her spinal cord, which left her paralyzed from the waist down. Needless to say, she was forced to make some tough decisions.
"When I got hurt, we went from a decent income to no income and I had around 30 horses," said Gunn. "The feed bills were hundreds per month. I couldn't afford it and I ended up having to give away most of my horses."
Gunn just recently recovered enough from a bedsore to get around in a wheelchair. The ailment kept her bedridden for nearly two years.
While finances are still tight, Gunn is able to care for five horses in addition to her farm, which includes a three-quarter-mile training track. She leases barn space to two other trainers to help pay the bills, and her daughter Stori Douglas, 20, assists with stall chores and feedings. Another part-time boarder, Donnie Jordan, maintains the track.
Things are looking up--especially with the return of Diamonds for Remi, whose story would not have had a happy ending had it not been for people like Smith, Lovell, and Ferris.
Several years ago, Lovell founded Transitions Thoroughbreds, a non-profit organization that assists with the rescue, rehabilitation, retirement, re-homing, and re-training of off-track Thoroughbreds. Like many organizations of its kind, Transitions is in need of funding in order to continue its mission.
All horses sold and/or adopted out of Transitions Thoroughbreds will be sold and/or adopted out with a contract that will follow and protect them for life. Visit the Transitions facebook page by clicking here.
Those interested in making a donation to Transitions Thoroughbreds can contact Lovell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remi Gunn with Diamonds for Remi at her Citra, Fla. farm
Has anyone out there been to the New Holland auction? What was it like?
What can we do to ensure more horses don't end up there? Do you feel like we've made progress on Thoroughbred aftercare in the last few years or are we still lagging behind?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!