Run On Courage--Who Saved Whom? - by Marty Bowman

With racehorse rescues becoming news today, it is not uncommon to hear a story of a horse that was “rescued” and how he became a successful jumper, hunter, dressage champion, child’s show horse, etc. Some racehorses have devastating injuries that prevent them from becoming useful show or riding horses. These are the unlucky ones whose fate is unclear and many times sad. This is a story of a rescued horse that didn’t go on to the show world, yet became a champion in any case.

Run On Courage was born in 1982. He was a successful racehorse after being purchased at a Maryland auction for a very low price. It seemed that he had temper issues and was not easy to get along with.

The new owner was a smart horseman who figured out that the key to this horse was to keep him happy. If he thought he was being treated with the respect he was sure he deserved, he would give you his all.

I met “Rock” as a 3-year-old when I became his exercise rider. We instantly clicked and both loved each other right away. He was my favorite horse to gallop, and I was his favorite rider. Together, we would gallop, breeze, or sometimes just “trail ride” around the barn area of the racetrack. He was stakes-placed and won many “come-from-behind” exciting races. After running second in a stakes race, the owners were approached by an out-of-town trainer who wanted to purchase him. He made an “offer they couldn’t refuse” and took him away, leaving me crying.

However, two months later I called the trainer to check up on Rock and was informed that he had broken down and he “had to go.” So I drove to the track with what money I could spare and purchased Rock.

He had an old splint that didn’t bother him, but the new injury was a fractured sesamoid and suspensory damage. He was pretty sore, but was sure happy to see me. After I got him home, he developed ringbone also and the ankle was pretty dropped.

A career in jumping or showing was out of the question, but that didn’t matter. We were friends and I didn’t care. I rode him, just sitting on him and letting him go wherever he wanted. And after he got older and a little wobbly, we would just walk together all over the farm for hours. Every evening you could see a beautiful chestnut with a lady walking side by side through the fields. Sometimes we would jog, sometimes stop and graze, sometimes talk, but enjoyed just being together.

People said all the time Rock was lucky that I bought him, and he had a retirement home with me. But I say, I was the lucky one. He was an extraordinary horse: smart and loving, who made me feel special every day.

He made it clear that he loved only me. He let me feel I was taking care of something special, entrusted to watch over one of the finest creatures God ever put on earth. He had class and personality. He was truly a king, ruling over his farm. All the other horses seemed to know this and treated him with respect.

That he let me experience watching this makes me feel very lucky. I was lucky enough to have Rock in my life for 23 of his almost 26 years.

This was not enough for me and I am devastated by my loss. But at the same time, I feel so privileged to have known him. Nothing made me happier than to put him up for the night with him bedded up to his knees in clean, bright straw with a pile of hay in the corner just where he liked it.

He would munch his “treat” from his tub while sipping a fresh bucket of water. When I drove down the driveway, I could look back and see his beautiful white face looking out the window at me, as it always was when I pulled in. Rock may not have been a ribbon-winning show horse, but he was a champion in my eyes.

Yep, I was the lucky one!

Former exercise rider Marty Bowman runs a tack and leather repair shop in Farmington, N.Y.

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