A few months ago the Thoroughbred world lost a champion. Rare Menace, a foal of 1977 and a chestnut gelding by Rare Rice out of Ullage, by Monty Ayr Menace, was euthanized due to infirmities of old age. Rare Menace was bred by Dr. Hugo John Cole of North Dakota. He raced six times at ages 2 and 3 at Suffolk Downs and Meadowlands, in six-furlong maiden-claiming races, never finishing better than eighth.
No, Rare Menace, affectionately known as “Dennis,” was not a champion racehorse. It was what he did after his race career that made him a champion.
When I met Dennis, he was 12 years old and had been through 10 owners. His papers amazingly stayed with him. He was the third horse my family purchased, and the first Thoroughbred. We were taking care of Dennis for a cousin while her family moved. I fell in love and my cousin decided to sell him. I begged my parents to buy him and cried every time they mentioned listing him for sale instead. We needed a riding horse for 4-H events, so Dennis was purchased and became part of the family.
We had a blast together in 4-H. We competed in everything from western pleasure and gymkhana to jumping, dressage, and 30-mile competitive trail rides. We also raced our friends through fields and on abandoned railroad beds. I was always a bit of an outcast at school, so the unconditional love and partnership from Dennis gave me an area of life I was confident about. He also kept me too busy to get into trouble and was there to cry on during heartbreaks.
Many of my favorite childhood memories include Dennis. We were once the last hunt seat pair in a “break your gait” class (you have two strides to change to the gait called). We were hand-galloping; then the judge asked for a halt; Dennis stopped on a dime and stood perfectly still. At another show a western trainer approached us after a western horsemanship class. He told me we had been the best horse and rider team. Then there was the time I overestimated a jump on a hunt pace, went over Dennis’ head, and fell directly in front of him. He contorted himself to protect me.
As much as my life was affected by Dennis, everyone else who came in contact with him was also affected. He loved children and actually would pout if a child did not take a pony ride on him. While he was hyper when I saddled him up for gymkhana, he was perfectly calm and steady when a child was on him. When showing at the New Jersey State Fair, he always drew spectators. He wore baseball caps or my riding helmet for many photo ops. He was the first horse my eldest niece ever met. She is now a confirmed Thoroughbred lover, even though her mom still has the Arab we had growing up. Through our ability to communicate without any obvious cues, we amazed younger 4-H’ers on how close of a relationship could be had with an equine partner. Many of them have become interested in Thoroughbreds instead of the stock breeds they grew up with.
Dennis wasn’t a champion racehorse by any stretch of the imagination; however, what he did for the image of Thoroughbreds after he retired from racing made him a champion for the breed. I want to thank those that were involved with the decision to re-home Dennis after his racing career. I also would like to encourage all owners and trainers currently racing less-than-stellar Thoroughbreds to look into the many options available to re-home them. While not every Thoroughbred can be a champion racehorse, they all have the possibility to be a champion in the life of a child. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without Dennis. I am now in the process of locating my next Thoroughbred ex-racehorse partner and hope to one day have my own breed-to-race/show program.
Jessica Yeargin has a B.S. degree in Animal Science from Virginia Tech and is a self-taught student of Thoroughbred racing.