By: Erin Shea, @BH_EShea
Just as most of us horse-crazy people have done, Jeff Tow-Arnett found himself enamored with an off-track Thoroughbred named "Noah" after seeing an online listing.
"I read Noah's biography and I said, 'That's the horse I want. I don't need to read (about any others), that's the one that I want,'" Tow-Arnett said of Nowhere to Hide, an also-ran in the 2009 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) who was at the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Tow-Arnett had another connection with the half brother to stakes winner Conquest Mo Money: both were former top athletes who went through the rigors of competition and were now searching for something else. Tow-Arnett, who signed with and then was released from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010, was floating around in tryouts and through various arena football teams. Noah ran in graded stakes races for the Riggio's My Meadowview Farm at the start of his career, but ended up getting picked up by new connections and ran in claiming races until age 7.
"I felt that we understood each other," Tow-Arnett said. "We had been at the top in our sports, we had low points, and we had been through a lot of different injuries. Two personalities that kind of get each other."
Since he already had an in with the MMSC—his girlfriend Lauren Wood got a horse from the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited organization—he figured the process of buying Noah would be straightforward. But MMSC director Susanna Thomas wouldn't let one of her favorite horses go to just anyone.
"I was shocked and I thought, this guy is not getting on a Thoroughbred," Thomas said of the first time she met Tow-Arnett. She recalled being taken aback that a former center and fullback wanted to ride.
Noah came to the center in 2014 through his former owner, Louise Riggio, who enlisted Thomas' help to make sure he went to a good home. He previously had a tie back operation and surgery to repair a tibia fracture, and when he arrived at the center he was in need of care and reschooling. Thomas said he had two speeds—standing still and bolting—but despite all of that, his personality captured Thomas' heart just like it did Tow-Arnett's.
So when Tow-Artnett and Wood arrived at the MMSC to look at Noah, Thomas didn't think the gelding would be a good match for him.
"We went down there and they said, 'He's kind of a hot horse,'" said Tow-Arnett, adding that Thomas first put him on another MMSC horse to try out.
"I was just super passionate about it. I had my heart set on him and he was the horse that I wanted," he added. "I never felt that strongly about an animal. It was very much like when I decided to go play football...when you tell me no, I will do everything I can to prove you wrong."
Sensing Tow-Arnett's passion and dedication, and having adopted out a horse to his girlfriend, Thomas devised a plan.
"He sat (in the office) and said, 'You give horses second chances, why don't you give them to people?' And that's where we made this deal," Thomas said. "The deal was: you ride five days a week, you have a certain amount of lessons, you have to read Sally Swift (her book Centered Riding), and you have to call me every Sunday. Come back in six weeks and we'll see.
"And by god, he did it. He was disciplined."
Tow-Arnett held up his end of the bargain and Noah eventually came home to Minnesota with him. The duo improved their skills and have been to a handful of schooling shows. Also being lured in by Noah's personality, Wood, an accomplished equestrian, began showing him in the jumper divisions.
Jeff Tow-Arnett and Nowhere to Hide. Photo courtesy of Jeff Tow-Arnett/Brovado
Now Tow-Arnett and Wood have four other horses from MMSC—You Jest, Wordsworth, Bordeaux Bandit, and Haxby Park—and are currently, along with Tow-Arnett's brother and sister-in-law, building a farm in Jordan, Minn. They plan on having boarding, training, and even some summer camps at the facility, named Golden Gate Equestrian Center.
"From where my life was three years ago, it's just drastically different," Tow-Arnett said.
"(Before Noah) I was at the point in my life where I wasn't ready to give up football unless I found something else that I was just as passionate about," he reflected. "And now I can say for sure that horses have definitely filled that spot."