Blog Tales from the LOPE Ranch

A Christmas Story: Shadow Warrior

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Shadow arriving safely after his epic journey. Shadow arriving safely after his epic journey.

Shadow Warrior is the latest racing warrior to arrive at LOPE. His story is unusual — and a perfect tale for the holiday season.

Bred in KY in 2008, Shadow Warrior has a distinguished pedigree. His sire was AP Indy and his dam was Victory Ride (by Seeking the Gold). His breeder had produced many elite stakes winners — and Shadow’s career looked full of promise.

Between May 2013 and August 2017, Shadow Warrior ran 70 times at Camarero Racetrack in Puerto Rico.

Between May 2013 and August 2017, Shadow Warrior ran 70 times at Camarero Racetrack in Puerto Rico.

He broke his maiden at Churchill Downs as a 2 year old. From 2010-2013, Shadow ran thirteen times (mostly in KY). In May 2013, Shadow ran again at Churchill Downs (his fifth time there) — and took second in that race.

He then went to Puerto Rico, where he raced exclusively for the next four years. Between May 2013 and August 2017, Shadow Warrior ran 70 times at Camarero Racetrack. In September 2017, he stopped racing there due to the devastation of Hurricane Maria on the island. The track was severely damaged — and many of the racehorses (including Shadow) were in extremely at-risk conditions.

Many shedrow barn roofs had been destroyed. Hay, water and vet supplies were dwindling rapidly. Due to the hurricane damage to the roads and infrastructure, there was much difficulty getting more supplies to the track. Numerous racehorses were standing in wet conditions on concrete for day after day. Water and hay was rationed, to give the most horses the best chance possible for survival. Sadly in spite of these efforts, several horses had to be euthanized for founder and stress-induced colic.

Shadow stood in his track stall, stoic and steady, for weeks. The vets and volunteers took care of him there, hoping to find him a safe refuge. Finally, thanks to the efforts of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare (“CTA”), the PR Racing Administrator and compassionate veterinarians, Shadow was rescued and brought to CTA’s farm in PR.

Due to his ordeal, he was very thin and had some trust issues. A dark bay 9 year old gelding with class conformation, Shadow still had an elegant presence. Except for his front legs. Shadow’s long racing career had left him with large, calcified fetlocks that marred his handsome looks — and limited his range of movement.

Due to his ordeal, he was very thin and had some trust issues. A dark bay 9 year old gelding with class conformation, Shadow still had an elegant presence. Except for his front legs. Shadow’s long racing career had left him with large, calcified fetlocks that marred his handsome looks — and limited his range of movement.

CTA raised funds for his QT and transport back home to mainland US. They put out a plea on Facebook, looking for a home offer for Shadow in the US. But older warhorses often have trouble finding new homes — especially ones with ankles like Shadow. Most people want to adopt younger, sounder horses from the track. They don’t want to put lengthy and expensive rehab time into a horse who will never do high performance work.

LOPE likes racing warriors and we have a special program just for them. When CTA reached out to us, we were honored to offer Shadow a spot here. He then began the long process of coming to Texas from Puerto Rico. First, vets evaluated Shadow at CTA’s farm — to make sure he was physically healthy enough for the trip. Next, Shadow spent several days in quarantine at a special facility in Puerto Rico. Once that was completed, he was approved to fly to Miami, Florida.

To run as long as Shadow, a horse has to genuinely enjoy the sport. Warhorses have a steady, competitive drive combined with unusual athletic prowess. They perform for years and show up each day ready for work.

To run as long as Shadow, a horse has to genuinely enjoy the sport. Warhorses have a steady, competitive drive combined with unusual athletic prowess. They perform for years and show up each day ready for work.

The plane ride was hours long. Shadow was loaded into a portable pen, covered with a large tarp. His track buddy Ten Tequilas flew with him. Air travel can be unnerving for horses — especially if there is turbulence on the flight. Shadow scraped both his hips badly during the flight.

On December 7, Shadow arrived at the Miami airport. He was immediately loaded on to a trailer and transported to Ocala (hours away). A generous sponsor (Kathy and Randy Hickman) had offered him a week of foster care at their lovely farm there — so that Shadow could stretch his legs, enjoy some turnout and recover from the first (and most difficult) phase of his trip.

It was unusually cold (30s) and rainy in Ocala. Shadow and Ten Tequilas finally arrived there, late that evening. Karen and Randy gave them excellent care (including blankets and cozy stalls with heat lamps). The two horses relaxed over the next several days, grazing in the sun together.

Within a week, Equine Express arrived to bring Shadow to Texas. It was a long haul, with an overnight stop at their headquarters. The next day, Shadow arrived at LOPE — just in time for dinner.

I watched as he was led from the trailer stall and down the ramp. He had been through so much since September. Two hurricanes (Irma and Maria), weeks in a damaged track shedrow, rescue to CTA’s farm, QT in PR, an intense plane trip (with scrapes), a long haul to Ocala — and now two days in the trailer to come to Driftwood, TX (and LOPE).

Shadow looked around, with intelligent, alert eyes. For a moment, he seemed to be sizing up the overall situation — then he briskly walked forward, heading down the ramp with pricked ears.

Shadow leaned into the lead rope, courteous yet determined. He was guardedly curious — but mostly purposeful, walking with long, cadenced strides. He dipped his head down toward my hand, the gallant gesture of a well-mannered racehorse being led at the track.

I took the lead rope and stood next to Shadow. He was taut but calm — and I could see that he needed to move his feet and get on with his journey. We walked together up the long driveway, flanked by cedar trees. Shadow leaned into the lead rope, courteous yet determined. He was guardedly curious — but mostly purposeful, walking with long, cadenced strides. He dipped his head down toward my hand, the gallant gesture of a well-mannered racehorse being led at the track.

As we neared the barn, he softened his expression and sniffed at the grass on the path. I felt him relax a little — as if he sensed that this new place was probably safe. I put him in a stall with a pen attached. Two other racing warriors (Flavor and LP’s Tiger) greeted him in the barn.

Shadow looked around the stall — and then spotted the flake of alfalfa waiting for him. He dropped his head and immediately began eating, stopping only to sigh happily and drink some water.

I’ve never been more impressed with a horse than Shadow that day. He had endured many hardships and traumatic experiences in the past several weeks. Even before the hurricanes, Shadow hadn’t had the easiest sports life. Of his 83 races, 70 had been run in Puerto Rice in the last four years. In 2017, Shadow raced 11 times — and only won $600. In 2016, Shadow ran 19 times — the most he ever ran in one year — and won $3603.

Most people would feel sorry for Shadow, maybe seeing him as a pathetic horse. I feel the opposite. To me, horses like Shadow are heroic and inspiring. Maybe they don’t always get the recognition or rewards that they deserve — but that doesn’t in any way diminish their admirable heroism.

Most people would feel sorry for Shadow, maybe seeing him as a pathetic horse. I feel the opposite. To me, horses like Shadow are heroic and inspiring. Maybe they don’t always get the recognition or rewards that they deserve — but that doesn’t in any way diminish their admirable heroism.

To run as long as Shadow, a horse has to genuinely enjoy the sport. Warhorses have a steady, competitive drive combined with unusual athletic prowess. They perform for years and show up each day ready for work. The racing warriors have incredible work ethics — and strong characters. I’ve never met one with a boring personality or dull view of the world. They are opinionated, stoic, gritty and brave.

These horses are all heart — and they give 150% of it to everything they do. They carry themselves with swagger, presence and just the right touch of earned arrogance. Sometimes they might not be the easiest horses in the world — but just like people, the great ones rarely are. I have learned so much from the racing warriors — and consider it a privilege to work with them daily.

I’d like to see the warhorses become more valued after retirement. To me, each racing warrior is like an equine Muhammad Ali. There is nothing more inspiring (and entertaining) than seeing cocky, older athletes defy the odds in their sports — and then strut off into glamorous retirement, to be admired for the rest of their lives.

I’d like to see the warhorses become more valued after retirement. To me, each racing warrior is like an equine Muhammed Ali. There is nothing more inspiring (and entertaining) than seeing cocky, older athletes defy the odds in their sports — and then strut off into glamorous retirement, to be admired for the rest of their lives.

LOPE wants the world to view these horses the way we do: as teachers, coaches and role models for the people who work with them (like our interns, aspiring young trainers and newly-minted veterinarians). The warhorses are living symbols of grit, determination, stoicism, heart and swagger — and everyone (even non-horse people) can enjoy their spirit and benefit from their example.

We would like to help more warhorses like Shadow — to give them the time they need, to tell their stories, to share their dashing personalities and epic sport achievements.

Last year, Shadow Warrior raced on Christmas Day. This year, he will have a much different Christmas — full of holiday cheer, vacation time and gifts from Santa. Shadow will also have a future ahead of him here — to be rehabbed, retrained and settled into a vocation (whether riding or non-riding) where he have a purpose to match his gallant soul and work ethic.

Can you help make his Christmas extra special — by helping LOPE help more horses like Shadow? Please consider a holiday gift to LOPE’s Racing Warrior program in honor of Shadow and all the great warhorses still racing every day.

Shadow would really like that — and we could probably coax him into sending you a personally “signed” thank you note.

Thank you for your support and friendship over the years. The LOPE horses wish you a warm and happy holiday season (especially Shadow)!

3 Comments

  1. Fiona Crichton says:

    Loved, loved your story of Shadow. Beautifully written as I would have expected after reading your book. There are insufficient superlatives to explain what a fantastic job you do with the horses. But the standout for me would be Shadow’s reaction on arriving at your farm……..he absolutely knew this was where he was meant to be and that he was home. Of the horses I have rescued from various situations, everyone of them thanks me everyday, and every day I am so touched by the depth of their understanding and love.

  2. Connie Bush says:

    Thanks for putting words to how many of us feel about the old guys. I volunteer and support Old Friends at Cabin Creek farm . I love those horses
    Ike they were mine. thanks for what you do and Merry Christmas.

  3. Donna Galvez says:

    Thank you for helping this poor boy. Reading his story, I could feel the heartache that this horse endured in the aftermath of the hurricane. But, this horse has a strong will and he had hope and courage. You have provided him with a second chance for a better life. This is a true Christmas story!!!! God bless you and all that you do for horses!!!!! I will send some funds for the mare who needs surgery. She has to be miserable with her hormones gone haywire. She needs to find a calm peace. But, I will try to send more for your warrior program asap.

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