Monday, January 6, 2014

Guest Blog Contest: Second Place | How the Sport of Kings Enriched My Life, by Sarah Tegtmeier

How the Sport of Kings Enriched My Life
By Sarah Tegtmeier

The day that changed my life was February 14, 2004. My family and I were on a weekend vacation in Salt Fork State Park in Ohio. On that day, it just so happened that we ended up watching a horse race on TV – the first one I had ever seen – simply because my dad knew of my love for horses and thought I would enjoy it. The race being televised was the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in sunny Florida. As I watched the intense stretch duel between three year-olds Read the Footnotes and Second of June, I felt something I had never felt before. From that day on, I was absolutely hooked on Thoroughbred racing. That day is easily the most memorable day from my early childhood, because my passion for the sport that ensued afterwards still encompasses me and influences my future.

After that fateful day, I began reading all I could about horse racing and my newest celebrity, Read the Footnotes. I was extremely disappointed when he came in a lackluster fourth in the Florida Derby, but my faith in him continued to grow. I was positive his luck would change in the Kentucky Derby. To make a long story short, Read the Footnotes came in seventh and was retired shortly thereafter without another start. In the midst of my disappointment, Smarty Jones rose as a new hero in my young eyes, and I quickly learned firsthand the life-altering effects of Triple Crown fever. This condition continues to captivate me every year come the first Saturday in May.

As my love for Thoroughbreds flourished, I found myself wanting a Thoroughbred of my very own increasingly every day. After taking lessons and showing my Tennessee Walker mare, Dreamer, in 4-H for a few years, my parents finally gave in. Needless to say, I fell in love with the first Thoroughbred I met. He was tall, handsome, and friendly – everything a girl could want in her equine counterpart. He had come from a troubled past, having been neglected after he failed to impress on the track. His past was so troubled that we didn't even know his registered name. The only background we had on him was his age and that he was unraced. Despite the uncertainty, I fell in love with the big chestnut horse named Chester and we took him home.

Shortly thereafter, I attended my first Breeder's Cup at Churchill Downs in 2010 and my love for racing was strengthened yet again. I am proud to say I placed my very first bet – and a winning one at that – on Uncle Mo, the eventual winner of the Juvenile that year. I watched Zenyatta in person for the first time in her only defeat of her career and I was as heartbroken as the rest of those in attendance that day. I will never forget the crowd that gathered in the saddling paddock to catch a mere glimpse of the reigning champion nor the groan of defeat when she was announced to have been one stride too late at passing Blame at the wire. I left Churchill Downs that chilly November with even higher expectations of what my own Thoroughbred could do for me.
Uncle Mo on his way to victory in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Photo by Sarah Tegtmeier
I showed Chester through the rest of my 4-H days, dabbling in dressage and hunters, among other things. We certainly had our fair share of learning experiences, as I've never fallen off a single horse so many times! In the end, my perseverance prevailed and Chester was quite the show horse after a few years. Along the way, I continued to attempt to unearth any information I could find on my previously forgotten horse. A breakthrough occurred when a veterinary technician at my equine veterinarian's office recognized him from her past. Through her, I was able to find out my gelding's registered name and the information I so desired. His name was Sure Grand, out of a granddaughter of Secretariat – something I was always so sure of because of his likeness to the famed racehorse. Previously known as Splat, Chester had a history of traumatic experiences that only helped me to understand his eccentricities better. Finding out about Chester's past ranks right up there with watching my first horse race!
Sarah and Chester lining up for a showmanship class at a 4-H show
Photo courtesy of Sarah Tegtmeier
Around the same time I found out more about Chester, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime. My friend's uncle breeds and trains his own Thoroughbreds to race here in Ohio, and he was looking for an exercise rider on his farm. My name was mentioned and before I knew it, I was learning everything I needed to know about working racehorses. It was a dream come true! Over the past couple years, I have experienced some of my most exhilarating – as well as scariest moments – on the track. I wouldn't trade my experiences for the world, though. There is absolutely nothing more thrilling than riding astride a fine-tuned racehorse as it thunders over the track, picking up the tempo with every stride. I also got the chance to help re-home many of the retired racehorses on the farm as well and I picked out my second Thoroughbred to take home. Herecometaxman, or more simply known as T-man, came home with me just this past summer and is deep within the re-training process. Neither one of us knows what his future career will be, but I know whatever we end up doing together he will excel at it.

Sarah's second Thoroughbred, Herecometaxman
Photo courtesy of Sarah Tegtmeier
Sarah returning from a breeze at the farm aboard
Boxscar, T-man's younger sister
Photo courtesy of Sarah Tegtmeier
Horse racing has done more for me than just supply a hobby; it has provided me with ambition beyond belief. After contemplating entering the racehorse industry as a trainer for many years, I discovered my true calling and enrolled in a pre-veterinary medicine major at the University of Findlay. I am proud to say I will be graduating next spring and I will hopefully be on my way to obtaining my Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine the following fall. I hope to become an equine veterinarian in the rapidly approaching future, with specific aims at furthering equine medicine in Thoroughbred racing. None of this would have ever been conceivable had I not watched my first horse race that day in February. While I’m sure I would have eventually grown to love the sport, I don’t believe it would have gripped me from the start as it did when I was just ten years old. Horse racing has set me on a path that I couldn’t be happier with and I aspire to make it a part of my life for as long as I live.
"In memory of Sure Grand, March 21, 1996 - July 28, 2013. Chester was diagnosed with EPM in early summer and was laid to rest just two months later due to the disease's rapid progression. He taught me more in five years than most horsemen learn in a lifetime. Rest in peace, my big red horse." - Sarah Tegtmeier

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