The Road to Kentucky: With Tragedy Comes Triumph

As we follow the story of our four bloggers throughout the course of the year, leading up to the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover 2020 in October, their journeys will be full of ups and downs.  As equestrians, we are all too familiar that horse life can entail both heartbreaking moments and victories.  One of our bloggers, Courtney Poole, shares her story about her road to the Thoroughbred Makeover in 2019.  Look out for Courtney as her journey continues with a 2020 entry, as well!

The Road to Kentucky: With Tragedy Comes Triumph

as told by Courtney Poole

This is the story of how two best friends of over 20 years overcome obstacles and tragedy to persevere and set out on the journey to the 2019 RRP TB makeover.  Together, across two decades, many shows competing in multiple disciplines, college, marriages and even a baby they have continued to share the love of the Thoroughbred and passion for riding horses. 

Megan Thomas on Findley. Photo by Canter Clix.

Courtney and Megan grew up together at their local hunter jumper farm just outside of Charlotte, NC.   Megan was the trainer’s daughter who learned how to ride before she could walk and was always riding all the “bad ponies” for her mother’s clients.  Courtney was a client who was completely deaf without the aid of her cochlear implant but had the love of horses at a very young age. As you can imagine, being hearing impaired came with many challenges in life, but especially when pursing a dream of showing horses. Courtney cannot always hear you when she’s on the back of a horse.  At horse shows, she requires volunteers, lined up around the ring for flat classes or rail work, to perform hand signals that were created to help communicate what the judge may be calling for. Those signs always got interesting in equitation or medal classes! Courtney never let her disability hold her back. She earned top ribbons at many of her shows including winning the 4-H NC State Championship in the Senior Hunter division two years in a row out of over 80+ horses on her beloved OTTB. 

Courtney Poole on Findley. Photo by Canter Clix.

Courtney and Megan are no strangers to riding thoroughbreds. After advancing past lesson horses and outgrowing ponies, both of their first horses were thoroughbreds fresh off the track. Coming from humble upbringings, neither could afford a horse already made or trained. They both brought along their thoroughbreds and turned them into hunter/jumper show horses. They rode both horses for most of their youth careers until the horses happily retired.

Let’s fast forward this story many years later.  After college, both girls were still riding, competing, and spending their spare time at the barn. It wasn’t just a phase for these two. They both shared a love for horses and a passion to pursue the adult amateur equine world.  During this time, Megan was training and competing her homebred Thoroughbred/Trakehner named Simon. Courtney was currently horseless and honestly, a little timid jumping after a few bad falls riding horses in college. She was looking for something to ride and show that would help her rebuild her confidence and love for jumping. Due to Megan finishing up a master’s degree and having a baby, Simon was not getting the attention he needed. It was a perfect fit and a “win-win” situation. Megan needed Simon ridden, and he was just the horse for the job to bring Courtney’s confidence back. They shared the rides and communicated weekly about Simon’s schedule. Courtney was showing and competing Simon in the jumpers, and Megan was in school full time while raising a child. 

After a few years into the lease, Simon began having a mystery lameness.  After multiple vet and farrier appointments, months of stall rest and rehab, and an official diagnosis, the veterinarian finally cleared Simon back to full work. Courtney and Megan had just returned from a trip to Tryon International Equestrian Center where Courtney was able to jump Simon for the first time in months. It had been a bucket list item to ride at the prestigious TIEC. Unfortunately, a few days later in a freak pasture accident, Simon had to be euthanized due to a broken femur. The veterinarian said there was nothing that could have been done. Unfortunately, accidents happen even with the very best care and supervision. This tragedy was a pain that neither was prepared to endure. Simon was Megan’s first love, her “heart horse,” and truly part of her family. He was born when she was 15 years old. She took him to college, got married on him, and he was the first horse her son ever sat on. She raised him, trained him, and even rode under George Morris with him. Simon was the horse who brought Courtney back to the jumping world. He built her confidence and protected her when she needed it most. Neither of them was sure how they would get past this and continue pursuing their love and passion of horses. 

This had all occurred on the heels of a friend, Charlotte Cannon, winning the 2017 Show Hunter division at the Thoroughbred Makeover on her beloved Fame. After a few months of grieving, they talked to Charlotte and asked her what this Thoroughbred Makeover was all about. She inspired them to be a part of this wonderful organization. Later that year, they bought an OTTB gelding named “Findley Isle” online, sight unseen, and had him shipped from Delaware to Charlotte. The amazing process of bringing the OTTB along from the track to the show ring and re-purpose his potential has been life changing for both of them. Findley has helped their hearts heal and learn to love the sport, despite the tragedy they have experienced. Watch out for Team Brandywine competing in the Thoroughbred Makeover 2019!

Editor’s Note:

Findley and Team Brandywine went on to compete at the Thoroughbred Makeover 2019.  Findley placed 14th overall in Show Hunters out of over 130 entries.  Team Brandywine was a top team.  Well done, and Go Jumping!
Megan Thomas on Findley with Courtney Poole (right) at the Thoroughbred Makeover 2019. Photo by Courtney Poole.