Sweet Scarlet: A Horse Story of Healing and Hope
December 7, 2016
Picture a thoroughbred racehorse and the mind’s eye immediately calls upon shiny, rippling musculature, raw and literal horsepower, and the thundering sound of hooves pounding against Derby dirt with staggering velocity.
What you don’t picture, though, are the thousands upon thousands of retired thoroughbreds relegated to various Off the Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) rescue organizations across the country, serving as stopover safe houses for countless racing dynamos once their stellar and often brief racing careers come to a premature and permanent halt.
Born of a Canadian Dam and Kentuckian Sire, Scarlet had been expected to do well on the track from an early age. She quickly showed she had what it took, and proved it with her winnings, but as is common with many thoroughbreds, she gave it everything she had, and left it all on the track, to the point of near catastrophic breakdown.
Standing on the larger side for a female horse, at nearly 17 hands, Scarlet’s conformation is substantially different from other female thoroughbreds. She is fast and big, carrying with her tremendous power comparable to even her large male competitors. All that mass constantly pounding down and driving hard into the dirt served her well when it came to leaving her competition in the dust, but it also very nearly killed her.
After a brief but successful two year stint, Scarlet left the track forever and retired to Nuzzle Me Safe Ottb’s, a well-known and highly esteemed off the track rescue organization. Broken in spirit and crippled with pain, Scarlet would be hard-pressed to find a forever home, what with her appalling physical condition as a result of a life spent on the track. She arrived utterly exhausted with sores on her legs, chronic lameness, ulcers in her stomach and colon, and practically total destruction of all four of her feet. It would take a lot of patience and funds to completely rehabilitate her, not to mention the time she would need to fully heal physically, mentally and emotionally.
Enter For Hank’s Sake founder, Tammi Regan, who had received word that a colleague had suddenly lost a horse of her own. She inquired of Tammi whether she happened to know of anyone who had a thoroughbred horse she could adopt. Tammi quickly set about sending feelers to all the people in her OTTB horse network. She knew this particular colleague had expressed wanting a smaller horse, around fourteen hands in size, so she reached out to Nuzzle Me Safe and asked her if she had any rescue horses that fit the bill. Her contact there responded to Tammi with a photo of the currently convalescing Scarlet.
“I just took one look at her photo and said to myself, ‘Oh no,’” Tammi admits.
Tammi knew Scarlet was too big for the woman who was searching. She also knew she herself wasn’t looking for another horse at the time, especially an off the track thoroughbred with such critical rehabilitation needs. Having also sustained a debilitating back injury of her own that required major surgery, Tammi had her hands already plenty full. As it was, the existing For Hank’s Sake roster of rescues consisted of four horses who occupied a four-stall barn. Where would she even put a fifth rescue? This would ultimately prove to be beside the point. Tammi somehow knew in her heart of hearts, that she would soon be rescuing another horse. There was something in Scarlet’s eyes in that photo that just told Tammi she would be in her barn. She simply knew... Scarlet was coming home.
“I was very excited going to meet Scarlet for the first time,” Tammi says. “It was like Christmas morning to me. I could barely keep from running.”
So with that same magic reserved for children who eagerly await the arrival of Santa Claus, heart pounding and anticipation on full tilt, Tammi composed herself enough to walk the full length of the 26-stall barn to the last stall on the left, where Scarlet Cimarron stood, as if waiting for her new owner’s arrival.
Tammi softly eased the barn door open and quietly whispered Scarlet’s name. After a moment or two, this stunning and imposing thoroughbred hobbled over to Tammi and - to her very great and overwhelming surprise - rested her head gently on Tammi’s shoulder, letting out a deep and satisfying sigh.
Standing there, taking in the lovely heft of Scarlet’s head against her own, feeling her breath contentedly on her neck and down her back, Tammi was overcome with peace and gratitude for this sweet, broken creature she held in her hands. It was then that the rescue organization owner, who was looking on, said, “She picked you, Tammi.”
In that moment, Tammi was determined to see Scarlet out of pain. She committed to doing whatever she could reasonably do to offer Scarlet a safe, comfortable and natural horse environment. She diligently treated her ulcers and very painful feet. She endlessly researched ways to cure Scarlet’s feet, which would long remain an issue of dire concern.
For five million years horses have existed, not locked in stalls, but outdoors in the grass. People, especially in the summer and warmer weather, often tend to keep their horses in stalls all day and out in the pasture all night. This approach is typically reversed in winter. Despite the typical trends, Tammi knew that movement for a horse is paramount to recovery. It keeps blood pumping and circulation moving. Also, psychologically, it’s not ideal for a horse to be stall bound and it affects them on a metabolic level. Naturally, some horses need stall rest for various legitimate reasons, but other horses go bonkers standing in there for eight hours a day. Tammi was bound and determined to get Scarlet out of her stall.
A week later, Scarlet was at Tammi’s barn. That was nineteen months ago.
Today, Scarlet is seen regularly by a chiropractor and natural barefoot trimmer, who has substantially corrected her once severe misalignment. She’s no longer forced to open her legs considerably when she bends down to graze and drink. Her hoof injuries have healed and her ulcers gone. Her feet are no longer in chronic and crippling pain. She is able to frolic in the pastures with the now seven horses that make up the For Hank’s Sake herd. She has pair-bonded with another recent rescue, named Cochise. She takes tender care of him, watching out for him, calmly reassuring him as he adjusts to herd life, and grooming him with sweet comfort and contentment.
Scarlet came to Tammi with a wounded body and broken heart, much like Tammi herself at that same time. Sidelined with a back injury and freshly grieving the loss of her dearly beloved canine companion, a loyal and loving Basset Hound named Bernie, Tammi would have no way of knowing that this gentle beauty, in the depth of so much pain and sadness, would soon echo her own. Just a few short weeks after Scarlet’s arrival, Tammi herself became heavy with shock, pain and grief at the sudden loss of her father. She had no way of knowing that her decision to bring rescue horses the comfort and salvation they were so deserving of would end up being the same comfort and salvation she needed herself.
With battered hearts and shattered spirits, a story of healing and hope began.... and continues still. As with the very first tender moment they shared, Scarlet continues to allow Tammi to snuggle with her and be close to her while she is laying down. This once sad and sickly horse, riddled with pain is now strong, confident, relaxed and healed. Without even knowing it, these two unsuspecting creatures found one another, at just the right time, and began helping one another find healing and hope… for good.