Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Labarre, Montanez ‘Stronger Together’ After Harrowing Accident by Tom Pedulla|12.29.202012.29.2020|2:08pm2:52pm Rosario Montanez and Chloe Labarre Exercise rider Chloe Labarre tuned in to watch the first race at Laurel Park in Maryland on July 17, a 5 1/2-furlong turf contest. Her fiancé, Rosario Montanez, had picked up the mount on Hendaya due to an injury to another rider. Labarre remembers feeling some concern as the runners advanced to the starting gate because neither of them was familiar with the 4-year-old filly. She breathed a sigh of relief when Hendaya broke cleanly and the field began to string out. She was filled with doubt and fear by the time the race ended. Montanez and Hendaya were nowhere to be found as the horses flashed across the finish line. Then came the call. It was from Brittany Russell, the trainer who employs Labarre. “Chloe,” she said, “he went down.” Hendaya, seemingly too headstrong for Montanez to handle, had clipped heels with a horse in front of her, causing both of them to fall. Hendaya rolled over Montanez before regaining her feet. Montanez was not so fortunate. “It happened so fast,” Labarre said. “I didn't see it happen.” They live five minutes from Laurel Park. Fortunately, medical help arrived so quickly that Montanez was already being rushed to the hospital by the time Labarre reached the track. She waited hours while her fiancé was evaluated. He would have full use of his extremities but was found to have a traumatic brain injury, a broken back, broken ribs and facial fractures. Montanez is 30, two years older than Labarre. They never envisioned such hardship when they became engaged on Nov. 3, 2019. No one could have. Montanez, one of three finalists for the Eclipse Award as North America's leading apprentice in 2011, underwent successful back surgery at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore the next day. As Montanez spent the next two weeks recovering in intensive care, he understood as never before how strong a woman he had chosen as his future wife. “Chloe is my rock, honestly. She is my everything,” he said. “If I wasn't with her, my life would be completely destroyed.” Labarre found inner strength she never knew existed. “I wasn't okay, but I was fine,” she said. “I was getting through it because he needed me to be there. I couldn't be the one falling apart, having a meltdown.” She stayed at a hotel near the hospital in those critical early days before returning to work, even though Russell had urged her to take as much time as she needed. “She reached out to me and said, 'I want to come back,'“ Russell recalled. “I was very surprised. But, at the same time, she loves what she does. I think it was a little bit of a sense of normalcy for her to get on horses and get back to the barn.” Russell went on: “It's the nature of the business. Horse people, we don't really know how to take time off. It's kind of been bred into us to put your head down and go to work regardless of what is going on in your personal life.” “I've loved horses since I was a little kid,” said Labarre after returning to the saddle following her fiance's racing injury. “They're my life.” Labarre had grown up with horses and ridden at an early age. She has been an exercise rider since she was 16 and has worked for a series of prominent trainers, among them Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Chad Brown and Michael Matz. Labarre never thought twice about returning to horseback, even after seeing firsthand how perilous that can be. “I love it. I love horses,” she said. “I've loved horses since I was a little kid. They're my life.” She had always been aware of the danger without experiencing it. “Thank God, I've never been injured badly on a horse,” she said. “I thank God for that right now because I don't want it to happen.” While Montanez continues an encouraging recovery by attending physical therapy three days a week and talks hopefully about returning to competition, Labarre has helped make Russell one of the leading trainers at Laurel Park's fall meet. “She is a huge asset in the barn for more reasons than one,” Russell said. “She gets along with pretty much anything she sits on and she's a good read of a horse. She can breeze horses. She works horses from the gate. She gets on babies. She helps older horses.” Russell and Labarre enjoy much more than a typical employer-employee relationship. Russell arranged a GoFundMe account that ultimately raised more than $40,000 to benefit Montanez. Almost $3,000 poured in during the first hour. “I have no words to say how thankful I am to them,” said Montanez. Some good has come from the ordeal. If Labarre and Montanez had the slightest doubt about their relationship, they now know one thing with certainty. They are stronger together. Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications. If you wish to suggest a backstretch worker as a potential subject for In Their Care, please send an email to [email protected] that includes the person's name and contact information in addition to a brief description of the employee's background.