Horowitz On OTTBs, Presented By Excel Equine: In Memory Of A One-Eyed Wonder - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Horowitz On OTTBs, Presented By Excel Equine: In Memory Of A One-Eyed Wonder

Jonathan and Uno finished in the ribbons at their first event, so Jonathan announced the awards ceremony on horseback.

The biggest week of the year for retired racehorses is what helped me grieve the lowest moment I've had with horses.

The Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover has always had a significant impact on my life, starting with the first time I announced the event during the first year it was held at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2015. I had only begun riding horses a few months earlier, and seeing the supportive and talented community that was brought together by a love for OTTBs inspired my passion for eventing and has changed my life.

Now, in 2021, the Thoroughbred Makeover took place right after we lost Uno (JC: The Gray Man; USEA: Rocketman) to colic on Oct. 10. My wife, Ashley Horowitz, and I flew to Kentucky that night for a week of producing stories about participants and broadcasting the event. We arrived with heavy hearts, trying to process the sudden death of a horse with whom I developed a truly special bond.

As unexpected as losing Uno was, having him come into my life and the moments we shared together were just as unexpected.

Uno was foaled on May 3, 2017, in Indiana, and he raced twice at Indiana Grand under the name The Gray Man. At eight days old, he lost his left eye, although I've never confirmed which of the two stories that I've been told about it was the cause — either from a pasture accident or his mother's stepping on him.

Uno's one eye gave him a special personality. For Halloween this year, I was planning to have him be a pirate, while I would ride him wearing a parrot costume. With one sense limited, another was heightened, and Uno relied on processing his surroundings through smell more than I've seen in other horses. He also relied on people to guide him when he was unsure, and you could tell from this trait that he was always treated well by the humans in his life.

The grey son of sire Unbridled Express and dam Majestic Isle made his racing debut in the eighth race at Indiana Grand on June 16, 2020, a maiden special weight for Indana-breds over five furlongs. He finished 12th of 12, beaten 44 lengths.

The Gray Man ran one more time on July 6, 2020, this time going one mile on turf in an Indiana-bred maiden, and finished eighth of 11 beaten 18 3/4 lengths.

With racing not in the stars for the lanky 16.3 hh gelding, The Gray Man began a new chapter of life with Brit Vegas' Royal Fox Stables in Milford, Nebraska. Vegas has built a great reputation rehoming Thoroughbreds from the racetrack, and through Vegas, The Gray Man would make his way to Colorado to Kim Wendel, an upper-level eventer who is also the wife of our veterinarian, Dr. Tom Wendel.

Jonathan's two horses come together in the final photo he would ever take of Uno

Kim Wendel bestowed the barn name of “Uno” on The Gray Man because of his one eye. She had plans to compete him at the 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover. Those plans changed when she imported the Irish Sport Horse MBF Gambler from Ireland and decided to focus her eventing goals on reaching the upper levels of the sport.

My wife responded to a Facebook post Kim made in December 2020 that Uno was for sale. I told Ashley that I did not want to buy another green OTTB after what had been a roller coaster year with the first horse I started retraining straight off the racetrack, the bay Illinois-bred filly Cubbie Girl North. However, I agreed to a test drive.

The Wendels trailered Uno over to our farm in Parker, Colo., on December 13, 2020. Uno was understandably jittery coming to a new place, as well as being in an indoor arena for the first time. He hadn't been ridden or turned out in a week.

However, Uno settled down and got over his initial nerves. I appreciated how eager he was to respond positively to human guidance and direction. I decided that night to buy him.

The themes of that first ride — Uno's eagerness to please, my desire to develop a partnership with a horse, and the serendipity of how we came together — defined our time together.

We competed in our first event at the Spring Gulch Horse Trials on Aug. 8 on a whim. Uno was sidelined for the month of June with a minor injury and illness but didn't miss a beat when we started training again in July. So, we replaced another horse and rider that couldn't compete at Spring Gulch during the week leading up to the show. Uno was unfazed in his first show environment, his first dressage test, and his first full cross country course.

From there, we competed at the Sunrise Equine Mini Trial six days later. That was originally supposed to be our first show, but with Spring Gulch under our belt, we moved up from the Intro-level height of 2-foot-3 jumps to the Beginner Novice height of 2-foot-7.

Uno was a joy to ride on cross country. He was also a joy to be around, as he spent the next couple hours walking the showgrounds with me, grazing, rolling in the dirt, eating a Pop-Tart, and being pet by others while Ashley's other students were competing.

Because of the experience at Sunrise, we entered our first USEA recognized event at Beginner Novice at The Event at Skyline in Utah on Sept. 17, 18, and 19. I also announced the show. We finished sixth of 12 in our division, and I announced the ribbon ceremony on horseback. He was unfazed as I held a microphone and papers of the results while a green ribbon attached to his bridle on his blind side blew in the wind. The Elton John song Rocketman, the inspiration for Uno's show name registered with USEA, just so happened to be playing in the background.

That one recognized event we got to do together would not have happened had we not taken advantage of the experiences from the previous two shows the month before.

I felt like Uno and I took advantage of every moment we could together. When the Retired Racehorse Project asked me to model a new jacket for their website, I took the pictures with Uno. When Ashley went out for New Year's Eve 2021 and I decided to stay home, I went into his paddock and hung out.

 

Uno was the first horse I truly bonded with. I owned my chestnut mare Sorority Girl (JC: Grand Moony) for three years prior to Uno and wrote about how their personalities have affected the experiences I've had with each. Even in writing this, I find it difficult to express the significance Uno had for me.

Going through my phone, the last picture I took of Uno was on September 30, and it's of a brief moment where my two horses crossed paths near our barn. As I was leading Uno back to his paddock, he stopped and put his head next to Sorority Girl's. They took a moment to get to know each other, and it was a significant few seconds for me, made all the more significant now by the fact that it was the final moment that I captured an image of him.

“I have never seen a horse and human so similar—truly kind souls who simply want to love and bond with all those around them,” Ashley wrote in a Facebook post, reflecting on Uno's life. “The connection between the two was undeniable. Everyone noticed and commented, and on top of that Jonathan truly deserved to understand that special connection that can happen between horse and human.”

However, just as unexpectedly as things came together for Uno and me is also how it ended. The love I experienced when he was here is matched by the grief now that he's gone.

Being around the inspiring horses and their trainers at this year's Mega Makeover helped Ashley and me get through that first week after losing Uno. We produced stories about a race trainer that now competes with her horse Town of Towns in show hunters, a Maryland-bred rivalry on the track between Talk Show Man and Phlash Phelps that now continues off it, and more. We announced the two finales with NBC Sports' Donna Brothers.

The work and the Makeover gave us a sense of purpose. However, it would still hit us at times, the hardest for me coming when I announced Forthegreatergood as the 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover Champion. Forthegreatergood reminded me of Uno, a young grey gelding full of talent and personality. His dam happens to be named No Peeking. Elton John's “Your Song” happened to be playing in the background.

The author and his heart horse share a moment at their first USEA recognized event together at The Event at Skyline in Utah on Sept. 17

The time I spent with Uno coincided with the time period trainers are allowed to work with their horses in new disciplines for the Thoroughbred Makeover—from the December of the year before to the October of the Makeover. Those 10 months are full of highs and lows, and that's what I got to experience with Uno.

“What short time Uno had with you was more than many get in a lifetime,” Kathy Smoke, the former president of the Arabian Jockey Club and my former boss, wrote in one of the many kind messages I received after Uno's passing.

Before I ever started riding six years ago, I spent 15 years announcing horse races and talking about thousands of horses in my race calls without ever really getting to know them. Going from broadcasting to riding to running a farm with Ashley has made me a more compassionate member of the Thoroughbred community.

I've learned so much from horses. But Uno was the horse that taught me about that special bond you can have with horses that I didn't know was a real thing. The experiences people have with their heart horses are inevitably extreme, and I feel like I got them all in just 10 months. Those extreme experiences are what ultimately bring the horse community together. We seek the highs and we keep coming back after the lows. I hope I can carry on the valuable lessons Uno has taught me as I continue my journey.

 

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