Posted in Animal Rescue, Horses

Speck: the Wrongly Accused Stallion

This story was inspired by champion rider, founder of the Retired Racehorse Project and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, who has authored so many fascinating stories about special horses he remembers.

Year 1970: We never had boarders at Mr. Simms place on Beulah Road. Charlie Simms was a gentle 50-ish bachelor who lived in his grandmothers’ old home (which doubled as a country store in times past.) With a 5 stall shed row, a small round pen and an unfenced 16 acres field, we two girls got free board for taking care of his Thoroughbreds he’d occasionally bring home from Laurel Race Course. I had a little Poco Beuno type Quarter cross Carole named Charlie Hot Tuna.

Charlie Hot Tuna circa 1970

Mister Simms relayed strict orders from the owner that Carole and I were not to ride the arriving “Morgan stallion”, only to lunge him, put him in the pen or crosstie him while we cleaned his stall. We occasionally used leaves from the woods in the adjacent “Gravel Pits” to bed the stalls, a year round ample supply. (Warning: although we kids got away with that then, it’s not advisable to use leaves, because of the danger of botulism or various types of tree poisonings)

We couldn’t wait to check him out.

I generally cut my last class (Spanish) to go to the barn from Hayfield High, a short hike across the pits. Virginia Sand and Gravel Company had extensive land holdings across the area. Later sold off for housing projects, stores and the Lee District Park. So I hot-footed it there as soon as possible to meet my new charge.

Gazing regally over the stall door was a rugged handsome head on a plain rather furry unkempt bay. (Quite large I’m thinking, for a Morgan?) He barely acknowledged my existence as he entered the tiny pen, where he rolled. That’s when it became evident something was missing, he’s a gelding? Yet a crested neck, like a stallion. Now I’m really confused. Is this the right horse Mr. Simms said was coming? Then, upon turning my back, I heard two galloping strides, then quiet, then a landing “thump”! ….and Speck flashed by me, downhill across the field towards the nearby burgeoning suburban homes. Fortunately, he cut back and ran towards me. Somehow I was able to grab him.

Speck had just jumped a five and half foot fence with only two strides to get up momentum.

We crosstied him between the two old oak trees and looked Speck over. Over 17 hands, but couldn’t tell much else, he was filthy and covered with thick matted winter hair, and it was nearly June. When Carole and I got done with him there was a fuzzy pile a foot deep on the mat. Under Carole’s rubbing towel, he gleamed and shone like a new penny, with a beautiful muscular build, long strong black legs, and a wealth of curly black mane and tail. He looked like a Morgan on stilts. His thick dappled neck arched proudly where the spots of sun hit him from between the leaves.

Looking at Carole, I said: “let’s ride him!” She shook her head, “no way!” For some reason, for once our persona’s were reversed. She’s usually the adventurous one, where I always hung back. “You do it”, Carole says. We put a big western saddle on him with a nice long shanked curb, because we were told he was a cutting horse. I jumped up on his back and he rode fine, though not exactly sensitive in the mouth. Nothing we were told was matching up.

After that, I rode Speck everywhere. My poor little Charlie Hot Tuna went unridden, or lent to other riders on the trails as we’d go from dawn to dusk, some days across miles of gravel pit and power line trails from Springfield to South Alexandria. I rode him alone, or with the crew of horse folk we knew. With Mickey Calamarus, who had a stable across the street, or folks from the Huckleberry Stable on Telegraph. The area was full of horse people, with both private and boarding stables. One of the few left nearby presently is Tamarack Stables on Old Colchester Road, now passed on to the owner’s son, Timmy.

We had set up jumps in the Simms field, none were too high for him, though he did have a strange habit of bucking hard upon landing. More on this later.

At a full gallop, Speck took your breath away. We had a fellow who owned a speedy Appaloosa who loved to buzz by us girls, knowing we couldn’t catch him. On the path alongside the railroad tracks on Fleet Drive, Speck and I let them all get ahead of us, then we set after them. Speck knew what his job was. I’d never traveled that fast on a horse before. The feeling of the wind, the images by us becoming a blur, is forever ingrained in my mind. I rarely let him go full speed, as it would get him too wound up and overheated for the rest of the ride. But we sure did injure that Appy’s pride.

I began to think of him as mine.

At this point we took him to the blacksmith who would shoe under the tree a couple times a year next to what’s now called Lane Elementary School. After he shod him he eyed him up admiringly and quickly checked his teeth, and he said “he’s a smooth mouth,-over 20, likely closer to 30.

Who is this beast?

We found out more when Speck’s owner came to visit. A lovely, slight-built blonde, she drove through the grass right to the barn in a nice white car. When she got to us and rolled the window down, you could see the car was completely hand controlled, because she was paralyzed from the waist down.

At first, admiring Speck’s glowing good health, she turned suddenly and asked “you’re not riding him are you?” I lied through my teeth, and shook my head. She said “that’s good because he’s very dangerous. He is the horse responsible for paralyzing me.”

She further explained that he is a ridgeling, which Carole and I already knew would make a horse three times meaner than a stallion. We had prior experience with Carole’s Welsh pony, who terrorized everyone until he was gelded.

She continued, telling us of his exploits. Turns out Speck had many jobs. He was used at Hialeah as an outrider horse, and could outrun the thoroughbreds when they got loose. Upon buying him, he won countless ribbons, cups and trophies for this girl at rodeos, then later as an event horse, and open jumper. Half Morgan, half Thoroughbred, he seemed to be the ideal horse.

Except, for his habit of trying to throw the rider upon landing from a jump. We were told by her that she was thrown at a show and landed across the spread, breaking her back.

Unlike many ridgeling‘s, Speck never tried to bite, kick or strike. His habit of bucking after a jump was his only vice.

This paralyzed lady took a liking to me and showed me where she lived on Telegraph Road. One day, she took me to see the world Champion 3-gaited horse, he was living his life out peacefully after she had purchased him, the beautiful gray single-footed right up to her when she drove to his fence. Word had it that she had horses like this all over town.

Speck’s personality was never downright “friendly” or affectionate. He had a certain dignity, that champions frequently possess. He always seemed to be gazing off into the distance, like everything else was below him. I respected that, and did not fawn over, hug or pet a lot on him. Speck was a serious sort of guy who loved his work. Lord knows I loved him dearly, and looked forward to seeing him each day after school.

One day his stall was empty. Mister Simms was there, waiting for me. “She died of kidney failure, and her brother took Speck for the funeral. He continued, informing me that he rode Speck across a field and spread her ashes at the end of the field, where he shot him dead. “It was her last request I’m told, so he would never hurt anyone. I’m so sorry Nancy, I know much you liked him”

Any tears, any statements, that I would’ve taken him, that he wasn’t mean, that she should’ve had a better seat so as to avoid being thrown…whatever…would do absolutely no good. I simply stood there mutely, then turned away to clean the stalls.

Looking back, Charlie Hot Tuna did get his attention back, but I’ll never forget Speck. It’s a feeling that stays with you all your life, when you come in contact with an exceptional individual, whether it be human, or animal.

Thank you Speck, for giving me the privilege of being a part of your life. It was your life’s sunset, but only my sunrise, my first truly high quality horse, in a lifetime of working with great equines. Yet, never mine, only in my heart.

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Posted in Animal Rescue, Music and horses

Rosecroft Cat Rescue 2010

Success story: 110 cats received veterinary care and in new homes:

Cover photo: The young male was named Stubby, (aka "garbage disposal" because he loved to eat!) He was given to a DC couple.

How do you find homes for 110 barn cats in 5 weeks? Not easy… But Cat Tails Inc, and Alley Cat Rescue, teamed up with the DMV musical community and did their magic for an unparalelled success! The initial flyer, designed by singer and musician Sarah Rasmussen, precipitated a huge email and Facebook campaign, over 6 cat organizations and private entities banded together to save “Rosecroft’s cats”. The emails and networking exploded into action among the cat and animal loving community, beginning with a simple flyer about how cool it would be to get a racetrack cat.


The Rosecroft cats remained during the summer of 2010 when, on June 28th, Rosecroft Raceway’s owners at the time, Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., closed the stable area where horsemen had stabled and trained harness horses since 1948. Although the horsemen who could took thier cats with them or found them homes, the cats who remained were the usual racetrack cats that lived in the barns, catching mice and making friends with the horses and horsemen, mostly belonging to non-farm owning trainers, or grooms. Frequently, the displaced horsemen had to go places where they could not take their cats.

Enter Sandy Braskett, a horsewoman and former mutuel clerk who had taken care of the cats for years, supported by occasional donations from grooms, trainers and owners of the harness racehorses. Even after the barns were emptied out, Sandy continued to go daily to the track, caring for those cats. Sandy initially asked the Lisi’s to help first because she had no internet capability, and secondly, she had promised the worried evicted horsemen that she would find them homes. She kept in touch with them, and they were sending money, medications and food. It was too big a job for her to do alone.

To compound the situation, Sandy was suddenly told that in four days, she could no longer come on to the racetrack grounds to care for the cats. They even helped her set out extra food, though she knew that wouldn’t last because it would soon be eaten up by the wildlife from the bordering Henson Creek Park. Sandy was very upset, but was told it was a bankruptcy court order. [the Lisi’s were in court as a Party In Interest and heard no such order] …We needed more time. After a visit to Senator Muse’ office by one of our animal advocate attorney friends who literally stuck his foot in the office door, and the Senator’s secretary’s immediate call to Rosecroft’s office, the situation changed. Management at the track relented, and gave Sandy 5 weeks, until October 7th, to continue feeding them, as long as she could show progress towards getting them adopted. With the extra time, it still was a maybe at best. Like Rumpelstiltskin, wanting straw spun into gold.

How it was done:

100 cats vetted and to new homes in only 5 weeks time was certainly going to be a challenge, what to do?

Publicity Flyer campaign!

How did we find all these homes? The biggest part was done by an email and flyer campaign planned by Sara Rasmussen and Kathy Sweeney, who were members of a large DMV musical community. The flyers were shared, and offers began to pour into my inbox! I was appointed the “point person” (there goes my privacy) ~ Fielding hundreds of email adoption offers was great, but what do we do now?

Catching Cats

Enter Joy Purnell, who saw the flyer from a friends’ email. With her experience, she knew exactly the steps that it would take to save them. Joy hired the ace cat trapper Susan Wolfe, who showed Sandy and the remaining racetrack employee how to trap the by-now wary and frightened cats.

Susan Wolfe cat trapper
Cat’s being transported photo: Sara Rassmussen

Veterinary Fix-up:

Meanwhile, reduced-cost Veterinary appointments were made and paid for by both Alley Cat Rescue, headed by Louise Holton who was able to procure the reduced veterinary costs, and Cat Tails Inc. Joy Purnells’ organization.

—Without Joy “cracking the whip” for us to produce cats in time for these appointments, it would not have been possible to make the deadline of October 7th.

Joy Purnell presenting Robert Swain with a certificate award for aiding in the rescue – he paid for the gasoline to transport.

The cats were then transported to the veterinary businesses that did the fine veterinary work for a reduced cost. Brentwood Animal Hospital, a few at Academy Veterinary clinic,, the third was an undisclosed private veterinarian. This work entailed spaying, neutering, shots updated, treatment for fleas and ear mites and any injuries addressed.

Brentwood Animal Hospital

This vet bill was paid for by Cat Tails Inc, and “ACR” Alley Cat Rescue, which the latter recouped much of the money they spent through their savvy fund raising efforts (if you prefer, Alley Cat Rescue is a fine organization which helped greatly in the rescue, and are always looking for homes and donations)


Because of Sandy “the Rosecroft Cat Lady” and the horseman’s good care over the years, they were surprisingly healthy! Of 110 cats, (far less than other racetracks, because Sandy had spearheaded an earlier spay/neuter drive) Only one had a sore leg, one had a cut on his back that Brentwood expertly operated on, and one had an eye infection which was treated and went to a special care place.

The Homes

A fancy B&B owner in Hagerstown Md built a large shed for quarantining his cats. Cat B&B!

After the visit to the clinic, it was off to the new homes found by the “Cat Cooperative”!. It wasn’t always easy to coordinate such a big job, instructing the adoptees on how to quarantine, picking up cats at the track and transporting them first to the clinics, then onward to new homes from DC and Virginia to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia. Everyone was “all business” with each person doing their job and never letting the others down!

A few places that adopted numerous cats were dairy farms, racing training centers, B & B’s, show horse stables, you name it… but most were simply individuals, couples and families who wanted a cat or two to love.

Val from Justice Snowden riding stable


Each cat was unique and and had an individual personality. Here’s just a few. Sandy took most of these photos with her old school phone. Beautiful exotics got new homes. A Himalayan male mysteriously showed up at the track some 10 years before the rescue, and the gene definitely showed up in some of the cats!

Catjam Icing on the Kitteh Cake

CatTails Inc was left without funds after this effort, and the Catjammer Charity band was formed tasked with the impossible…Play for tips to pay Joy Purnell back her $9500. It took a solid year, but they did it! But that story is for another day…

Follow Up

We emailed occasionally over the next two years, and got replies from the adopters. A couple in Upper Marlboro who had taken the last 6 cats on their large property tickled us, saying “oh, they’re just hanging out, just being cats...” …Adding that they still love their quarantine shed that they’d built for them, filled with toys, plush padded shelves and automatic waterers! Others were hunting mice in barns, as they did at the track. A few lived in apartments, one slate grey kitten was growing up with his little girl in Georgetown.

What we learned:

Of course, we learned that even tame cats get “spooked” when their people disappeared from their lives, which necessitates having to trap them as if they were feral. The trappers were only able to pick up a very few without need of traps.

There were disturbing reports of a few left behind, that were seemingly released deliberately by unknown persons at night, before pickup time in the mornings. Once a cat has been trapped, it is nearly impossible to lure them in one again. Fortunately it suddenly stopped happening after only a few traps were opened.

At any racing facility that takes up a large amount of acreage, management should make sure all horsemen’s pets are accounted for, that any pets or animals that show up are dealt with in a responsible and humane way. Calling an animal control to send any wayward animals to a hi kill shelter, or animals simply left on their own is not the optimum way to handle it- We should all follow the Rosecroft Horsemen’s example and be responsible for our feline population.


I leave you with Sarah’s slogan when she put out her original flyer. At first, it was a plea for help…. Now, it tells the story of our success. The “catch line” of the flyer which got so many generous offers for homes…

“It could be kind of cool to have a cat from a racetrack -don’t you think?”

…They all do…. every one of them has a home. Give to the cat rescue of your choice.

Thank you all.

Because of changes to the nearly defunct Facebook “Notes” section of profiles, this post is a back up with updated info re: the Rosecroft Cat Rescue project. This all occurred in 2010. Thanks.