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 Harness Racing, Horses

Live Long & Prosper – Harness Racing & Second Careers

Just like the Vulcan saying, it looks like Standardbreds tend to live long happy lives after their racing days. …In case you’ve read the negative type of articles which have been recently going around, here’s a quick roll call after only one afternoon in overwhelming response to a Facebook Wanted Post in the Preserve Harness Racing group. Enjoy!

** cover photo: Crumb Hustler lived to be over 40 years old. Raced at Rosecroft Raceway. Omie Brown took care of her father’s horse up on the hill from the track, at the historic Miller farm. She lunged him gently each day to keep him fit.

Kirsi Bertolini:

Fulla Fire and Kirsti Bertolini

“Fulla Fire is now 16 and we have done so much!! He’s been at school exhibition. He’s been at the fair to be petted and fed carrots. He’s been in nursing homes Christmas caroling now 6 times. I ride him at the ocean. We recently joined bunch of quarterhorses for a 10 mile trail ride by Maine trail riders association. He will do anything you throw in front of him without any hesitation. He’s my rockstar! Fulla Fire has his own Facebook page There’s tons of photos!

Anita Rees:

Shag endurance horse

”This is my guy Shag. He’s been doing 50 mile endurance events for 4 years. He’s a homebred who was never on the track, but was used for speed racking for years.”

Teddy a Yard Ornament

“Teddy’s registered name is Inaugural Affair, in his mid 20’s, a Presidential Ball son. He just goes loose in the yard and gets into things mostly.”

Hula Lu – retired endurance horse

“Here’s Hula Lu, 13 yr old, retired sound after 320 starts. she made approximately 90K in 8 1/2 years.”

Brookview Charger trail horse

Anita also has Brookview Charger who had “a rather dismal racing career. He’s 20 now and a fantastic trail horse. he was a speed racking horse for years as well.”

Linda Laudeman Taylor:

Bad Company Grand champion roadster

“BAD COMPANY—-Went on to become Grand Champion Roadster Class winner at PA. National Horse Show in 1984. Lived to 32.”

Micheal DI Gati:

Birthday Toy – pleasure horse

“Birthday Toy!! She’s my Pride and Joy!! My Favorite Toy!❤️❤️❤️ Raced her until she was 6 … and now my Riding Partner!”

Brielle Roman:

Witch Hazel show jumper

“Witch Hazel is a 3yr standardbred filly. Never made it to races, but I got her for $400 and she’s been to Devon and other high ranked horse shows, where she holds her own against warmbloods and the like, that cost more than 20 times what she did!”

Pacific Western now a police horse

“And here’s Pacific Western on his way to Newark PD for Police horse training!!”

Russell Swenton:

Russell Swenton & Laagendazz pacing stallion
Russell Swenton & Laagendazz pacing stallion

“I am an ex race horse trainer. When I got out of the business, I found my broodmares homes, and I still have my stallion, Laagendazz, that I couldn’t find a home for! He was 4 when he couldn’t race anymore. So I have fed and cared for him for the last 20 years knowing he would do nothing but look nice in the field! Most horse owners care deeply about their horses!”

Vicki Brenneman:

”We have one now, Winbak Red, who was 13 when he retired, he now is at a farm down the road from our house. We rent the field and go everyday to care for him. Justin calls him our lawn ornament!”

Katherine Smith

“ I have two retirees; one 20 and the other 17 at home. And we have retired/adopted many ex-racers through New Vocations. All our horses are listed with Full Circle, and can be returned to us any time during their lives, no questions asked. Ending racing will deal a blow to the equine population in the US, and perhaps Canada.”

Sally Hinckley:

“I have Armbro Brando and Stelerbration, they’re a joy! Stelerbration is 24 and Brando is 18.”

Standardbred Retirement Foundation SRF

Standardbred as mounted police
Standardbred as mounted police horses

”The”Brainiac Breed” is very popular with Mounted Police units!

Check this out…SRF Standardbreds adopted to just one unit in NY, Nuke Suave, Dodge Ball, Cheyenne Michael, Justatravelingcam, Mowtown Express, Park City, Victory Glider K and Passerby!

Did you know that SRF has 55 Standardbreds adopted to mounted patrol units such as Sheriffs’ Departments in Texas, Philadelphia Police, Morris County Parks, Newark Police, NYC and many more! SO proud of these fuzzy noses! Super temperament-adopt one, get your application in today at

S Baker & Dana West:

Santa & Mrs. Clause visiting the kids with Colonel Barnes

“Dana and I bred Colonel Barnes ‘Oscar’ He wasn’t fast enough and he has now found a good home and a new job. A business owner was delivering a prefab shed to us, and he and Dana were talking about our horses. The next thing I know, he said he would give Oscar a home pulling a carriage. No funds were exchanged only ONE STIPULATION: If or when they should not be able to keep him for any reason, he is to come back to us. It was hard to let him go, as we usually keep them till they pass away, but he now has been rehomed for a second job!

Cheri Collisen:

Cammie – Pet

“Cammie, a 20year old. Homes are found or they stay with me.”

B’Lynn Powers:

Blue an Off the track thoroughbred 

The thoroughbred people are doing similarly-

“I have a 27 year old OTTB from Charles Town that enjoyed a 2nd career as a hunter jumper, a 3rd as dressage and eventing at VA Intermont college and then at 19 years old, we found him, and he helped my daughter through the loss of her big brother – so 4th career is family – forever.”

Greg Trotto:

Jacob’s Money a lesson horse

“Jacob’s Money retired due to a breathing problem, and at a farm near Vernon. They love him. Trail rides and giving riding lessons!”

Susan Greenberg Merryman:

Majestic – dressage & aspiring Endurance horse

About her aspiring endurance horse- “My boy came from a mutual friend! His owner on the track was Katherine Smith and his trainer was Brooke Nickells! Majestic now 10, by Mach Three with a lifetime mark of 1:51, we adopted him in 2016 when he was coming seven. We trail ride him a lot and are working on dressage.”

Shannon Schlotzhauer Stafford:

Portrait therapeutic horse

“This is Portrait, now 12, a well loved race horse making a difference as a therapy horse. He has such a gentle soul. From the time our son could walk, Portrait let him do anything, he would even hold up his back feet so our son could paint them. When he was no longer competitive, we knew he could make a difference in someone’s life. Now he reaches many people.”

Ginger Keeler:

Indian Hill Mojoe Trail horse

“Here’s Indian Hill Mojoe, born at my place, my husband and I broke and raced him, now he’s my number one trail horse. He’s as tough as they come, an I love him to death.”

Leslie Moore:

Keystone Alexis therapy horse

“Our little Lexi (Keystone Alexis) raced at Ocean Downs and Rosecroft. She went on to Starting Gaits Transition where she was discovered by Agape as a therapy horse. She was recently highlighted and enjoys support from the Indiana harness Racing industry.”

Stephanie L Gray:

Art by Keane – Stallion And halter champion

“Art By Keene. Racing, showing and just plain retired. He was 2014 National SPHO In Hand Champion. I had big plans for him, he made other plans. We do have a 2yo colt and 3yo filly he sired. They are not turning out to be much as race horses, however, I love them both dearly. At least they’re pretty.”

Stallion Art By Keene with owner’s son Caiden

Below: “His 3yo filly, Sterling The Pot aka Ena and His 2yo colt, Kickstart My Art aka Junior.”

3yo filly, Sterling The Pot
Two-year-old colt My Art

Katy Reynolds Bradford:

That’s Hall Folks – family horse

“Here’s That’s Hall Folks, a fifteen year old gelding who raced for nine years. He’s a sweet trail and family horse, with so much personality. I think the best way to describe him is an uncomplicated gentleman,” below a shadow shot of this horse riding bareback and bitless!

That’s Hall Folks riding bareback and bitless

Patricia Clark:

East Meets West Endurance Champion

“East Meets West. We started endurance in 2009. Eli has over 1000 endurance miles and over 500 ld miles. He was the 2011 USTA Endurance Horse of the Year. He has also completed two 75 mile rides.”

Jessica Massey:

Artdotcam – pleasure and show horse
Artdotcam At Aasateague

“I adopted Artdotcam (AKA “Bubba”) in the spring of 2012 from his owners. Bubba was a successful harness racer before he was retired from the track and started under saddle. I’m not a “trainer” by any means; I was just a lady who was looking for her first “very own horse”.

After many, many hours and miles in the saddle, he has become an awesome trail horse that even my non-horsey husband rides! Bubba even occasionally goes with me to work in the State Forests (I work for the Maryland Forest Service) to do trail work & maintenance.

I have posted about our many adventures, including pictures, over the years. I stay connected with his owners and they follow his life and care closely. “

Nena Winand:

Winners Only – companion

“My love. Winners Only, retired from both racing and breeding ❤ because even when they are no longer breedable they still have a purpose, even if it’s only to be our companions.”

Julie Tougas:

Wally Dragon – multi talented

“This is Wally Dragon. He’s 13 years old and retired from the track when he was 5 years old. I have only recently become his human partner, before me, Wally spent his off track years doing single and double harness, some gymkhana and pleasure riding. This photos is Wally and I, taken at our very first long distance riding event. I am now training Wally to be an endurance horse.”

Purple Durple – parade horse

“This is Purple Durple. Shes 15 years old. Retired when she was 7 years old. After a short try in the sport of endurance, Purple made it clear that she didn’t want to go fast anymore, so now she is living her life as a steady trail horse . This picture is of Purple and her other human Odile taken during a parade.”

Katherine Smith

Always Virginia teaches youngsters to groom

“Always Virginia now living in Texas and being driven and ridden for fun, and teaching young kids how to groom and care for horses. There are so many more….”

“My first two Standardbreds now living their retirement here at home Virginia. One is 21 the other 18. They do no work other than keep us happy.”

That’s all for now folks! From endurance riding to the Police force to the show ring, or treasured companions, Standardbreds are quite talented and versatile. In addition, it looks like the harness horsemen have a great passion and respect for the star of the show, the Standardbred horse. Check out more at the USTrotting Association’s Life After Racing page.