"The first time they put a saddle on him he went through streams and rivers...He’s a tremendously smart horse and he loves having a job."
Double millionaire and 64-time winner Golden Receiver is seeking success of a different kind this year as he embarks on his career as a riding horse. The renowned pacer, who came back to the races briefly last year after a first attempt at retirement following the 2014 season, is now an ambassador for the Starting Gaits Standardbred Transition Program. Mandi Cool, founder of the program, is excited about the interest a horse of his calibre will bring to the organization.
"For us, having a horse in the program as well known as Golden Receiver grows attention to our program and what we are doing," she said. "A lot of owners are willing to send their horses to a program like ours when they are done racing, but not everyone knows about us and what we do."
Golden Receiver, known throughout the country for his prowess on the racetrack, earned more than $2.2 million between 2008 and 2015. From 177 starts he won 64 races, finished second 25 times and third 28 times. Although he retired in early 2015, his connections brought him back to the races last summer. He went on to earn just under $8,000, racing for charity. The pacer, trained by Alexandra Berube, called it quits for good in September.
When Cool got to know Berube, she began helping her find homes for several retired Standardbreds.
"We have placed 26 horses for her farm and the owners affiliated with her," Cool said, "and still continue to place around five horses a month from this farm. Allie and I quickly became friends and I met one of Golden Receiver's owners, Nina Simmonds, through her."
Simmonds knew she wanted to start riding Golden Receiver, as the gelding was clearly bored just sitting in the field. When Cool expressed interest in borrowing him to serve as an ambassador -- with plans to break him to ride in the process -- Simmonds was quick to agree.
“It’s a win-win,” she said. “She’s trail riding him and is going to show him to be an excellent example of the breed. Eventually he’ll come back and be my riding horse.”
Though Cool won't be finding a new home for him as she does with most of the horses in her program, Golden Receiver will spend the coming year with her as an ambassador.
She and volunteer Amy Buchert began working with him under saddle during the fall. Like most Standardbreds, she said he took to the new form of exercise as if he'd been doing it all his life. Because Cool's facility doesn't yet have an arena, Golden Receiver has done most of his training on the trail.
"We are fortunate that our facility is located less than 10 minutes from a state park with lovely bridle trails," she said. "They have water crossings, hills, bridges, and all the major obstacles we like to break our horses to before placing up for adoption."
For his first trail ride Golden Receiver was paired up with a more experienced horse.
"Because horses are such herd animals, they are hugely influenced by the horses around them," Cool explained. "Taking a calm, experienced horse makes a lot of 'firsts' less scary under saddle and quickly builds their confidence."
Though he followed his partner for a few minutes, it wasn't long before Golden Receiver took over the lead that first trail ride. Cool said he loved every minute of exploring the woods. She sent Simmonds photos and videos along the way.
While he's getting in plenty of trail rides, Cool also plans to show the multi-millionaire pacer in the coming year. He'll compete in a local show in March and later in the year she hopes to take him to the National Standardbred Show in New Jersey as well as the World Standardbred Show in Ohio.
In his role as Standardbred ambassador, Cool says Golden Receiver will also make several public appearances throughout the year. Though the weather halted plans to bring him to the Maryland Horse Expo last weekend, he is scheduled to attend the Hoosier Horse Fair in Indiana, slated for April 1-3. Cool says she's also working with several tracks to set up visits.
"We would love to travel as much as we can and bring him out," she said, "so we are taking inquiries and invitations from anyone that is interested."
Showcasing Golden Receiver in his career off the track is expected to bring attention to the Standardbred's versatility as well as Cool's program. She said Starting Gaits has about 12 horses at any one time on its leased 30-acre farm. The nonprofit organization, which was founded in 2013, has placed more than 135 horses since then.
“Our primary focus is providing off-the-track Standardbreds with new, marketable skills as riding and pleasure horses with the end goal of preventing the need for a rescue situation in the future,” Cool said. “We all know too well some of the alternative outlets for ex-racehorses; we just want to provide new skills and careers to as many as we can.”
(with files from USTA; photos courtesy USTA, Mandi Cool)