Update to So Elite – Coming Full Circle

Update to “So Elite” Coming Full Circle first published on December 28, 2017 by Karin Wagner, Executive Director, Neigh Savers Foundation, Inc.

I am so pleased to be able to update my Coming Full Circle story on So Elite today May 29, 2018.  So-E, as we call him, had a very lengthy rehabilitation period, but combined with his own exceptional attitude to cooperate in all that was done to him and asked of him by Glenn Chambers, he overcame every hurdle. And on Memorial Day, May 28, 2018 had his first ever lesson off track.  You can watch it here on YouTube.

I am also excited to announce that on May 22, 2018, So-E was officially adopted by Brian Richards and his long-time companion Sharon Bellandi. Brian co-owned So-E during his glory days on the track. While Brian has owned many a race horse in his time, So-E made a lasting impression on him and the both of them formed a connection.  This bond is evident whenever Brian visits his champion. The plan is for Sharon to use So-E as a personal light riding horse, but for now, and in the best interests of So-E, they are leaving him under Glenn’s care. Glenn and his daughter, Brittney will retrain So-E as a riding horse and will use him in Brittney’s therapy program. So-E will remain at Brookside Equestrian, a lovely green jewel of a facility with lush lawns, old growth trees, and plenty of riding paths east of Sacramento, CA. Brookside Equestrian is a major northern California horse show hub, so we could even possibly see So-E as a horse show competitor!

Brittney Chambers is a very accomplished young lady. As an infant, her race horse trainer father took her to the track and sometimes she napped inside a stall. She can’t even remember a time when horses were not in her life and she inherited her love of all things equine from her father. She was too young to remember the first time her father put her on the back of a horse. Brittney is the founder of CBC Equine Therapeutic Riding and has over 20 years’ experience with horses. She has an Associate’s Degree in Social Science, a Bachelor’s Degree in Alcohol and Drug Counseling with a minor in Psychology, and a Master’s Degree is in Criminal Justice Administration. In addition to her college education, Brittney is also a dually certified PATH Intl. Therapeutic Riding Instructor, and Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning. Can you say WOW!!! Read more about Brittney’s programs here.  Part of Neigh Savers’ future plans are to expand community outreach programs using our rescue horses. We already have Equine Empowerment Clinics in place at Bear Creek Stables in Los Gatos, CA, where we are reaching veterans, transitional foster kids, and high school students. We will also be working with sister rescue Hope for Horses and their PATH- and Egala-certified instructors in supporting additional course offerings later in 2018.

Between Brittney’s education and experience in the human services field, and her passion for horses, she is able to serve those who are developmentally and physically disabled, have mental health or addiction issues, at risk youth, veterans, those who are involved in the criminal justice system, and anyone who just wants to become more at one with horses. Now, with So-E’s natural ability, ease with people and friendly attitude, he is a most desirable therapy horse in training.

Last October 2017 we saved a horse that was described to us as looking as though his coat had been “turned inside out,” who was three-legged lame, and stocked up on all fours, barely able to walk a few steps upon arrival, and within six months, has come this far. All kudos to Glenn, who got him to this point and now to his daughter Brittney who has enrolled him in her finishing school. And great thanks to Brian and Sharon who decided to support So-E as a therapy horse in training and will hold off taking him home for now.  Besides, there’s a rumor afoot that they may be buying some dreamy ranch property on a tropical island…..hopefully it’s going to have a barn and a guest house! Maybe So-E can lean back to his five-race win streak as a 9-year-old and take on a new identity: Hawaii 5-0!

Thank you to our monthly sponsors whose continued, and steady contributions make all things possible! And to those donors who helped So-E when he initially was rescued off track – a big thank you! So-E was privately purchased by me and longtime supporter and adopter of Mr. Valentino (Rudy) Jeanie Esajian. Rudy and So-E are stall mates over at Brookside Equestrian and have certainly swapped more than a few race track tales. So the story continues………

If you want to refresh yourself on the entire tale of So Elite, you can read it again here: Coming Full Circle – The Story of “So Elite”, December 28, 2017
A New Year’s Reflection by Executive Director, Karin Wagner

Dear Donors,
As we celebrate the coming of another year I wanted to share with you and not social media some frank reflections and thoughts about the past year and the year to come. There have been so many tragedies this past year, both through the acts of carnage brought by individuals and the forces of nature certainly telling us that climate change is very real. We unfortunately can only do our small part as individuals, especially in light of a government that is undoing every environmental regulation it can find. Yes, it was a challenging year and there is more to come in 2018.  We ourselves are at a crossroads….some of it was natural attrition but now we will have to assess our entire model. The recently signed tax reform bill is estimated to cost charities between 13-20 billion in lost revenue dollars due to fact that many will no longer itemize deductions. We struggle as it is so it is hard to imagine further reductions in an already overcrowded market.  All things considered, this year is closing on a very good note for myself. I feel as though as I been blessed with kismet or call it what you like, perhaps it was always meant to happen this way.

I was part of a remarkable horse rescue that brought me right back to my core values and to why I founded Neigh Savers in the first place.  So bear with me, relax, get yourself a holiday beverage of choice and relive the journey with me.  It was Valentine’s Day 2007 and I was surrounded by a mound of paperwork wondering if it was worth the enormous effort and expense to form a foundation. At almost the very same moment, a colt was being foaled in Kentucky. A colt of extraordinary pedigree, sired by the fourth richest racehorse at his retirement, Pleasantly Perfect.  Pleasantly Perfect was a product of the great Racing Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. Unfortunately for us, he was sent to Turkey after a few years in Kentucky, so he never had many sons or daughters racing in the US. Pleasantly Perfect is a son of Pleasant Colony, winner of the 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, he was out of the mare Regal State who won the 1985 Group One Prix Morny in France. His damsire was the 1978 U.S. Triple Crown champion, Affirmed.
Pleasantly Perfect’s first major wins came in the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Classic. In 2004 he won the world’s richest horse race, the Dubai World Cup then in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic, finished third behind Roses in May and winner Ghostzapper. Retired from racing at the end of the 2004 season, Pleasantly Perfect entered stud in 2005 at Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Kentucky. The strapping bay colt sired by Pleasantly Perfect with a big white blaze was foaled on February 14, 2007 in Kentucky. He had such class on both sides of his family that he was named “So Elite.”

I’m often asked why I started Neigh Savers. After being taken to Santa Anita many times by my cousin, a racing enthusiast, I became dazzled by the well turned out beauty of the horses and their magnificence on the track knowing they were bred for speed and stamina. Of course, I knew nothing else and at the time, late 1980s and early 1990s no one talked of aftercare. Hopefully former connections would care for them. If they were good mares they could go into breeding. Good stallions as well.  Geldings could be retired to farms or passed on to show people or ???  You go to the track for the betting, for the thrill of watching a competitive race, for some great jockey riding, to enjoy a cocktail and socialize. Who wants to think about the underside or the fate of horses? Those not able to race competitively or those injured or those now too old but still extremely young and useful? No one, certainly, not me. I was there to have a good time. And the beauty and majestic backdrop of Santa Anita worked like a tonic on me.

Of course, now so many years later I am no longer an avid fan. I rarely go to the races these days. I am a huge fan of Thoroughbreds but not of the racing industry. More thoughts to follow on my views of racing and the industry.  My feelings are very mixed regarding this. We have survived largely due to people inside the industry and donors that support us while also supporting racing. And, the number of good people I know through racing far outpaces any bad seeds. But I think you have to be pragmatic and understand it’s a business that employs many people and gives horses a job. Without going into details, the show world is just as hard on horses as racing…the constant repetitive jumping over fences for example and the desire to be the best at any cost.

Back to the story at hand. As time went on, I became immersed in horse racing and started buying into racing partnerships and that’s where my real education began. However, as a software professional my career was all consuming and often involved 60 hour plus weeks. But, by then the seed had planted itself….I wished I could do something for those equine athletes no longer able to earn their own keep. Fast forward to 2007….a long term project had concluded and I was no longer interested in 90% travel, the stress or the hours. Little did I know I would soon trade a very well compensated career into the same time commitment, less the travel and definitely less the income. If I had known what I was getting into, particularly the emotional toll, I would have most likely passed.  Now, let’s fast forward back to 2017. We celebrated our 10 year of operations. We’ve helped many horses…we operated at several locations and had nearly 40 dedicated volunteers. However, donations were increasingly hard to come by and I started consolidating and reducing our herd numbers.  Lots of new rescues were popping up everywhere. The competition for donor dollars became unusually fierce. Constant fund-raising takes a huge toll.  Some groups resorted to village hysteria and false fund raising scams and schemes.

Overall, quality of program was not recognized or appreciated. It’s all about numbers, never mind what horrors horses go through with hoarders and overcrowded and poorly maintained facilities, none that are certified by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance or CARMA as an aside.  During the summer of 2017 during so much turmoil we just soldiered on and then suddenly a horse seemingly from the past came across my radar.  This was a horse that was still racing at 10 years of age, ended up with 58 starts and total career earnings in excess of $326,000. The horse, of course, was none other than So Elite.  Alerted by a long time supporter and adopter we started following him and discussing how best to retire him for he was not doing well at all. We made inquiries, asked sources to intervene, made contacts and offers and all to no avail.  One might ask why a 10 year old stakes winning horse was still racing….and that would be a good question.

Lately in racing there have been forums discussing the trap owners fall into when deciding to enter a horse slated for retirement into “One Last Race.” I think it is worth noting that a race horse normally passes through many hands, owners and trainers alike during his career and So Elite was no exception to that rule. Often times, the uniformed public gets all fired up about “greedy” people pocketing the earnings of a horse. Racehorses are very expensive to maintain. It costs approximately 4K a month and then if you claim a horse you have to pay the claim tag to the prior owner upon transfer. The new owner starts out at a huge deficit and is usually just trying to play catch up or break even. Just like multi level marketing schemes, those at the bottom of the pyramid usually don’t see the promises fulfilled of fancy cars, trips and a secured retirement.

Horse racing at the top levels is profitable but the majority of horses in racing are “blue collar” claimers racing for small purses and little upside. People in racing are in the game because they love being around the horses and hope to make some living out of it. It’s truly a labor of love for most. Let it not remain unsaid that there are bad apples in every industry….an inattentive nurse, an incompetent doctor, a bad mechanic or a scamming accountant. It’s just that racing is everyone’s favorite target to shoot at, is largely misunderstood and no longer a popular sport but it has some overwhelmingly good people that put in longer hours each week than anyone would sign up for mostly very low pay. There is much compassion, love, dedication and the like in racing, and I have witnessed this countless times. But like everything in life, not everyone is on the same page regarding the humane treatment of our equine athletes.

Back to So Elite. He was to be retired and his trainer at Golden Gate Fields promised the owners that no would claim a 10 year old. As with many well-intentioned predictions he was wrong.

So Elite had won a stakes race at 9, in fact a marathon where he raced 1 3/4 miles against much younger company and won. Of course, that was a year earlier but older horses can still have some upside if they’re as good as So Elite. That is, if they are still in prime physical condition, which So Elite was not. I’m not going to go into any details that may pinpoint to one or more persons in particular. Instead, I am going to make a toast to one of our many heroes in this story, Duane Belvoir, of the venerable Belvior racing family, quite well known in the Pacific Northwest.

So Elite disappeared for awhile and then resurfaced at Portland Meadows where he had been privately sold to a racing partnership sight unseen. It was clear to these partners that they had just lost their entire investment and they were unsure of what to do next. What they did do was take very good care of So Elite, who was underweight and both emotionally and physically spent. Duane negotiated on our behalf and managed to buy So-E (his barn name). It was a private sale paid for personally by me and Jeanie Esajian who alerted us in the first place. We can’t buy horses off track with Neigh Savers’ funds. We can buy at auction or in neglect/surrender cases but horses off track need to be donated. This doesn’t mean someone can’t buy a horse and then donate to Neigh Savers and that’s what Jeanie and I did.

Duane personally delivered So Elite to Brookside Equestrian Center and he’s now been under the 7 day a week care of rehab specialist Glenn Chambers for the last 6 weeks. At another time we will feature Glenn, an author of the book available on Amazon “A Thousand Ways to a Better Life” and a lifelong conditioner of horses who brought two horses to the Kentucky Derby in his time. An old school trainer and conditioner, the life lessons and care and time he takes with his horses is extraordinary. So Elite couldn’t be in better hands now and I feel as though I’ve come full circle, fulfilling the personal
pledge I made to help athletes like So Elite on or close to the day he was foaled and Neigh Savers was born.

And better yet, former connections of his last race have helped as well. One has helped with his board and another paid for his transportation to Brookside as well as medical expenses. We are gratified and honored and just recently learned one of these former connections, heartbroken over what he endured at the end of his career, wishes to adopt him after his lengthy rehab period is concluded. We look forward to that, new memories and shared good times of Winner’s Circle photos with our own personal champion, a racetrack warrior, who laid it all down as a competitor, a horse, who truly embodies the qualities of his sire’s name, for we think he’s absolutely Pleasantly Perfect and most definitely So very Elite.

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