The 5th July 2017, at an evening meeting at Kempton Park Racecourse, Katie watched the bay gelding, Grumeti, run in one of his last races; little did she know at that moment in time the incredible impact that he would have on her life.
Originally trained by Michael Bell before being moved to Alan King in 2011, Grumeti had 46 runs under his girth resulting in 11 wins, 2 seconds and 8 thirds; a wonderful racing career spanning seven years from 2010-2017 for owners the McNeill Family.
A new beginning
By chance encounters, Katie, already passionate about horses, met the McNeill family whilst working as a supervisor in a restaurant where they were regulars. When she decided to move to another establishment, Max and Paula continued being customers and the friendships continued. Recalling how passionate the family are about horse racing, Katie loved talking to them about the sport and hearing their racing tales.
At a show jumping clinic with her warm-blooded mare, she met fellow rider, Becky Green, who was on ex racehorse Fruity O’Rooney and was immediately drawn to his personality, exuberance and vibrant ‘can do’ attitude. Coming away from the clinic, Katie found herself longing for her own Fruity, and soon after told the McNeill’s that the next time they had one of their horses finishing their racing career, she would love to rehome one of them.
Having lots of horses within the industry, the McNeill’s knew the kind of horse that would be ideal for Katie and so didn’t just partner her with the first horse of theirs that became available.
Grumeti’s name was eventually brought into conversation after it was decided that he would be retired a year earlier than planned, due to his love for racing seemingly diminishing and it being the perfect time for him to move on to his forever home.
“I was so honoured that Max and Paula (The McNeill family) wanted me to have Grumeti because he was always their favourite. They always talked about him with such fondness; they have beautiful photos of him in their home and I couldn’t say no to a horse that was so obviously loved! They’d had some amazing days with him; I really wanted to do right by Grumeti and make sure I did him justice”
Saying it was love at first sight would be an incorrect statement however; “I didn’t immediately take to him to be honest; He was so different to my other horses that I couldn’t quite figure him out.”
It didn’t take long for Katie’s bond with Grumeti to blossom once she started spending quality time with him though.
“He is absolutely perfect for me. I ride lots of different horses and I’ve never ridden anything that is like him; he just loves to make you happy and he loves to work! I could point him at anything and tell him to jump and he will always try his hardest. He’s so clever with his dressage work and even if he doesn’t quite understand he still tries his best.”
A tragic turn
Tragedy struck just 14 months into their partnership, when Grumeti’s health started to decline and he became incredibly sick. As if this situation was not already bad enough, the insurance that Katie had just taken out on him wasn’t yet valid, and he was going downhill faster than the vets could figure out what was wrong with him.
A displaced colon, which in turn cut off the bloody supply to his liver and kidneys was found to be the life-threatening issue. Mass organ failure had begun and Grumeti had started showing neurological symptoms too.
Katie kept a log of Grumeti’s progress throughout his treatment, and this became a vital lifeline in seeing his improvement in the recovery period.
“I keep the screenshots of the journey on my phone, so if I’m having a bad day or can’t be bothered to ride the horses, it reminds me of when I thought I’d never get to ride him again”
Katie tearfully recalled the moment when he was finally allowed home after his treatment at Rossdales Vets in Newmarket and him stepping out of the horse box back on to the yard.“It was a truly magical moment. The fact it was just before Christmas made the moment just even more special. It was so difficult to have even contemplated that I may have never been able to bring him back home”
Above: Katie with Grumeti when he was allowed home after his ordeal.
The sign the girls at the yard made for Grumeti’s stable to welcome him home.
A whole new world
With an impressive career behind him already, Grumeti now takes on the Eventing scene and competes in both dressage and show jumping.
Acquiring a British Show Jumping membership this Winter is at the top of the list for the pair; although show jumping is the skill they’ve found the hardest to conquer, it’s what they enjoy most.
“We’re aiming to go eventing in the Spring time if all goes well. BE100* would ideally be where we’d like to get to, which is a maximum height of 105cm for show jumping and 100cm for cross country rounds.”
Retraining a racehorse
Retraining a horse for another discipline is never going to be straightforward, and Katie has seen this first hand with the difference between re-training Baby (Maximum Vision) and Grum (Grumeti).
“The pace in racing is much longer than in dressage and show jumping. Getting him to sit back and essentially ‘engage more of a rear wheel drive’ hasn’t been easy, as in horse racing he was used to ploughing along on his shoulder. Improving and shortening his paces has definitely been the hardest thing we’ve had to deal with.”
“Trying to improve his jumping has been a difficult task too; going from hurdling, where he could go through them without any sort of penalty, to show jumping, where you gain penalties if you plough through the jumps. He still wants to spend as little time as possible in the air, which we’re working on.”
Rehoming a racehorse can be such a rewarding task to take on but doesn’t come without its difficulties. Having now rehomed two ex racers, Katie has good advice for anyone looking to follow in her footsteps:
“You have to treat them like any other horse. Listen to what the horse is telling you; horses aren’t usually nasty just for the sake of it. Bad training, or even the horse being in pain can cause issues with their behaviour.
“Do right by your horse and don’t immediately tarnish it just because it used to be a racehorse. Don’t be too proud to ask for help; nobody knows everything! Make sure you have a good farrier, vet, trainer and physio, and you can’t really go wrong!”
You can follow Katie and Grumeti’s ongoing story on twitter @ManesNTale