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Story submitted by Elyse Marriner.

I never planned on owning a horse, but the little fiery red mare had a heart full of passion and curiosity. I was drawn to Charlie like a magnet. 

Every time I showed up for a lesson and was assigned a different horse to ride, I felt bitter disappointment welling up inside me. The thought of somebody else owning her broke my heart. And that’s how I found myself purchasing a cob-sized bridle to fit her dainty head and calling my trainer to put in an offer to buy Charlie.

After the sale was finalized, I scoured the internet, hungry for any information on my new partner. I found old races and watched the videos of “Charlotte’s Hope”—my Charlie. I traced back contacts and was able to talk with her breeder. She was described as a carbon copy of her mother.

Charlie’s History

Charlie’s pedigree is stunning—if you trace it back a few generations, she has famous Thoroughbreds Secretariat, Seattle Slew, A.P. Indy, Storm Cat and Northern Dancer in her lineage. At 15.1 hands, she is small for a racehorse with a delicate and narrow frame. She did not look like the tall, lanky Thoroughbreds I had grown up with. Charlie was not much of a racer and ran only eight times as a 3-year-old, never placing higher than fourth.

chestnut thoroughbred malnourished
Charlie’s body condition shortly after she was turned over to Central Virginia Horse Rescue. Photo credit: Central Virginia Horse Rescue

Charlie seemed anxious and possessed a nervous energy, but she had kind eyes hiding underneath a thick, full mane. She walked with a pep in her step and was just sassy enough to scare some of the children who took lessons on her. I thought she was absolute perfection. 

In researching her past, I discovered that life after the track was not kind to Charlie. She had a seizure and was surrendered to animal control and ended up at Central Virginia Horse Rescue. By that time, she was malnourished with severe ulcers. She was transferred to another horse rescue and adopted out but was returned two years later. The last stop in Charlie’s rescue journey was Hope’s Legacy Equine Rescue when she arrived on August 13, 2019. 

According to Hope’s Legacy Equine Rescue volunteer Deb Brown, restarting Charlie from her life at the racetrack took patience, gentle determination and time. She needed to understand that she no longer had to live for the starting bell.

“It was the look in her eyes that captured me,” Brown said. “Kind. Determined. Young and full-of-life eyes. Her eyes gave it away. She is meant for great things.” 

chestnut rescued thoroughbred healthy body condition
Charlie’s current healthy body condition as she fills out. Photo credit: Catherine Marcks

“Transforming” a Thoroughbred that was trained as a racehorse requires an experienced rider who has a supple and balanced seat as well as a lot of patience. It requires a lot of the rider in terms of her self-control. Learn more here!

Charlie Finds Her Angel

Courtney Thompson said the Equine Enrichment Team at Hope’s Legacy was pleasantly surprised by how smart and willing she was. “Charlie was always the first at the gate to be greeted and loved spending time getting her brain and body engaged,” Thompson said. “We were all in love with her ‘floaty trot’ and knew she was destined for a special life.”

A local trainer fostered and adopted Charlie in March 2020, which is where I met and fell in love with her. I took a lot of lessons on Charlie and grew to love her brave and curious nature. I was unsure about whether to make my feelings about Charlie known, until one of my friends gave me some good advice: It’s OK to let yourself love the horse. Once I heard those words, I finally allowed myself to confront how much I wanted Charlie to be mine. I was over the moon when my offer to buy her was accepted!

I am the luckiest person in the world to be Charlie’s person. I did not find her, she truly found me. As a nurse struggling physically, mentally and emotionally through the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, riding was a true escape. Working with Charlie consistently gave me purpose and direction. Being with her was therapeutic.

chestnut horse with white blaze jumping wood cross country fence
Charlie’s first cross-country schooling at Oakdale Equestrian Center in Powhatan, Virginia. Photo used with permission from Evan Dowall. 

Cross country is where Charlie shines. We went to our first event last year. On the cross-country course, you could almost feel our shared joy radiating down to the ground. My cheeks hurt from smiling as we galloped our way around the course.

Despite a traumatic past, Charlie has an unmatched zest for life and still has an open heart and curiosity about everything that is going on around her. No matter what this amazing, brave little horse becomes, she is happy, healthy and cherished. 

I never planned on owning a horse. Thank goodness I own this horse.

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Hope’s Legacy Equine Rescue was founded in 2008 when we took in our first donkey. Since then they have taken in over 450 horses, ponies, mules, and donkeys.

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About Hope Legacy Equine Rescue

Hope’s Legacy Equine Rescue was founded in 2008 when we took in our first donkey. Since then they have taken in over 450 horses, ponies, mules, and donkeys.

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