Margaret Rizzo had been horse shopping for a few months with no luck and was starting to lose her good humor. Local horseman David Butts said he had a couple racehorses she could come see. One of them was by Two Punch, which was of interest to Margaret, and the other was a homebred 4-year-old “brown horse” that raced one time.
The Two Punch gelding didn’t work for Margaret, so she figured she’d try the brown horse while she was there. Slogging through melting snow in the wind and freezing temperatures that blasted the Mid-Atlantic for so many months last winter, Runs On Stilts (Cherokee’s Boy x Oh So Fine) was a perfect gentleman. Video evidence of the encounter is below.
“I have a big bay horse illness,” Margaret said. “So I made my trainer come back with me just to make sure. I tried him again, and he was super again. A few days later I did a vetting.”
That was March of 2014. They spent the year getting to know each other and went to a couple of Beginner Novice starter horse trials “just to get him out in public.” He won one of them.
At the urging of both Steuart Pittman and her trainer Kelley Williams, Margaret filled out an application to ride Stilts in the Maryland’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred Contest at the Maryland Horse Expo. Halfway through Stilts’ winter vacation, Margaret learned that he had been selected as one of four Maryland-bred horses to participate in the contest.
“I still wanted him to have his vacation, so we had two weeks then to get ready, and it was literally 20 degrees inside the indoor arena,” she said.
The cold wasn’t such a shock to the system as the competition venue. The two outdoor arenas at the Maryland State Fairgrounds were under construction, so the contest took place in a small rectangular indoor arena. The bleachers on all four sides were set right up against the arena rails. And because Margaret trailered Stilts in on the day of the contest, there wasn’t time for arena familiarization.
“He’s a genuinely very good horse, but it was surprising he was as good as he was,” Margaret said. “Bless his heart, Stilts was truly just so chill about the whole thing.”
Stilts was by far the youngest and greenest of the group, but Margaret’s plan was to show how quiet and trainable he is. She let him walk on a long rein and stood him sedately in the center of the ring when the others jumped the fences around him. Her plan worked.
The riders, along with Steuart and a few of the horses’ breeders, spoke about each horse as they flatted and jumped a small course. Then Steuart asked the crowd to vote on their favorite.
“They were supposed to raise their hand for each horse they wanted to vote for, but they just started cheering,” Margaret said.
Stilts didn’t have the loudest cheer, but the judges (Paget Bennet for Maryland Horse Breeders Association, Georganne Hale for Maryland Jockey Club, and Joann Hayden for Maryland Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association) were convinced.
“During the ride, they commented on how quiet he was and ‘clearly he’s not a racehorse.’ At the end they said part of what they were thinking about was which horse they would want to ride, and of the four, they decided they all wanted to ride Stilts,” Margaret said.
For being such a good boy, Stilts won $500, bags of goodies from the Retired Racehorse Project and other donors, as well as a giant container of Cosequin ASU, which will be re-gifted to his big sister, 23-year-old Lissell.
Stilts is 17 hands and still growing, so Margaret is taking it slow and tentatively planning on a year at Novice.
“If it stops snowing at any point, I’d love to go to Morven because I think that’s a really great beginning-of-the-year show,” she said. “I’m in no super rush with him. For me, I love taking lessons and doing clinics. Showing is just the icing on the cake.
“I really could not have brought Stilts along without the help of my trainer Kelley Williams of A Bit Better Farm. She went with me to go try him and has literally helped me every step of the way. I’m also very lucky to organize clinics with Susan Graham White and Stephen Bradley, who have also played integral roles in developing Stilts.”
We can’t wait to see more from this pair!
The Retired Racehorse Project has more great activities planned this year. Information on Pennsylvania’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred Contest in March is available here, and remember also that entries are open for America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred contest, which you can read about here.