Of all the pairs in The Second Chances Project, Brielle & Stormy’s story is perhaps the most dramatic. Brielle met Stormy when he was just a young horse on the track, and felt an instant connection with him. However, Stormy passed through multiple homes and owners before Brielle was finally able to rescue him. Now Stormy lives the good life at Farmer Jack’s. Brielle finally has the peace of mind that this special horse is safe and happy, and will never have to endure the sales/auction process again.
Brielle’s story, told in her own words, is riveting, so I did not abbreviate it in any way. Scroll to the very end to see some of Brielle’s own pictures that help tell the full story of Brielle & Stormy!
Horse: Storming Mist “Stormy”, 7 years old, standardbred, photographed at Farmer Jack’s in Vincentown, NJ
How it all started…
I’ve known Stormy since late 2018, but have officially owned him since November 2020. I purchased him, although a nice trainer at the local racetrack “purchased” him for me. The man who owned Stormy had become difficult to work with and [had] stopped answering me. [The nice trainer] bought the horse for [me for] $9,500. Of the $9,500, $7,500 was my savings that I had been setting aside for a higher level show horse or racehorse. The rest came from the donations of friends and helpful strangers. The man who purchased him on my behalf was able to get an ownership transfer so I was able to get Stormy’s papers transferred into my name.
Stormy was 5 years old [when I bought him]. I was able to get his registration papers through USTA [US Trotting Association]. Stormy was not my first horse. I’ve owned several horses, and have been caring for [horses] since I was eight. Throughout my life, there have been a few instances where I’ve just come across a horse and instantly had a connection with them. [It’s] like we were friends in a past life or something. I can name them all: my dearly departed Cruise, my filly Hazel [that] I’ve raised since [she was] a foal, and Stormy.
When I was [a child], I [was] a big fan of Misty of Chincoteague. I had Breyer horses of Misty and her foal Stormy. Stormy was my favorite and I played with her all the time. It was my dream to own a horse named Stormy, although I wanted my Stormy to be a big, dark stallion with a long, flowing mane and tail.
A lot of my close friends initially told me I shouldn’t spend all my money on such a horse, but once they knew how serious I was about helping him, they were incredibly supportive. So many people helped me with networking to track him down, offering to try to buy the horse on my behalf, bidding on the horse for me at an out of state auction, offering temporary places for him to stay and transportation to get him home. And, of course, I was absolutely blown away by the support of friends AND strangers when it came time to raise the remainder of funds to secure his safety. I mean, we raised $2,500 overnight—that’s incredible!
I just wanted him to be safe and in a home where he would be loved and well cared for, and [for him to] not be further broken down by more racing or pulling a buggy on roads. I had no idea how sound he was going to be, so I was just fine if all he could do was be happy in a field. My hope was that he could be sound enough to do some light riding and lower level competitions for the standardbred shows and awards, but I didn’t expect much from him.
A little history…
At the end of 2019, I left the track to explore a new opportunity [I was offered]. I kept tabs on all the horses that I had cared for there. I [watched] as Stormy was sold to various homes, [each time racing more poorly], [to then be sold more and more cheaply]. He was going down a bad path. I had always offered him a home as a pet since I first knew him, but he was a monetary thing to people, not a living animal with a soul and feelings. But I get it, it is a business and people need to make some money back.
I had saved up a chunk of change and was looking to either buy a fancier show horse so I could be more competitive at higher level shows, or a racehorse as I missed the racing scene. While perusing a sale site one day, I saw Stormy up for an auction and [priced] within my budget. I bid on him, but was outbid by a small trainer in New York. He won his first start for [his new owners] and I reached out [to them] and told them I cared a lot about the horse. [I told them I] was happy to help with any questions they had [about] him as he was a quirky horse, and should they want to ever sell or get rid of him, to please let me know as I would BUY him from them. They assured me they loved him—“he’s a sweetie”—and would be sure to let me know if they wanted to part with him.
Three bad races later, I saw on Facebook that an Amish man had Stormy and was selling him for $12,000 as a race or buggy horse. I was HORRIFIED! I knew poor, shy, and sensitive Stormy could not handle the harsh Amish lifestyle. It would break his heart and [his bad leg] would not do well on the asphalt. Of course I didn’t have $12,000 to spend, and everyone I talked to told me to just let it go, it wasn’t my problem. But I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I remembered times at the training center, when he had been in the care of other trainers and people, and he would look at me when we crossed paths. Hs eyes just seemed so sad. I just knew this horse needed my help.
I contacted the Amish man who had him and informed him of the horse’s bad leg, hoping he might drop the price. But he didn’t, and Stormy just disappeared. I spent months having various contacts try to find the horse. We found out he was still with the Amish man – no one wanted him, apparently. I had a [few] trainers call [him] and try to buy the horse, but he was not budging on price. Again, everyone told me to just let it go, or just wait. Winter was coming and he would drop the price eventually.
I checked the sales catalogs of every cheap auction I could think of, to see if the man [listed] Stormy in [one of them], but [I never saw him listed]. I was relatively content, biding my time for him to drop the price. The day before a cheap auction in Ohio, I was messaging with a friend who was [attending] and sending me recommendations of horses [for me] to bid on. He then said, “Oh, that ‘Storming Mist’ horse is in here.” My heart dropped, and all of other horses I had planned to bid on (who had potential to race), were tossed aside. I knew this was my last chance to help Stormy, who had been added to the sale last minute. A lot of Amish buy horses at this sale, and will pay decent money for trotter geldings, even if they have bad racelines. I knew if the Amish bought him [at this auction], I would never find him again. [The only way I’d find him would be] years later [if he ever] ended up in a kill pen. [He would be] broken down and used up and [only identifiable because] someone happened to look up his brand before he was slaughtered. I didn’t want any of that to happen to him – he was just 5 years old. He had so much life left to live!
We found out the Amish man had bought Stormy for $7,500. I offered him $7,000 right then and there so Stormy didn’t even [have to] go to the auction, but the man ignored me. Some friends had called him nasty names for not selling me the horse cheaply, and he knew I wanted the horse and [he] wanted to get the most money he could. Some of these people are not nice. He did not want to cooperate.
The day of the auction came, and my friend took a picture of Stormy there [and sent it to me]. The horse looked absolutely defeated and depressed. There was no life in his eyes, and he stood with his head in the corner of the stall. He knew what was happening. That picture made me cry. My friend spread the word of Stormy’s bad leg, which scared off a lot of buyers. I felt a little better. Hopeful, even.
I was a wreck all day, sick with anticipation, and finally they brought Stormy into the [auction] ring. I was the only person bidding on him, besides the Amish man who owned him. He kept bidding him up, right up to $8,500, which was just over my $7,500. I was crushed, but I couldn’t give up. At the end of the day, despite [all of the trainers and people he had worked with over the years], it was just me looking out for Stormy in the end. I had my friend ask the man what he wanted. The Amish man was drunk and extremely rude to my friend, laughing at how badly I wanted the horse. He insisted on $10,000, and said he’d get [that price if he was sold] as a buggy horse. I told [my friend] to offer [the man] $9,500. The Amish man laughed and said “no”. At this point my friend told him off (rightly so), but this further angered the Amish man and made my job of getting the horse harder. I became legitimately concerned the horse would disappear out of spite. Everyone told me to wait, that he would come down on price, but I knew in my heart if I didn’t act now I would lose him.
So I had to do something I really don’t like to do: [I had to] ask other people for help. I’ve never wanted to rely on another human. [But] I was blown away by the support [I received]. In ONE NIGHT, I raised the $2,500 I needed [to purchase Stormy]. Then, with the help of a friend, I arranged for a local trainer to “purchase” the horse [for me]. This trainer was able to get the horse for $9,500. Just a couple days later, I went to pick Stormy up from the same racetrack where I had met him in the winner’s circle.
Stormy’s weight was okay, but his feet were long and overgrown with old racing plates on them. He had several open sores on his hocks and his legs were swollen, and his entire body infested with rain rot. He was very sore as well throughout his body, tracking very unevenly behind, and was afraid to have his head and ears touched.
how and when we met…
In late 2018, I started a job working for a standardbred racehorse trainer at a training center. I knew a lot about Standardbreds, as I’d spent over a year retraining them as riding horses, but I didn’t know anything about Standardbreds as race horses. Stormy was the one [on whom] I learned most of the “ropes” of the various equipment and tack they wore. As he was a trotter, he wore simpler equipment and was very quiet to handle.
Stormy was a big, dark stallion with a flowing mane and tail, like the one of my dreams. But this Stormy had quite the handicap – he had broken his leg as a yearling. Stormy had been a $120,000 yearling purchase, but had broken his leg in a freak accident before he even made it to the races. He had a major surgery that put a metal plate in his leg and he spent 4 months in a sling. Despite all of that, he still made it to the races, but never quite lived up to the expectations of his owners and trainers.
I empathized a lot with this poor creature; [he was] so quiet and sweet, with an air of anxiety and sadness about him. [It was] as if he was aware of all the disappointment that surrounded him. Despite his handicaps, he still tried his best (and made a decent amount of money), but it was still not good enough. The poor horse responded so well to kindness and just wanted to be loved. It reminded me a lot of myself as a kid, growing up in an extremely toxic and at times abusive household. People were scary, but I could always find love and understanding in horses, and they found the same in me.
Stormy and I spent a lot of time together that year, and I even met him in the winners circle! He made it through another leg fracture and a massive hernia that internally gelded him and required major surgery.
We’ve always had a connection. I just knew he needed help. It was like I could hear him reaching out to me.
our lowest point…
I would have to say the lowest point was when I was outbid on him at the auction, and I had to watch helplessly from my computer screen as he was led from the ring. But all I could think of was his sad, defeated face as he sat in that pen, and I knew I couldn’t give up. And thanks to the help of my amazing friends and supporters, I was still able to bring him home.
our highest point…
Every moment of Stormy’s rehab has been amazing, but I would have to say perhaps the moment that sticks with me the most was when I picked him up. It had just been a whirlwind few days. [It was] an emotional roller coaster of hope of thinking I’d get the horse. [There was a] crushing defeat [when] I lost him, [then] relief [when] I’d finally secured [his purchase]. [Finally the] realization [that] I’d just blown all [of the] money I’d been working SO hard to save…. I’d barely slept all week, and as we drove to the track to pick him up, my heart was in my throat. What was he going to look like? Had I just spent almost ten grand on a horse that was going to be so broken he had no quality of life?
But my biggest question was: would he remember me? Stormy had been on my mind so much the past few months, but I hadn’t seen him in over a year. Many other people had handled and cared for him since I had last seen him. Maybe I had exaggerated the bond we shared in my mind. Then we pulled in and I saw him waiting in the little outrider’s paddock. He was there! It was happening! He looked mostly okay!
I walked up to him and called his name and his head shot up, and after a couple seconds you could see his eyes light up (I think it took him a bit to recognize me because I had cut off all my hair since I’d last seen him, haha!). When Stormy had been on the track, he was always very quiet. Usually the horses would all talk to me, especially at feeding time, but he never talked. But right then he nickered at me and touched my hand. Everyone lost it crying!
where we are now…
It has just been amazing to watch Stormy blossom and be so happy in his new life. Like I said, when he was on the track he was very quiet and reserved, and often very picky with his food as his stomach bothered him. I worked [with] Stormy every day, grooming him so his coat gleamed, treating his sores and rain rot, getting him [veterinary care] and a massage therapist to help with his sore muscles, and wrapping and caring for his legs until the swelling went down. Bit by bit he began to come out of his shell.
It brings tears to my eyes to see him as he is now. He eats everything, glistens with health, talks to me all the time, and loves to run and play in the field with his friends. Most shocking of all is how much he loves being ridden. Stormy was horrible to drive – [he was] super heavy on the bit and spooky and prone to just taking off running. But under saddle, he’s a totally different horse. He enjoys new challenges, and is incredibly brave and kind natured. And he’s gotten very sound! It’s amazing to see how much trust he has in me.
I had an animal communicator talk to him, and she said Stormy was a sensitive horse, and when he was sitting in that pen in the auction, he had mentally given up because he knew it was the end for him. All I could think of was that picture of him from the auction, and it made me cry. He is a very sensitive guy, with thoughts and feelings of his own. And you can tell he just knows he’s safe now, and he’s so appreciative of it. His safety and happiness was worth every penny.
A few photographs from Brielle!