Belief in Each Other Bear Gift of Partnership for Jay and New Family
Jessie Burnett didn’t exactly pick her new horse. She and daughter, Austin, walked into the pasture that day looking for a gelding, but J. Jay (Jay for short) had different ideas.
Jay was an eight-year-old, 16-hand ex-racehorse — black-brown, beautiful, and a little broken. But that day she was the only one among the 15-plus herd who walked up to sniff three-year-old Austin.
“I marched into that pasture dead-set on a gelding,” Burnett said. “But when Jay timidly walked up to us and snuffled my daughter, something clicked. Of course she was gorgeous, but her courage really struck me. She was clearly low mare on the totem pole yet she mustered up the nerve to come over. I just felt she picked us.”
Burnett had started searching for a second horse several months before finding Jay. She had recently moved out of her parents’ house and wanted a companion for her 16-year-old mare, Moon.
“I started looking on the Internet and I knew I wanted a bit of a project,” Burnett said. “That’s when I found the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. The TRF mission of giving retired racehorses a second chance fell right in line with my thinking. I’d always felt that just because these horses can’t race anymore doesn’t mean they have nothing more to give. They’re often misunderstood because of what they’ve been through and I wanted to make a difference.”
Burnett adopted Jay a few weeks after their first meeting. It wasn’t exactly what she expected. “I think the change of scene really threw Jay,” Burnett said. “She went from being around lots of other horses and people, to living in a small barn in our backyard with one other horse. She was frightened of everything, even puddles. She’d try to kick me orrun away whenever I’d try to halter her.”
So Burnett got patient. “I changed my tactics and decided to get on her schedule,” she said. “For months Austin and I would visit Jay in the barn and just sit with her. If Jay walked up to us, we still didn’t move. We just let her check us out and watched as her curiosity and confidence grew.”
Burnett’s tactics worked. Jay became more trusting as the months passed and, with the help of her good friend and neighbor, Burnett began ponying her and taking her on trail rides to further build her confidence. “We’d pony her for all of five minutes then stop so we could end on a positive note,” she said.
The important thing, according to Burnett, was taking slow, small steps. “Baby steps to you might be monumental leaps for an ex-racehorse,” she said. “I had to take it slow with Jay and connect and communicate with her in ways she understood.”
Jay no longer rears at the sight of the farrier or cowers from the brush. Burnett can now ride her on trails, throw blankets on her, groom her, and scratch her behind the ears.
“I remember a time right after I got Jay that I yelled at my dog Zeke, ‘leave it!,’” Burnett said. “Jay was visibly trembling, thinking I had yelled at her. Now I yell at the dogs and Jay just whinnies and prances right over to me. It’s moments like those that I realize how far she’s come. Her courage and belief in me have been humbling.”
When asked if Burnett would go through the adoption process again, the answer was an emphatic “yes.”
“The most profound part of this process was the act of building trust – both ways,” Burnett said. “You have to accept that this is a commitment and it may take longer than you want. These aren’t ‘push-button’ horses. Some have lost all confidence. But if you invest the time, the reward in the end is a true partnership built on mutual respect.”
Burnett isn’t the only one who’s benefitted from the experience. “It’s amazing to see my daughter telling her friends how special Jay is and sharing our adoption story with pride in her voice,” she said. “At a very young age, Austin’s grasped the value of helping those in need, whether animal or human.”
When asked what advice she’d give to someone thinking about adopting an exracehorse, Burnett said to stay flexible.
“Before I met Jay, I spoke with one of the TRF adoption coordinators and told her what I wanted, including the fact that I strongly preferred a gelding,” Burnett said. “The coordinator said she had a horse in mind for me but wouldn’t say which. That horse was Jay.
“So I’d advise not to cling too tightly to some pre-conceived idea in your head. The great thing about TRF is that they know their horses inside and out and truly want the best for them and for you. So stay open-minded and you’re likely to get your perfect match.”
Burnett shared one final realization. “When I started this journey I really wanted to make a difference and I feel like I have,” she said. “But Jay’s had an equal, if not greater impact on our lives. I guess I wasn’t expecting how much we would learn from her because I was so thrilled to be improving the life of a horse. It’s been a total two-way street, and that’s because we never stopped believing in each other.”