10 Things I Learned from an Ex-Racehorse

Posted by Paige Cerulli
girl and horse
All images: Paige Cerulli

Having spent 10 years with an ex-racehorse, my mare has taught me many important lessons. Here are the top 10. 

I've been lucky enough to own an ex-racehorse mare for 10 years now. Whisper (also known as Summon Mi Cielo) has been my best friend since I was in college. She's also taught me a few things along the way, as working with horses tends to do.

With racing season in full swing and having just passed the 10th anniversary of the day I bought her, I wanted to share some of those learnings with you.

1. Speed Isn't a Bad Thing

girl and horse

Whisper's fast. Not just at the canter or gallop, but even at the walk and the trot. Through riding her I learned to appreciate and even enjoy a very forward horse - when there's control involved, of course.

I find that I'm more comfortable riding a variety of horses thanks to my time working with Whisper.

2. Life Gives Us What We Need

girl and horse

I found Whisper during a time when I truly needed her. She helped me recover from a traumatic brain injury resulting from a car accident. She also helped me to cope with an injury which ended a career in music.

I'm a firm believer in the fact that life connects us with the horses we need.

3. A Little Risk Can Pay Off

white horse

When I first bought Whisper, I really wasn't in a great financial position to own a horse. I'd ridden her for years but was entering my senior year of college. Not an ideal time to buy a horse.

However, life rarely provides us with ideal timing. I worked multiple jobs for many years, but we made it work and I'm glad I took that risk.

4. You Have to Control Your Emotions

horse smile

Whisper is sensitive. Really, really sensitive. She's so sensitive that if I'm in a bad mood and approach her in the field, my normally easy-to-catch horse will turn and head the other way.

Riding her is an exercise in emotional control. Get worked up, and she'll give it right back to you.

5. You Can't Be Afraid to Fail

girl and horse

Whisper and I participated in the filming of an episode of "Horse Master With Julie Goodnight." I had never ridden in a clinic before. Up until the shoot, I didn't own tall boots or breeches. Whisper rarely traveled off the farm.

The odds for making a fool of myself were pretty high, but I tried, and I'm glad that I took that risk.

6. Be Willing to Try New Things

girl and horse

Whisper has opened up new avenues for me. One of my best memories is when we tried out an equine agility workshop together.

Whisper proved to be excellent at agility, and the two of us had a blast.

7. Rehab Isn't the End of the World

horse with blanket

When Whisper was 13, she tore a suspensory ligament in a front leg. I was upset. It was the summer, and I always took advantage of the good weather because I didn't have access to an indoor facility. But even during Whisper's rehab, I learned more about her.

I learned to better read her body language, and spent quality time with her that wasn't focused on preparing for a ride. I think it made us closer.

Rehab isn't lost time with your horse; it's just time that you spend a little differently.

8. Speak Up for Your Horse


I'm a pretty timid person and I try to avoid conflict when at all possible. But in owning Whisper, I had to learn how to speak up for myself in order to speak up for her. I've made decisions with her health in mind, from changing farriers to up and leaving barns because her health was suffering.

I'm a stronger person for it, but she's the driving force behind that strength.

9. Love the Challenge

white horse rearing

Riding and retraining an ex-racehorse is difficult. There are challenges that you wouldn't face with your average horse, and the setbacks can be frustrating. Sure, it's great to have goals, but it's equally as important to learn to love the challenge itself.

The great rides are few and far between at first, but remember that everything's a work in progress. You'll get there soon enough.

10. Appreciate Every Ride

horse eye

Whisper unexpectedly had to be retired when multiple health issues struck her at once. Despite trying to rehab her, within a few months it became obvious that her riding days were over.

Though I'm grateful that I still get to enjoy spending time with her, I can't remember the last ride that I had on her. Make every ride count, and appreciate every time that you're lucky enough to mount up.

I am so grateful that I've been able to learn from Whisper, and I'm happy to announce that I've adopted another ex-racehorse to start working with as Whisper enjoys her retirement in my backyard. The new mare is different from Whisper in many ways, but I'm sure she also has countless lessons to teach me.

All images: Paige Cerulli

Tell us about your special horse in the comments below. 

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10 Things I Learned from an Ex-Racehorse