|Gabrielle Miller’s post asking if anyone
Gabrielle Miller figured she’d take a chance and post some photos on Facebook and see if anyone recognized the bay mare she’d just bought.
The photos she posted—the ones that had been used in the Craigslist ad that Gabrielle Miller bought “Grace” from—showed a very different horse than the one she picked up in November. In the photos, the mare is clearing a massive fence, frolicking in turn-out, posing in good condition and clipped, obviously well cared-for.
Miller almost didn’t recognize the skinny, hairy mare she went to see. “I was shocked. She looked awful,” she said. “I asked the girls who had her, and they didn’t seem to have a feeding plan for her. The girl I got her from was given the horse from a lady in Charlotte. She’d gotten her to do trail riding, but she didn’t tell me much about her history. They told me she was good to ride, but she’s 17 hands and she was too big for the girl.”
Miller and her family have a history of taking in horses in need at their Shelby, N.C., farm, so she didn’t hesitate to pay the small asking price for “Grace” and ship her home. Once Grace was safe and gaining weight, Miller got curious about her past. “The girl told me she’d been a grand prix horse, but she didn’t know her show name. I just thought, ‘This horse must have a cool history.’ I wanted to see if I could figure it out,” she said. So, she posted photos on Facebook in the Equestrians From Back In The Day group.
And she got results right away. “I think it is Schuyler Riley riding in the picture” one person commented. “The horse looks really familiar, so reach out to Schuyler,” someone else wrote.
Eventually, Riley herself popped onto the comment thread. “Yes, it’s me, on Gracia,” she wrote. Gracia’s old groom, Kellie Monahan Riordan, also commented with memories of the mare and the hint that graham crackers are her favorite treat. Riley posted more photos of Gracia in her glory days competing, and a copy of her papers, which show that the Dutch Warmblood mare by Animo was born in 1988, and so is 26.
Gracia when she arrived at Miller’s farm in November. Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Miller
Riley had shown Gracia in the late ‘90s. “She was one of my first grand prix horses. She was one of the first horses I ever took to Europe. She was the horse I competed on my first Nations Cup team for the U.S. with,” Riley said. “She definitely had her own way of going, but if let her go her way, she’d turn herself inside out for me. I leased her to an amateur student of mine when she was 14 or 15 and they won a lot together. She was a machine in the ring; you just had to let her do her thing.”
|Gracia and Schuyler Riley showing
in the late ’90s.
Miller was thrilled to have solved the mystery of her new mare’s past. “I was so excited to find out who she was and what she’d done,” Miller said. “It’s cool to have a horse who has done those kinds of things and been all over the world.”
Riley isn’t sure how Grace made her way from a top-class show barn to a low-dollar Craigslist ad. (See UPDATE below!) After Grace was done at the grand prix level, Riley leased her out to amateur riders at the lower levels. “I didn’t want to make her keep going to the well when she’d done so much for me. The last girl who rode her was jumping her 1.10 meters and it wasn’t fair to her to keep pushing her to jump and show anymore. She’d earned her way to a nice retirement, which is what I tried to provide for her and what I thought she had gotten,” Riley said.
“I gave her to what I thought was a forever home. They were going to use her as a broodmare, and when she wasn’t able to get in foal, they told me they had kids who were riding her. But they never contacted me about her needing a home or that they didn’t want her.”
Riordan recalled seeing Grace showing at the Vermont Summer Festival in the children’s jumpers in the mid ‘00s. “She looked really happy and good. I went up and gave her a scratch and said hello,” she said. But no one really knows how Grace found her way from the show ring in the Northeast to a trail-riding home in North Carolina between then and November 2014. (See UPDATE below!)
“It was a neat discovery,” Riordan said of seeing Grace’s photos and making the connection. “I recognized her immediately. I was sad that [Miller] used the word ‘rescue’ because it makes me wonder what the mare went through because she was such a good girl, but it was nice to know she ended up in a good place.”
Gracia in January.
Miller has gotten more weight on Grace, who has settled into the Miller farm quite happily. “My dad is 76 and he’ll lead her around. They mosey around the farm together. It’s very cute,” she said. Miller shows in the local hunter/jumpers and has ridden Grace a few times. “She was entirely too skinny to ride when we got her. She looks great now, and we’ve gotten on her and gone on some walks to try and build some muscle back up. Even for her age, she’s in great shape. She has no arthritis and she’s sound.”
|Gabrielle Miller and Gracia.|
Riley said she’s thrilled Miller ended up with Grace, and that she knows where the mare is now. “I love that she’s going to have a good home because she really is a genuine soul and a great character and she deserves to have someone to take care of her and love her,” she said.
But Riley is very upset that the home she thought would be Grace’s last obviously wasn’t. “People just aren’t as trustworthy as you’d expect,” she said. “I trusted these people to take care of her. It’s sad to me that they wouldn’t pick up the phone and ask if I wanted her back or let me know she needed a new situation.”
After this experience, Riley is thinking of starting a retirement care business at her 110-acre farm in New Jersey. “We’re lucky now, we have the farm and all the grand prix horses who came after her are retired there. But we didn’t have that farm at that point,” she said. “I’m finding a lot of my friends are going through this same thing; they’ve had these horses for a long time and they feel like they deserve a nice place to retire and spend their days, but they don’t have farms that suit that purpose.”
Miller is happy to have Grace in her life, and to know her history, but she knows Grace is the poster child for how easily any horse can slip through the cracks. “I was surprised to see an old grand prix horse sold like this,” she said. “Most of the time, you think those kinds of horses—that someone paid well into the six figures for at some point—aren’t going to end up in a situation like that. You think they’re all going to have a good retirement.”
Gracia enjoying some of her favorite treats, graham crackers, at Miller’s farm from her boyfriend.
UPDATE: We’ve been contacted by Ashley Knox, who can fill in the gaps about Grace’s history. In 2012, she started working for the farm that Schuyler Riley originally gave Gracia to. Gracia was living in their broodmare field, and eventually Knox asked if she could have the mare. The farm owner agreed, and Knox provided Gracia with a loving home for two years, getting her teeth floated and putting weight on her.
Ashley Knox and Gracia in 2013
But in late 2014, faced with a difficult financial situation, Knox needed to find Gracia another home. She gave the mare to a local 14-year-old girl, who promised to care for her. “I just wanted her to have a good home and to know that she was safe,” Knox said. “She came out and rode her and Gracia loved her. After she took her, she sent me photos of her. I told her if Gracia ever needed a home, to call me. And I wanted to be able to go visit Gracia any time.”
But when Knox asked to go visit Gracia in her new home at the end of the 2014, the girl revealed she’d given her away or sold her. “I thought it was a good home for her. She lied to me,” Knox said. “And then she ignored my text messages and voicemails. I’ve been looking for Gracia for months non-stop. I had no idea where she’d gone until my friend called me and told me about this article. If I’d known this would happen, I never would have given her away. I’m happy she’s in a good home now.”
|Megan Kiessing and Gracia|
UPDATE 2: Megan Kiessing wrote to the Chronicle after seeing this story and told of her time with Gracia. “I leased her when I was in high school froom 2004 to 2005. She taught me SO much about riding, really taking me to the next level. I have a whole wall of ribbons and a load more confidence in everything thanks to her,” she wrote.
Where horses and ponies go in their golden years has been written about in The Chronicle of the Horse’s recent issues. You can read the Horseman’s Forum that appeared in the Dec. 22, 2014 issue, During This Season Of Giving, Remember Your Retired Horses.