It was just another ordinary Tuesday in 2001 for Janet Rowe, owner of Saving Grace Equine Rescue in Bracebridge, Ontario. She was making one of her frequent trips to the Ontario Livestock Exchange in St. Jacobs, Ontario, to look for another horse in need to rescue, rehab and re-home.
On that Tuesday, a thin and profoundly lame 3-year-old, pinto pony caught Rowe’s eye amongst the draft and Standardbred horses. “The look in his eye caught my attention,” she said. “He had a bit of a snap to him, since he was still intact and scared, but such a sweet, soft eye.”
When the terrified pony was thrown in the auction ring, he could barely walk. “He was basically in the middle of a laminitic episode,” Rowe said. “His stifles were locking, he could barely move, and he was just a mess.”
Because she’s a frequent face at the livestock exhange, meat dealers don’t often bid against Rowe. She bought the pinto pony stallion for $75, brought him home, and started his rehab. “The name I gave him was Ford Pinto because he was a) a pinto and b) his rear end was bad,” Rowe said.
Rowe had a veterinarian inject both of “Ford’s” locking stifles, castrate him, and examine the rest of his laminitic problems. For more than six months, she rehabbed him with ice therapy, magnets, and anti-inflammatories. When he was sound enough, she backed him and started schooling him on the flat. She said, “He was a pony. He was good, but he was a clown. He tried little goofy things, like trying to take a chunk out of you.”
Ford made great progress and was adopted a year after his rescue to an acquaintance of Rowe’s as a school/Pony Club pony. Unfortunately, Rowe lost track of Ford after that.
In 2006, the Cullen family purchased Ford, who was re-named “Mud Slide,” for their daughters, Rachael and Nicole. The older of the Cullen daughters, Rachael, said, “When we got him, he was like a grumpy, old man. My sister and I joke that he’d be that old English teacher in school that tells everyone about the good old days. He also did not like my dad and would pin his ears when my dad walked up to him. Our guess is that he was abused and that is why he gets defensive with men. He’s surprisingly best with kids.”
While inexperienced when the family bought him, Mud Slide had a great jumping style. Judy Henderson of Henderson Farm in Denfield, Ontario, and Rachel Schnurr of Windamere Equestrian Centre in Baden, Ontario, both trained Mud Slide and coached the Cullen girls over the years.
Rachael and Nicole showed Mud Slide to numerous reserve and championship ribbons. “He was definitely the pony I learned to ride on and showed competitively before I moved on to horses, and he’s done the same for other kids,” said Nicole. “He is the stepping stool.”
As the years went by and the Cullen sisters outgrew Mud Slide, they leased him out to other young riders. Ford continued to bring multiple young riders up the ranks from short-stirrup to the medium pony hunters. Winning along the way, he became a been-there, done-that kind of guy.
Rowe was at a horse show earlier this year when she noticed a pony that looked familiar. “Ford had a very distinctive white, half blaze on his face, so he was easier than most to identify,” she said. “I went home that night and pulled out my photo album of the 100-plus animals I have rescued and rehabbed over the past 25 years. Sure enough when I compared the pics of Ford to the pony at the show, it was without question, my old pony, Ford Pinto.”
Rowe got in touch with the Cullen family via Facebook and told them about Ford’s history. The Cullens had no idea their champion pony had faced a life or death situation at one point. “It came as a huge surprise to me that he was such a successful little fellow, and quite frankly I was chuffed that he was doing so well!” Rowe said.
Last week at The Royal Winter Fair Horse Show in Toronto, Ontario, a now-19-year-old Mud Slide was champion in the medium pony hunters with Ayla Torigian, who leases him from the Cullens and is coached by Robin Hannah-Carlton of Sherwood Farm in St. Catharines, Ontario.
“Mud Slide is such a saint, and he loves to win!” said Hannah-Carlton. “When he came to the Royal, he just acted as if he owned the place.”
Torigian leased Mud Slide this past year to gain experience with a goal of competing at the Royal for the first time. “He’s gone to the Royal six times now, and each time he’s gone with a girl who hasn’t been before and showed her the ropes,” said Rachel. “When he gets to the horse shows, he’s definitely more happy there than at home.”
“Especially now in his older age, he knows what to do at the show and in the ring,” Nicole said. “He gets absolutely no prep. It’s just how he is.” Because Mud Slide was champion this year, he is automatically qualified for the Royal next year and will only have to show at four mandatory shows in 2018 to compete.
Now back home at Windamere Equestrian Center, Mud Slide is enjoying a nice rest. Despite becoming the dependable show pony he is, Mud Slide has not lost the sassiness he had when Rowe rescued him. “He is still a rascal,” said Rachel. “He got loose three times in one day after he came back from a lease. He likes everyone to know that he can do what he wants. He is quite the character.”
When asked if they plan on retiring Mud Slide, Rachel said, “I don’t think he would like to retire, based on how much he likes to show, but he has a forever home. He’s definitely staying with us until he dies, but I think he’s going to outlive everyone just to spite everyone.”