Will Faudree isn’t too concerned with a horse’s pedigree. Sure, there’s the requisite athletic ability and willingness that a horse needs to develop into an elite-level event prospect. But there’s a more subtle factor that’s key to him as well.
“I gravitate to the eye of a horse. Do they have a kind eye?” said Faudree, 41, Hoffman, North Carolina. “I’m not stuck on one breed or color. I like to think of them all as individuals.”
One of those individuals is Reloaded, a 10-year-old off-track Thoroughbred gelding (Magna Graduate—Curious Cat) that Faudree has been riding for owner Michelle Chisholm for just over a year.
“He’s got the eye of an eagle,” Faudree said. “There’s that focus when you look into his eye, and I just feel a connection with him like, ‘Let’s tell our story together.’ ”
And what a story it’s shaping up to be. Last weekend, Faudree and “Sniper” took top honors in the CCI2*-S division at the Maryland International, held July 7-9 at Loch Moy Farm in Adamstown, but that’s far from being the gelding’s first big win.
Bought off the track as a 4-year-old by Michelle Chisholm of Burlington, North Carolina, Sniper achieved a degree of post-racing fame early when he was named “America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred” at the Retired Racehorse Project’s 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover.
Chisholm purchased Sniper while on bed rest, recuperating from a broken leg and shattered ankle she suffered while dismounting from a horse in 2016. She started shopping after her daughter, Madison Chisholm, said she wanted to get a Thoroughbred and participate in the Makeover, which is held every year in October at the Kentucky Horse Park.
“I didn’t know much, but I started researching. If I’m committed to something, I go 100,000 percent,” said Michelle, 47, with a laugh.
Michelle didn’t start riding until five years ago, but recently earned a U.S. Dressage Federation bronze medal and has done some beginner novice horse trials and small jumper classes under Faudree’s tutelage.
When Sniper first arrived at the family’s farm, along with a couple of others that she purchased, she only wanted to spend time with the handsome bay.
“He came, and I just fell in love. Our hearts just synched together,” she said. “I wouldn’t let anyone ride him. He just hung out for a few months, and I walked him in hand and bathed him. He gave me so much pleasure just doing that. There’s just something about him.
“From the day I met him, it’s been his face and his eyes,” she continued. “There’s something about the inside of him that’s extremely powerful and opinionated. You have to earn his trust.”
Madison didn’t want to compete two horses at the 2018 Makeover, so while she ultimately finished as the top junior competitor with another horse, Space Ranger, her mother enlisted professional three-day eventer Elisa Wallace, who piloted Sniper to win the eventing division and the America’s Most Wanted title.
Watch their winning round in the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover, courtesy of USEF Network:
Billed as the world’s largest Thoroughbred retraining competition for recently retired race horses, the Makeover draws juniors, amateurs and professionals who compete against each other after training their respective Thoroughbreds, said Kirsten Green, executive director of the RRP. Entrants can participate in two of 10 disciplines, including dressage, eventing, hunter/jumper, polo, ranch work and barrel racing, among others. The competition aims to help transition the horses into a new career.
“It’s about putting a foundation on these horses so going forward they can be successful as sport or pleasure horses,” said Green, adding that often there’s a misconception that horses come off the track “used up, run-down, and unsound. That’s not to say that sort of thing doesn’t exist, but our event shows that Thoroughbreds are purpose-bred to be athletes, and they’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things, and they have a strong work ethic.”
After the 2018 Makeover, professional Kurt Martin took Sniper’s reins and competed him up to the two-star level while Madison focused on Young Riders with another horse before she took over the ride on Sniper in 2021. Madison, now 19 and a rising sophomore at North Carolina State, offered the ride to Faudree last year when she was headed to college.
“I graciously accepted,” Faudree said. “He’s a really cool horse. But I told them we would need to take it slow.”
Now, just over a year later, Faudree said the gelding’s weekend win, where they finished on a final score of 35.4, was a competition in which things finally came together for them as a team.
They started the weekend with a strong dressage test that put them in second place with 27.0. Sniper sometimes is sensitive to loud sounds, but when spectators started clapping during his test, Faudree said all it took was a pat on the neck to calm him.
“He really stayed on my seat,” he said. “He was really breathing throughout the test and seemed to really enjoy it. We had a really steady, solid test. That, to me, was a real sign that our partnership has gotten stronger.”
However, it was during their cross-country round that Faudree said everything truly fell into place. The duo have had some rough cross-country rounds in the past, including a fall at Great Meadow International Horse Trials (Virginia) last August that resulted in a broken foot for Faudree. After three months of healing time, they competed in some Florida show jumping this past winter, and then got back to eventing. At Maryland, Faudree said he felt their partnership gel.
“He left the starting box on a mission,” he said. “It was a fun track to ride, but it required focus and to be focused all the way to the end. He was super from start to finish. It was a great weekend all around. Maryland was the first competition where I felt we were on the same page for all three phases.”
Next up for Sniper are a couple of two-star events this fall, and then ideally a move up to the three-star level next spring.
“He’s a very talented horse and a very good jumper, and he has all of the qualities you would want in a top horse, so hopefully, we’ll just keep building on that,” said Faudree, adding that going slow and being patient with the Thoroughbred has been worth it.
“He’s a real thinker. He’s very introverted, and you can’t tell him what he’s doing wrong. You have to show him what he’s doing right,” he said. “He’s real tough on the outside but then a really sensitive soul on the inside. He doesn’t like to show it, though. You don’t see the worry. It’s something you feel. He really internalizes things.”
“It’s taken a year-and-a-half for us to feel like we have a partnership,” he added. “He was very reserved with me in the beginning. You’ve got to earn your way into his circle. I’m pretty persistent and don’t give up easily, so I’ve earned my way in. He’s a little bit quirky. He has his people. He loves his mother, Michelle. The minute she walks in the barn, he knows she’s there.”
Michelle regularly makes the two-hour trek to Faudree’s farm for lessons and says she’s looking forward to furthering her own riding career, while also supporting Sniper and Faudree as they climb the levels.
“I’ve never been in a rush,” she said. “I love being an owner, and it’s never been about, ‘Oh, I have to have a five-star or four-star horse,’ ” she said. “I just love that horse, and I want him to be happy, so we’re taking it slow. I love him and want someone else who loves him to ride him. That’s all that’s important to me.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the age at which Reloaded was purchased off the track. He came off the track as a 4-year-old in 2017.