For AOL News
Elizabeth Parker stops her car to help slow-moving turtles cross the road. She finds homes for stray kittens and frees baby hawks trapped in the loft of her barn.
When the St. Louis wedding planner and mother of two saw the skinny, run-down horse at an auction in rural Missouri this summer, she knew she’d found her next project.
She never imagined the neglected mare descended from American horseracing legend Secretariat.
Parker attended the auction to pick up a saddle and some tack for the barn at the Kuhs Estate, the 150-acre farm her great-grandfather built in the 1920s, atop the Missouri River bluffs. Before the bidding, she strolled the stalls, looking at the horses.
“One was absolutely starved and pathetic,” Parker told AOL News. “She … looked like skin and bones.”
Despite her derelict condition, the horse displayed a positive temperament and bore a tattoo on her lip, the mark of a racehorse. A vet on hand explained to Parker that such declines were a common fate for racehorses in a down economy. Parker moved closer.
“I’d never seen something so … hideous. And yet when you approached her, she was very generous and kind.”
The horse charmed Parker, but Parker’s friends shook their heads. The horse was beyond redemption. “You can’t save everything. You can’t fix everything,” Parker recalled them saying. “They were very somber.”
Parker conceded, but a day later broke down in tears. She tracked the horse to its new owner, who bought her for $35 and was fattening her up to sell for slaughter. He sold the horse to Parker for $125.
Parker consulted a team of horse folk around the country, from a local hay expert to a network of thoroughbred rescuers. Her new horse entered rehab. After a few touch-and-go weeks, during which Parker steeled herself for the worst, the horse grew stronger.
Parker said the horse’s spirit helped pull her through.
“I’ve seen horses that are not anywhere near her shape, but like people they wallow in their station or their pecking order. Animals have a natural hierarchy. It’s usually determined by their appearance, their strength,” she explained.
Everything about her new horse’s appearance screamed “bottom of the barrel.” And yet, she carried herself with pride.
“Even in that condition, she had such a high self-esteem, you could tell. … She never acted, behaved, or held herself pathetically,” Parker said.
As the horse progressed, Parker discovered the source of her extraordinary spirit: exceptional genes.
Parker used the horse’s tattoo numbers to try and identify her, but the horse’s numbers and the horse’s markings didn’t match up in the records. Then the horse had another bath, and as a white sock emerged on her left front foot, the horse’s true provenance emerged from the record books.
The sorry-looking, sweet-natured, strong-willed horse Parker had rescued was a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred racehorse named Her Own Storm; daughter of 1995 Kentucky Derby contestant Pyramid Peak and great-great-granddaughter of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, who Americans are once again embracing as his story is retold on big screens across the country.
“It’s really apropos that she would be getting back to her peak shape where her relevancy is so in the pop-consciousness right now,” Parker said. “It’s fantastic.”
Parker doesn’t know where Storm has been since she was sold for $14,000 two years ago, but she knows where she’d like to see Storm next.
“I love her too much to have the rest of her life be in a pasture with a bunch of horses. She’s better than that,” Parker said. “I want her to be somebody’s one-and-only horse that they spend hours grooming.
“She doesn’t deserve to be a St. Louis farm horse. For everything that she’s been through, she deserves finer and I want her to have it.”