My Life With Reethia, Queen of the Maryland State Fair
by Ross Peddicord
There’s a story connected to every horse. I’ve always thought if I wanted to write a novel, a good first one might be called “Horses I Have Known.” There is something interesting, funny, sad, exciting, poetic, and in some cases tragic, to just about every horse I owned or bred in nearly 30 years of raising Thoroughbreds. My old broodmare, Reethia, is no exception. Reethia is a story of contradictions.
She was bred to be a racehorse-but never ran in a race. She ended up making her mark in the show ring, particularly the Maryland State Fair.
Originally, she was to be named “Lady Earle,” after a very tall English woman. Instead she was named after Reethia Clark, the very petite wife of my former horse-breeding partner, Mark Clark.
She wound up being one of the, if not the most, winningest Thoroughbred broodmares to have ever entered the ring at the Maryland State Fair-winning the broodmare class five times, including last year at age 19!–and the overall Grand Championship three times. But when we first showed her at Timonium in 1984 as a 2 year-old, Reethia finished dead last.
Our Early Years
Like humans, horses go through various stages, both physically and mentally, and Reethia started off her life as a very large, and gangly girl.
As to her actual birth, I don’t even remember it. Chances are I probably missed it. Janet Harvey, who now raises border collies and sheep, officiated at more equine births at Sen. James Clark’s Clarkland Farm in Ellicott City than practically anybody and is an unsung hero as a horsewoman. I’m sure Janet must have foaled Reethia at Clarkland, where she was born. After being around to see enough dead twins, torn vaginal walls and awkward deliveries, I always preferred timing my arrival at the barn to see a nice, fluffy little foal running around the stall. I think that’s how I first met Reethia.
Being the only foal born that year-and convincing Mark that foals had to be brought up with a companion – we went off to the Timonium Fall Sales when it came time for Reethia to be weaned and bought a playmate for her.
Charles McGinnes of Thornmar Farm picked out Reethia’s pal-a beautiful chestnut filly sired by Ambernash, who we nicknamed Amanda. She had a blaze and three white stockings. Perfect horse show material.
When it came time to show the pair as yearlings at the Maryland Horse Breeders’ Yearling Show the next spring, I was sure Reethia would win. I was always enamored by Reethia, probably because she was the last-and only filly-produced by her dam, Dinwiddie, who was my first broodmare.
Dinwiddie is a story unto herself, a cripple who raced seven times and never beat a horse, but was line-bred 3×3 to the chef de race, *Teddy, and had produced three wonderful colts for Mark and me:
* Wm. Withers, a stakes-placed winner on the flat and as a 2 year-old, but before going to the track, won the Baby Green Hack Class at the Howard County Hunt Horse Show;
* Nor Bay, whom Tom Voss trained for us and won with at Laurel; later sold to Eddie & Binnie Houghton of Buckingham Farm, Nor Bay became a multiple winner over hurdles;
* and Canter Hill, a gem of a horse who broke his neck as a youngster and still went on to earn over $80,000 as an allowance winner at the Maryland tracks.
Even if she was gangly, Reethia had the most beautiful face-deerlike with large, lucid eyes and a kind and willing expression that would melt anyone’s heart, particularly mine.
The Yearling Show turned into the typical unpredictable (at least to me) debacle, so common with horses. Stanley Petter of Lexington, Ky. was the judge. Charles McGinnes won the very large class of about 40 fillies with his Winged T. filly. Amanda, the “companion” we had picked up just as a playmate for Reethia, was second. And Reethia, well, she was thrown out in the first cut!
Although this was not a promising start, I still kept telling Mark that Reethia was something special.
When it came time to put her in training, Penelope Keating, who needs no introduction to Maryland horsefolks, broke both Reethia, and later Amanda. Because Reethia was so huge (she later matured into 17 hands and about 1,200 pounds, a virtual land yacht of a horse), we sent her to Beth Palmgren at her King’s Cross Farm in Monkton (now Warren & Karen Dempsey’s place) to bring along slowly. Beth did interval training and put a solid foundation under her.
During this time, I decided to show Reethia again at Timonium-this time in the 2 year-old class at the Maryland State Fair. The renowned Sallie Sexton was the judge. Beth vanned Reethia down from Monkton and had her braided and turned out to the nines. Stephanie Russo, who later became my wife, came up from Middleburg to show her. By this time, Reethia was getting pretty fit. Poor Stephanie. Reethia took one look at the ferris wheel, reared, broke loose and galloped around the ring. When she was finally caught, Ms. Sexton unceremoniously placed her last.
To this day, Stephanie has probably not forgiven me.
Off To The Races
As Reethia showed that day, she was coming along well in the racehorse department. It was time to send her to the track. Owners who send horses to the track know that being fit on the farm is different than being fit at the track. Trainers still want to take their time with the horse and by this time dear Amanda had now joined Reethia at Laurel with trainer Ronnie Alfano. Bottom line-we had two big beautiful fillies racking up big, unpleasant training bills. Every time Reethia would get close to working five-eights of a mile, her ankle would blow up or just when Amanda was about to break from the gate, she’d get sick.
We thought they’d never get to the races. Poor Mark. His patience was beginning to wear thin with both me and the fillies (he paid the bills). He strongly suggested we “had to do something.” I still remember inviting Jimmy Piehler, the late great show trainer, up for lunch from Middleburg with one of his wealthy clients. We had a hilarious lunch at the clubhouse at Pimlico and after a nice meal and several glasses of wine, went over to see the fillies. Piehler agreed that they were indeed beautiful. That’s when I learned one of the great unspoken truths of the horseshow world-NO ONE WANTS FILLIES!
Finally, Dickie Vermillion, at one time the leading owner in Maryland and an Alfano client, came to the rescue. He bought Amanda, we paid Ronnie and got Reethia out of hock.
An Uncertain Future
Now what to do with her. Well, what does any Maryland horse owner do with any filly they can’t race or show? They breed her! Thus began Reethia’s new career as a broodmare, first at Clarkland Farm and later at Brush Hill Farm, the place Stephanie and I bought near New Market.
Again, things started out rather unpromising with Reethia’s new career. We bred her to Horatius and she had the most beautiful filly foal. She could fly like the wind. The only thing, she ran so fast one night, that she ran straight through a fence and broke her neck. In the morning, when we got to the barn, we found a dead foal.
At this time, Reethia was back in foal to Double Zeus and the next spring , she gave birth to another filly. Just like Reethia, she was tall and gangly-so we named her Lady Earle. Stephanie and I had met the human Lady Earle in the paddock at the Kempton races on a trip to England with our friend, Peter Thompson, and thought she was the tallest woman we had ever met. So we at least got to name one of Reethia’s leggy foals after her.
Lady Earle was the first Reethia baby that we showed at the Maryland State Fair. As a yearling, she won the filly class and was Junior and Reserve Grand Champion. It was a timely win because the next month she was entered in the Eastern Fall Yearling Sale at Timonium. We were hoping a horse show person would buy her. But she brought $7,500, a little too much for a show horse, especially for a filly! Franny Campitelli, a well-known racing trainer, told me he thought she was the best-looking filly in the sale-and she ended up going to the races.
Another trainer, who pinhooked yearlings and re-sold them as 2 year-olds, purchased her. It was a mistake, largely because Reethia had very little pedigree. Even though Dinwiddie had been a wonderful producer for us, she was an anomaly. The only real racehorse, other than the three very nice winners she produced for us, that showed up in her pedigree was Third Army, winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup in 1953 and that wasn’t even “blacktype.” So the horses we bred from both Dinwiddie and Reethia were never destined to be sales horses, although from time to time we had to sell one in the yearling sales if money got tight.
When Lady Earle showed up the next spring in the 2 year-old sale, she only brought $6,500 and the trainer bought her back and raced her himself at Penn National. She had several seconds, then disappeared. A year or so later I ran into the trainer and asked him what happened to Lady Earle.
“She blew an ankle,” he said. “I sent her out to Mountaineer (Park). They tapped her ankle, she won a race and then they sold her to the killers.”
To this day I still get sick when I think about this beautiful, tall filly, being trucked to a slaughterhouse in Texas and killed with a stun gun. We were so proud of her when she won at the Fair and about 18 months later she was horsemeat. I was writing for the Baltimore Sun at that time, so a few years later the Sun published a four part series I wrote detailing the saga of a thoroughbred’s trip to the slaughterhouse. No one knew it, but it was dedicated to Lady Earle and I still feel guilty for not keeping closer tabs and rescuing her.
After Lady Earle, Reethia produced five more foals for us. There were the usual ups and downs of “bringing up baby,” typical with any broodmare. There was another Horatius filly, Friendly Ree, who we sold, but didn’t pan out. There was a set of aborted twins. And then there was the most unusual of all stories, a filly named Nora Bay that we sold to Peter Jay in Harford County, who turned out to be a hermaphrodite. Peter bought her as a riding horse, but she went lame, so, of course, he decided to breed her. Before he bred her to Deputed Testamony, he had her examined and instead of ovaries, she had… well, maybe you’ve seen the film “Hedwig & the Angry Inch.” Peter is probably the most ethical person I have ever met. He still loved that “filly” and s/he lived for a good long time in his field of beloved pensioners.
At Long Last
Reethia had her share of successes. She produced three terrific-looking colts for us. The first, Saint Maybe, by Sir Ivor Again, was, like his mother, big and gangly, but unlike his mother, had a plain head. I remember at the Howard County Fair, he didn’t win the model class, but he did win the Sporting Foal class, a tribute to the judge (Linda Reynolds) who could look past his face and pinned him for his athletic build. We sold him as a yearling to Bruce Davidson, who re-sold him to 3-day course designer Tremaine Cooper. Tremaine has evented him up to the Advanced Level. In 2000, Saint Maybe was AHSA Combined Training Horse of the Year in Area 1 (New England) at the Intermediate Level. Tremaine told me that he loves that horse so much he will never sell him, even once turning down a pretty huge offer for him. Saint Maybe, named after the Anne Tyler novel, grew into his head and now is incredibly handsome.
Reethia produced two Baederwood colts for us. One, Wicked Fun, was Grand Champion at the Maryland State Fair and was purchased by Hermen and Monica Greenburg of Middleburg for $17,000 at a Maryland yearling auction. He won for the Greenbergs at Laurel and when he was retired, he was sold as a field hunter in the Piedmont country.
Dream Forest, her last foal for us, had one great shining moment. He peaked on Yearling Show day and won over a big class of 29 colts at Timonium and was named Reserve Champion of the show. The judge said he looked like he could go over to the paddock at Belmont Park that day, go out on the track and win. But, “Dreamy” grew to over 17 hands, was too big for the races, was too tough to hunt and was eventually sold as a 3-day prospect to Sharon White in Virginia. He’s quite a handful. When we showed him on the line as a 3 year-old at Timonium, he spent most of the time rearing and bucking in the ring-a reminder of his mother more than a decade ago.
More Life Transitions
During the time that we showed Reethia at Timonium, she always dappled out beautifully in the summer. People thought we ‘rubbed’ on her incessantly. In fact, we never had to brush her. Her sire, Friend’s Choice, dappled out the same way and she must have inherited that trait from him. In 1992, 1994 and 1996 she was Grand Champion at Timonium. After having so many foals, she had eventually grown into her large body and became quite an elegant-looking mare. In 1996, Bobby Burke handled her for us and she won the broodmare class at Upperville, the high point of her show career.
The next year, after breeding and raising foals from Dinwiddie and then Reethia for two decades, and after owning Reethia for 14 years, as well as all our other mares, babies and hunters, we were emotionally and physically spent. I’ll never get over the time, my 17-hand hunter, Brutus, knocked Stephanie down, broke a vertebra in her back and yet she helped me handle Wicked Fun, a stud colt, at the yearling sale that weekend. Not until after we got the horse packed up and delivered to the Greenbergs in Middleburg, did she go to the hospital. As goes the age old story in the horse world, we eventually divorced and sold our farm. In 1997 we sold Reethia to nearby breeders, Leslie Long and Mary Ann Steele.
Quite wonderfully, Reethia has had a terrific “second career” for them. Mary Anne owns her 5 year-old Northern Raja filly and hunts her extensively. Leslie and her husband, Robert, now totally own Reethia. They sold a stunning Another Reef colt out of her to a client of the famed horse show trainer, Olin Armstrong. Then her filly foal, Sunnyside’s Dream, by Jasprin, was 2001 Grand Champion at the Maryland State Fair and Reethia again won the broodmare class and was MHSA champion broodmare. Hopefully, Reethia is again in foal for the 12th time and is still going strong.
Bev Abbott, who is secretary of the show all these years and has followed Reethia’s career at Timonium, said “That mare walks in the ring and she’s still the only one people really look at. She’s just so beautiful.”
Honoring Reethia, Inspiring Others
Stephanie and I are donating a perpetual bowl in her honor to the winner of the Thoroughbred Broodmare Class at the Maryland State Fair, starting this year.
Still, though, I just smile, when people say, “Oh you must miss Reethia,” and “Wow, it looked so easy when you’d just walk her around the ring, that old mare would pose, look at the judge with those big doey eyes, and you’d win the class.”
I look at them, and think, “If you only knew…”