by Katherine O. Rizzo

Jessica Hammond, president of Beyond The Wire, grew up in Baltimore and Harford Counties surrounded by horses. Her passion for Thoroughbreds began early in her life and continues today. Now living in Fallston and running Somerset Racing and Stables at Northcross Farm with her husband Scott, Jessica believes Thoroughbreds have all the right stuff for life after the track. From hunters and jumpers to foxhunters and event horses, polo ponies and lesson horses, the Thoroughbred has no limitations.

Specifically for Jessica however, one such ex-racehorse has been instrumental in her mental and physical health as she battles FSH Muscular Dystrophy. That horse is  Zabarajad. He was bred by His Highness the Aga Khan in Ireland and raced there and in the UAE until August 2012. Foaled in 2008, the bay gelding is by Invincible Spirit and out of Zalaiyma. He placed in stakes races such as the Dylan Thomas E.B.F. Tetrach Stakes at the Curragh in Ireland and also ran in the prestigious G1 Irish 2000 Guineas, coming in sixth.

After his promising start however, his owners felt he wasn’t performing as well as they would like and he was put up for auction, which is when Scott purchased him at the HIT auction at Goffs in Kildare, Ireland, for Jessica and her brother James F. Ryley, III. Racing under Somerset Racing LLC, Zabarajad had his first start here in the US at Laurel Park in December 2012. He went on to win an allowance race on the turf at Pimlico in 2013.

It seemed, however, that Zabarajad preferred firm turf and thus did not continue his winning ways. “He was never able to reach his potential as a racehorse,” Scott said. “He developed a chip in the knee, which we had taken out and then we retired him.”

Retired to the Hammond’s farm, Zabarajad became Jessica’s all-around riding horse. “My husband showed him a few times for me locally and they were successful,” Jessica said, adding, “I trail ride him, ride in the ring, and we are just starting hunter/jumper lessons with my long-time instructor Anne Walker.” Jessica stated participating in Canter for the Cause at Pimlico this year is a personal goal of hers and she might start showing him as well.

All of this might seem like the typical post racing story except for one detail, Jessica’s doctors once told her she should not ride at all. When first diagnosed with FSH Muscular Dystrophy, an autosomal dominant disorder affecting the skeletal muscles of the face, scapula, upper arm, and more, she was told that she would often be too weak to be able to ride safely. But now, with the help of Zabarajad, that has all changed. “The doctors believe that the fact that I am so active has helped me in regards to my diagnosis of FSH Muscular Dystrophy. I am not supposed to do anything to the point of making my muscles sore, so there is a fine line between exercising enough to get and keep me riding fit and making my muscle weakness worse.”

When Jessica visited the Gilltown Stud where Zabarajad was bred, several people she met called him “a huge disappointment” and also warned her not to trust him. He apparently had a horrible reputation around the stud farm. But that is not the same horse that Jessica has grown to love, nor the same horse that has given Jessica strength. “Zabarajad has given me a newfound confidence in my riding and physical capabilities in general,” she said. “Not knowing if you can rely on your strength and not knowing how much weaker you are going to get and when that might happen causes a lot of anxiety.” She describes her horse as “powerful, athletic and very sensitive,” but says that more importantly, “he is tolerant and patient when my lack of strength is making me ride like a sack of potatoes.”

Their partnership has grown so much over the last few years that Jessica’s physical therapist even noticed a difference and discharged her of regular visits. “I have been confident enough to ride him regularly because I trust him and I have gotten much stronger physically. I feel great all the way around!” All thanks to a disappointing racing career and a racehorse that was clearly meant for a greater purpose.