While making her veterinary rounds one morning at Delaware Park in 2011, Dr. Jane Teichner came upon a solitary horse in an otherwise empty barn. After a quick inspection, she made some calls to try to fill in the blanks about the chestnut gelding. She discovered that he was waiting for a van ride to a new life. Trainer Graham Motion had just purchased the gelding to retire him.
Teichner made sure the horse had water and brought in several handfuls of fresh grass. In the short time she spent with him, she was charmed and impressed enough that she called longtime friend Rick Green in St. Michaels, Md., and suggested that the horse might be a good fit for Green’s significant other, Trish Hechter.
Teichner didn’t have much to go on other than her initial impressions. She shared the contact information for Motion and urged Green to convince Hechter to follow up.
Had the horse been able to speak for himself, he’d have told Teichner that he was Ballast (Ire), a 10-year-old multiple graded stakes winner by the Irish stallion Desert Prince. He’d have shared that he had spent nine seasons on the racetrack and had amassed a record of 56-12-12-5 with earnings of $575,380. A winner in France and England, he was transferred to Motion’s barn as a 5-year-old and made his first American start at Pimlico on May 18, 2006, for owner Richard Thompson. Ballast was a solid turf stakes performer, winning Calder’s Tropical Turf Handicap-G3 in 2006 and 2007. Entered for a $50,000 claiming tag at Gulfstream Park in March 2009, he was claimed by Diane Morici but made his next start two months later in Belmont Park’s Lure Stakes for David Jacobson.
Ballast spent the next two years gradually sliding down the ranks, first for Jacobson, then Gary Contessa, and finally Peter Walder, for whom he made his final start in a $5,000 claiming race at Delaware on Oct. 19, 2011. He finished fifth of six. After that, Motion raised his hand.
Hechter was told all that when she called and spoke with Motion’s office manager Sue Kenny. The call was only half-hearted. On the very day that Teichner reached out about Ballast, Hechter had put down Chumley, her constant partner and beloved pet. She wasn’t sure she felt ready for another horse.
Because Ballast had been on the track for so long, he was to be given 30 days to decompress before being re-homed. The timing worked for Hechter. But a week later, Kenny phoned to say that plans had changed. Ballast was going to Olympian Phillip Dutton for a possible makeover as an event horse.
“Sue said there was a nice mare,” Hechter said, “but I said I wasn’t interested, because Ballast had been a special deal and I wasn’t ready to have another horse. Then another week goes by and Sue sent a note saying she had a horse she thought I would love. She sent a picture and I did fall in love with him. So I drove up to see him in person.”
The horse was Red Dust (Uru). Hechter took him home that same day. Immediately after she got home with the 5-year-old red roan gelding, fate tapped her on the shoulder.
“Sue called and asked if I wanted to come back and pick up Ballast; it hadn’t worked out at Phillip Dutton’s,” said Hechter. “I hadn’t even been home an hour.”
Hechter went to Dutton’s to see Ballast. He was waiting for her, crosstied in the barn sound asleep. A staffer at Dutton’s rode him, then Hechter did. Ballast was amped, edgy. Hechter was hooked.
“I knew he was the perfect horse for me personally,” she said, “but not for my students. So I was going to turn him down because I knew it wasn’t going to fit the plan.”
That’s when Green stepped in with an ultimatum, “If you don’t bring that horse home, I’m moving out.”
Hechter made room for Ballast. Her schedule wouldn’t allow her time to drive back to West Grove, Pa., to pick up the horse for a few weeks, but Dutton needed him off the farm so Motion and Kenny arranged for transportation to St. Michaels.
“He arrived in this huge six-horse van, and he came off spewing fire,” Hechter said. “I was thinking ‘Oh my goodness, what is going on here?’ Little did I realize what was really going on was that Ballast was saying ‘Get me off of here – I see green grass.’ ”
Hechter recalled an instant connection with Ballast as she watched him unload.
“As his front feet hit the middle of the ramp, I watched Chumley’s spirit go into Ballast. So that was pretty awesome. And he has a lot of Chummy’s tendencies; he’s just a pretty special dude. I turned him out when he arrived, and he was actually chill . . . he was pretty damn happy.”
Nearly eight years later, Ballast is still pretty happy. His bond with Hechter was quick and strong. As he revealed his likes and dislikes, she found appropriate compromises.
And there was laughter along the way. Case in point: Ballast didn’t like to canter, preferring instead to utilize his massive, floating trot – unless there were jumps involved. Hechter took him to an all-Thoroughbred show in Salisbury, Md., several months after bringing him home. It was meant to be an exercise in fun. She hadn’t ridden in a show in 15 years but thought it would be “something different to do.” The plan was to trot the course and just enjoy themselves. Instead, Ballast cantered the entire course, found every spot and changed every lead.
“All I did was point and shoot,” Hechter laughed.
He earned two blue ribbons that day – one for having made the most starts, and the second for the most money earned.
“He was so tickled that he got those blue ribbons! How he knew what blue ribbons meant is beyond me, but he was so excited. I’ve done a lot of paper chases on him, and he’s gone places that seasoned foxhunters would not go. He thought that was the greatest thing since sliced bread. He’d go everywhere and anywhere.”
Now 18, Ballast most enjoys his role as Hechter’s trusted partner in her lesson program.
“I have two smaller horses that I call the ponies – Lily, a Quarter Horse mare, and Merlin, a Connemara. I pony one on each side of Ballast, and I don’t usually even carry the reins. He keeps one of them slower and one moving faster, and I just tell him what he needs to do. I’ll have kids riding them, and we walk and trot, go wherever and do whatever. So he takes care of the ponies and the kids. He’s just one of the most awesome horses I’ve ever known. And I’m so grateful to have him. I’m grateful for everyone who allowed it to happen.”