Horse Adoption Stories: Wendy Wolley and her ex-racehorse Ollie

Equitrekking's "Horse Adoption Stories" series profiles Wendy Wooley, a photographer with EquiSport Photos and her OTTB (off-the-track-Thoroughbred) Ollie. Wendy has two OTTB's and shares her story about why she adopted Ollie and great advice for those considering adopting an ex-racehorse. 

Wendy and her beautiful OTTB, Ollie

Raina Paucar: Wendy, what is your background with horses?

Wendy Wooley: I don’t have a long background. I went to Black River Farm & Ranch girls camp in the summers as a child and bought my first horse after I graduated from college and had my first career job. I rode hunter/jumpers and loved it!

Raina Paucar: What is your current experience with horses?

Wendy Wooley: I currently own two OTTB’s. One is retired from work–– he’s 22 years old and his new job is to be my other horse’s steady eddie. He’s great at his new line of work. My younger horse (12 years old) is a nervous guy by nature and is slowly gaining confidence as I retrain him in dressage.

Wendy with her two OTTB geldings

Raina Paucar: What made you decide to adopt an OTTB?

Wendy Wooley: I love horse racing, and I love a Thoroughbred’s athleticism. Every horse I’ve ever had has been a Thoroughbred or part Thoroughbred. I also volunteered for CANTER – MI and saw so many great horses looking for new careers.

Raina Paucar: How did you find your OTTB?

Wendy Wooley: My older guy was given to me when my niece was done showing him. She loved him very much but couldn’t afford to keep him, so he was gifted to me. He has Mr. Prospector as his grandsire and he was not such a great race horse–but he made up for it in the hunter/jumper ring where he competed in the AA circuit with my young niece. He’s a great “been there done that” horse that many of my friends enjoy hopping on to build up their confidence. He’s just a bit lazy at times. He’s entitled at this point in his life.

My next horse I got when I went to the races with a friend one evening. I saw him race and fell in love. He came in next to last place, and I noticed he was 9 years old. So, I wrote his trainer. I saw the horse again on the backside when I was volunteering for CANTER-MI. I was totally in love. The trainer called me, and I got him a month later. He was a dream come true horse that I didn’t have for nearly long enough.

After having him for about 1 ½ years he ended up breaking his leg in his paddock and couldn’t be saved. It really tore me up and it still does when I think about it. But, I was lucky because a lot of people thought he had movie star good looks. I had a gifted artist friend in London, UK paint him and his painting caught the eye of Steven Spielberg. My friend was hired to work on the movie War Horse and my horse had his drawing in promotional materials for the movie. His legacy lives on!

My current work in progress is a crazy gray with a big heart. He tries his little heart out for me, but he is just not the bravest thing. I got him when a couple photographer friends of mine came across him at a farm in the Baltimore, Maryland area. The farm was looking to find him a good home. The farm ended up with him in a round about way and had no need for him so they put feelers out and my friends tracked me down.

Ollie training dressage with Wendy

Raina Paucar: Why did you choose this OTTB?

Wendy Wooley: I happened to be not too far away at the time on a business trip so I made the effort to go over to the farm to check him out. He was as sweet as can be and sound as could be. He ran 61 times and earned close to $160,000. Turns out he was also a Michigan bred–my home state.

I decided to give him a try after the vet checked him out. He has an old scar on his front right hoof where he must have ripped off his heel bulb. I’m sure it was an awful looking injury, but it grew back beautifully thanks to race horse trainer, Scott Lake giving him the time to heal on his farm. He was 9 years old and his racing days were over. As a side note, he has the best hooves, better than any other horse I’ve ever been around! They are like rocks!

Once I made the decision to take him, I wrote his breeder to let them know I was bringing their horse back to Michigan and turning him into my pleasure horse and would possibly show him in low level dressage shows. The breeders had named my horse after their next door neighbor – the Sebright’s. My horse’s registered name is Hola C Bright. I started out calling him Hola but then Ollie seemed to fit him better, so Ollie is what he goes by in the barn. The Sebright’s were shown my letter by the breeder. They noticed my return address. It turned out that the house I owned was the childhood home of Dr. Sebright. I’ve ended up meeting the Sebright’s as well as my horse’s breeder and trainer. It’s been so fun getting to know all his connections.

Raina Paucar: How was the adjustment period for your OTTB from racetrack to barn?

Wendy Wooley: My first horse straight off the track– the good looking one – adjusted immediately to life off the track. I took him on trail rides almost immediately, and he was the best horse out there! Nothing seemed to bother him. Our first trail ride (about 2 weeks off the track) we came across deer, porcupines and an owl that flew up from the ground in front of us. He never took a wrong step and marched on like it was all business as usual. He was amazing! I think all the commotion at the racetracks desensitizes OTTB’s.

Ollie is the exact opposite. He tries, but when things get overwhelming for him he will have a meltdown. He’s never gotten out of control but we have had to cut rides short because he was mentally gone. I’ve learned that if I take it slowly with him and repeat, repeat, repeat that he gains confidence. I just have to increase what I ask for him in small increments.

It’s really important that I set him up for success. It took me awhile to figure that out and it’s been one of my best “ah ha!” moments when I did! We’ve been progressing beautifully ever since. He is teaching me a lot and that makes him one of the best horses I’ve ever owned! He also has the cutest out loud personality ever!

Wendy and Ollie taking a walk

Raina Paucar:What are you goals with your OTTB?

Wendy Wooley: I hope to get him to some small shows on my own. I want him to be able to go on trail rides and be relaxed. Mostly, I want him to be relaxed every time we go out and ride. He’s my fun work in progress, and we’ll take lessons and work to improve both of us.

Raina Paucar: Any regrets?

Wendy Wooley: None! At first, I would scratch my head about Ollie but that’s what is so great about him. He made me think. He also made me work for it. But, when I ask things of him, he gives me his all and it’s the best ride of my life. I wouldn’t trade him for the world!

Raina Paucar: Anything you’d like to share with someone considering adopting an OTTB?

Wendy Wooley: Don’t stereotype them! They come in all shapes, sizes, personalities and colors. I’ve had the lazy one, the high energy one and the “he can do no wrong” one. Just find one that will fit your basic needs and remember that if you have one that you think doesn’t fit you well, then maybe take another look and he may be the one that teaches you everything and fits you best.

OTTB Ollie likes a tidy barn

If you have an adoption story you'd like to share, we'd love to hear from you! Please contact us at Equitrekking.

Considering adopting your own ex-racehorse? Here are some great rescue organizations with horses looking for their new home:



Thoroughbred Connect


New Vocations


Unwanted Horse Coalition

LOPE Texas

About the Author: Raina Paucar is an adventure loving equestrian and female jockey. She likes to ride and compete in many disciplines, explore new places, read great books, gadget hoard, play games, take pictures and write. She currently exercises racehorses and works with her own off-the-track-Thoroughbred (OTTB). Her career in media focuses on equestrian lifestyle. You can add her to your Google+ circles, subscribe on Facebook and follow on Twitter.