Sir Gus

(1995 – )
Owned by Brook Hill Farm
Inducted: 2021

Photos

From The Horse’s Mouth: "Just call me Gus. It has been a long time since my almost forgotten dreams of glory at the racetrack as Sir Gus (Y21858). I liked to run—the faster the better—so I kept at it for three years at Thistledown where I had 43 starts, 6 firsts and 4 thirds. When I eventually realized I would not be able pay my way anymore, I began to think that perhaps I had a higher calling. My second career started in Virginia with a lovely little girl who became my best friend. It turned out that I was a good jumper so together we won lots of ribbons and prizes in Pony Club. When she grew up and moved away to college, I found myself out of a job. I was still too fast – not that easy to ride and not easy to sell. It was then that my troubles began. Long story short, my life began a downward spiral and eventually I was abandoned and simply left in a field alone. Brook Hill Farm finding and rescuing me is the happiest miracle of my life."

Brook Hill was founded for the sole purpose to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home unwanted, neglected, and injured horses. Those that cannot be rehabilitated and rehomed remain on the farm. Some horses remain on the farm to participate in therapy programs. Brook Hill discovered the magic combination of horses and people, and how they can heal each other. They developed equine assisted learning programs that provide services for at-risk youth failing high school, physically and mentally challenged children and adults, senior citizens, and military veterans.

After being alerted by local law enforcement, "Gus" arrived at Brook Hill as a neglect case with a 1.5 body condition score at the age of 17 in 2012. "Left on a farm to fend for himself, he was skin and bones when he arrived," said Jo Anne Miller, Brook Hill’s Executive Director. So began his long physical and mental rehabilitation. They started slow, refeeding him and working with him on the ground in a field before putting a rider on his back.

For Brook Hill, time was not a factor in Sir Gus' retraining as the team knew the gelding would always have a home with them. However, the organization likes to take it slow when retraining horses for adoption to help ensure a safe placement for horse and adopter. Taking it slow is also essential to prepare horses to work well in a therapeutic environment.

"At first, all we asked of Gus was to walk once around the arena and then we were done for the day," said Miller. "When we started to trot, his impulse for speed took over, and he'd immediately canter, so we'd circle. We'd circle one cone and get off and be done for the day. Then two circles and then three circles until there were cones around the arena." Next, Sir Gus went through a desensitizing-type of training to be suitable for the organization's therapeutic riding programs. He took to it easily, learning to adjust to sidewalkers moving around him, encounters with toys and bubbles, and being able to walk on a loose rein.

It was in Brook Hill’s United Neigh at-risk youth program which pairs horses in rehab with children who are at-risk, disabled, or socially disadvantaged to help the horses heal while teaching the children life skills that Gus began his new career at Brook Hill Farm. Gus was paired with a young girl named Jordan, who had been abandoned like Gus. Together they began to heal their wounds and learned to trust again.

"Gus is a perfect example of not judging a book by its cover," said Tracy Russler, assistant director at Brook Hill. "You think of a Thoroughbred as a racehorse or an eventing horse, but Thoroughbreds are also sensitive and very intuitive to their surroundings, which can also make good therapy horses.” During his years at Brook Hill, the Florida-born gelding has helped hundreds of young people grow their relationship with horses, whether it was a first-time equine experience through United Neigh or as a local Pony Club member working through the levels.

Gus has had the opportunity to teach and love some wonderful kids watching them grow, gain self-confidence, and evolve into caring, compassionate adults. Partnering with a horse, like Gus, whose background is often as painful as their own, they develop a trust and bond that that creates the opportunity for both to heal. 100% of the at-risk youth at Brook Hill Farm have graduated from high school and gone on to secondary education.

"We're not one of those rescues that's pumping them out quick,” Miller said, adding that the organization operates with a waiting list of approved adopters and can usually move a horse quickly once the horse is ready for adoption. "We understand that there are many others out there like Gus. The diamonds in the rough that aren't outstanding athletes or animals with exceptional pedigrees that can secure a future in the breeding shed, but just average horses willing to give you their all if asked properly."

This once forgotten Off-the-Track-Thoroughbred (OTTB) was honored in 2020 with The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program Thoroughbred of the Year award – not because he was an exceptionally gifted athlete but because he was an exceptionally gifted healer. What Sir Gus does is try his hardest when asked. He is a pleaser at heart and puts his whole heart into what is asked of him. Gus did indeed have a higher calling -- lucky for him and lucky for so many who get better every day because of the bond they share with him.