Horseback Riding

Cecil’s Journey

June 1, 2009

How one special horse found himself a forever home.


By Joanne Friedman in America’s Horse

The amazing story of Sues Native began in Missouri at the ranch of well-known horse dealer Cecil House.

The lanky former racehorse, a 1985 son of Native Hat (TB) and Hankas Sue and great-grandson of the illustrious Native Dancer (TB), was fresh off the track. He roared like a freight train and, true to his heritage, he could fly a straight Point-A-to-Point-B like none other.

It was from Cecil House that the horse’s barn name came. His owners, Frank Pritchard and his barrel racing daughter, Cynthia Pritchard Koeller, always work the prior owner’s name into the barn names of their horses.

“Everyone said they called him ‘Sue’ or ‘Native,’” Cynthia says, “but I walked into the barn and said, ‘Hey, Cecil!’ He picked up his head and whinnied. His name was Cecil.”

He would be a great horse.

Frank knew the minute he saw him, Cynthia says. Asked whether there was a take-away message in this story, she says, “Always listen to your father. You may not like it, but he’s usually right.”

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But back in 1990, the 5 year-old gelding was destined to move on from the Pritchards’ Lafayette, New Jersey, farm. He had been purchased by a boarder.

There was a catch to the plan: No one but Cynthia could ride the horse.

The next couple of years were hard. Cecil went on to be ridden and barrel raced. Sadly, his trainer and riders were unable to understand what the lanky gelding needed. He was declared “crazy,” “unrideable” and “dangerous.” He was headed for the auction when Cynthia intervened.

This was a time before the AQHA Greener Pastures program, which allows AQHA members to indicate on a horse’s registration certificate that if the horse ever becomes unwanted, unusable or simply ready for retirement that the member will – if possible – assist in providing or finding a suitable home. Cynthia was lucky to find Cecil again.

“I looked in the trailer and laughed. ‘Is this a joke? That’s not Cecil,’ I said.”

But it was. With not an ounce of spare flesh on his bones, a halter embedded in the scant flesh of his nose, and with holes in his feet, Cecil was back.

Cynthia kept him for six weeks. His nose, she says, never left the feed bucket.

But in time, he was better, and he still wasn’t her horse.

As he was loaded onto the trailer for the trip to the auction, Cynthia told her dad, “If he’s going to a good home, that’s OK. But if he’s going to the killers, you’d better not come home without him.”

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Frank listened, and $630, including shipping, brought Cecil back to Lafayette.

It took a year or more for the horse to recover, but when he did, it was with his customary flair. By the end of the summer of ’92, Cynthia was running Cecil. She started AQHA competitions with him in 1993. In 1994, he won the Ohio sweepstakes and moved to the National Barrel Horse Association 1D competition. He competed at the All American Quarter Horse Congress that year and outdid himself.

By 1998, Cecil and Cynthia were a winning team, taking 1D and 2D honors, qualifying for the NBHA world and winning the 1998 New Jersey state first division. They continued to burn up the turf, earning the 2002 NBHA district championship.

But Cecil’s trials weren’t over. In 2004, Cynthia noticed that Cecil wasn’t himself. The diagnosis, too long in coming: Lyme disease.

So Cecil retired to live out his days with the people who saved him and who love him to distraction.

Cecil is lucky to have found a forever home, but many once-beloved horses aren’t as lucky. Today, horses like Cecil can be enrolled in the Greener Pastures program. The program gives peace of mind to AQHA members.

Standing in the barn where Cynthia and Frank treat Cecil like an honored guest, the emotion of the situation is obvious. It’s in every word and in the shine in Cynthia’s eyes when she talks about the best horse she’ll ever own.