By Susan Kayne
For Capital Region Independent Media
In the bustling world of horse racing, where profits often overshadow compassion, Stalwart Member emerged as an emblem of integrity and the catalyst for the creation of Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation.
The story began in 2003 at the Saratoga Racecourse during the filming of Unbridled TV. At that time, Sandy Goldfarb, a prominent figure on the New York Racing Association (NYRA) circuit, was a guest on the show, and Stalwart Member was among his top horses.
Goldfarb had acquired Stalwart Member for $35,000 when the horse was a 7-year-old in 2000. Together, they achieved numerous victories and won graded stakes on the New York circuit, including the Grade III Sports Page Handicap. Stalwart Member’s remarkable racing career also included setting a track record at Aqueduct.
Prior to Goldfarb’s ownership, in 1997, Stalwart Member showcased his strength, soundness and durability by winning the Hollie Hughes Handicap and equaling the track record for six furlongs in an impressive 1:08.64, a record that still stands to this day. Later that same year, he made headlines in the New York Times Sports section when he triumphed in the MacArthur under 123 pounds on opening day at Belmont. He capped off the year with a victory in the Gravesend Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct.
In a notable career spanning eight consecutive years, Stalwart Member secured seven stakes wins and placed in six other stakes, including the Carter Handicap (G1). Bred by the late Edwin Wachtel in New York, Stalwart Member retired with an impressive record of 18 wins in 64 career starts, amassing earnings of $783,807.
Recognizing the significance of providing a dignified retirement for his loyal horse, Sandy agreed to fund the start of the Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation. The idea was simple yet powerful — a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a safe haven for retired racehorses, sparing them from the horrors of bad hands or the slaughter pipeline. With Sandy’s unwavering support, the foundation began to formalize, setting out to give retired racehorses the time they needed to unwind, become sound, and reclaim their dignity.
As news of Stalwart Member’s retirement spread, it garnered widespread media coverage in esteemed publications like the New York Post, Daily Racing Form, Thoroughbred Times, and TV News. Sandy’s decision to retire his warrior with dignity resonated with many, prompting contemplation about the moral responsibility of racehorse owners.
The transition from the rigor of the racetrack to the tranquility of a farm was a significant adjustment for Stalwart Member. With great patience, consistency in a new routine and diligent care, he adapted and thrived, gaining weight and revealing a charming demeanor.
Within months, he was adopted by Heather Brandt, who affectionately gave him the moniker “Second Chance.” Heather’s skillful training transformed him into a cherished pleasure riding horse. Stalwart Member’s calm and steady stride instilled confidence in riders of all ages, making him a favorite lesson horse and invaluable teacher.
As late fall of 2006 rolled in, circumstances necessitated Stalwart come home to Unbridled. He was ready to prepare for an even more leisurely life. At Unbridled, he was a rock star, the champion racehorse who captured the hearts of everyone who met him, especially the littlest riders!
In early 2008, Stalwart expressed his readiness to meet his forever person. Amidst a sea of unsuitable prospects, a bright ray of hope emerged in Erin Looman. Passionate and connected to a solid stable, Erin was our first choice. But would Stalwart Member be her first choice? Erin recognized his heart and fell in love. When she said, “Yes, I will take him,” we knew they’d be together forever.
Over the next five years, Erin bestowed her “Stally” with the best years of his life. Their bond grew stronger as they learned, loved and faced challenges together. Erin’s dedication knew no bounds; she weathered rough patches that would have deterred others. No matter what happened, she ensured Stally always received the best care. True to her core, Erin kept in touch with frequent updates and photos of their adventures.
In late 2012, as Stally neared 20, he began to feel the aches and pains of age-related ringbone and spavins setting in. But for a horse with Stally’s heart, standing around was not an option — he lived to run, and his magnificent stride embodied every fiber of his being.
On April 3, 2013, a note arrived from Erin, breaking the news that her beloved boy Stally had crossed the bridge to greener pastures. Though her words were short, the raw emotion and pain of having to say goodbye to a cherished friend were evident.
Erin’s heartfelt Facebook post echoed the sentiments of all who have loved a horse, resonating deeply with Stalwart’s supporters: “I would like to thank everyone for their kind words. Many made me smile through my tears. Stally, for some, was a machine, a money maker, but to me, he was a living, breathing creature who had more heart than some humans I know. He was my boy and will be missed every day.”
And so, as the chapters of Stalwart Member’s life closed, his legacy endured, shining as a guiding light for all those who care for racehorses. His journey, from the racetrack to a place of love and care, epitomized the profound impact of ethical decisions, serving as an enduring reminder of the responsibility of racehorse owners to ensure the safety, well-being, and best life for their magnificent equine partners, both during their racing careers and beyond.
Susan Kayne operates the horse rescue organization Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation, on the border of Albany County and Greenville.