Cosequin Presents Aftercare Spotlight: A Lifetime Of Love And Horses

Typically this column features stories of Thoroughbreds and the after-the-track care they receive (and the lives they go on to lead) thanks to their committed caretakers. This, however, is a much different type of aftercare story, but one I think will resonate with readers just as much.

This is not about Thoroughbreds, or even about aftercare in the traditional sense of the word. This story is one that transcends breeds and disciplines to relate to horse people at the most basic, innate level, showing how in one's darkest day, horses can help them find their way.

Cheri Perrin grew up in a harness racing family, and it wasn't long before Cheri was working at the track in her spare time.

“I met the man of my dreams when I was sixteen at Louisville Downs,” said Cheri of her husband, John. “I made him chase me for about five months, only hanging out in groups with friends. One night we were out on the patio at the track and after my parents had left I asked him if he was ever going to kiss me.”

That kiss led to a romance that stood the test of time. John and Cheri Perrin led the quintessential racetrack life, traveling the Midwestern harness circuit and working side-by-side to keep their stable running and winning as they raised their son, JD. They bred, raised and raced their own horses and trained for several other clients as well.

Through the years they found success with top Standardbreds Speed Bonus, Flash Paper, Sharp Steve and The Big Wazzoo. As time went on, JD followed in his father's footsteps and quickly found success as a driver and later as a trainer in Western New York and stamped himself as one of the top horsemen in that region. John and Cheri remained in Ohio, earning a respectable living off of their “mom-and-pop” operation while proudly following JD's budding career.

“For years – decades – I'd rub the horses and get them ready in the mornings and John would jog and train them,” said Cheri. “It's all we'd ever known and we just loved it. We worked well together and spent every day together. He was my best friend.”

Cheri enjoyed everything about Standardbred racing, from breeding and training their own horses to relishing the view from the winner's circle alongside John when they notched a win. For those who couldn't find their way into a win picture, she also found pleasure in securing good homes for their horses and was always thrilled to receive updates about what they were accomplishing outside of the racing oval.

It was in May of 2016 that the life the Perrins knew came to a screeching halt. John passed away from a heart attack. At the time they had 16 horses in their stable.

Horses were all the Perrins had ever known, but Cheri couldn't fathom maintaining their hands-on racing operation by herself.

The loss of one's partner is devastating, but to then to have to dismantle all that you built and shared together is cataclysmic. With the help of friends, family and the team at Northfield Park near Cleveland, the Perrin stable was dispersed, except for several horses Cheri kept for herself.

Cheri Perrin with her new granddaughter, Charlotte Rose

“JD welcomed me into his stable in New York and I moved up here [to Hamburg, N.Y.] to be closer to him, his girlfriend and my beautiful new grandbaby, Charlotte Rose Perrin, or ‘Charlie' for short,” said Cheri. “JD and John were very close as well, even though we lived in separate states at the time. They talked on the phone three or four times a day most days.”

Since John's passing and the dispersal of their stable, Cheri has found solace in horses.

“Cheyenne Louie was the last one that John and I picked out together. He won several races for me and set a new lifetime mark on December 10 of last year,” said Cheri. “Once horses – and for me harness racing specifically – are in your blood, it's part of you. Being around horses, my family and my precious grandbaby is what's kept me together and has kept me going.”

Cheri's story is one of not only profound loss but of monumental inspiration. Like Cheri, so many of us focus the bulk of our life's work on our horses, ensuring they are happy, healthy and want for nothing. It is when we least expect it that those same horses can do so much more for us than we could ever hope to do for them.

Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others. While she currently has no plans to build an arc, she is the go-to food source for two dogs, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.

Email Jen your story ideas at or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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