Cosequin Presents Aftercare Spotlight: A ‘Trippi’ Of A Lifetime

So often when attending the races or even watching them on TV, we see a horse that catches our eye. Maybe it’s the horse’s color, size or build, or maybe it’s his or her presence as he jiggy-jogs around the paddock and through the post parade. How many times does someone actually get to take that horse home with them?

For Jessica Paquette, that very scenario played out with a horse named What a Trippi. While he turned out to have quite the productive racing career well after she first laid eyes on him, she eventually got to call him her own, only to find out years later that the biggest challenge she would face with him was not waiting for him to retire from racing, but waiting to see if he could overcome a disease that has robbed many horses of not only their livelihoods, but their lives.

Those based in New England or who have watched the races from Suffolk Downs over the years may recognize Paquette from her role as the track’s on-air handicapper and commentator, which were part of her duties as the Suffolk Downs director of communications. Today, as the track has transitioned to operating boutique race meets rather than a year-round racing schedule, Paquette balances her responsibilities at Suffolk with serving as the communications director for Starlight Racing.

Needless to say, Paquette sees her fair share of horses from one week to a next. For some reason, there was just something about What a Trippi that she couldn’t shake.

“From the moment I saw him, I knew he was going to be mine,” said Paquette. “He is the only horse in over a decade at Suffolk Downs that I have had to have.”

Fortunately for the connections of What a Trippi, but not so much for Paquette, he could run. After a productive racing season that first year, he was named New England’s Champion 3-Year-Old. With his talent, however, came some behavioral issues.

“He was very quirky, very opinionated. He had to have everything his way or else,” said Paquette. “He developed a reputation with exercise riders and the gate crew pretty quickly, so much so that a decade later, many still remember him.”

Trained by George Saccardo through his championship season and into his 5-year-old year, Paquette would often visit the stable area with carrots in hand for the horse she called “Trippi” and made sure Saccardo was more than aware of her interest in his charge when his racing days were over.

“George was a really good guy. As the years went by, Trippi continued to do well, but he had lost a few steps and was running in claiming races at Aqueduct in March of 2009 when he was claimed,” said Paquette. “I was heartbroken and worried that I would lose track of him and that he would fall through the cracks.”

Claimed by Mike LeCesse, Paquette soon made contact with Trippi’s new trainer and explained her relationship with the horse, asking that he please consider letting her have him when he decides to retire him.

“For the next year-and-a-half, I would email and text Mike about once a month to check in, and in October of 2010 he sent me a text saying that Trippi was mine if I wanted him,” said Paquette of the horse who ended his career at Finger Lakes Race Track notching a win the same month he retired. “I said yes immediately and proceeded to call in every favor I had to get him from Finger Lakes to Massachusetts.”

Trippi was given the winter off at a friend’s sprawling farm in Maine. Once spring signaled its arrival, Paquette began the process of starting him back under saddle, taking things slow and being careful not to over face or frustrate the horse who time and time again as a racehorse had proven he could make things difficult for his riders and handlers.

“We quickly realized he was not going to be for the faint of heart,” said Paquette. “I had ridden as a child, competing as a junior at local shows, but I’d taken a good chunk of time off riding after college and getting back into it was very challenging. I was not a gifted rider to begin with and the time off didn’t help that, and he was never going to be a packer.”

With that in mind, she enlisted the help of a friend and trainer to be sure to give Trippi a solid foundation and every chance to succeed in a new career. Under their trainer’s watchful eye, the pair progressed from flatwork to jumping even going to several local shows.

Jessica and Trippi after their first horse show together

“He’s so incredibly smart, but he doesn’t always use that for good. Sometimes he will decide he knows what he’s doing and his way is the best way, and convincing him otherwise can be challenging,” she said. “He did not take easily to jumping. The first time we introduced a ground rail to him, it rapidly escalated in to World War III, during which he stood on his head, stood on his hind legs, and did everything in between before finally leaping over it – a ground rail, mind you – like it was four feet high and on fire. He has since gotten less dramatic, but he still doesn’t like ground rails.”

It was several years after the pair had begun to find their stride and were finding their niche in regional hunter classes that something started seeming “off” with her horse.

“He began displaying an unusually poor attitude – even for him – and some significant back soreness,” she said.

Trippi was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and Paquette’s vet suggested treating with minocycline, hoping that one round of antibiotics would be the end of it. Unfortunately, just months later, his symptoms returned, only this time they were more severe.

“He started to get strange and was getting very unpleasant, both under saddle and on the ground. It quickly spiraled from feeling a little off to him being practically unridable. He couldn’t trot without having a full outburst.”

They tested him again for Lyme disease, and his titers were extremely high, indicating he had relapsed. Her vet, who had also treated Trippi on the racetrack, suggested a more aggressive approach than their first round of treatment, which included a 21-day course of intravenous oxytetracycline, and came to the barn daily to administer the antibiotic.

The second, stronger round of antibiotics seemed to do the trick, and since finishing the treatment, Trippi has shown no further signs of the effects of Lyme disease. He and Paquette started back on their training and in 2017 had their best season ever, competing at Fieldstone and the Vermont Summer Festival.

“We were competing against some really nice horses. Did we win? No, but I think it’s important to not always measure success by scores and ribbons,” said Paquette. “I look at horse-showing as getting to travel with my favorite creature. His long career on the track has made him a very easy horse at the show grounds. Not a lot bothers him.”

While the pair may not have won the biggest classes in which they competed, they did do well enough to earn Reserve Champion Horse of the Year in the Zone 1 2′ Hunters from the U. S. Hunter/Jumper Association. In addition, they’ve also gotten to have some fun learning to ride bridleless, which Trippi seemed to take to easily, even conquering the dreaded ground rails with ease and without a traditional bit and bridle.

To this day Paquette still keeps in touch with Trippi’s racing connections and is forever grateful for how well they cared for him during his racing career. While he raced 42 times between the ages of 3 and 6 and spent the latter part of his racing career exclusively at the $4,000-$5,000 claiming level, he retired sound.

“Former jockey and local legend Tammi Piermarini told me during one of our racing weekends at Suffolk last year that knowing how hard he was as a racehorse last year, she would never have believed he could be such a nice horse off the track. That meant the world to me,” said Paquette. “He’s 14 now and he’s been part of my life in some capacity for almost 11 years. How many people get to say they took their favorite racehorse home? Over the years we’ve developed a real bond and I trust him more than any horse I’ve ever ridden or been around.”

Name: What a Trippi (a.k.a. “Trippi”)

Born: March 18, 2004
Color: Bay
Sire: Trippi
Dam: Avert Your Eyes
Sale History: Sold at OBSJAN in 2005 as a yearling for $15,000; sold at FTMSEP in 2005 as a yearling for $39,000; Sold at OBSMAR in 2006 as a two-year-old for $20,000
Race Record: 42-9-7-3
Race Earnings: $111,228

Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky and was recently named the Executive Director of the Retired Racehorse Project. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She is the go-to food source for one dog, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.

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

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