Day At The Track

The Diva Clause Story from Joanne Young

08:11 AM 06 Feb 2019 NZDT
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Elequent Diva, harness racing Elequent Diva, harness racing
"Diva" loved people, especially the ones bringing treats.
Katie Hennemann photo
Elequent Diva (in the background) with one of her buddies in Florida enjoying a shady spot.
Katie Hennemann photo

I have been involved with harness racing since the late 1980’s, and  I have to admit it’s a love/hate relationship.

My love of horses came early as a child. I would do anything to ride a horse. My neighbor friend was lucky enough to have a horse, but she detested cleaning the stalls, which was a requirement her parents had for her.  I, of course, volunteered with the condition that I could ride Patches whenever I wanted.

It was a while before her parents found out and stopped my job. They allowed me to continue riding but eventually Ruthie got tired of cleaning the stalls and her parents found a new home for Patches. Even though I was bitten by a horse, which required 150 stitches, fell off my fair share of them, and had a few visits to hospitals, my love of horses never weaned.

Most of my adult life I showed/rode Arabian horses.  I also love the competition of racing, but find myself questioning some people’s motives in the business.

A few years ago, my ex-husband Richard Young and I purchased a horse at the Harrisburg Yearling Sale. Her name was Elequent Diva. She was a beautiful animal and an extremely sweet horse to be around.  She was purchased with the full intent to race her one day. 

I fell in love with her the day she arrived at our farm in Pennsylvania after we found out that racing was not to be in her future.

Diva didn’t know how very sick she was, which looking back brings some comfort.  She was born with a rare congenital heart defect, one that would preclude her from racing or breeding.

When we learned from the specialist’s at New Bolton that her life was considered guarded, we contacted the breeders/sellers, David and Brian Legge in Canada. We also contacted Standardbred Horse Sales Company. We told them that we would not be paying for the horse as she would never be able to race.  

SHSC agreed that we should not pay for the horse. We never received an invoice. The breeders however, along with their consignment company, Preferred Equine, thought we should pay because we signed a contract that said the horse was being sold “as is”.

I won’t get into the specifics of the contract as it is very complicated. Suffice to say they (SHSC) should one day reword their contract to include the “Diva Clause” which would protect all buyers of horses that have a congenital defect which effects their racing/breeding capabilities.

We did offer to pay the Legges a very generous sum of money as to avoid possible litigation. That proved fruitless.

The Legge’s did sue us first in Canada first but the judge said it was the wrong jurisdiction. They then got SHSC to assigns their rights, (SHSC didn’t want to be sued by them, but that is another story) which made it possible for the Legges’s to file a complaint against us in the US.

This all could have been avoided if the Legges’s and David Reed would have just listened to reason and taken our generous offer. Realistically we didn’t have to offer them anything and could have shipped the horse either back to Harrisburg or to the Legges farm in Canada.

In this conundrum we decided to keep Diva and try and make her life as comfortable as possible. Everything is not always about money. Sometimes we all need to just do the right thing. In this case what was important was a very sick beautiful horse deserving as good a life here on earth as we could provide.

Looking back on the case it was so easy for everyone if they only had the best interest of Diva in mind. I have sold many show horses in my life and each time I would tell the buyer to take the horse home, ride him/her, get to know him/her and if you decide they will make a great horse for you then send me the check. If not, please bring them home to me.  

The reason I do this is because it is the best thing to do for the horse and I also want the purchasers to be happy.  I am very thorough about the purchaser also. They need to pass the Joanne test.  I want to be sure my horse is going to the best possible home.

If only more people cared about the animal and less about the dollars the horse industry would not have some of the problems they have today. I understand Diva was purchased at auction which is very different than a private purchase. That is why there should be protection for the buyers, sellers and most importantly for the horse.

The trial lasted 4 days and after deliberating for less than 20 minutes the jury wanted to know how much they could award us.

Needless to say, the Legges were less than thrilled with this question. The jury came back 10 minutes later and found we were not in breach of contract, meaning the “as is” clause in their contract did not mean that a horse with a congenital defect had to be paid for. We won, or did we. Certainly we felt vindicated, but no one really won. Much money, time, and stress won. Oh, and the attorney’s won too.

But we did win one thing and that is we had Diva for a short time.

As Diva exited Chris Ryder’s horse trailer that sunny June day in 2014, she quickly had a look around and decided this was going to be okay for a new home. We put her in the pasture with my elderly Arabian mare, Makkessa. That turned out to not be a great idea as Makkessa was almost completely blind and Diva was young and full of herself.

Diva wanted to play, Makkessa wanted to barely move. We then decided to put her out with “the boys” which are a half Arabian gelding and a Dutch warmblood. Chase and Shane quickly fell in love with Diva and they all spent many great days running, eating and just being horses.  I actually had her at our farm for about a year and then my friend Katie took care of Diva.

Katie didn’t own Diva but she treated her as if she did. Diva lived in Northern Florida with Katie because we thought it was better to not ship her up and down the east coast; as I lived in Pennsylvania during the summer and back in Florida in the winter.

We thought it best to keep her in a mild climate. Diva lived with Katie for almost 2 years. Katie quickly got use to Diva’s voice when she wanted a treat or attention. She had to be fed first, after all she was the Diva! Katie rode Diva a bit, walking her down winding trails behind her home in the warm Florida sunshine until it proved too much for her ailing heart. Diva munched grass in lush pastures with her horse friends.

People that came to the barn always heard Diva’s call for treats which they were kind enough to oblige her.  As time went on Diva’s heart was showing the signs we all feared. I remember one day Katie calling and we talked about what to do. The vet had her comfortable on medication. I told Katie to put her out with her friends in the pasture if she wanted to be with them.

So on June 3, 2017  Katie put Diva out for the evening in the pasture she had frolicked in, where she ate the warm strands of Florida grasses, and enjoyed being with her buddies for the last time.

In the morning Katie found Diva laying under the oak tree. She had passed away during the evening to the  sound of crickets. There was no sign of distress or movement, she just as the good girl she always was,  just laid down and went to sleep. I can’t help but cry as I write these words.

Diva was a very special horse and I would not change a thing about the way she came into our lives. She taught us that all living creatures are valuable to the soul. She reminded us of what we should all strive to be, better people. Diva showed us that there is more to a life than the numbers in a bank account.  

by Joanne Roy-Young 


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