As Leeanne Ladin looked at the calendar, planning ahead for the upcoming Virginia Horse Festival at the Meadow Event Park, she realized she had a problem. Ladin is Secretariat tourism manager at the park, which sits on the site of Penny Chenery’s Meadow Farm. As she brainstormed ways to get festival attendees to interact with the historic buildings on the property, she realized she needed help from a horse.
Secretariat’s birthplace may have ceased to be a working farm years ago, but that doesn’t mean Virginia horse lovers have forgotten about Big Red. In fact, the Park has prepared a special program to be held during the festival, which takes place the weekend before Secretariat’s birthday (this year, March 25-26). That was where Ladin’s problem came in.
The park is home to Groundshaker, the last homebred of Penny Chenery and great-great granddaughter of Big Red. The 6-year-old arrived at the property to live out her retirement in 2016, and while she is used to greeting tours, Ladin needed a horse that could handle being a little more up close and personal with people, including children. And Groundshaker needed a buddy.
Then, Ladin got a call from someone who found a chestnut miniature horse abandoned at a local farm. The mare’s rescuers discovered her tied to a fence and left in the rain. Ladin was happy to take on the spunky little mare, named Mia, but not nearly as happy as Groundshaker was. The two became fast friends from the moment Mia trotted into Groundshaker’s paddock.
“They are inseparable and when they are put in their stalls (rarely except for farrier or vet), Mia will stand on her hind legs looking for Groundshaker,” said Ladin. “They both love peppermint horse treats and carrots, although Groundshaker worries that Mia will get more than she does.”
Groundshaker and Mia make quite a pair. Groundshaker stands around 17 hands tall. Mia is just 9 hands. Mia doesn’t let her size stop her from keeping up with the daughter of Quiet American, who retired after failing to hit the board in two starts. Groundshaker seems to take care to direct her exuberant bucks away from her small friend.
During Secretariat’s birthday celebration, Mia will be decked out in a specially-sized saddle and blinkers in Meadow Stable’s colors, and will greet visitors as they tour the restored barns that once housed the 1973 Triple Crown winner. Although the broodmare barn where Secretariat and Somethingroyal lived no longer stands, the yearling barn and training barn where he grew up are still intact. Visitors to the festival will have the chance to get autographs from Kate Chenery Tweedy, daughter of Penny Chenery, Charlie Davis, Secretariat’s exercise rider, and Otto Thorwarth, who played Ron Turcotte in the Secretariat film. Virginia Horse Festival activities will include demonstrations and clinics from a number of disciplines and will also feature lectures on selecting and training off-track Thoroughbreds from Steuart Pittman of the Retired Racehorse Project.
Ladin said off-campus travels could be in Mia’s future, if it turns out she really embraces her role as an ambassador for Big Red later this month. She has a little more work to do before she’s ready to receive her public, however.
“We’re having a ‘spa day’ tomorrow to trim that bushy mane and get her ‘glammed up’ for her big debut,” Ladin said this past weekend. “As I hope this shows, Mia is well-loved and well spoiled here at The Meadow.”
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