By Francis LaBelle
Tim Story doesn’t remember the exact day his brother Marty got out of prison. He does remember driving him home to where Kid Semoran, a chestnut Thoroughbred with a white stripe on his face, a club foot and a whole lot of personality, was patiently waiting for his best friend Marty.
Kid Semoran, known as Kid, had been a good racehorse and despite his bad foot, he managed to hit the board in five of his 14 career races, earning more than $20,000. When it was clear he could no longer compete, Kid was sent to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances Farm at the Blackburn Correctional Facility in Lexington, KY. Blackburn became part of the TRF’s Second Chances Program in 1999.
The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation launched its first innovative Second Chances Program at the New York state prison in Wallkill, NY in 1983. TRF Second Chances provides a sanctuary home for former racehorses who become teachers and friends to the inmates. Working with and caring for the horses gives the men the opportunity to learn horse care as a vocation and empathy as an added benefit. Second Chances has proven so successful that it is now offered at correctional facilities in seven states – New York, Kentucky, Florida, California, Maryland, Illinois and South Carolina. Its graduates have found rewarding careers as veterinarian assistants, farriers and stable managers.
“For years, I would go and see my brother every two weeks or so,” Tim said, “and those visits were always depressing. Marty understood why he was in prison, but he couldn’t believe it happened to him.”
“Everything changed when Kid first met my brother at Blackburn. It was something to see. A real transformation. They were friends from the start, so my wife Lyn and I knew we had to get Kid out when Marty was released. We actually had Kid for about a year before Marty got out. When we brought Marty home, he spent the first year doing nothing but spending time with that horse. It was the best therapy my brother could have had.”
Marty Story had already served nine of his 11-year sentence when he first befriended Kid. When Marty met Kid, the seeds of friendship immediately took root. “He was a special kind of horse,” Marty said. “I met him in my first year at Blackburn and we connected from Day 1.” Second Chances was what Marty and Kid both needed. “After I met Kid, it was a lot easier for me in prison,” Marty said. “I couldn’t wait to see him every day. I came to depend on him as much as he depended on me. Each day when I came out to be with him, we kind of escaped together.”
“We come from a family of horse people, Tim said, “and Marty was always quite a horseman. He loved Kid from the start. They gave one another something to look forward to, and you could see they loved being with each other. Marty taught Kid at least a dozen tricks that I bet he can still perform if you cue him right.”
Marty and Kid had worked together so well that they were featured in the movie “HOMESTRETCH,” a 2007 documentary that showed the world about the TRF, Second Chances, the struggle of racehorses as their on-track careers end and how, when horses and humans are teamed together, both come out ahead.
Their first appearance on the screen showed Kid, then four years old, coming when called to greet Marty. Free from halter and rope, the two pals cavorted in the paddock, showed off for the camera and left no doubt that they belonged together. Their most dramatic cinematic moment came while Marty was talking about natural horsemanship and about using kindness and understanding to communicate, rather than fear and intimidation. His discourse then became a life lesson about striking the right balance and to make his point, Marty stood on Kid’s back.
Their bond was so close that Tim knew he had to keep Marty and Kid together after Marty got released. “My wife, Lyn, and I had worked on adopting Kid out of Blackburn long before Marty came home,” Tim said. “We knew what Kid meant to my brother. My brother would always say that, when he was with Kid, he didn’t have to be in prison. He could sit with Kid in his stall, close his eyes and they could be anywhere.” Finally, in 2006 Marty was free.
Kid spent his first 18 months out of Blackburn with Tim and Lyn and their three horses: a Missouri Foxtrotter named “Beau” and two pained saddle horses, “Sketch” and “Tucker.” When Marty moved back in his hometown of Murray, KY, Kid was sent to the nearby 13-acre farm run by a friend, Kelly Kendall. Kid was with Marty but was also doted on daily by Kelly and her granddaughter, Nevaeh, who was eight years old at that time.
“Marty helped me with feed and we split the bill for whatever Kid needed.,” Kelly said. “Marty had a lot of health problems, and about two years ago, he made it official that he was giving Kid to my granddaughter. I think he knew how sick he was and he wanted to make sure that he left Kid in good hands.” Marty died on May 16, 2019 after a long illness. He was 61.
The ensuing months made life hard for Kelly and Nevaeh. Storms ravaged Kentucky and her barn was left barely standing. With Marty gone, Kelly now absorbed the full cost of caring for Kid Semoran, and the seemingly perpetually soggy ground made him a high-risk for hoof diseases. “It rained here a lot and the ground never seemed to dry out,” Kelly said. “I couldn’t afford to do right by Kid and the other animals.”
Marty, however, had an ace up his sleeve for Kid and now it was brought into play. Marty knew that the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation wouldn’t let down one of its herd members. “The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation commits to a lifetime of care for every single horse we accept, and that includes horses who have left for adoptive homes as well.” said TRF Herd Manager Sara Davenport. “If for any reason, an adopted horse needs to be returned, even years later, we welcome them. Circumstances change and for that reason, we’ve had adopted horses returned to us over the years.” Under the TRF’s stewardship, horses live long, productive lives. Currently over 60% the TRF’s are at least 20 years old and Kid is one of those having been foaled on March 16, 2000.
Kendall contacted the TRF and arranged for him to be returned to Blackburn. Knowing that Kid was going back to the safe haven of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation did not make the good-byes any easier. “I got Kid a companion, a sweet donkey named `Mary’ and Kid became very fond of her,” Kelly said. “He was very protective of her. I was hoping he would go to Blackburn before she left for her new home, but the plans changed, and Mary left first for an animal rescue near Bowling Green. I had to stand with Kid for a long time when she left to calm him down. I thought he was going to tear down the fence.”
It has been a few weeks since Kid Semoran’s return to Blackburn and when the Second Chances participants learned of the latest arrival, they were eager to see Kid’s repertoire of tricks. “Marty taught Kid to do a lot of tricks,” Kelly said. “Kid sits on straw. He will shake hands with you; he will put out one leg for you and he’ll shake it where it bends. My granddaughter and I taught him to give kisses, and he always gives Nevaeh the sloppy ones. If you ask him if he is a good boy, he will shake his head `Yes’ and if you ask him if he is a bad boy, he’ll shake his head `No.’ He’ll rear up on command and we even taught him how to smile.
“I would love to visit him at Blackburn and maybe get a chance to show the Second Chances students how to get him to do his tricks. I tried to write it down for them, but it is much easier to show them how to do it. Plus, I want to see Kid because I really miss him around here. He means a lot to all of us.”