First up in a new blog series, “Road to the Thoroughbred Makeover,” meet Erica Gaertner and All the Way Jose. Jose is a Jonathan Sheppard home-bred who raced for Buttonwood Farm. He won the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory in 2017. Jose retired in 2019 with 37 starts and earnings of over $450,000. Erica will pick up the story of Jose’s retirement life. Enjoy!
By Erica Gaertner
I first met All the Way Jose in the Summer of 2016. I was starting my internal medicine residency in Philadelphia, and had messaged Keri Brion to see if I could ride on my days off. Despite the fact that I fell off my first day there, she was nice enough to let me come back.
The next time was my first ride on Jose. I typically like fiery redheads, so he is not my usual type, but there was something about him clicked right away. I got to know everyone at Ashwell a bit over the following months, and ended up grooming for them at some of the races.
Keri and I became friends, so when she rode Jose at Fair Hill, I ran him for her. I think I lost my voice screaming for them. From then on, everyone at Ashwell knew Jose was my favorite. I didn’t always get to run him because his longtime groom Carl Cooke was very attached and would flat out say no to me. I would even try to bribe him with Coca Cola and his favorite tobacco, to no avail.
In 2017 I moved back to Maryland to finish my residency, but continued to travel to Ashwell on my days off. I ended up in Camden and Saratoga for a week with Jose in 2018, which was a pretty special experience for a medicine resident.
Fast forward to Fall 2019. Jose was not as competitive in the bigger races anymore, and Jonathan Sheppard and Mr. Moorhead, his owner, decided to retire Jose. Keri knew how much I adored Jose and I ended up getting him upon retirement.
I brought Jose to my friend Suzanne Stettinius’ parents’ farm in Maryland. I knew I wanted to enter the RRP with him, so per the rules of the program I could only have so many rides on him before Dec. 1. I had never jumped Jose when he was at Ashwell, and his crew warned me that he may not take well to show-ring jumps. He was known to wheel and be spooky at times. I took him over some show jumps on my first ride with him; there was no wheeling, but he also did not care to pick up his feet. There was a period when I thought that Jose would just be my foxhunter, and maybe my desire for him to be a show jumper was a reach. It didn’t really matter to me, because I was just happy having him.
Shortly after getting him, I had ankle surgery and a three-month layoff. I turned him out and let him be a horse. When COVID hit last year, my sports medicine fellowship was put on hold, and I suddenly had a lot of free time. I would go to the farm and ride Jose daily. I did a lot of flatwork and grids and he really came around on the jumps.
Next thing I knew my ankle was hurt again, and I was facing another lengthy layoff. I was lucky because my friend Theresa Dimpfel, who used to work at Ashwell, decided to help me with Jose. She would school him a couple of times a week, and I would be the ground person. She also took him to his first couple of shows. Jaidyn Shore, an up-and-coming junior jockey, would ride Jose as well. The pair competed in the Pony Club Dressage rally as well as a couple of jumper shows. Suzanne was also in the mix riding him for me. On top of that, he won the Real Rider Cup with Penelope Miller.
I was finally cleared to ride again. I had bought a new saddle and had a great day schooling over fences in our ring. A couple of days later, I was out jumping the new hedge jumps that Suzanne and I helped build, and next thing you know, Jose and I were on the ground. Thankfully Suzanne had a video, which showed Jose getting his shoe stuck on a piece of twine that was around his girth. It was a freak accident, and thankfully Jose came out unscathed. I, on the other hand, broke my collarbone in several pieces, which meant yet another surgery and another layoff.
Suzanne and Jaidyn took over the riding duties. They both won classes with him at the local hunter trials. Suzanne also hunted him with the Greenspring Valley Hounds. I began giving some of the pony club kids lessons on him as well. With all of my downtime, I’ve come to realize that I really enjoy sharing Jose with other people.
I was finally cleared to ride again and on my first day out, I took Jose into the field and jumped him around our log course. He was perfect, of course. Well, once again, our time together was short lived. While removing my tack, I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder. An x-ray the next day confirmed my collarbone and the plate holding it together had broken. As it turns out, the injury had not healed properly due to an infection, which we found during my second surgery. I am now out, again, for a few months. Since my mishaps, I have decided to make Jose a team entry for the makeover. Recently he has been hacking in the snow, doing dressage lessons, and being a pony club mount for the rest of team Jose, which includes Suzanne Stettinius and Jaidyn Shore. I am looking forward to the coming months and getting Jose to some horse shows this year. For the time being, though, I am the treat lady and snuggle partner.