COLUMBIA — Elizabeth Parker looked Her Own Storm in the eye and knew she had to save her from malnourishment.
Parker felt an immediate connection with the former racehorse, who in 2010 she saw sold to a man for $37 at a farm auction just outside St. Louis. The horse was starved, and the man was going to send her to a slaughterhouse.
Friends suggested that Parker not buy the horse in its weakened state. But she couldn't get Storm out of her head, and she purchased the horse from the man for $125.
Storm was several hundred pounds underweight and had almost no muscle to cover her bones. The special connection Parker felt helped her care for the horse.
On Wednesday, Parker brought Storm from St. Louis to Columbia for the Purina Horse Owner's Workshop hosted at Stephens College.
Parker never considered the possibility of Storm being a racehorse until she found a numbered tattoo — a mark of racehorses — on Storm's lip. Parker sent the number and a photo of the horse to The Jockey Club, a breed registry for thoroughbreds. But because the picture only showed one white stocking on the horse's leg, the club could not verify a match.
Parker bathed the horse to see if she could find other distinguishing marks on Storm's body to help identify her as a racehorse. When she found the second white stocking, The Jockey Club was able to confirm that Storm was the great-great-granddaughter of one the most famous racehorses in history, Secretariat.
Secretariat was an American Thoroughbred racehorse born in 1970. He raced for two years, winning numerous races, and became the first U.S. Triple Crown Champion in 1973.
Parker originally named the horse Vida, which means "life."
“That’s initially what we wanted to call her, as part of the process of bringing her back to life,” Parker said. “But as soon as The Jockey Club identified her, we gave her own name back.”
Her Own Storm was named after her grandfather, Storm Cat, and her mother, Her Own Terms.
Storm ran 14 races before leaving the racetrack in 2008. During her career as a racehorse, she was never injured on the track.
Storm's wasn't the only life changed. The horse helped Parker after she lost her mother last year.
“I really got out of myself, she pulled me up,” Parker said. “And I think I’m the lucky one, because I don’t know if I would’ve known how to move on. Her needing me really brought it up.”
She said there are many horses like Storm who are neglected. Parker said she hopes to help others in the same situation.
“It made me passionate about reproducing the opportunity for other horses like her,” Parker said. “To have a connection with somebody that would stop by and look them in the eye and say, 'I got land, I got a barn full of hay, let’s try and see.'”
Parker founded Thoroughbred Rescue, a St. Louis-based nonprofit, to help other horses. The organization recently took in two new horses.
“I had no idea before that this would affect me so deeply and make me change my life,” Parker said. “But it has.”
“She still eats like a racehorse. She eats three times a day,” said Parker. “Just making sure she gets everything she needs.”
This summer, Parker is going to work on rebuilding Storm's muscles and thickening her legs through different activities.
“A lot of kids like to come and feed her treats, and she’s gentle,” Parker said. “We are working on a new trick now. I’m trying to teach her to bow. She’s smart.”