Feb 01, 2023

Rescue Horse Runaway Romeo Finds His Calling

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Amanda Walker and Runaway Romeo on their way to the Novice Rider win at Grand Oak Horse Trials in January. PicsofYou photo

Amanda Walker wasn’t sure what she’d gotten herself into when she went to try Runaway Romeo as a potential sales project in 2018.

The gelding was a bit bigger than Walker was looking for and was quite pushy coming out of the stall. When she got on, it didn’t get much better.

“He was immediately spinning and trying to get me off or into a wall again,” said Walker, who was 13 at the time. “The whole ride, we couldn’t even canter. He was just going sideways the whole time.”

"Roman" had been found at an auction a month earlier by Julie Copper of Copper Horse Crusade, an Ohio-based organization that saves slaughter-bound horses. Roman and a mare named Velvet were a bonded pair, and Copper hoped they would be adopted together.

Despite their first ride, Walker fell in love with Roman and believed he could be turned around with time and trust. Velvet came home with her too, despite being unsound to ride at the time.

“We got him a month after the auction as soon as he was cleared to be out of quarantine,” she said. “He was skin and bones. You could see every rib, his hip divots; his withers were really profound at the time. When you looked into his eyes, there was nothing there. It looked like he’d already given up on life.”

One of Amanda Walker and
Runaway Romeo's first rides.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Walker

Roman wasn’t tattooed or microchipped, but Walker and her vet believe he’s a Thoroughbred who was about 5- or 6-years-old when she adopted him. She’s hoping to get him DNA-tested in the future.

A week after he got to his new barn, Roman contracted pneumonia, and Walker used the downtime to start bonding with him from the ground.

“He didn’t have any self-preservation,” she said. “He would run himself into the wall. He didn’t trust anybody enough to be like, ‘Hey, we just want to help you.’ For a while he didn’t want to leave his stall with us. I would sit in his stall with him a lot and bribe him with treats to see if he’d let me pet his head, just hanging out with him and trying to get him to trust me. I just wanted to be his friend. It took awhile. He was finally like, ‘Hey, this isn’t so bad.’”

Walker had competed to unrecognized Beginner Novice with her previous off-the-track Thoroughbred. With help from trainer Kristi Woods-Foltz, they taught Roman the basics of dressage and jumping, and he took to it well.

They started competing in unrecognized events in 2019. At their first event, Roman stopped twice in show jumping because he was scared of the flower boxes, but “then on cross-country I didn’t have to put my leg on or anything. He was just going. He loved every bit of it,” Walker recalled.

Walker remembers their second event as pretty dramatic, which led to Roman's registered name.

“He got it because at [the] show we tied him to a trailer, and it was a very foggy day, and he ended up breaking the trailer tie and getting loose,” she said. “He ran five miles from the show grounds across a highway. He wasn’t smart enough to run back to the other horses and ran down a path. We found him 2 ½ hours later in a field of alfalfa hay.”

Although Roman had a dressage saddle on, both he and his tack were unscathed, and he and Walker went on to score a 27 in dressage.

Amanda Walker and Runaway Romeo recently won a Novice division at Grand Oaks Horse Trials. Photo courtesy of Amanda Walker

After she graduated high school in 2022, Walker decided to take a working student position with Megan Moore at her Verona Equestrian in Verona, Kentucky.

She did her and Roman’s first USEA-recognized event at Bucks County Horse Park Horse Trials (Revere, Pennsylvania) in September where they finished second in a Novice division, and most recently they won the Novice Rider division at Grand Oaks Horse Trials (Weirsdale, Florida).

While Roman’s friend Velvet was affectionate from the start, it took him awhile to come out of his shell. Now, he’s in everyone’s pocket according to Walker.

“He loves attention now,” she said. “He’ll stick his head out of the gate and turn his head to side or make faces at you as you walk by. Sometimes he’ll try to grab my belt loop to get me to pet him. He loves people now.”

Walker, 18, is spending the winter in Ocala, Florida, and hopes to do a Modified event by the end of the year.

“It felt amazing to be able to win with something you wouldn’t see at this level and have the chance to keep going,” she said.

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