It was hard for Todd Malley and Larry Higgs to speak after watching a video at the Race Track Chaplaincy Association’s White Horse Award Luncheon that told the story of how they rescued 19 horses from a barn fire. The two grown men wiped their eyes as they relived that nightmarish day that forever changed their lives.
“We kept trying to get them out, and you heard them screaming for their lives,” remembered Malley, who was awarded the RTCA’s White Horse Award along with Higgs, Beau Smith, and Jason Inabinnett at Santa Anita Park Oct. 23. The four men risked their lives to lead 19 of their 40 horses from their stalls before their Vinton, La., barn was engulfed in flames.
“There’s always going to be a piece of my heart back in that barn,” said Malley, who is also a blacksmith at Louisiana-based racetracks and farms. “Those horses (who died) were like family to me — they put food on the table.”
“In time, we’ll get over it, but it was a tragedy that happened that couldn’t be helped,” added Higgs. “You just had to react to it — you didn’t have time to think. We love horses — horses are our lives, and we’re going to continue (in the industry) down the road.”
“(This award) means everything to us,” Higgs continued. “(Horses) are our job, our livelihood. This is what we do and who we are. It’s just wonderful to be nominated for this great award, and it’s even better to win the nomination. On behalf of everybody that was in that fire, we would like to give our gratitude and thanks.”
The award was presented by Duncan Taylor, president of Taylor Made Farm near Nicholasville, Ky.
“God wants us to be his hands, his feet, his eyes, and wants us to do the work of the world, and I feel humbled to be around people that are doing this,” said Taylor. “The more you give, the more God gives you back, and we’re humbled and honored to be able to help the Race Track Chaplaincy.”
The other White Horse award nominees were John Porter and Robert Gaylor; Rachel Pitt, Bryan Smith, and Danny Mele; and jockey Calvin Borel, who all performed separate heroic acts over the last year.
While White Horse Award winners received a $5,000 first prize, a special edition white bronze statue by Lisa Perry, and other gifts and prizes, the three runners-up received $1,000 and all-expenses-paid trips to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
In addition to the nominees, equine artist Fred Stone was also honored with the RTCA’s Unbridled’s Song Community Award.
Stone has raised thousands of dollars to aid racetrack workers, veterinary research, victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and families of the firefighters killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
“I think I’m the luckiest man on the face of this earth, because I’m able to do something now that every man hopes and dreams he can do, and that’s help so many other people,” said Stone.
The White Horse Luncheon, co-hosted by retired jockey Pat Day and HRTV personality Carolyn Conley also featured a silent auction with proceeds benefiting the RTMC and entertainment by Sharyn Lynn. A painting of Colonel John was auctioned live and fetched a $6,000 bid from the colt’s owners Bill and Susan Casner of WinStar Farm.