Tom Curtin reunited with Buster Brown/Nassau/
The Way To Go on Valentines Day of this year.
Photo courtesy of Emmie Ewing
The stories behind rescue horses tend toward the dramatic to begin with, but the tale of Buster, the 17.2hh Thoroughbred taken in by Fallen Horses, Inc., is even more sensational than most.
It began in Nevada with Dottie Harrison, vice president of Fallen Horses, a four-year-old equine rescue endeavor founded by Traci Hutmier. Fallen Horses is now based in the high desert town of Pinon Hills and, as of the end of 2013, had found homes for 22 lucky horses.
Dottie was looking for a family horse and answered a Craigslist ad from a ranch in Nevada. She looked at several on the ranch and excluded one 17.2hh Thoroughbred because of his size.
She continued to visit the ranch. On her way one day, the owner called and told her he was going out of state with his son and, when he returned, he was going to shoot that big brown gelding because he injured his eye. Dottie rushed out to see the horse. He had punctured his eye and an infection had set in. She rooted through the ranch tack room for supplies and began treating the horse. The owner called Dottie again and repeated his plan to shoot the horse when he returned. Dottie cried, cussed and carried on to the point the man gave her the horse.
Dottie and her family moved "Buster Brown," as she named him, to her in-laws' property and treatment continued on the eye until the infection cleared up. That's when Dottie discovered this old brown horse was the family horse she'd been looking for in the first place. Her only issue now was to get weight back on him. No amount of feed, grain or supplements made a difference and the horse finally coliced. Out of desperation, she called Traci Hutmier at Fallen Horses in California and together they used social media to raise the money to have Buster shipped to Traci for help.
He weighed in at about 950 pounds, very thin for his height. Double feeding wasn't helping so the vet was called in. It was determined that Buster had about 80 pounds of sand in his gut. No amount of feed would help because he was unable to digest it. Buster was put on the recommended "sand-blaster" diet for 30 days. His weight rebounded to 1150 pounds, his coat gleamed and the sparkle returned to his personality. He began taking beginner volunteers on trail rides and loved it. He quickly became a ranch favorite. Traci took pictures of the "new" Buster and sent them to Dottie, who was elated.
A New York Chapter
Early in December 2013, Dottie was online chatting with a new horse friend from Granby, MA. She mentioned her 18-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred. Emmie Ewing asked a few questions and Dottie told her a lot about that horse. Emmie told Dottie her story was very much like the story her fiancé told her about his long-missing Thoroughbred. Emmie relayed Tom Curtin's tale.
Tom Curtin answered an ad in a local newspaper while attending farrier school in New York. He was curious about the 17.2hh horse and a little intimidated by his size initially. However, one look in those soft brown eyes clinched the deal and the horse went home with Tom. Tom and the horse, Nassau, bonded. Tom taught that Warmblood-sized Thoroughbred to cut cows, rope cows, walk quietly down the street in parades and he became Tom's ambassador for off-the-track Thoroughbreds at public events. They were inseparable buddies.
Tragedy struck for Tom in 2008. He was forced to move back home to Massachusetts and couldn't find a suitable place to take Nassau that he could afford. His only option was to find him a new home locally in upstate New York with the condition that he would return for him as soon as he could afford to do so. He remained in contact for six months until the family who had Nassau disappeared, apparently taking the horse with them. Tom searched for his buddy for five years. Finally he decided Nassau probably did not survive and he grieved for him.
At the end of Dottie and Emmie's conversation, Dottie sent the photographs of Buster to Emmie. She took them home and showed them to Tom. After looking at the third picture, Tom broke down in tears. Buster was Nassau. His Jockey Club Registered name, confirmed by tattoo, sealed it all. This was "The Way To Go!"
Buster Brown with Dottie Harrison.
Emmie, Dottie, Traci and the volunteers of Fallen Horses got busy. A Coggins test was completed, health certificate signed off by the vet, farrier visit scheduled and reservations were made with Don Buckner, a cross-country hauler from Redmond, OR.
Wednesday morning, Feb 5 of this year, Buster got an early breakfast. He was brushed out for the final time in Pinon Hills. Don Buckner arrived with his trailer and Buster was hugged and kissed and loaded. Those of us left behind had tears in our eyes as the trailer left the driveway. Buster (aka Nassau, aka The Way To Go) was on his way back to Tom.
Don Buckner zig-zagged cross country with a number of horses to pick-up and drop off. Coupled with the horrendous winter conditions on the East Coast, Buster didn't arrive until Feb. 12. Tom was out of town on business so Emmie settled him into his new home and took care of him until Friday, February 14. Tom was reunited with Nassau on Valentine's Day 2014.
A Real Racer: The Way To Go (Buster/Nassau) raced 29 times from April 1997 to August 2000, earning over $82,000 with three first, two second and six third place finishes. He won one stakes race and placed in three others. His original trainer, Jesse Trotter, bought the horse at the Heritage Auction for Thoroughbreds in Oklahoma City, from the Oklahoma School of Horseshoeing, for $800 and gelded him before his training began, a decision he's regretted ever since. Jesse is well into his 80's with advanced dementia, but he can still provide chapter and verse on this one horse.
Author Victoria Hardesty is CEO of Fallen Horses, Inc., a non-profit equine rescue, shelter and re-homing program in the high desert town of Pinon Hills. For more information, visit