When Ron Legere and Connie Berghout’s beloved quarter horse mare Chics Finer Shiner had to be humanely euthanized four years ago, the loss was heart-wrenching. Five days after foaling, the mare suffered severe neurologic symptoms, likely cased by equine herpesvirus. Legere was left with a motherless foal and his dream of producing a reining futurity horse seemingly shattered.
“I was a basket case. It was so emotional,” recalls Legere, who lives in Peterborough, Ontario. “That mare was my best friend and Connie’s show horse. I didn’t think there was any way we could deal with an orphan foal.”
Fast-forward to the summer of 2019. The orphan filly, which they named Thischicsgunacostya, not only survived, but thrived. Around the barn she is known as Daytona, inspired by a Florida vacation Berghout and Legere took that year to the Daytona International Speedway.
After Legere and the three-year-old bay dun filly placed third in a non-pro futurity class at the Canadian Classic reining show at Fletcher’s Horse World, they went on to the Ontario Bred, Born or Owned Reining Futurity on August 25 at the Pickering Horse Centre. There are three levels of non-pro classes and Daytona and Legere entered them all. They won all three, earning two trophies (the Lawson trophy for winning the top Level 4 and the Morrison for winning Level 3), a plaque, a new Western Rawhide saddle and a $5,000 cheque.
“That’s not bad for an orphan!” says Legere. “But a lot of hard work and a great support team got us there.”
The day of the futurity, Daytona was in full heat and Legere feared her performance would be off.
“I thought ‘oh my god, this is going to be a rodeo’ but she was one hundred per cent,’” Legere recalls. “I didn’t even know we’d won at first. When all the excitement and adrenaline simmered down and I later looked at the pictures and videos of our journey, it was life-altering.”
Legere was introduced to horses when he met Berghout 17 years ago. He bought a paint mare and he and Berghout did some team penning. When long-time friend and reiner Bill Rinzema of Rinzema Stables got Chics Finer Shiner in as a sales horse, Legere and Berghout purchased the 2007 palomino quarter horse and Rinzema trained her.
“Connie and I showed her a bit. She was a super smart mare and anybody could ride her,” says Legere. “She always left the arena with a ribbon.”
Legere aspired to raise a futurity horse, so they bred the mare to champion reining stallion Gun Dealer. Hope seemed lost after the mare died and left the filly orphaned. The cost of a nurse mare was prohibitive, so Legere took two months off work to bucket-feed the filly through the night at the barn where they boarded, with a miniature donkey keeping Daytona company.
“I got her on FoalGro and she wouldn’t be here today without it,” says Legere. “She was going through 21 litres a day. At first she had to be fed every hour, then every two hours, then four, then six. My mom and friends donated to help us out, the barn owners and boarders helped. We weren’t equipped for all that was involved. Orphaned foals have a 45 per cent mortality rate and she was so undersized for the longest time.”
Legere had to return to work, emotionally and physically spent. He considered getting out of horses altogether until Bill Rinzema suggested he and Berghout bring their animals to his stable (they have two other quarter horses), where Rinzema could take over most of the care and there was another foal to serve as a companion to Daytona.
Life got back to normal. As the filly matured, Legere took on Daytona’s training himself.
“I didn’t know if we were even going to the futurity. It’s a lot of money just to enter and then to have to go and show,” he says. “I have enough of a competitive edge that I wanted to get there, but didn’t want to look like a schmuck. Bill is a great ground man and we’d get together once a month and he’d give me a report card. It was fantastic to have him in my corner.”
Daytona was the first horse Legere has started from scratch. While she resembles her sire, she has all of her dam’s mannerisms. “Her mother would stand in the crossties and the moment you were going to put the saddle on, she’d scowl, and Daytona’s the same. Her dam had a tremendous amount of try and Daytona is exactly the same.”
With the futurity win putting a triumphant finish to Daytona’s first three years after the tragic circumstances following her birth, Legere still is in disbelief about her Cinderella story.
“Many competitors go a lifetime and never achieve either trophy (the Lawson or the Morrison),” he says. “Luck was definitely on our side that day.”