Secret Lives of Horses

Firefly: Enjoying Life at Last

Article By Nancy Johnson, Photography by Gary Knoll

“Knowing even just part of what this horse went through, I was determined to give her the ‘happily ever after’ that she deserved,” says Eileen Wilkinson, the owner of Firefly, also known as Can’t Stop the Fire. At 24, the bright chestnut Thoroughbred mare is now living a life of leisure in Aiken County, but that wasn’t the case for most of her life.

Bred to race, Firefly was sold as a yearling at the 1998 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Select Sale for $60,000. In 1999, she began her racing career as a 2-year-old. After numerous starts in Virginia, Florida, New Jersey, Kentucky, and Ohio, she finally broke her maiden in 2000 running at Fairmount Park in Illinois. Although she finished in the money in two of her three races in 2001, that was the end of her racing career. In her 12 lifetime starts, Can’t Stop the Fire earned an unremarkable $8,712.

The next phase of her life lasted much longer than her racing career. A daughter of Cozzene, a popular Eclipse Champion stallion, she became a broodmare. Can’t Stop the Fire’s first foal, Colossal Fire, was born in 2003. Firefly went on to have a total of nine foals during the next 10 years. Several of her babies had successful racing careers; most notably Save the Park, a 2011 daughter of Divine Park, who finished her career with lifetime earnings of $139,378.

“Her story is a bit ugly from there,” Eileen says, adding, “Not that popping out an average of one baby per year over 10 years was pretty.” The mare, 16 at the time, ended up at an auction where she was purchased by a woman from upstate New York, who bought her to be used in a lesson program. After about four years of that, Eileen entered the picture.

Eileen was visiting her sister, who lives in Vermont. Her sister said that she knew of a quiet, older horse who needed a good home. Thinking this horse might suit her husband, Eileen agreed to go take a look.

“As soon as the owner put her on a lunge line, I could tell she was just a little spitfire of a mare,” Eileen remembers. “I was looking for a real quiet husband horse, so I told the woman I was sorry, but she just wasn’t a good fit.” But Eileen thought she might be able to find someone to take the mare, so she asked the owner to call her the following week with some more information. A week went by, and Eileen hadn’t heard from the owner. “So, I called to ask if she had found a home for the mare.” She was told that no home had been found, but since the owner had new horses coming in, she wouldn’t have room for the horse and would either send her to auction or have her euthanized.

“I hung up the phone and burst into tears,” Eileen says. Minutes later, she arranged to have Can’t Stop the Fire picked up and shipped from Vermont to her farm in Redding, Connecticut. When the mare arrived at Over the Moon Farm on December 16, 2017, the first thing Eileen did was to modify her name. “They called her Fire, and I really think it’s a bad idea to call out that word anywhere around a barn, hence I renamed her Firefly,” she explains.

Shortly after Firefly had settled in with her new barn mates Jack and Mocha, Eileen had plans to rendezvous with some friends in a state park near her property. “A friend was going to ride one of my horses, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to just hand walk Firefly along,” she says. They were trudging through about 16 inches of snow when they came upon some people who were out riding.

“We chatted a bit and then off they went, which somewhat upset Firefly,” Eileen explains. “Then, just as the two friends we intended to meet were approaching, a woman came by with three dogs on retractable leashes.” Between the horses, the dogs, and the noise from the leashes, it was just too much excitement, and Firefly reared. Instead of letting go, Eileen tried to hold on. The mare came down on Eileen, giving her a concussion and a fractured back. “I can’t blame her for the incident as it was a perfect storm situation, and I should have let go,” says Eileen.

Because of her injuries, Eileen never got a chance to ride Firefly before she moved her whole operation from Connecticut to Aiken in December 2018. Firefly, along with Jack and Mocha, was first stabled at Dancing Horses Equestrian Center in Williston. There, the trainer Jocelyn Deschene worked with Firefly for a couple of months before she and Eileen agreed it would be best to fully retire her. “She was just done,” Eileen says. A hind end issue, likely due to having so many foals, made her uncomfortable in work. “I just felt it wasn’t fair to push her and I firmly believe she deserves a nice retirement.”

Then, all three of Eileen’s horses moved to the downtown horse district so she could ride often in Hitchcock Woods. “Firefly seemed a bit listless there as she didn’t have a large paddock and her exercise was limited,” Eileen says. After searching to find a perfect situation, Eileen settled on a private farm where Firefly now shares a 34-acre field and run-in shed with her new best friend, Just Joe. One would never guess that this very handsome chestnut gelding is pushing 35.

 “From the moment they met, Firefly and Joe were best buddies!” Eileen notes. “I am so happy that she has lots of room to move about and can just enjoy being a horse.” 

The Secret Lives of Horses is a regular feature in The Aiken Horse newspaper, telling the story of a retired horse in the Aiken area, 20 years or older. Do you have an older horse that needs his or her story told? Email us!. Secret Lives is sponsored by Triple Crown Nutrition, providing nutrition beyond compare.