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People’s Choice - Vindicator

(Editor’s note: A complete list of all People’s Choice winners is posted in a separate news item.)



by Ann Bullard


Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007. Harness ponies and their lady/amateur drivers stood in the center of Freedom Hall, awaiting the judges’ decision. As they stood, announcer Peter Fenton quietly asked Karen Waldron, who was parked next to the announcer’s stand, how old Vindicator was.


“I looked at Lee [Hudson] and said, ‘We just won this class,’” Waldron commented. “While we were making our victory pass, Peter started talking about Vindicator’s come back at the age of 22. That’s when it hit home that he was coming near the end of his career.”


Karen Waldron and trainer Lee Hudson

hugged after Vindicator’s win.

No one told Vindicator. On Friday night, he and Waldron returned, handily winning the Amateur Harness Pony Championship. 

Waldron spoke of that Friday night win. “As hard as Lee and I have worked with that pony his whole life, we had nothing to do with what happened that night. I sat there, holding the reins as nothing but a passenger. It was all him. I’ve never been around an animal like Vindicator.”


The 2007 win was Vindicator’s latest in a string of harness pony world’s championship performances that include the 1994 World’s Champion of Champions, four reserve world’s champion of championships and four Harness Pony Stallion and Gelding titles before being moved to the ladies/amateur division. He had five reserve world’s championships in that division before arriving at Louisville 2007.


Simply put, Vindicator is exactly what he was bred to be – and then some. Ohioans Ed and Jean Wilson of Twin Willows Farm took their Reedann’s Souvenir daughter, Diamond Lil, to Canada to be bred to the champion, Cassilis Debonaire. That foal, originally named Twin Willow’s Vindicator, began his show ring career at almost three-months old, winning the weanling class at Lawrenceburg, Ky.


“He was a whale of a baby,” said Mark Wilson, who showed Vindicator in hand for his parents. “You should have seen it. He knew he was good. He had that charisma – that look – when he was a baby and he still shows it.”


Vindicator’s potential was evident from

the first time he set hoof in the show ring.

Mark Wilson showed the almost three-month-

old pony to win the Weanling Championship

at the Lawrenceburg [Ky.] Horse Show.


Ohioan Terry McKenzie started Vindicator on his show ring career, teaming him to the 1989 Junior Harness Pony World’s Championship and the Reserve World’s Champion of Championship in 1990. The Waldrons purchased him shortly after that reserve win.


Vindicator has proven himself over and over again in the show ring. His record as a sire is equally impressive. World Champion Night Editor, Juliana and Sweet Georgia Brown are among his early offspring. More recently Zeus, Bagheira, Broadway Joe and the 2007 Reserve World’s Champion Roadster Pony Under Saddle Pure Country have represented the Vindicator/Bent Tree program in Freedom Hall.


The year before, it seemed Vindicator might be at the end of his career, although he did tie reserve in the amateur/ladies qualifier. “The vets had no idea why he was running a fever and was very swollen. They were afraid he might have developed testicular cancer due to a melanoma,” Waldron said. “We brought him home from Louisville and sent him to Virginia Tech. The surgeon called and told me his prognosis and what they wanted to do. Luckily, we had a dog with cancer at the University of Tennessee. Their head oncologist was horrified at the prospect of doing surgery on Vindicator. It would have disfigured – and probably killed him. We decided to follow a different protocol with medicine and some laser work. Everyone forecasted Vindicator wouldn’t be around long. Instead, he totally beat it over the winter and came back to do all he did in 2007.”


Vindicator is much more than a show ring star and world’s champion sire. He is a character with a strong personality.


“Vindicator feels like he owns me,” Waldron said, explaining it’s been that way since the day she bought the pony. “He really is the master of the barn. He’s always had the same stall; when we replaced the barn after the fire, he went back to the exact same location.”


Waldron says Vindicator considers himself a person – an equal to the people around him. He is “very mischievous. He’s always quirky about who he allows to handle him. Sometimes he won’t let me do a thing with him in the stall. And he doesn’t like men in his stall or anywhere around him. I don’t know if it’s ego or a control issue. People look at this little pony and think it’s no big deal. But he won’t be harassed.”


Hudson apparently has his number. “Once he’s rude to someone else, Lee can walk in, give him the evil eye and he backs down,” Waldron said.


Vindicator considers Waldron ‘his person.’ No other person – or animal – should come before him in her life. Before she and Shawn Ricci married, Ricci was watching her work the stallion.


“I was working him out in the ring by myself. We’d about finished. When I lined him up to make him stand and look at the mares, Shawn walked up. Vindicator turned and went at him; he was challenging Shawn,” Waldron said.


The stallion definitely has ‘issues.’ He doesn’t like small children and has a huge issue with the Friesians, the latest addition to the Bent Tree Farm collection.


“The entire time someone is riding or driving a Friesian past him, he will rear, strike and scream at these horses. He wants to prove to them that he is in control of the situation,” Waldron added. “It’s remarkable that he thinks to this degree. He plans and plots it out, and knows what he is going to do.”


She pointed out that Vindicator has never kicked or reared while driving. Rather he “is all mouth and has never hurt anyone. Several employees in the past thought it funny when he would run at someone. They would pop around the side of the stall and say boo! He loves to play that game, but it’s not funny because someday he may do it to the wrong person.”


When Waldron purchased Heartland Ooh La La after she won the 1997 Hackney Pony World’s Grand Championship and brought her to Virginia, people praised the mare.


“Vindicator went into such a depression that we ended up giving him a year off. He felt he was in second place, something he’d never felt in his life. It took a very long time to get him over that,” Waldron said.


Although the farm has cut back on the number of mares bred each year, they have broodmares and stallions of exceptional bloodlines. While Vindicator is past the breeding age, the farm has retained his daughters to cross with their Mark Of Success stallions, Par Excellence, his full brother, Overnight Success, and Mark In Time. His son, Night Editor, services Mark Of Success-bred mares.


“We truly feel our Vindicator daughters are going to be such important assets to the Hackney breed overall,” Waldron said. “They offer longevity, attitude, conformation and are very solid, beautiful mares.”


What lies ahead for the now 23-year-old Hackney senior citizen? It’s up to him.


“Vindicator is a remarkable animal and has been a dream, one of the most remarkable creatures of any species that I’ve ever known. He knows it; you can see it in his eyes,” Waldron said.


“At some point, we’re going to have to stop this. I don’t want to press it to the point where we’d be at a show where he gets sick and dies on us. The only thing he enjoys doing is working,” she continued.


“I suppose it could be time to bow out and say thank you to everyone. It will have to be his decision. We’ll continue driving and working him until he can’t do that any more. His idea of retirement is nothing we can conceive of at this moment. There’s no way to turn him out in a big paddock or a field; he doesn’t even like to be loose in the bullpen. He wants to be in the barn where he can observe what everyone else is doing all day – and yell at the Friesians.”


Whatever may lie ahead for Vindicator and his owner, his remarkable run of wins, of breath-taking performances will remain part of Saddle Horse history.


“I think Larry [Ella] summed it up at the [UPHA] convention,” Waldron said. “He was speaking to another competitor about what has occurred with Vindicator. He told them, ‘You do very well. You were beaten by Vindicator. You should be very pleased with your pony and understand that you have been beaten by a legend.’”


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