Arden and Dancer with their trophy and ribbon haul from this year's Agricultural Exhibition.
Arden and Dancer with their trophy and ribbon haul from this year's Agricultural Exhibition.

When racehorses go up for auction after they have run their course they pretty much have the luck of the draw. If they get lucky they may find themselves galloping through open fields and being loved unconditionally. The flip side is a much darker and sadder ending –– often the slaughterhouse.

Luckily for some very special horses, they get to live out the rest of their lives in Bermuda.

Off the track horse #457 was brought to the island by Esther Douglas three years ago through the Spicelands Riding Centre and is now known as Atlantic Dancer. It was during that time that she learned to appreciate the slower pace of island life and formed a bond with Arden Vickers –– a bond that not only gave Dancer a second chance but also a second chance for 15-year-old Arden. 


“Dancer has been a complete saviour to Arden’s self-confidence,” explains Jane Vickers, Arden’s mother. “Riding has done so much for her self-confidence and sense of achievement.”

When Arden was eight she was diagnosed with dyslexia and fell behind in her academics in traditional schooling, says Mrs Vickers. She was taken out of school and began a homeschooling programme with teacher Sandy Mayor.

During that time, she was also able to develop her skill for horse riding and started to work with Dancer after her riding instructor, Michael Rodrigues, introduced them.

In that time they have taken the ring by storm and the once-destined-for-the-slaughterhouse horse was awarded overall horse of the show at this year’s Agricultural Exhibition, along with Arden scooping up several other ribbons throughout the event.

“Their little bond is obvious,” says Mrs Vickers. “And winning isn’t necessarily what it is all about. Sportsmanship is first and foremost but that has certainly been a great part of it. It has been a second chance for both of them.”

Training a former racehorse comes with its challenges, explains Mr Rodrigues, who has helped to build both Arden and Dancer’s self-confidence.

“Michael has completely transformed Dancer,” Mrs Vickers adds.

Thankfully for Mr Rodrigues, Dancer was very willing to learn her new role from the beginning.

“Race horses don’t know how to stand still,” explains Mr Rodrigues. “They’ve been taught to run and to run fast.

“So from the beginning there was a lot of basic, quiet training for her. Often times racehorses don’t trust people very much, so it was important to get her used to someone spending more than 15 minutes attending to her. Also, race jockeys tend to be very light and don’t require much tack, so we had to get her used to holding a little more weight.”

When horses are bought from auctions to come to Bermuda, they are often sight-unseen. Buyers receive a description of the horse, then hope that it has a good disposition.

“She has outclassed any expectation,” says Mr Rodrigues. “She is a gem.

“She has taken off and so has Arden, who at first was a timid rider, but Dancer took it all in stride.”

And it hasn’t been all work, all the time for Dancer. Along with the love lavished upon her by Arden, she is also on half feed to Rachel Van De Weg, who bakes the horse home-made treats, says Mrs Vickers.

“Whenever Arden or Rachel come to the barn, Dancer knows them, does a loud whinny and goes nuzzling for treats. She is a very lucky and lovely horse!”