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Inspired by Jared's Courage

Jareds Courage

After reading TROT’s March feature on a young boy and his special connection to a horse, racehorse owner Georg Leber felt inspired to make a difference in the child’s life. By Melissa Keith

The story from the March 2017 issue of Trot Magazine and later featured on the Standardbred Canada website profiled Jared Dodington, a seven-year-old boy from Nova Scotia with autism that impacts his ability to establish friendships and bonds with kids his own age. Jared quickly developed a bond with a Standardbred foal at Meridian Farms in PEI, a horse he named 'Courage,' and that bond wasn't ordinary by any stretch of the imagination.

“We thought it was just a one-time thing, and it wasn’t,” Jared's father Matt Dodington told Trot. “We went back [to PEI] a few times, to watch different stakes races, and every time we went, we went back to the farm, to the field there.” Going down to the mares’ pasture fence, the Dodingtons would call out the colt’s new, unofficial name. “The whole herd of them start coming down and then they stop. And the one little fella comes right up to us, every time.”

The yearling, registered as Bank Roll by Meridian, was slated for the sales ring in 2017 until an owner from Ontario made sure Jared and Courage would have every chance to maintain and develop that bond created months ago.

Trot Magazine's follow-up on this feel-good story appears below. The news has also reached mainstream media and was the subject of a recent CBC article. CBC also posted an audio interview with Meridian's Brian Andrew and Madonna Morrison, embedded below.

If there’s a single characteristic that defines Canadian harness racing, it could be the spirit of benevolence shared among so many of its participants.

Take the recent example of Jared Dodington, the seven-year-old Cape Breton boy who became fast friends with a Meridian Farms foal named Bank Roll last year. As described in the March 2017 TROT, Jared’s autism affects his ability to establish relationships with other children, so his instant connection with the precocious colt made for a beautiful story. Yet it was an unsatisfying tale in that there was no known reunion date for Jared and the foal he christened “Courage” in the field. Matt Dodington, the boy’s father, had hoped to purchase Bank Roll/Jareds Courage at the 2017 Atlantic Classic Yearling Sale in Crapaud, PEI, but bidding would come with no assurance of ownership. And the trotters were going high in 2016.

The story Jared’s Courage also appeared on the Standardbred Canada website, to mark Autism Awareness Day, on April 2, 2017. Between the TROT story, and its later appearance on the website, it did not take long for several members of the racing community to take action.

Georg Leber owns 18 standardbreds, encompassing racehorses, broodmares, young horses, and new foals. The successful Pefferlaw, Ontario businessman says he was moved by the Dodingtons’ long wait for the yearling sale and uncertain prospect of even landing the colt. “I read the story about Jared and the young weanling, Bank Roll, who kept coming up to Jared,” he explains. “It said that Meridian Farms was putting him through the sale, and I said, ‘Well, I negotiate for a living, so why don’t I call them up and say, ‘Hey guys, let’s make a deal. What does it cost? Let’s get it done!’ But first I asked permission.”

Meridian Farms East is the major consignor at the Atlantic Classic Yearling Sale every year, and Bank Roll is a full brother to one of the 2016 edition’s top-priced trotters, Buckaroo. To agree to a private sale without fully understanding the special circumstances would have amounted to compromising Meridian’s highly-principled support for the region’s top sale. Matt Dodington had briefly spoken with Meridian Farms owner Bill Andrew, but hadn’t been able to strike a deal that fully respected Bank Roll’s racing potential or value to the Atlantic Classic Sale. Nor was the Alberta-based Andrew fully aware of the bond which had developed between Jared and the well-bred baby.

That’s where Leber brought his skills to the table. He contacted Dodington through Facebook, asking whether they could “partner up” on Bank Roll. “Then I phoned over to Meridian and spoke with [farm operator] Brian Andrew,” says the charitable horse owner. “The year before, the full brother sold for $9,000. So I said, ‘You know what? I’ll give you $9,000 for him. Does that seems fair to you?’”

“I will say Brian was just an absolute gentleman to deal with. Within minutes, we were talking about the price of the horse - done! Everything’s fine,” adds a satisfied Leber. “He’s called me a couple of times since then [with updates].” The transaction was simple: “What I did, is I suggested to Matt, that Jared and I go in as 50/50 partners, because there will be some training expenses too. I can afford the expense, so I said, ‘Why don’t I go down as half-owner; anything that we win, we put it all back into the care and training of Jareds Courage.’ If he makes bigger money because he’s very successful, we’ll find a way to put it into charitable functions. I don’t want any of the money from the purses or anything, but I don’t want them to be out any money.”

At press time, Matt and Jared Dodington were readying for a trip from Sydney Mines, NS to Meridian Farm, Milton, PEI.

“We’re going in about two and a half weeks [May 5th],” Matt tells TROT. “I guess CBC wants to do a story on it too, Brian Andrew was saying. It’s more than what I expected when I sent you that little story a while ago!”
Dodington will deliver his pacing mare, Victory Cry, for breeding with new Meridian stallion Steelhead Hanover, and bring the soon-to-be-renamed Bank Roll home.

“I was talking to Brian Andrew and I guess they’re taking [Bank Roll] out of the field,” notes Dodington. “They were going to have him gelded, which is good, then there’s a young girl who works with them over there, and she’s a vet student [Madonna Morrison].” Morrison’s role is to acquaint the weanling with the expectations for his new life with Jared: “Handle him; take him for a few walks; get him used to a few things, because he was out in the field, running wild with the stud colts. This was August, the last time we saw him, and they grow a lot and it’s a big difference when they’re with all just boys.”

Jared’s response to the news that his equine buddy would be joining him in Cape Breton for a few months was positive: “We just told him that we’re going to get Courage. He was really happy about it. I took a little video of him [Jared] on my phone, saying thank you, and sent it to Georg.”

It’s something of an early birthday gift for Jared, who turns eight in June. “He’s asked us a couple of times already, ‘When are we going to get Courage?’ He’s looking forward to it,” says his father.

“We’re going to let Jared do as much as he can with Courage. I mean, [the weanling will] spend as much time as he can out in the field. That’s what you want with them; they’re still growing. Bring him in, and [introduce] those little things, like taking him for a walk on the lead rope, or maybe put him on the cross-ties and have him pick up his feet, just some little basic things we’ll do with him. Probably after his first season, we’ll bring him back here for his three or four months off, before they go back training. I might take him over to Northside Downs and hook him up to the double jog cart over there, the two-seater. Take him for a jog, get Jared to drive him.”

Jareds Courage will be pointed toward regional stakes for two and three-year-old trotters. “If he’s good enough, he’s going [to race on as an aged performer], but as a four-year-old, he’ll probably just come back here and be a pet,” says Dodington.

That element - a loving, lifetime home for the trotter - sealed the deal for Leber, who already wanted to do what he could to help the family. “When I saw this, I thought: here’s a horse; it’s in Atlantic Canada; they don’t race for big-league money down there, so anyone who buys a horse down there is already behind the eight-ball. There’s not a lot of purse money. So I looked at this situation: Jared has autism, but he connected with the horse.”

Citing the example of the late Jim Carr, as a perfect illustration of a horseman who shared his own good fortune, Leber says the desire to give back isn’t about sentimentality. “It wasn’t that I’m one of these guys who cries at the drop of a hat or anything, but in our business - you may or may not see it every day - but people give to everything in our business. Trainers will give up their commission for a night; drivers will give up their commissions; breeding farms will donate to charities; and whenever someone in our family of horse racing needs help, people put out a little time, effort, and cash to help, right?”

Leber praises Meridian Farms for the Andrew brothers’ and Morrison’s contributions to bringing Jareds Courage to Jared Dodington. “I give them full marks. They’re just good people,” he remarks. “People get together and they know what needs to be done. They don’t need anyone to strong-arm people in this business. We’re just following the example of others in our industry, right?”

Whatever the outcome of Jareds Courage’s racing career, Leber says he’s pleased to be a partner on the Tad the Stud - Buckling Banbury son. “There’s a winner right there: even if the horse never races, he’ll spend the rest of his days on the farm with Jared,” offers the affable owner, a smile in his voice. “They’re both young; they’ll grow up together, and that will be fun.”


May 8, 2017 - 10:06 pmI've never met Georg

Tim Dean SAID...

I've never met Georg personally, only on Facebook... by his comments and feedback. This story reaffirms the strong belief I have of Georg, a true gentleman 100%... that was top notch my friend

May 8, 2017 - 4:29 pmI would like to mention the

I would like to mention the outstanding job done by Melissa Keith in writing this story. She continues to churn out excellent work on a regular basis.

Well done Mel!

May 4, 2017 - 1:21 pmWow, Dr. Phil, a blast from

Georg Leber SAID...

Wow, Dr. Phil, a blast from the past. The debt collection business has always been part of a giving tradition, just like horse racing. Thanks for this nice comment.

May 4, 2017 - 10:18 amFantastic story. Mr. Leber is

John Hill SAID...

Fantastic story. Mr. Leber is shining example of the kindness and compassion that exists throughout the standardbred industry. Well done sir !!

May 4, 2017 - 1:37 amHats off to you, Mr.

jim jarvis SAID...

Hats off to you, Mr. Leber...what a great gift you have given to both. It's nice to read a story that shows the good in people in horse industry.

May 3, 2017 - 10:02 pmGeorg, this was a wonderful

Georg, this was a wonderful thing to do and once again demonstrates the care that exists within our community for each other and the horses that bring us together. Best of luck to Courage in his racing career but even more important his bond with Jared will be "priceless'. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and best of luck to everyone.

May 3, 2017 - 8:44 pmKnowing Georg from even

phil newfeld SAID...

Knowing Georg from even before his participation in the industry, this is no surprise. Thanks Georg

May 3, 2017 - 5:17 pmThanks Ron, We are still not

Georg Leber SAID...

Thanks Ron,

We are still not sure if I am directly related to Conrad Leber but I met him for the first time this summer and as of then, I have permission to call him Uncle Conrad. His son Conrad Jr. is now an honorary cousin. My father was from Hungary and their family was from Romania so with the way things were in those countries, borders changed many times. We both ended up in this business so we must be family.

Georg Leber-ICR Racing.

May 3, 2017 - 3:24 pmHat's off to you Mr. Leber

Hat's off to you Mr. Leber for your generosity and caring about other people,and especially that little fella Jared who I am almost certain believe's there is a Santa Claus, you are among the most wonderful people in the world (HORSE PEOPLE). Sincerely Ron. By the way any relation to Conrad Leber???

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