By Lauren R. Giannini
Haldis Inge McEvoy, better known as Hallie, is full of surprises. She inherited horse genes from her equestrian mother and grandfather, grew up riding on Long Island’s Gold Coast and came very close to fulfilling her ambitious childhood dream to “do every horse sport out there.” Hallie has competed in equitation, hunters, jumpers, eventing, dressage, sidesaddle, gaited horses, barrel racing, reining, driving, foxhunting and polo. She even played polo sidesaddle which, to use her words, “was absolutely stupid and dangerous, but also great fun!”
Hallie’s first riding instructor was Nancy Peters of Ketchum Pony Farm (still the oldest operating farm on Long Island) and she rode Ketcham Pony Farm’s Cavalier in her first show. Her first horse was Dr. Doolittle, a range-bred Quarter Horse “who had a heart as big as a mountain” and who lived in a small stable on her parents’ property. “I rode Doc literally all over Long Island — to Centerport and other beaches, to friends’ stables in Dix Hills, to Northport, etc.,” she recalled.
As a teenager she taught riding to kids in her yard. While in high school, she spent one glorious year studying horse management at the Thomas School of Horsemanship in Melville, New York, a program run by Wilson Technological Institute/Board of Cooperative Education Services Management. She won the Outstanding Student Award and has nothing but praise for the program. In 1982 she graduated from State University of New York with a degree in criminal justice/law.
Wait, there’s more to her dream: Hallie judged shows from 1993–2014 with an “r” rating in hunters and hunt seat equitation. She was also licensed to judge by the American Donkey and Mule Society and National Miniature Donkey Association. She’s a published author of three books — Showing for Beginners, Judging for Beginners, Genuine Risk: A Thoroughbred Legend — and more than 2,000 articles. She continues to do media and PR work for both equestrian and snow sports: Hallie used to ride the hills of Vermont as a downhill skier.
Racing is a major passion, and Hallie’s involved as a Thoroughbred owner and breeder. Her interest dates back to her 20s when she exercised Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses at racetracks in New York: Belmont, Aqueduct and Parr Meadows. Hallie, now 57, still rides although she doesn’t get as much time in the saddle as she would like. She’s extremely active in the horse world, especially when it comes to her beloved Thoroughbreds.
After 10 years as an honorary board member of The Exceller Fund, Hallie stepped up to the board of directors where she does everything she can to support the 501(c)(3)’s mission of providing decent futures to Thoroughbreds after their racing and breeding careers have ended. The goal is to keep them from suffering the same fate as The Exceller Fund’s namesake.
Exceller, a 1973 Kentucky-bred Thoroughbred, raced and won in Europe and then in the U.S. for a record of 33 starts with 15 wins, five places, six shows and career earnings of $1,654,003 in an era when million-dollar-winning racehorses were rare. Exceller stood at stud in Kentucky from 1980–1991, producing some stakes winners and stakes-placed horses, but failing to stamp offspring with his own brilliance. Sold to a Swedish breeder, he sired a few foal crops before being retired from breeding. In April 1997, Exceller died in a Swedish slaughterhouse — a disgraceful end for one of the best Thoroughbreds ever to race in the U.S.
“Exceller was the only horse ever to defeat two Triple Crown champions in one race — Seattle Slew, 1977, and Affirmed, 1978 — in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup, a Grade 1 Stakes,” said Hallie. “Horses have put food on my table for years — it’s the least I can do to try to help them. You can’t save the world, but you can at least try to keep your corner in good shape. I am passionate about my work with The Exceller Fund and helping all racehorses to finish their lives in good care and circumstances.”
“I’m one of many owners and breeders who love their racehorses and care for them beyond the finish line. The success of The Exceller Fund and other organizations such as CANTER, Rerun, Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and Old Friends, depends on people like you and me,” said Hallie. “I guess I’m a middle class philanthropist, but if every person who loves horses would chip in what they can, we can save horses from being slaughtered. Many racehorses can go on to another career. It’s the stallions that have a tougher fate, especially an older one that has been in a breeding program — if we can get them to places like Old Friends….”
Hallie has a special place in her heart for mare and filly racehorses, but one stands out like a beacon of light: Genuine Risk, winner of the 1980 Kentucky Derby and second place in both the Preakness, won by Codex, and Belmont, won by Temperance Hill. Bred in Kentucky by Sally Humphrey, Genuine Risk, by Exclusive Native out of Virtuous, was owned and raced by Diana M. Firestone of Upperville, Virginia.
Hallie’s book about Genuine Risk in the Thoroughbred Legends series by Eclipse Press tells the story of a classy and classic Thoroughbred described most expressively as a “diva … bossy, beautiful and bold” — a suitable epithet for the second filly ever to win the Kentucky Derby since its inaugural running in 1875, the first distaff winner being Regret in 1915 and then Winning Colors in 1988. Only 40 fillies have contested the Kentucky Derby. The colts running in Triple Crown races have been beaten 11 times by a filly, including the first time the Belmont ran in 1867 when Ruthless won.
“Genuine Risk is the only filly ever to win or place in every one of the Triple Crown races,” said Hallie. “I never met her in person, but saw her run at Belmont when she was in training. I have a room in my house, called the Genuine Risk Room, that has many portraits of the mare along with racing programs and a set of her shoes. Diana and Bert Firestone were so kind to give me the shoes. I feel so lucky to have written the book about Genuine Risk. She was a heckuva race mare and had such a great story — she danced every dance!”
Hallie’s working on a second book for Eclipse Press: “Hometown Heroes” is about a dozen Thoroughbred racehorses, including Four Star Dave, King’s Bishop, Flying Pidgeon and Hallowed Dreams.
“I’m also making notes for a memoir about showing and playing polo and some of the great people I’ve met along the way,” said Hallie.
Hallie and her husband, Thom J. McEvoy, make their home in Vermont, not far from Burlington where he’s professor emeritus at University of Vermont. He’s also the author of 11 books on forestry, Christmas trees and ecosystems.
“I’m looking forward to the spring Thoroughbred sales,” said Hallie, who founded Racing Dreams LLC in 1999 as her ownership consortium. “I want to find a new racehorse, maybe get another broodmare. After all the horses I’ve ridden, trained and bred, I truly believe Thoroughbreds are the most versatile and have the biggest hearts. Whether you watch them in pasture, ride them in dressage, event them, show them, gymkhana with them or race them, they have an elegance and athleticism that no other breed comes close to. When you gallop one, you feel your soul rise up through your body. Thoroughbreds make your heart sing.”
Photos by Leslie Wilson, unless noted otherwise